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Asus ZenBook 13 (2021) review

A vibrant ultraportable that goes the distance

Asus ZenBook 13
(Image: © Future)

Arviomme

The Asus ZenBook 13 is a seriously lightweight, powerful, and vibrant ultraportable laptop sporting the latest AMD Ryzen processors and a gorgeous HD OLED display, but its Radeon graphics don't match Intel's Iris Xe performance and it compromises on its ports in some unfortunate ways.

Hyvää

  • Gorgeous OLED display
  • Decent CPU performance
  • Phenomenal battery life

Huonoa

  • No headphone jack
  • Radeon graphics underperform

TechRadar Verdict

The Asus ZenBook 13 is a seriously lightweight, powerful, and vibrant ultraportable laptop sporting the latest AMD Ryzen processors and a gorgeous HD OLED display, but its Radeon graphics don't match Intel's Iris Xe performance and it compromises on its ports in some unfortunate ways.

Pros

  • + Gorgeous OLED display
  • + Decent CPU performance
  • + Phenomenal battery life

Cons

  • - No headphone jack
  • - Radeon graphics underperform

Two minute review

The Asus ZenBook 13 is back for 2021, loaded with the latest AMD Ryzen 5000 series processors and sporting a full HD OLED panel for gorgeous, vibrant colors and some outstanding CPU performance, but its Radeon graphics don't quite match what Intel Iris Xe is capable of and the lack of Thunderbolt 4 support and lack of a headphone jack means holds it back just enough to keep it from being truly great.

That's not to say this isn't one of the best Ultrabooks on the market right now, it definitely is. From its excellent design and lightweight chassis to its bright and vibrant 400-nit OLED display, this is one of the best looking ultrabooks going that isn't the Dell XPS 13 and Apple MacBook Air (M1,2020), that is. It's also a good bit lighter than both of those, losing out to only the very lightest machines like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano.

In terms of performance, the AMD Ryzen 5000-series CPUs are some of the best multitasking CPUs around, making light work of schoolwork, work work, or just loading up on lots of Google Chrome tabs (having 16GB RAM definitely helps as well). The ZenBook 13 stumbles a bit though when it comes to its GPU performance, where the AMD Radeon graphics are definitely capable, but lag behind Intel's competing Iris Xe integrated graphics.

Where the Asus ZenBook 13 truly overpowers its rivals though is its battery life, thanks to a relatively huge 67WHr battery that runs for hours longer than some of its major competitors like the XPS 13.

Still, there are some downsides to the ZenBook 13 that can't go unnoticed, like its lack of Thunderbolt 4 support or the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack, forcing you to use one of its few USB slots to connect a headset or to connect through Bluetooth. The keyboard and trackpad might be a bit too cramped for some out there, as well, though it isn't terribly so.

While these issues do hold the ZenBook 13 back somewhat - and some of these might be genuine deal breakers - if you've got wireless earbuds ready to go and you don't need the most cutting edge integrated graphics, you should definitely give the Asus ZenBook 13 a look.

Asus ZenBook 13

(Image credit: Future)

Price and availability

Spec Sheet

Here is the Asus ZenBook 13 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5800U
Graphics: AMD Radeon
RAM: 16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch, OLED 1080p, 400 nits
Storage: 1TB PCIe SSD
Ports: 1 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1, 2 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (Display, Power, Data), 1xHDMI 2.1, MicroSD
Connectivity:
Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
Camera: 720p IR webcam
Weight: 2.51lbs (1.14kg)
Size (W x D x H): 11.97 x 7.99 x 0.55ins (304 x 203 x 13.9mm)
Battery: 67WHr 

The Asus ZenBook 13 (2021) is available now, starting at $749 / £899 ($999 / £1,099 as reviewed) in the US and UK. Unfortunately, at this time the 13-inch model is not available in Australia, with the closest model being the Asus ZenBook 14 (UM425).

There are some Intel-based versions of the ZenBook 13 as well, though we haven't tested them, so we can't speak to their performance versus the AMD Ryzen 5000-series models.

Design

The design of the Asus ZenBook 13 is definitely one of its standout features. At just 0.55-inches thin (13.9 mm) and 2.51 pounds (1.14kg), this is a seriously lightweight Ultrabook.

Asus ZenBook 13

(Image credit: Future)

The aluminum chassis has a sleek brushed metal design on the lid radiating out from the Asus logo stamped off-center on the front. It's not an art piece by any means, but its not the kind of thing that you'll be embarrassed to whip out in public.

Asus ZenBook 13

(Image credit: Future)

The edge-to-edge keyboard was comfortable enough for us, but we type for a living. We can definitely see how some might find the key layout too cramped, and the trackpad is definitely not as responsive or comfortable as you'll find on the XPS 13.

Asus ZenBook 13

(Image credit: Future)

One thing that definitely helps, though, is that the keyboard lifts up toward you as you fully extend the screen, making typing on it more pleasant than it would otherwise be.

Asus ZenBook 13

(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to ports, there are two USB Type-C ports, a USB Type-A, an HDMI 2.0 output port, and a microSD slot. You might notice the absence of a headphone jack, which honestly we'd have preferred to see in exchange for a microSD card slot. 

We wouldn't necessarily call this a "creative workstation" so having a media slot usually used for photos or recorded audio isn't likely to see as much use as a headphone jack would have been.

Asus ZenBook 13

(Image credit: Future)

Especially because the speakers are down-firing. That means that resting the ZenBook 13 on anything other than a hard, flat surface risks muffling the sound. 

They aren't the worst laptop speakers we've ever heard, though, given their configuration. During our HD movie test, the speakers alone at 50% volume managed to fill a small studio apartment pretty well.

Asus ZenBook 13

(Image credit: Future)

Performance

Benchmarks

Here is how the Asus ZenBook 13 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
GeekBench 5: 1,415 (single-core); 6,824 (multi-core)
CineBench R23: 7,773
PCMark 10 Home: 5,963
3DMark Night Raid: 13,305; Firestrike: 3,277; Time Spy: 1,306;
Blender Fishy Cat: 7 minutes 8 seconds; Classroom: 13 minutes 44 seconds
Battery Life (PCMark 10 test): 13 hours 50 minutes
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 9 hours 9 minutes

The performance of the Asus ZenBook 13 is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, its CPU performance simply blows away competing Intel Core i7 chips like the i7-1165G7 in multicore performance, though it lags behind in terms of single core performance.

This is pretty typical for AMD chips, which tend to be better at multitasking than Intel's but lag behind with particularly intensive apps that require higher single core power, like gaming or video encoding. Fortunately, you probably aren't likely to do much of the latter on an Ultrabook like the ZenBook 13, so the multicore performance is definitely more relevant for general use and productivity work.

Another area where the ZenBook 13 slips a bit is in GPU performance. AMD Radeon integrated graphics have come a long way, but it isn't quite up to the level of Intel Iris Xe's. In our 3DMark benchmarks, the Ryzen 7 5800U fell noticeably behind the i7-1165G7 in the XPS 13 and Razer Book 13.

Still, given that it's an Ultrabook, we didn't expect anything earth-shattering in terms of graphics. Still, we would like to see AMD's integrated Radeon graphics become more competitive with Intel's. Maybe next year.

Battery life

The battery life of the Asus ZenBook 13 was some of the best we've seen in an Ultrabook that wasn't running an ARM chip, and even then, the ZenBook 13 outperformed the MacBook Air (M1) by a couple of hours, lasting nine hours and nine minutes in our HD movie test to the Air's 11 hours and 15 minutes.

In our PCMark10 battery benchmark, the ZenBook 13 averaged nearly 14 hours (13:50, to be precise), with the shortest run being 11 hours 30 minutes, and its longest run lasting 16 hours 23 minutes. In the worst case, the ZenBook 13 falls just shy of the XPS 13, lasting 11 hours 30 minutes to the XPS 13's 11 hours 47 minutes, and at its best, it lasts nearly five hours longer.

Needless to say, it's a very impressive result though not all too surprising given the larger 67WHr battery for the ZenBook 13.

Webcam and microphone

The 720p HD webcam on the Asus ZenBook 13 is pretty standard as far as webcams go. Considering how much they've become a part of everybody's life in 2020, we would like to see a better quality camera, but the ZenBook 13 is hardly the only offender in that regard. Fortunately, there is a privacy switch that will shut the camera off. It's not a physical shutter, but it's better than not having any switch at all.

The microphone quality was generally excellent, and our colleagues heard us loud and clear during meetings. We conducted several interviews for work as well that went off without a hitch. 

Asus ZenBook 13

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

You need a multitasking champ
The AMD Ryzen 5000-series processors are as good as it gets where general purpose multitasking and productivity work is concerned.

You want outstanding battery life
The Asus ZenBook 13 has some of the best battery life in a laptop class known for exceptional battery life.

You want a very portable laptop
At just 2.51 pounds (1.14kg), this incredibly thin Ultrabook is more portable than most of its rivals.

Don't buy it if...

You want better than a 1080p display
The OLED panel on the Asus ZenBook 13 is gorgeous, but it is only a 1080p display with a 16:9 ratio, not 3:2.

You don't have a Bluetooth headset
Without a headphone jack, you'll need a USB or Bluetooth headset if you want to keep things quiet and/or private.

You need high-quality graphics performance
Don't let the gorgeous OLED display fool you, this isn't the kind of ultrabook that's going to perform intensive creative work like video editing or 3D rendering.

John Loeffler

John (He / Him / His) is TechRadar's Computing Staff Writer and is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.


You can find him online on Twitter at @thisdotjohn


Currently playing: Back 4 Blood, Metroid Dread, EVE Online