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Hands-on review: Asus Zenbook 14 OLED UX3405
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

The new Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is one of the first of a new generation of notebooks sporting an Intel Meteor Lake Core Ultra processor. As well as a fast CPU, these new chips include both an integrated Intel ARC GPU and an Intel AI Boost NPU for AI applications.

Out of the box, the first thing I noticed about the Zenbook 14 OLED was just how slight it was, at only 14.9mm thick, and how robust it felt. Despite weighing in at only 1.28kg, the aluminium MIL-STD-810 spec chassis has no plasticky flex in either the screen or if you rest your wrists on the keyboard. It feels solid and oozes quality.
Sadly, only the silver chassis is available locally, as the ponder blue coloured Zenbook supplied for review looks amazing (but is an absolute fingerprint magnet). Inside the device, things are even better. The Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is powered by an Intel Core Ultra 7 155H with 32GB LPDDR5X memory and 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe 4.0 SSD storage. 

As standard, the Zenbook also has a top-of-the-range 14-inch 2880x1800 120Hz Lumina OLED 16:10 touch screen. And it looks exquisite. The review sample is a US-spec model that includes a slipcase and an Asus Pen 2.0 stylus. The notebook itself is identical to those available in ANZ, except the local devices will have 16GB of memory and not 32 GB.

The Lumina 3K OLED screen is impressive. It's probably one of the best displays I've ever seen on a laptop. It's Asus's top-of-class screen with VESA Certified 500-Nits HDR and certified low blue light. At 500 Nits, it is just scraping through as an HDR screen, but on battery, the screen, by default, switches to SDR, anyway. All you need to know is that it's a good, clear, vivid OLED 120Hz display. The display colours are vibrant and consistent, with deep blacks, as you'd expect with an OLED screen. The screen also boasts 120Hz, which for a device in this class probably looks more impressive on paper than in actual use. Saying that the Zenbook can play games, but more on that later. 

Barbarians who have no problem looking at smudged displays will be pleased to know that the 14" Lumina OLED is a touchscreen. The Asus Pen 2.0 supplied with the US version on the device at least gives more civilised users an alternative to smearing greasy fingerprints down the screen. 

The screen folds 180 degrees, flat on the desk, allowing it to be used as a drawing tablet with the pen as a stylus. The display surface is listed as being made from Gorilla Glass, no doubt attributed to the device's touted military-grade specification, but good news for heavy-handed users. 

I found the keyboard size to be just right for typing. The solid chassis allows you comfortably to rest your wrists below the keyboard without feeling like you are going to break it. It has standard chiclet-style keys with a white backlight. The keyboard also has full media and lighting controls shared with the function keys. 

For such a thin device, I was surprised to find both a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A and HDMI 2.1 ports. These are complemented by two Thunderbird 4/USB Type-C sockets and an audio jack. The device is charged via the included power pack and cable that connects via one of the Thunderbird 4/ USB-C sockets. The box comes with a USB Type-A to RJ-45 Ethernet connector for wired networking. For most, though, the Wifi 6E connectivity should be enough, and of course, it has Bluetooth 5.3 capability.

At the top of the display is an HD webcam with IR making it compatible with Windows Hello facial recognition. This means no PINs or fingerprint reading (as there's no fingerprint reader, anyway) to unlock the device; just use your face. The camera lens has a physical privacy shutter for extra piece of mind. 

The built-in camera quality is good. Whilst not 4K, it's still perfect for web meetings and video calls. The Windows camera software makes good use of the Intel NPU to accurately blur the background during video calls. The Zenbook's two-way AI noise cancelling pretty much guarantees that you are not only going to have the best video but also the best audio experience in team meetings.

Harman Kardon speakers provide the Zenbook's Dolby Atmos-capable audio. The audio output is crisp and can handle higher volumes than I'd have expected for such a small device. This makes the Zenbook a rather impressive portable media streaming device. The high-quality Harman Kardon audio output complements the superior Lumina OLED HDR screen when watching movies or TV on the notebook.

Beyond the physical aspects of the device, the installed software is worth a mention. The review sample came pre-installed with Windows 11 Pro, but ANZ units seem to ship with Windows 11 Home. This is not a big deal, as the only difference is that the Pro version has BitLocker Drive Encryption for better drive security. For 99% of users this could cause more problems than it solves, but very important if you keep sensitive data on the device. You get a free month of Office 365 Xbox Game Pass with the notebook. This may, however, be region-dependent. 

I'd normally shy away from vendor utilities, but the pre-installed MyAsus app is very useful. The app looks after your product registration, warranty, updates, and troubleshooting. A standard feature on Asus laptops for a few years, I've found it very handy for making sure your device is up to date, as well as sniffing out issues when things don't work as they should. It'd be particularly useful for people who don't have the time or are unfamiliar with the operations of the device but want it to run at its best.

I carried out extensive performance testing of the Zenbook with the Intel Ultra 7, which you can find in my separate review. Using professional benchmarking software such as UL Proyon and BAPCo Crossmark, the results left me very impressed—but not as impressed as the notebook's performance in real-world situations.
The Zenbook's low-key aesthetics and design are aimed at general day-to-day and lifestyle use. As you would expect, there's no problem running MS Office apps. Moving beyond that, the device worked well with Adobe Photoshop and Premiere. Encoding in Premiere isn't as fast as a dedicated workstation, but the sleek notebook is more than capable of video editing on the go. I also had no issues editing 3D models and CAD drawings using Trimble Sketchup.

When it comes to AI, the Zenbook 14 OLED with its Core Ultra 7 processor is ahead of the curve, arguably a year or so too far ahead of the curve. Whilst the NPU is used for camera effects, in the future, the Windows OS and other applications will make good use of this built-in AI capability the same way many applications now use GPUs. 

I tested the music editing and sequencing software Audacity with the OpenVINO AI plugin to create AI "music" and spit audio into different tracks for vocals and instruments. It's a killer app for musicians and budding music producers and a very cool way to use the device's built-in AI to create karaoke tracks. Harnessing AI without sending data over the Internet or needing to be online is going to become increasingly important as the technology matures. 

The Intel Core Ultra 7 and Asus's Zenbook design is all about maintaining great performance whilst optimising battery life. Whilst the average high-performance and gaming laptops may look good on paper, they will not fair more than a few hours without needing a power socket. The Zenbook 14 OLED, even when being used for more energy-intensive tasks, can still get a day's use from a battery charge. Web browsing and office applications could give you up to 15 hours of battery life between charges. I used the Zenbook for a couple of days on battery without plugging it in, something I'd never be able to do with my Asus ROG Strix G16 gaming laptop. 

Asus doesn't market the Zenbook 14 OLED as a games machine but, of course, that doesn't mean it can't be used to play games. The integrated ARC GPU is very much up to the task of handling the graphical requirements of modern games. The Zenbook has a virtually identical specification to MSI's new Claw A1M handheld PC gaming console. It has a better 3D Mark Score than Asus's ROG Ally handheld, as well. So, yes, it will play games if you properly set your expectations. 

I had no problem running Balder's Gate 3, Dead Stranding, and even the recently released Tekken 8 with the settings tuned to a reasonable level. However, you may have to be a bit conservative with the graphical fidelity to get a good gaming experience. You are not going to be able to run games at ultra-level settings or even at the screen's full resolution, but by and large, with a bit of tweaking, games should still look good and play well.

The Zenbook's performance does not disappoint. It's the perfect vessel for the new Intel Core Ultra 7. The chassis is solid and stylish, with a top-of-the-range screen that's guaranteed to turn heads. The notebook's small size and light weight make it a portable powerhouse with uncompromising performance and a long battery life. 
The Intel Core Ultra's ARC GPU is a step up from the usual Iris Xe integrated GPUs, taking the notebook's graphical performance to the next level compared to similar small notebooks. The NPU is a new addition that will take a while to be fully exploited but offers some future-proofing with the rapid rise of AI technology. All-in-all, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is a fantastic portable device that's great for most PC uses from office applications to gaming.