Finally set in motion. Asus’ PC business in India is on an upward trajectory. That has been a consistent tune for the previous few quarters. About time too, considering the robust product lines, which include ultra slim and premium Zenbook laptops, the ROG series of gaming devices including the ROG Ally portable console and ProArt Studio devices for creators. In Q3 2023, Asus’ market share was 12.5% according to numbers by research firm IDC – up from 9.9% in the quarter before. That meant it climbed ahead of rivals Acer (11.6% share) and has Dell (14.6% share) worried, and also makes India a crucial market.

Asus Zenbook 14. (Vishal Mathur/ HT Photo)

Good time then, and sound strategy, to be beginning this year’s line-up with the flagship that gives us a true glimpse at what Asus can do with computing devices when the restrictions of the accountant aren’t hanging over the head. The rest will follow the trend, as they should. The Asus Zenbook 14 OLED will have tough competition to contend with, without doubt – the likes of the HP Spectre, Dell XPS and to an extent, interest the demographic otherwise considering the Apple MacBook Air. If it is a pitch for the aspirational computing device, Asus India is on the right track.

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The spec that I’m reviewing here, with an Intel Core Ultra 7 chip, 32GB RAM, a 1TB SSD and a 13.4-inch touch OLED, carries a price tag of 1,20,990 (the pricing, for the range, starts around 96,900 depending on config). Whenever HP, Dell and the rest of the Windows competition choose to respond, matching those margins, will not be easy. Two colour options to choose from – Ponder Blue and Foggy Silver. The latter is a more conventional colourway, seen in laptops quite often. It is the blue which I’d recommend.

Though its theoretically the next generation in an existing line-up, changes are more than cursory. Take the design for instance. The Zenbook 14 OLED’s aluminium body is thinner than its predecessor, at 14.9mm. More than anything that’d resemble visual uniformity, you’ll find relevance in those shaved off millimetres making it more portable. Its 1.20kg on the scales, and that for a 14-inch laptop is quite the weight saving. In comparison, a Dell XPS 13 Plus with a 13.4-inch OLED screen weighs 1.26kg. That’s more, for a slightly smaller screen.

That isn’t all. Thoughtful additions such as the design on the lid, the slight redesign for each key on the keyboard to give every keypress better responsiveness and a number-pad that can be invoked within the touchpad, add more to the experience – some for the visual appeal, others that aid useability. There is no risking fragility too, and Asus says this laptop confirms to as many as 20 military-grade tests for drops, vibrations and shocks. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t recommend being careless with a new Zenbook 14 OLED anyway.

Speaking of which, we must talk about this OLED display. It is, as the naming scheme rightly suggests, the highlight. Important to note this is a 14-inch screen in a chassis that’d otherwise fit a 13.3-inch or thereabouts size display. Secondly, it is rated at a peak of 550-nits brightness with HDR or high-dynamic range content. Irrespective of the numbers, my testing experience illustrates that I write (and read alongside, quite comfortably) this while taking advantage of a rare winter afternoon’s sun in the national capital, and the sunlight is directly beaming on the Zenbook 14 OLED’s screen (and I have this set at 50% illumination).

At which point, I must note that if you are to turn this screen brightness all the way down, it never truly goes black the way other display tech allows them to. Part of the methodology (the other being an unnoticeable pixel shift movement) at play here is something called ‘pixel refresh’ that allows individual pixels on the screen to turn off and on without being noticeable to the user. That prevents OLED burn-in, which can happen after prolonged use with static elements on a screen. And there are 2880 x 1800 pixels on this screen – impossible to tell when they individually turn on and off.

You have a choice of two power stations for the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED. Since the naming scheme has changed, Intel’s new chips are called the Core Ultra with the “i” no longer part of identification. There are two chips to choose from – the Intel Core Ultra 7-155H and the Intel Core Ultra 5-125H. The new architecture allows both these chips to be configured at different power ratings, or TDP, which will go on to determine heat generation and an ability to hold performance. Asus has tuned both chips at 28-watt.

The spec we tested is with the Core Ultra 7 chip, with 32GB RAM. For an ultra-slim laptop, this returns remarkably powerful performance as you go about using it as a work laptop often laden with careless multi-tasking. Holds performance well too, since there was little to complain about heating (the fact we tested this in the coldest days of the winter is a likely contributor to those observations). That said, architectural changes including how the performance and efficiency cores deploy as well as the AI specific silicon, allow for versatility which will mean the same chip can work in multiple form factors (ultra slim laptops as we see here, gaming laptops or desktop replacements) when configured specifically.

Intel’s new Core Ultra chips, including this Core Ultra 7-155H, has a silicon dedicated to AI. Called the NPU or Neural Processing Unit, it’ll be the point of call for all AI compute tasks. The result – faster computation, compared with the performance or efficiency cores doing the same tasks, in previous generation chips. The spectrum of utility is broad.

All on-device AI tasks, including in this case, Asus’ front camera’s facial recognition for authentication and background blur or automatic framing during video calls, will be quicker. Therefore, enhanced precision and usability. AI models, such as Stable Diffusion, will be more efficient to run too. We envision a future when AI models will increasingly offer a “device-only” compute method taking away the need to send your data to the cloud – and that’s where an NPU will shine through.

Battery stamina is consistent enough, and we would no longer have battery anxiety if we were to leave the power adapter (it’s a 65-watt USB-C one) at home as we embark on a day at work. With at least 15 tabs open in Microsoft Edge and switching between multiple documents, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED’s fully charged battery dipped to 92% after 1 hour 26 minutes. This, with the display brightness at 30% and keyboard backlight at level 2. If we are to calculate with this battery consumption trajectory, you’re looking at as much as 18 hours of backup on a single charge.

That may well be the best-case scenario but even in scenarios where you’re taking liberties with multi-tasking or increase the display illumination, and you’re still approaching close to 15 hours of battery backup for a laptop that’s incredibly compact and light. Most competition in the ultra-slim space, doesn’t deliver on battery stamina, with as much ease.

The Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is symbolic of a change in approach. Asus wants to usher the next line of computing devices, led by the one they have put the most attention to detail in. In a world that has the HP Spectre and the Dell XPS vying for your attention, a premium Asus laptop may have been on the periphery of your attention and consideration. Not anymore. The attention to detail is the hidden charm of this ultra-slim laptop. A tweaked key design, an improved LED-illuminated numeric keypad integrated in the touchpad and an AI layer for the webcam are built on a solid foundation. The performance, a gorgeous display and battery life are the underliers that Asus Zenbook 14 OLED’s illustrious rivals will struggle to match.

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