Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 Review: Beauty And Brawn

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Design and User Experience

The ZenBook Pro UX501 is clearly designed to steal glances from MacBook Pro fans. This is a notebook meant to look professional in the office and evoke jealousy from friends after hours. Its silver anodized finish, iconic spun hairline lid, and aluminum chassis combine to create a striking first impression. A gradient ripple pattern on the upper third of the keyboard deck enhances its aesthetic appeal and also conceals a pair of speakers from Bang & Olufsen. 

ux501 lid small

There's something I want to mention regarding those speakers. Despite the impressive pedigree, they're merely OK, exhibiting a tinny quality that might make music enthusiasts cringe. Volume levels depend heavily on the environment you're in since they're downward-firing speakers. That means on my glass desk the sound projects quite well, but on my lap or placed on the carpet sound gets dampened considerably. This is probably the only legitimate gripe I had about the UX501, especially when comparing sound quality side-by-side with even a MacBook Air. 

Asus has also employed a roomy glass-coated touchpad that matches the 16:9 aspect ratio of the display, and it feels fantastic to use once you've adjusted sensitivity settings to your liking. Smart gestures (like swiping in from the right to reveal the Windows 8.1 Charms Bar) worked flawlessly and repeatedly. 

ux501 keyboardfront

One of the most eye-popping features recreates a look that Apple inexplicably dropped from its MacBook Pro lineup: silver-painted keyboard keys with white backlighting. It looks slick and professional and makes nighttime typing a joy, especially since the backlight fades away automatically when its not needed. The typing experience itself is serviceable. Lenovo keyboards remain my favorite for their tactility and travel, although lately it's been tough to view Lenovo in as favorable a light. The UX501's plank does incorporate a full 10-key NumPad which is awesome, but the trade-off is keys that feel slightly cramped. That said, you'll adjust quickly and be plucking away at top speed in no time. 

ux501 keyboard

ux501 10key

We'd be remiss not to heap praise on the ZenBook Pro's 3840x2160 IPS display. It's viewing angles are quite wide, and color reproduction is as accurate as I've ever witnessed on a notebook panel. Its 280 nits brightness rating, however, makes it less desirable to use in direct sunlight, and is the only instance where its otherwise sexy glossy screen becomes a hindrance. Watching UltraHD content on this baby is blissful, and plowing through Excel workbooks -- while we can't describe that as blissful -- is made considerably more enjoyable with the crystal clear text and immense pixel real estate.

With the minor exception of its sound quality, using the UX501 as a daily driver has been enjoyable. I've gamed on it, traveled to press events with it, and I'll willfully admit that it spent a few nights with me in bed piping Breaking Bad to my eyeballs in glorious 4K. 

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