ASUSPRO B9440UA review: A tough, lightweight 14-inch business laptop, but where's the webcam?


The ASUSPRO B9440UA tries to hit a sweet spot between price, functionality and portability that will appeal to mobile professionals. There's a real sleekness to the design, with ASUS highlighting the provision of a full-HD 14-inch screen in a 13-inch chassis with 'military-grade reliability'. But this is quite a crowded part of the market, so Asus will need to do something special and leave no loose ends if it is to truly impress.

If slim and sleek wins the day, then the ASUSPRO B9440UA fits the bill. The chassis tapers from 15mm at the back -- including a generous allowance for the protruding hinge mechanism -- down to just 8.9mm at the front. The desktop footprint measures 321.3mm by 216.2mm.

asuspro-main.jpgThe ASUSPRO B9440UA combines sleek dimensions with a robust (MIL-STD 810G) chassis. It weighs just over a kilogram, and is powered by 7th-generation Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. Images: ASUS

Even before opening the lid the magnesium alloy chassis just looks classy. Slate-grey and tough, the ASUSPRO B9440UA meets MIL-STD 810G so it should certainly survive the rough-and-tumble of the executive's travel bag. Still, for all its military-grade robustness there's quite a lot of flex in the lid, and I wouldn't want to carry this laptop far without a protective case.

According to its manufacturer, the ASUSPRO B9440UA is the world's lightest 14-inch business laptop. It weighs in just over the 1kg mark at 1.05kg, and is lighter than rivals such as the 13.3-inch Dell XPS 13 (1.2kg), 13.3-inch Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (1.24kg), and 13.9-inch Lenovo Yoga 910 (1.4kg).

asuspro-hinge2.jpgThe screen hinge props up the keyboard at a comfortable typing angle. Note the position of the power key, next to Delete. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Two of those laptops have 360-degree rotating screens, a feature ASUS eschews here: the screen will only go as far back as 180 degrees, to lie flat on a desk. The hinge itself has an innovative design that sits proud of the back of the laptop and raises the back of the keyboard higher than the front. The resulting 7-degree angle provides a typing position that's more ergonomic than the usual flat position.

There are two very thin rubber strips on the back of the laptop hinge, which look a little incongruous against the otherwise very sleek lines. They sit on the table top when the ASUSPRO B9440UA is opened, and I assume are present to help keep it anchored (the raised back means there's only room for rubber feet at the front of the base section). Unfortunately, this arrangement doesn't really work -- this could be a laptop that's mobile in unintended ways on a juddering train, for example.

asuspro-keyboard.jpgThe keyboard is backlit and the large touchpad works well. There's a fingerprint reader, but the lack of a webcam rules out authentication via face recognition. Image: ASUS

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The backlit keyboard is comfortable to use. Keys are not particularly springy, but their 1.5mm travel delivers a reassuring feel, particularly for heavier-handed typists. The space bar and other keys on this row are taller than the main bulk of keys, which is unusual but not unwelcome. There's a fingerprint scanner above the Fn key row on the right.

The power button is on the keyboard. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but ASUS has located it at the right end of the Fn key row -- where I would expect to find the Delete key, which has been nudged inwards by one slot. Inevitably, I repeatedly tapped the power key by accident when hunting for Delete on autopilot. This is more than just a minor irritation.

The touchpad is large and very responsive. It handled multitouch gestures well, and I've no issues with it.

ASUS has opted to forego a touchscreen, which is unusual these days (the three aforementioned laptops from Dell and Lenovo are all touchscreen devices). The screen has an anti-glare matte coating, which many business users may prefer to the reflective variety. I certainly found it a joy to work on a reflection-free screen, and there's plenty of brightness on offer.

The screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio, offering full-HD 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution. That's not exactly leading-edge these days, and I would have liked to have seen a higher resolution. Still, I was able to work with two windows open side by side, and three at a pinch, and viewing angles are fine.

I don't usually wax lyrical about laptop speakers, but the Harman Kardon units fitted here are at the higher end of the audio quality spectrum for a laptop in this class, delivering plenty of volume and bass.

Narrow screen bezels cause problems for webcam placement. The three laptops mentioned earlier -- Lenovo's Yoga 910 and Dell's XPS 13 and XPS 13 2-in-1 -- all have very narrow bezels, and as a result their webcams are awkwardly located on the (larger) bezel below the screen.

ASUS has found a different solution to this problem: there is no webcam. That's a very strange decision on a business-class laptop. Not only does it mean video conferencing is out of the question (unless you bring an external webcam), it also takes authentication via Windows Hello face recognition off the table. This might be a deal-breaker for many potential buyers.

The other potential issue with the ASUSPRO B9440UA is that, apart from a 3.5mm headset jack, there are just two USB Type-C connectors, only one of which supports display and power. This is minimal indeed.

asuspro-dock.jpgASUS's SimPro Dock adds a host of connections, but it'll cost you £139 ($150) extra. Images: ASUS

ASUS shipped my review unit with its SimPro Dock which, for £139, adds an array of facilities: USB-C, USB 3.1 x2, SD card slot, power button and combo audio jack on the front; and USB 3.1 x2, RJ-45 Ethernet, DisplayPort 1.2 x2, HDMI 1.4, power-in and Kensington lock slot at the back. It's big though, adding a further 375g of weight to the kit bag -- and that's without the power adapter.

With an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, HD Graphics 620 and 8GB of RAM, the AsusPro B9440UA is well equipped for handling mainstream workloads, and the 512GB SSD will come in handy too. The operating system is Windows 10 Pro.

Manufacturers' battery life claims are often ambitious, but ASUS may not be too far off the mark in suggesting that you'll get ten hours from this system's 4-cell 48Wh battery, which will fast-charge up to 50 percent in 30 minutes. My anecdotal everyday-use tests were very positive: in one session with the screen always on, an internet connection, multiple open browser windows, some streaming, some document creation and some music listening, the battery depleted from 85 percent to 58 percent in 3.5 hours.

Conclusions

ASUS pitches the £1,079.99 (inc. VAT, £899.99 ex. VAT, or $999 in the US) ASUSPRO B9440UA squarely at the business market, and there's plenty to like, including good battery life, a matte screen, and a robust military-grade chassis. However, there's no webcam or touchscreen, limited on-board connectivity and the power switch is in arguably the most annoying possible location.

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