So you want a powerful laptop that doesnât have a name starting with Mac and also doesnât sacrifice size and battery life for performance? Thatâs tough.
I love Windows, but itâs hard to find a portable desktop that doesnât feel like a brick in the bag, or that is a powerhouse just for a few hours. Iâm all for beefing up those shoulders with all-day lugs around the city, but breaking tables at a coffee shop is where I draw the line.
Asus has tried to capture Appleâs design with a bit of its own flair, all while drowning us in high-end components and a behemoth of a laptop. The ZenBook Pro UX501, which starts at $1,500, has very little zen. It definitely feels like an overpriced college textbook and itâs without a doubt for professionals.
Good luck getting one and walking away satisfied.
Everythingâs bigger in Texas
The ZenBook Pro is huge. Itâs a bit smaller than the old 17-inch MacBook Pro, though itâs thinner and lighter. In a world of tiny computers like Chromebooks, the new MacBook and MacBook Air, and ultrabooks, the ZenBook is a gargantuan â a gentle giant that carries a big stick.
The ZenBook Pro’s 15-inch 4K IPS display can only be described as stunning, and just because of all of those pixels crammed together. Itâs just a perfect panel for capturing the darks of Daredevil while still capturing the brilliance of color and light in Mozart in the Jungle. Shows and films played in 4K look incredible thanks to the level of clarity.
The touchscreen is very precise, even at 4K, though youâll need pin-point accuracy to hit the desired target when you’re working in the desktop mode; everything scales nicely on the Start screen.
The rest of the build quality is so-so. The keyboard is large and comfortable, with keys big enough for the wary typist that strike a decent balance between mushy and clicky, but arenât really either of the two. Good for anyone, but great for no one.
The trackpad stinks. It’s centered for the laptop, not the keyboard, perfect for accidentally moving the mouse and clicking on things you don’t want while typing. The surface is textured instead of flat, so if you’ve got the slightest dampness on your fingers, it’s a friction bomb. Sure, this trackpad is big, but it’s a pain.
Traversing with this ballast of a computer doesnât require two laps, but for a 15-inch machine youâd think it was a larger gaming rig. It isnât and thereâs almost no difference between the ZenBook Pro UX501 and the Asus G501 gaming laptop, which shares nearly identical components and a different paint job.
The ZenBook Pro is clearly aimed at the professional by style alone, and the parts are high-grade enough to warrant just about any productivity applications you could run. But at more than 4.5 poundsâ¦thatâs a heavy pill to swallow.
Power should be everything
With a starting price of $1,500, Asus isnât messing around on parts. The ZenBook Pro comes with a high-powered 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 4720HQ quad-core processor that screams. It’s armed with an Nvidia GTX 960M graphics card with 2GB of video RAM (the 4GB model is available on the G501), 16GB of DDR3 RAM, 256GB of SSD storage. All of these impressive specs are packed into a frame thatâs just 0.81-inches thick.
Yet with all that power, this ZenBook Pro feelsâ¦mild. Applications like Google Chrome, Microsoft Office, Adobe Illustrator and others are slower than expected, like they are running on a much smaller laptop. One without the girth of Hulk. Part of the problem is the included software suite, especially McAfee, which uses so much power that thereâs a consistent lag time no matter what you do.
Even after I went ahead and uninstalled all the pre-installed crapware, Windows 8.1 still didnât run like the portable workstation it should. Last yearâs Razer Blade, with similar high-end components, ran way faster than the ZenBook Pro.
Heck, half of the Chromebooks weâve looked at recently felt faster, though none of them could actually handle individual 700MB vector files or process HD video. The ZenBook Pro does, but the slowness is constant and consistent enough to make you wonder why you paid so much for a computer that canât bully any application you throw at it until youâre satisfied.
The reason appears to be to conserve battery life, though even when plugged in, I didnât see a significant performance boost. The battery lasts an average of six hours but with serious highs and lows. It varies anywhere from around 7.5 hours for basic web browsing and productivity to 3.5 hours of 4K video streaming between Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
If the glove doesnât fitâ¦
The ZenBook Pro is a laptop we all want to like. It stands toe-to-toe with the MacBook Pro, offering higher-end parts for a much lower price. Itâs big, kind of like an overly obnoxious big brother that you like having around when the going gets tough, even if heâs a nuisance the rest of the time.
Thatâs why the little things are so easy to get over. The good-but-not-great keyboard, the mediocre sound quality, the piss-poor trackpad, and the ridiculous sizeâ¦theyâre all livable. And the niceties of machined edges and that metal cover add that little bit of futuristic appeal, plus that screen! If the trackpad werenât so bad, Iâd stop getting my fingerprints all over it.
A photo posted by @jamezrp on Aug 5, 2015 at 9:55am PDT
But why bother buying an uber-powered laptop without the uber? As much as I like Batman, Iâd never bring him to a superhero fight. The ZenBook Pro feels like an ordinary computer with bells and whistles and still the weight of a hippo, but itâs still ordinary.
And if Iâm going to buy an ordinary laptop, thereâs no reason to spend $1,500 on it. And thereâs definitely no reason to buy one this big unless itâs a fourth of the cost.
Asus ZenBook Pro UX501
Stunning 15.6-inch 4K display â¢ Sturdy and premium design
Underpowered performance despite powerful components â¢ Terrible trackpad â¢ Meh speakers â¢ Tons of pre-installed crapware â¢ One heavy laptop
The Bottom Line
For the price, you could buy an ultrabook and a boat anchor and have the same effect.
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