The Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580 is yet another laptop vying for the title of MacBook killer. Top of the line components, high-quality materials all crammed into a beautifully designed slim unibody chassis.
None of this is new, with dozens of laptops ticking those boxes.
But the real selling point of the ZenBook Pro is the ScreenPad; a hybrid touchpad and screen combination. Without the ScreenPad, there isn’t much to make the ZenBook stand out from other laptops in this category.
Is it enough? Let’s find out.
ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 UX580 — all eyes on ScreenPad
The ScreenPad replaces your traditional touchpad with a 5.5inch full HD, IPS, colour display. The idea isn’t new and makes total sense because we use touchscreens every day on our smartphones.
Gestures like swiping, pinching, flicking and multi-touching are all now second nature.
Also, having a second screen with some extra functions is in theory, a great idea. The ScreenPad can display a number of apps, controls and even act as an extension for your main screen.
It is context sensitive so for instance, in Microsoft Office, it will display useful formatting controls while in Spotify, it will give you music playback controls.
Asus has also got a few custom utility apps like calculator, calendar, music player and digital number pad. A swipe down from the very top of the ScreenPad will reveal a toolbar for quick access to your loaded utilities.
Unfortunately, this is where the idea stumbles. Due to the nature of how your hands rest on the keyboard, you will constantly keep activating that toolbar with your thumb which will stop the ScreenPad from controlling your mouse.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to have my mouse controls hijacked constantly because of accidental activations of the toolbar. It was so bad I would have preferred to turn off the ScreenPad completely.
Sadly, the problems continue. From a tactile perspective, using the ScreenPad just isn’t pleasant. The response feels floaty and pressing down on the pad to click requires a lot more pressure than is comfortable.
Mentally, I was always worried about damaging the fancy screen.
As a headline feature, the ScreenPad is an intriguing idea but one that ultimately doesn’t really work well. Perhaps in the second generation, Asus will have ironed out these issues but even then, I’m not sure having a screen in your touchpad is ultimately a useful thing to have.
Not all is lost though
Putting the ScreenPad aside, the rest of the ZenBook Pro is actually a very good laptop that looks the part. It’s gorgeous in the Deep Dive Blue colour with concentric rings etched on its cover and gold ring around the edges.
The chassis is slim and at 1.8kg, it won’t break your back lugging around in your backpack. Made with a premium aluminium unibody, the ZenBook is sturdy with no noticeable flex.
Unlike my MacBook Pro, the Asus mercifully has more than just USB-C ports. No dongle life here.
Two USB-A 3.1 ports, HDMI, MicroSD slot as well as USB-C make for great connectivity. Charging is still done via a DC port and the charging brick isn’t too big, although I’d prefer something smaller.
For audio, a 3.5mm jack and two bottom-firing Harmon-Kardon speakers at the base of the ZenBook. Given their placement, I was surprised at the full-bodied sound they produce.
The keyboard on the ZenBook is good. Nothing special to note here. Keys have a decent travel and are comfortable to type on if not a bit spongey. Underneath the keyboard is a fingerprint reader which for some reason, I simply couldn’t get to install but would have been wonderful to have.
Let’s talk performance
Inside our review unit are some top-notch parts. An Intel Core i7 8570H paired with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB Solid State hard drive make the ZenBook quite zippy.
Windows runs super smoothly with no lagging or stuttering anywhere. Apps open and close quickly and without fuss. Multi-tasking was a breeze thanks to the generous RAM.
I had no problem switching between apps, even when you have a game running alongside the infamous memory hog, Google Chrome running multiple tabs.
Do you even game bro?
Even though the ZenBook Pro isn’t strictly a gaming machine, 4GB Nvidia GTX 1050 paired with a FullHD screen performs like a champ. I tested Diablo 3, Hitman 2 and Destiny 2 for some quick benchmarks.
Diablo ran steadily at close to 100fps at FullHD with high settings. I looked out for slowdown in more intense battles where there are lots of particles, explosions and bodies but never saw any drops below 80fps.
In Destiny 2, the ZenBook easily maintained a steady 60fps with high settings. I usually play Destiny 2 on my Xbox One X in 4K HDR and so there was an obvious difference in visual clarity.
Still, I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the game ran while still looking gorgeous.
Hitman 2 was a lot more punishing than the other two games. I could only manage 30-35fps at FHD resolution with medium settings. That’s still playable but for PC master race types, totally unacceptable.
Dropping the resolution down to a much lower 1366×768 at high settings yielded a much better 55-60fps while still looking decent.
Of course, like any laptop, playing games or running any intensive CPU application will get the ZenBooks fans screaming. The top right third of the chassis gets very, very hot and forget about touching the bottom.
Impressively I didn’t notice any throttling or shutdowns due to heat. Asus has managed to keep the heat flowing out a steady pace without affecting the overall performance.
So what about the battery?
Asus says that you will get up to 9.5hours out of the 71Wh 8-cell lithium-polymer battery but I didn’t get anywhere near that figure.
I averaged a measly 3.5 hours on a single charge and this was doing simple tasks like web browsing in Edge, listening to Spotify and some downloads running in Steam.
Now it could be that my unit was just a lemon but a quick Google search revealed that my experience is common. The bright ScreenPad is the apparent culprit and turning it off gives an extra hour or so but even then, it’s way shorter than official numbers.
For a laptop that is aimed squarely at the MacBook Pro market, this battery life simply won’t cut it. Apple laptops will easily surpass eight hours on a charge and the ZenBook simply can’t match that. Which means that a huge appeal is lost for those professionals who work on the go a lot.
So what’s the verdict?
The Asus ZenBook Pro 15 is a really good laptop that is hampered by a poor battery life and an innovative but wonky ScreenPad.
It’s beautiful, powerful and very capable of a range of productivity and creative tasks. You can also do some decent gaming on it too. But with competition from the likes of the excellent Dell XPS 15, the ZenBook needs a lot more to pull ahead.
The ScreenPad is innovative but not fully realised and simply isn’t all that pleasant to use as a touchpad. You can turn it off but then, why would you buy it, to begin with?
And that battery life in a $3000+ laptop is simply atrocious. Hopefully, Asus can fix it with some firmware upgrades but expecting an improvement of even three extra hours is a far stretch.
Furthermore, at that price, the ZenBook Pro 15 is almost $500 more than a similarly specced Dell XPS 15 which lasts well over 9 hours and has the better GTX 1050Ti. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the difference is worth it.
The Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580 review was written based on a loan unit provided by Asus.
Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580 Review
Design and build is top notch
Atrocious battery life
ScreenPad is cool but not much else
Performs like a champ
Gaming is more than possible