ASUS ZenBook Pro UX550VE Review
ASUS’ newest ZenBook Pro was quite the shocker when it was introduced during Computex 2017. It was the company’s another attempt, aside from the ROG Zephyrus, to jam in powerful internals into a thin and light frame. While it was certainly an eye catcher during its announcement, the ZenBook Pro actually has some quirks which we uncovered during our in-depth hands-on with it. However, are those quirks really bad enough to lure you away from this elegant device? Let’s find out in our full review of the ZenBook Pro UX550VE.
Design and Construction
The ZenBook line is known to be a series of notebooks that are beautifully crafted and that translates to the UX550VE’s design. The notebook has the familiar design cue of the series — a Zen-inspired spun-metal finish lid with the signature silver ASUS logo, which lights up when the laptop is in use. The body itself is made of aluminum and has a unibody structure with a sandblasted appeal to it, making the device look and feel elegant. Adding to that elegance is the Royal Blue color that covers the entire notebook. The UX550VE’s looks are short of impressive and it upholds the premium badge of the ZenBook line.
It’s not just a gorgeous laptop as it also has a very well-constructed body. Flex is minimal all throughout the laptop, including its screen and keyboard deck. It’s even possible to lift the lid with one hand, although it’s a bit of a challenge. Either way, this is an indicator that the hinge and the laptop’s body, in general, are well made. Who would’ve thought that underneath that beauty is also a well-built device and even though it’s weight can be felt, it’s still light enough to be carried around as a daily driver.
That sandblasted-like looks and Zen-inspired metal finish comes with a price though– the laptop is one hell of a fingerprint magnet. Another design flaw is that, while it does have two exhaust vents, those vents are caved into the body and are fully blocked by the display’s hinge. This set-up chokes the laptop and disables its ability to properly disperse heat. This becomes even more evident when doing heavy tasks like gaming (more on that later).
Let’s move on to the keyboard and trackpad. The ZenBook Pro UX550VE is equipped with your standard laptop chiclet keyboard. In-line with its 14-inch form factor, we are given a TKL (Tenkeyless, or no NumPad) layout, but with extra function buttons on the right. Typing and gaming is a pleasure as the keyboard has short yet good travel distance and excellent tactile feedback. Night operations are also possible since the keyboard has adjustable backlighting. It’s also worth noting that keyboard lights automatically turn off after a few seconds of inactivity– a subtle yet useful feature that saves battery. ASUS also did a good job with the arrow keys as even though they are smaller than usual they are long enough not to miss.
The trackpad, on the other hand, is a precision touchpad (supports four-finger smart gestures) and a ClickPad meaning the whole pad could be clicked in order to register commands. It still has those dividers on the bottom to distinguish left and right click functions, but users could simply single tap to register a left click or tap the pad with two fingers to register a right click. The trackpad itself has a smooth surface and registers gestures and commands quickly. Clicks are also springy and have good acoustics and haptic feedback. Users who are accustomed to using a trackpad would be pleased with this one.
Our unit doesn’t include one, but there is a variant with a fingerprint scanner. It would have been nice though, if ASUS included it on all the variants especially at this price point.
Display and Multimedia
The ZenBook Pro UX550VE is equipped with a 15.6-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display. Although the screen is at 15.6-inches the panel of the device is only at 14-inches due to ASUS’ NanoEdge display. Basically, ASUS made the laptop’s all around bezels slimmer in order for a bigger display to fit the smaller panel. By doing this, the laptop was able to achieve a screen to body ratio of 83%, not only that but it also made it look sleek and slimmer.
The display itself is a touch-enabled IPS panel. It has impressive color reproductions and good accuracy and viewing angles. Swipes and gestures are also registered easily and touch operations are a breeze. We were mistaken during our In-depth hands-on when we said that the display leans towards warmer colors. It was actually the display’s 100% sRGB color reproduction in full work making the colors look more vibrant. We noticed this when we compared the laptop’s screen to another device with a similar Full HD IPS panel. With this, color accurate work is certainly possible as colors on the screen pop and reproduction is on point.
While it can get bright enough for outdoor use, the glossy screen will most likely hamper operations. Although ASUS had to make use of a glossy screen in order to enable touch support. In any case, the display is great and avid fans of movies and TV series would have a splendid viewing experience. ASUS’ Splendid Utility is also present should you wish to tinker with the display’s settings.
The speakers on this device are stunning. ASUS did well in partnering with renowned audio company Harman/Kardon. The Mids, Highs, and Lows are all present and with amazing audio quality. The speakers can also go really loud, as it even became very audible in the next room at just 50% volume. It impressively maintains clarity, including quality, even at max volumes. Looks like the notebook’s quad-speaker set-up paid off. Audiophiles will certainly love the audio quality on this laptop.
OS, Apps, and Storage
The ZenBook Pro UX550VE is powered by Windows 10 Home, which is now the norm for laptops these days. It is equipped with a 512GB SSD from Micron. While it does offer faster speeds than conventional Hard Drives, it is nowhere near the speeds of other more mainstream SSD’s. The device generally has little to no bloatware as only ASUS’ own apps (Battery Health Charging, Install, Live Update, USB Charger Plus, and Splendid Utility), a few small games (Bubble Witch Saga, Candy Crush Saga, Minecraft) and the standard Microsoft programs like Office and Microsoft Edge were included. It does, however, have McAfee installed which will most certainly affect your initial setup of the device when you download or install your programs.
We benchmarked the Micron drive using Crystal Disk Mark, as expected we only got average numbers. Although these are by no means bad results. Here are the benchmark scores:
512GB SSD (Micron_1100_MTFDDAV512TBN):
Sequential Read – 455.6 MB/s
Sequential Write – 471.8 MB/s
Performance and Benchmarks
All the hype for the ZenBook Pro UX550VE was not just because it’s a slim device, but also because it packs quite a punch. It is powered by Intel’s 7th Generation i7-7700HQ, Nvidia’s GTX 1050Ti, and 16GB of RAM. This setup is enough to warrant it as a gaming and even a photo and video editing laptop. As such, we tested its gaming capabilities by playing a few games on it. We made sure that the graphical settings are set to a quality where the games are at, or at least close to, the optimal 60fps. Check our benchmarks below.
The device did pretty well, although it did struggle quite a bit on games that are proven to be really heavy like Witcher 3. In any case, gaming on the UX550VE is certainly possible and you would most likely have your graphical settings set from medium to high in most games.
We also subjected the device to a few synthetic benchmarks to further asses its performance. Check the results below.
As we’ve said, the UX550VE can also be considered as a photo and video editing laptop. So we also tested its video editing capabilities by exporting a 1080p video, which was edited on a 1080p timeline in Adobe Premier. The notebook was able to fully render a 5 and a half minute video in about 4 minutes and 5 seconds, which is actually an impressive result. In any case, video editing would generally be a breeze on this laptop.
Thermals and Acoustics
This is where things go downhill for the device, remember we mentioned earlier that ASUS made quite the design flaw in the positioning of the laptop’s exhaust vents. Well, that design flaw really hampered the ability of the notebook to cool its components as it reached high temperatures in our stress test. In order to test the thermals of the i7-7700HQ and GTX 1050Ti, we used the Prime95 and Furmark stress tests, respectively. The i7-7700HQ’s temperatures reached a staggering 92-degrees max while the GTX 1050Ti reached a maximum temperature of 81-degrees. These are dangerously high numbers, and while these are, of course, stress tests and would be hard to replicate, the external temps were still evident.
The top part of the keyboard around the center got really warm to the touch, not to mention the display panel (both its front and back side) and the bottom panel also became really hot. You can no longer place the laptop on your lap as the heat could certainly be felt. The reason why the display panel receives such heat is that the blast of hot air from the exhausts is directed upward towards the front of the display, since it’s the only open airway, as the original opening of the vents are now fully blocked by the display panel’s hinge. Although we have to give props to ASUS as the side of the keyboard that’s most used in gaming (the WASD part of the board) including the palm rests remained cool throughout our gaming sessions.
Acoustics are also on the downside, as any and all heavy activity you do would result in the fans roaring to audible levels. Thankfully the device’s speakers are strong enough to drown out the noise, but if you happen to be in a silent area then be ready to hear those airplane like sounds.
Connectivity, I/O, and Battery Life
As for I/O, on the right, we have two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, a microSD card reader, and a combo audio jack. On the other side, we have the power input, an HDMI port, and two USB 3.1 Gen 2 Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports. The inclusion of two Thunderbolt 3 ports are a plus and ASUS even included a USB Type-A to Ethernet port adapter to complement the loss of a built-in one.
However, we were only given a microSD card reader instead of a full-size one, and all the Type-A ports are positioned on the right. This port positioning proved to be quite a nuisance during our time with the laptop as we constantly had to plug and unplug devices or reposition them for them to fit the right side. This would also require users to purchase an adapter if they wish to connect non-Type-C devices on the notebook’s left side. In any case, connectivity is good as the WiFi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2 provide the necessary essentials for users to stay connected to the internet and/or other devices. Connectivity for both is fast and stable.
Battery life is surprisingly good on the ZenBook Pro UX550VE even though it has powerful internals. The laptop lasted us around 7 hours on light tasks such as typing and browsing, which is more than enough to get you through the day when in class or at work. Heavier workloads like gaming or video editing, on the other hand, drained the laptops battery in about 3 to 4 hours, which is still above average. Although of course, it is recommended that you keep your laptop plugged when doing such heavy tasks. In our standard video loop test (playing a 1080p MP4 video in airplane mode and at 50% brightness and volume), the laptop lasted for 6 hours and 42 minutes, quite impressive to say the least. Charging the device from 0-100% takes about 2 hours. The ZenBook Pro is the kind of notebook you could bring to class or on long writing sessions at cafés.
The ZenBook Pro UX550VE is certainly an interesting device and lived-up to the hype it created to some degree. If users can look past ASUS’ mistake on the cooling system and the port positioning then they would be greeted by an amazing laptop with an elegant design, powerful internals, immersive speakers, rock-solid build, stellar battery life, beautiful display, and excellent keyboard. Truth be told, the pros of the device actually outweigh its cons. The biggest problem consumers will face, however, is the notebook’s price, which starts at a staggering Php 104,995. Either way, ASUS did a good job in making the ZenBook Pro UX550VE a powerful yet slim device.
ASUS ZenBook Pro (UX550VE) specs:
15.6-inch Full HD / 4K UHD NanoEdge display (Touch Optional)
Intel Core i5-7300HQ / Core-7-7700HQ CPU
NVIDIA GeForce 1050 Ti / 1050 GPU, 4GB DDR5 VRAM
512GB PCIe SSD
512GB / 256GB SATA3 SSD
2x USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 2 (Thunderbolt 3)
2x USB 3.1 Type-A USB 3.1 Gen 1
Combo audio jack
MicroSD card reader
Full-size backlit keyboard, 1.5mm travel
Quad speakers (3W each), certified by Harman Kardon
Dual band 802.11 ac WiFi
Windows 10 Pro / Home
73Wh 8-cell Li-Po battery
36.5 x 25.1 x 1.89 cm
Royal Blue, Matte Black
What we liked:
- Premium and elegant design
- Gorgeous display
- Immersive and high quality speakers
- Excellent keyboard
- Slim profile
- Above average battery life
- Rock-solid build
- Multiple Thunderbolt 3 ports
- Touch enabled
What we didn’t like:
- Weird port positioning
- Flawed exhaust vent design
- Fingerprint magnet