|ASUS ZenBook 14 OLED review (2023): A compelling AI PC stuck in a familiar design
|Posted by: Engadget on Jan 12th, 2024 2:30 PM
The latest ZenBook 14 OLED from ASUS has most of the hardware we'd want in a modern ultraportable: Intel's new Core Ultra chips, a gorgeous OLED screen and a decent number of ports. But after testing ASUS's laptops for years, and seeing how much progress it's made with the Zephyrus G gaming line, it's surprising that the company's premium Zenbook hasn't evolved much lately.
While it's a solid step into the "AI PC" era, thanks to its NPU for accelerating AI tasks, the new ZenBook 14 is also a reminder that ASUS is lagging behind Apple and Microsoft when it comes to premium design. It doesn't feel nearly as sturdy or sleek as the redesigned MacBook Air, and it lacks the refinement of the Surface Laptop. The ZenBook 14 OLED looks fine — it’s as if you asked an AI to generate an image of a generic ultraportable.
On the plus side, ASUS is delivering far more bang for the computing buck than Apple and most other competitors. You can snag the ZenBook 14 OLED with a Core Ultra 7 155H chip, 32GB of RAM and 1TB SSD for $1,300 at Best Buy. An M2 MacBook Air for the same price comes with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD (and it can only be upgraded to a maximum of 24GB of RAM). ASUS also includes a decent selection of ports, including a USB-A connection, two USB-C Thunderbolt ports, an HDMI socket and a microSD card slot. You'd have to step up to the pricier 14-inch MacBook Pro to get some of those ports on a Mac.
While ASUS is touting the Core Ultra's AI capabilities as the big upgrade this year, I'm still far more compelled by the Zenbook 14's glorious 14-inch 3K OLED screen. It's wonderfully bright and colorful when it needs to be, and it can hit those inky dark blacks that we love from OLED displays. This year the Zenbook's OLED screen can also reach a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling, which is practically a requirement for premium laptops these days.
Images and video practically leap off of the ZenBook 14's OLED screen, which makes it ideal for binging Netflix or catching up on your YouTube queue. And thanks to the laptop's incredibly thin bezels, it's almost as if the display is floating in the air — so much so, I stopped noticing how dull the rest of the ZenBook's design feels. I also wish there was a bit more spring and depth to its keyboard, and that its trackpad didn’t feel so stiff.
But back to Intel's Core Ultra chip. Our review unit, which was equipped with a Core Ultra 7 155H, 32GB of RAM and Intel Arc graphics, delivered some healthy gains over ultraportables running Intel's 13th-gen chips. It scored 1,000 points higher in PCMark 10 compared to the ZenBook S 13 running a Core i7-1355U, and its Arc graphics were almost twice as fast as the S 13's Intel Xe graphics in the 3DMark Wildlife Extreme benchmark.
While it's far from a gaming machine, the ZenBook 14 OLED's Arc graphics also reached between 30fps to 49fps while playing Halo Infinite in 1080p with low graphics. Streaming games over Xbox cloud gaming delivered far better results: Halo Infinite and Forza Motorsport played like a dream over Wi-Fi in my office. Of course, that's more a testament to the ZenBook's wireless hardware than its graphics.
Intel's Core Ultra chips are also focused on a lot more than just raw horsepower (Intel's internal benchmarks even show it getting bested by a 13th-gen chip in some single-threaded tasks, a trade-off it made to deliver better AI and graphics performance). The addition of an NPU means the ZenBook 14 OLED can handle AI workloads in the future; developers like Adobe and Audacity have announced they're working on AI-powered features in their apps. If you're not using those apps, there's not much to do with an NPU in Windows yet except for Microsoft's Studio Effects, which lets you blur backgrounds and automatically keep yourself in frame during video chats. And notably, Studio Effects delivers far better background diffusion and person detection than the built-in alternatives in Zoom and Google Hangouts.
Buying an AI PC like the ZenBook 14 OLED is more a bet on the future rather than an immediate speed upgrade. But based on the industry support we've seen from Microsoft and other big tech firms, having an NPU-equipped PC could pay off soon. Just imagine Microsoft giving Copilot offline capabilities to make it more responsive, similar to Apple's push to make Siri available offline (something also powered by the company's Neural Engine). Eventually, you may be able to speak aloud to Copilot and have it instantly find files or locate a specific setting on your PC.
I won't blame you if you're not excited by the future of AI PCs. When Macs switched over to Apple Silicon chips, there were dramatic performance improvements over Intel's older hardware, along with the additional benefits of the Neural Engine and far better battery life. Windows users, instead, can only hope and pray that developers actually tap into NPUs.
For now, though, you can look forward to some decent battery life from Intel's Core Ultra chips. The ZenBook 14 OLED lasted 12 hours and 43 minutes in the PCMark 10 Modern Office battery benchmark, which was longer than any other PC we've tested. During a recent trip, it held up for around a day and a half for general productivity work (lots of web browsing, writing, photo editing and a few video chats). ASUS is still lagging behind Apple, though — the M2 MacBook Air lasted 16 hours and 30 minutes in our benchmark. Fan noise also remains a problem: Its fans spun up noticeably during a podcast recording, whereas the fan-less MacBook Air is completely silent even under heavy workloads.
After spending a few weeks with the ZenBook 14 OLED, I’ve grown to love its OLED display and I’m intrigued by the possibilities of the Core Ultra chip’s NPU. It’s just a shame to see those features stuck in a relatively humdrum package. If you care more about getting a good deal than style, though, this ZenBook is tough to beat.This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/asus-zenbook-14-oled-review-ai-pc-143054247.html?src=rss
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