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Asus ZenBook Pro 14 (UX480) and 15 (UX580) first look review: The future is ScreenPad

Asus refreshes its ZenBook Pro family with all the latest Nvidia and Intel hardware – and a crazy Full HD touchpad for good measure

Asus has just released the latest iteration of its high-power ultraportable family, the ZenBook Pro. The pair of new laptops now sport the latest Intel Coffee Lake processors and Nvidia 10 Series graphics, but Asus has now gone one step beyond – it’s also turned the touchpads into Full HD touchscreens.

Asus ZenBook Pro 14 and 15 first look: Specifications

As you’d expect from a key rival to Apple’s Macbook Pro famliy, the ZenBook Pro comes in both 14in (UX480) and 15.6in (UX580) flavours.

Asus is keen to point out that the chassis’ are smaller than you might expect, however, and thanks to the tiny bezels circling the 4K displays, it claims that even the 15.6in model is around the size of a traditional 14in laptop. That’s perhaps a little bit optimistic as you can see from some of the comparison photos in the gallery – but once you check through the specs that extra girth is easy to forgive.

  • Up to Intel Core i9 8950HK processors
  • Up to 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • Nvidia GeForce 1050 Max-Q graphics (UX480), Nvidia GeForce 1050 Ti 4GB (UX580)
  • Up to 1TB NVMe PCI x4 SSD
  • UX480 14in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS / UX580 15.6in Full HD or 3,840 x 2,160 IPS (Full HD panel: 100% sRGB, Delta E <3, Pantone validated | 4K panel: 100% Adobe RGB, Delta E <2, Pantone validated)
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi (Up to 1734mbps), Bluetooth 5
  • Fingerprint reader, ScreenPad (5.5in Full HD IPS touchscreen), Optional XG Station Pro for triple monitor docking

There’s a wide range of specifications available for each model, so we’ll just have to wait and see which models and SKUs make it over to the UK market. Suffice to say, if you’ve got £2,000 or so sitting doing nothing in your bank account, Asus will gladly take it off your hands.

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Asus ZenBook Pro 14 and 15 first look: Asus ScreenPad

Did you ever wish your touchpad was actually a 5.5in touchscreen? You did? Well, Asus is about to make your dreams come true. The ScreenPad is exactly that – it’s one part touchpad, one part IPS Full HD touchscreen.

When the ScreenPad display is off, it’s hard to tell it’s anything but a normal trackpad. In fact, we initially thought the 14in model in front of us didn’t actually have the feature at all.

Tap it, however and it fires into life. A menu along the top allows you to open a quick launcher menu, or fire up apps, and you can even pick a photo background for your touchpad. Apps which support it specifically, such as Microsoft’s Office family, are able to display handy contextual menus and features – for instance, Excel lets you quickly toggle the toolbar on and off, or display a virtual number pad.

The potential is interesting. Asus mentioned the idea of dragging windows down from the main screen to the ScreenPad, so you can view videos on it rather than cluttering up your main display.

The burning question, of course, is whether Asus can get enough developers to specifically support the ScreenPad. They’re working on their own Asus Sync software to allow your phone to interface directly with ScreenPad, but as it stands you can download new ScreenPad apps via the Windows Store.

Asus ZenBook Pro 14 and 15 first look: Display

Colour accuracy is a big pull for any professional class laptop, and Asus has clearly been paying attention. Opt for the top-flight 4K panel on the RX580 and you’ll be faced with a panel that covers 100% of the Adobe RGB gamut at a claimed Delta E of less than 2 – in other words, it should be as colour accurate as anyone could ask for. You can opt for a Full HD panel instead, but even that has 100% sRGB coverage with a Delta E of under 3. 

You might be mildly disappointed to hear that the 14in model is stuck with a Full HD panel, but even here you get a panel that’s 100% sRGB, even if Asus don’t currently have any quoted accuracy figures to hand. 

Asus ZenBook Pro 14 and 15 first look: Features and design

Both models are armoured with a body of blue brushed metal, and feel fantastically solid and well built. They’re a handsome pair of laptops: with smooth curves and an unfussy, elegant design, they certainly look the part.

The keyboards feel wonderfully tactile, too. There’s just the right amount of travel, and there’s a lovely reassuring soft click to every keypress. The fingerprint reader to the right of the keyboard is a welcome sight on the 15.6in model, too.

Connectivity is spot on. Both the 14in and 15.6in models have a pair of USB-C ports and a pair of USB-A ports, in addition to a full-sized HDMI output and a standard DC input for the mains charger, so you won’t be left scrabbling around to unplug monitors and devices all the time.

The only slightly odd choice? The larger model has a microSD slot, rather than a full-sized SD slot, which may not be convenient for those of us with several full-sized SD cards in our pocket. 

Asus ZenBook Pro 14 and 15 first look: Price and release date

As ever, what specifications you opt for depends entirely on your bank balance. Look to the 15.6in UX580 model, and a model equipped with a Core i7-8750HQ, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD is going to come in just under the £1,900 mark. Fancy a beefier Core i9 8950HK instead? Then you’ll need closer to £2,200.

Asus ZenBook Pro 14 and 15 first look: Early verdict

Going toe to toe with Apple’s Macbook Pro family is a tough ask for any professional laptop, but the Asus ZenBook Pro family may just have what it takes. The clincher for both models will be whether they can provide a balance of a colour accurate display and top-notch performance, and do it at the right price. We’ll be looking to get hold of them for review very soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

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