Review: Asus Zenbook Pro uX501 Laptop

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We’re very particular about our laptops: and by us, I’m not just talking about the Phoblographer staff. Photographers in general are very particular about what they use and for many great reasons, we tend to steer towards MacBook Pros. But photographers started looking for other options years ago when Apple stopped allowing us to change the RAM and other parts of our computers–but this exodus happened more with those of us who edit and shoot video more frequently.

So when the Asus uX501 was pitched to us for review, we were incredibly careful when it came to figuring out if it’s worth reviewing or not. But with a solid spec sheet for photographers, it seemed like something too good to pass up.

Boasting a display with a 94% sRGB gamut coverage, 3840 x 2160 Native Resolution, Thunderbolt ports, 15.6 inches of real estate space for you to edit (touch enabled), 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD, a 2.6 GHz Intel i7-4720HQ processor, and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M Graphics it seems pretty solid, right?

Right?

Pros and Cons

Pros

– Great for editing and calibration

– Lots of space to edit

– Durable

– Beautiful display

– Lightroom CC is very responsive, though it just seems faster on MacBooks

Cons

– Windows 8

– There are screens with more coverage than 94% of the gamut although that is pretty darn good

– God, I hate Windows 8

– If you’re coming from a 13 inch laptop then you’re going to need to get used to this.

– Such a massive glossy screen is a bit tough to edit on.

Gear Used

We tested the Asus UX501 Laptop with the Canon 6D, Nikon D810, Spyder screen calibration system and the Logitech M510 mouse.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo listing

Performance
Processor 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ Quad-Core
Cache L3: 6 MB
System Bus 5 GT/s
Memory Type: DDR3L SDRAM
Installed: 16 GB
Capacity: 16 GB
Graphics Card Type: Dedicated
Installed: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 2 GB GDDR5 SDRAM
Display
Type Wide Touchscreen
Size 15.6″
Finish Glossy
Native Resolution 3840 x 2160
Color Gamut 74% 1
Please Note:

Adobe RGB

close

Viewing Angle 178° Horizontal, 178° Vertical
Storage
Hard Drive Installed: 512 GB SSD
Type: PCIe-Based Flash
Optical Drive None
Input/Output Connectors
Ports 1x Thunderbolt 2
3x USB 3.0 (A)
Display 1x HDMI
Audio 1/8″ (3.5 mm) Combo Headphone & Audio Out
Integrated Stereo Speakers
Integrated Microphone
Flash Media Slot 1x SD
1x SDXC
Communications
Network 10/100 Mbps Ethernet (RJ-45)
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0
Webcam Yes
1.2 MP Photo
General
Operating System Windows 8.1 (64-bit)
Keyboard Type: Standard Notebook Keyboard
Features: Backlight
Pointing Device TouchPad
Battery 6-Cell Lithium-Polymer  Providing up to 6 Hours per Charge (96 Wh)
Dimensions (WxHxD) 15.1 x 10.0 x 0.8″ / 38.4 x 25.4 x 2.0 cm
Weight 5 lb / 2.27 kg
Packaging Info
Package Weight 10.65 lb
Box Dimensions (LxWxH) 17.4 x 13.1 x 5.3″

Ergonomics

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The Asus Zenbook Pro uX501 laptop is a beautiful machine in its own right, though photographers that are more used to products that our overlord Tim Cook pumps out will be able to tell the differences immediately. However, the uX501 does a great job at offering something very alternative.

At 15.6 inches, you’re already dealing with something quite large.

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Open the Zenbook up and you’ll be greeted to a massive, gorgeous glossy LCD screen and a large keyboard. The keyboard is incredibly comfortable once you get used to it. Since I’m primarily a 13-inch MacBook user, I never totally got used to it.

The Zenbook makes it as simple as it can possibly be to operate the machine with the right keys in all the right places with the exception of the random keypad on the right. It makes you need to either use the computer off kilter at a tilt or just wish that you could be a bigger person. For those of us who are bigger people, kudos to you for drinking your milk when you were younger.

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What you’ll really love about this computer is the display and how bright it can get, though that presents its own set of problems, too.

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The sides of the computer have their own ports. On the left side, you’ve got USB 3.0, HDMI, the power jack and Thunderbolt.

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Meanwhile, on the right side you’ll find a mic jack, an SD card port and two more USB ports. The addition of the SD card port is very nice for photographers these days as the industry has continued to move forward towards SD cards and away from CF cards.

Ease of Use

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Considering that we’re a photography website, we’re focusing on this review from the standpoint of a photographer. If this is the case, then the strongest feature of this laptop has to be the incredible display that is very pixel dense and makes editing look overall quite beautiful if you’ve got perfect eyesight. For those of us that wear glasses or have astigmatism problems, it can be a bit tougher to work with unless you lower the brightness. When that’s done, you’ll have no big problems but at the same time the display won’t show off its best abilities.

Additionally, the screen is generally most beautiful with the brightness all the way up as it adds extra saturation, contrast and punch to the images. Indeed, everything you edit will be beautiful and rich.

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But before you do this, we recommend that you calibrate your screen. We used the Spyder4Pro Calibration system, which analyzed the display and rated it to 94% of the sRGB gamut despite Asus’s claims of 100% on their website. If you’re editing for the web, this is still perfectly fine and you won’t be missing that extra 6% so much.

But if you’re printing, then it’s a different story. The Asus UX501 display covers around 74% of the Adobe RGB spectrum; and in that case you’ll probably want to hook this computer up to a second monitor when editing for print. In today’s day and age though, printing is significantly less common.

For a solid month and half, I used the computer back and forth with my 2012 MacBook Pro and one of the toughest things to get used to was the keyboard. If you simply shift your hands over a bit and not center them, then the laptop is incredible. But otherwise, the keypad on the right makes life a bit difficult. If you’re used to 15-inch laptops with similar keyboards though, then you’ll get used to this very quickly. They keyboard is overall quite nice once you get used to it.

While editing images in Adobe Lightroom, we tested this laptop both with images uploaded to the hard drive and images on an external drive hooked up and us editing off of the drive. Photographers have known for years that the best thing to do is to edit off to external drives, but many photographers may still want to upload them to the computer’s SSD. If you choose to do this, you’ll see marginal performance improvement, but nothing that will ultimately speed up your workflow.

To be honest, the worst part of this computer overall has to be Windows 8, and that’s not Asus’s problem. If you choose to partition your drive and install something like the latest OS X software, you’ll have much less of a problem.

16GB of RAM and the 2.6 GHz processor really has its effect on editing with Adobe Lightroom CC. Since the announcement of the latest version, we know that the program uses more processor power to edit, and for the most part it does a great job. When you’re using Google Chrome with a ton of tabs open and Lightroom together, it only really starts to slow down with larger files like those from the Nikon D810 and Fujifilm’s X-series cameras. However, this is standard with the program.

Considering that you continue to edit off of an external hard drive, the computer’s performance won’t degrade as heavily. But marathon editing (think lots of weddings or being a busy photo editor) and catalogs that are messy can slow it down quite often. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen Adobe Lightroom CC crash on a MacBook, but it happened at least four times on this PC during our test runs.

Conclusions

If you’re a photographer with bigger hands, very few eyesight problems and a general aversion the Apple ecosystem, then the Asus uX501 laptop is a pretty darn good option option a MacBook, though we can’t explain why Adobe Lightroom CC kept crashing on us. If you’re doing a lot of print work, you may want to stay away from it and get another display. But if you’re the type of photographer that also uses a big backpack and can stuff it into said backpack, then you’ve got a nice alternative here.

Still though, it isn’t perfect. But it’s darn close.

four-star-Phoblographer-Star-rating

We give the Asus uX501 laptop four out of five stars, and we think that the right audience will really appreciate it. Want one? Check the B&H Photo listing for the latest price.