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Asus ExpertBook B9 review: Everything else feels heavy now

Considering how much I liked it going in, I didn’t think that my review of the brand new Asus ExpertBook B9 (B9450FA) would be this difficult to write. Though I think that’s often the case when you try to give an honest recommendation about something that you really like, but ultimately doesn’t look like particularly great value on paper.

So, I figured that the best way to write this would be to take you through my own journey of discovery with the ExpertBook B9. For me, my opinion of this laptop changed in three major phases. And I’ll start with phase one.

Love at first light

I don’t think I’ll soon forget the first time I picked the ExpertBook B9 up. I knew going in that the laptop was one of those rare sub-1kg devices. I thought that I was well prepared because I’ve had experience with a device like this in the past. But, I don’t think holding an 870g laptop in your hand is something you ever really get used to, especially when it’s not one you experience every day. I’ll be honest, when I first took it out of the box, I thought Asus had mistakenly sent me a dummy unit—a shell without any of the internals. But sure enough, when I hit the power button it booted right up.

And I wasn’t the only one. Everyone in the office could scarcely believe that what I had was a proper functioning laptop. Everybody I showed it to was gobsmacked at how little it weighed in their hands, and these are people who have used a huge variety of laptops including one that’s named after Air. 

Obviously, the main reason for this is down to the construction. Asus says the laptop is made from a magnesium-lithium alloy chassis. As a layperson, I have no idea what that means beyond the fact that this is the lightest laptop I’ve ever had the chance to use as a daily driver.

Then, I popped the lid. And here’s the thing about the ExpertBook B9: although it’s such a light device, the lid still effortlessly passes the one-finger-open test and it boggles my mind how Asus has done that. It’s a firm but smooth motion that doesn’t cease to impress.

What’s more, the device utilises Asus’ ErgoLift hinge design that gradually props the laptop’s chassis up as you open the lid. This not only gives you a more comfortable typing angle because it raises the keyboard deck, but it also helps with airflow and cooling.

Speaking of typing, this was the next thing I liked about the ExpertBook B9—its keyboard. For the most part I think this is a deeply personal matter, but I really liked the tactile, firm keys Asus used on this device. It’s also got a mostly good layout and keys that don’t wobble, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the power button being integrated into the keyboard. Makes hitting delete much tricker when you’re touch typing. But as a whole, I think it’s a great deck for a laptop of this size. 

I was also surprised by how much I ended up liking the trackpad, and that’s not something I often say with a Windows machine. It feels great, has a good size and uses Windows Precision drivers. It’ll also double as a numpad if you need that, but I never really used it. Still, I wouldn’t say that it could “replace a mouse”, but I have said that about every trackpad in existence. I don’t believe any of them will replace the precision of a good mouse.

I/O on the ExpertBook B9 would be another strong suit. I came from a Huawei MateBook 13, which only has two USB-C ports, so the B9 was a refreshing change of pace. You get two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, one USB-A (3.2 Gen 2) port, a full sized HDMI port as well as a micro HDMI port that works as an Ethernet port through the included adapter. 

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This means that for 90% of my work needs, I don’t have to use a dongle for anything. And being that dongle-free in a post-2019 world felt…liberating. 

If you couldn’t already tell, I was already really into the idea of the ExpertBook B9. I liked a lot about this device and made the difficult choice of switching to using this as my daily driver from the MateBook 13 that I really enjoyed. But, the thing about first impressions is that it will often struggle to tell the full story. I had to live with the device for a bit before I truly realised the gravity of what I was giving up by making the switch. And that led me to phase two.

Commitment is hard

I think the part that was hardest for me to get used to was the screen. Don’t get me wrong, the 14” Full HD 16:9 IPS panel looks pretty good, and looks colour accurate enough to my eye. But for something designed around productivity and the “business type” I’d always prefer to have a taller 3:2 aspect ratio display instead. It makes writing, spreadsheet work, and web browsing just so much more satisfying when you have a tall screen.

While I wouldn’t ask for a 4K panel on a 14” panel, I think the sweet spot here would have been a Quad HD display instead. Full HD looks a little bit old-fashioned to me, especially when you consider the fact that this is a high-end laptop.

Then, there were the speakers. Despite the Harman/Kardon branding, they still sounded like laptop speakers and are severely lacking in terms of volume. Apple’s MacBook Pros are the gold-standard here, and compared to those, the ExpertBook B9 just doesn’t compete. In fact, I don’t even think that they compete with the mid-range MateBook 13 I came from because Huawei’s laptop had way more volume and body.

But, y’know, I guess considering the fact that this is designed to be a super portable laptop, I can forgive the lack of stunning speakers. What did boggle my mind was the power brick that was included. Yes, the brick itself isn’t too big, it’s kind of like the size of a mooncake. But, unlike other USB-C power bricks I’ve seen that plug directly into the socket like a smartphone’s charger, the ExpertBook B9’s brick still requires one of those old school 3-pin laptop power cables that almost weigh more than the brick itself. 

Why did Asus think this was a good idea, I’ll always struggle to understand. Maybe it helps with plugging the laptop into tight power sockets without much space or headroom, but I would have liked the option to just use the brick with a head instead like you would with a MacBook or MateBook. Plus, I never really had an issue with plugging those devices into sockets anyway.

Another downside of this implementation is that the USB-C cable that you use to charge your laptop is permanently attached to the power brick so you can’t use it as like a regular USB-C to USB-C cable. It’s frustrating. New, more convenient technology, shouldn’t be bogged down with the troubles of the past.

And I gotta say, a couple of weeks into switching to the ExpertBook B9, I was super tempted to hop back to the MateBook 13. But now, as I write this review, I’m glad I didn’t because the more I used this device, the subtleties started coming through.

The details matter

Up until this point, I haven’t actually talked about performance. That’s because this isn’t a laptop that’s designed to be some super benchmark crushing beast. The device I have features an Intel Core i7-10510U processor, 16GB of RAM and two 1TB M.2 SSDs for a total of 2TB of storage. I was really skeptical going in because this laptop didn’t have a discrete GPU (not even something basic like an Nvidia GeForce MX250), and some days my workflow uses a lot of GPU accelerated applications. 

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To my surprise, the laptop held up well. It’s snappy and responsive for all my word processing and browsing work, which is to be expected. But, it also held up when I needed to do some work in Photoshop and Lightroom. In fact, I could even go through an basic 4K edit in Premiere Pro without running into any issues, which is mighty impressive. I haven’t done any gaming on it though, because I think that there’s really no point in doing that with this laptop—it’s just not designed for that.

I am a little disappointed to report that I can’t give you a reliable battery benchmark for the ExpertBook B9s that you’ll be able to buy in Malaysia because the configuration that I’m using isn’t sold here. While I have the Core i7 processor, my unit only features the small 33Wh battery and not the 66Wh battery that the local ones will ship with. Still, with the smaller cell, I was able to get about seven hours of use time on a single charge with mixed usage (browsing, word processing and some Photoshop) on the Better Battery power setting.

I don’t know if you can double that up linearly to say that the 66Wh cell will give you about 14 hours of battery, but if Asus does rate that to last up to 24 hours. I’d expect it to be closer to the 14-15 hour range though, but that should be more than good enough for a full day’s use. Still, I haven’t had any experience with the local 66Wh variant, so take my information with a grain of salt.

That said, what I enjoyed the most was how good the heat dissipation was on the laptop. Asus says they’ve used fancy graphite sheets to help disperse the heat and keep the places where your hands rest cool. Normally, I’d mark that down to just marketing mumbo jumbo because so many of the laptops I’ve used have always become unbearable to type on under load. 

But with the ExpertBook B9, I was glad to find that this wasn’t the case. Even under full load, the keyboard deck remained comfortable to type on. It does get a little warm, but not uncomfortably hot, which is refreshing coming from my MateBook. I’m not entirely sure if that’s due to the graphite sheet or the magnesium alloy body, but it works so I have no complaints.

Since we’re on the topic of the body, I will say that I was initially unimpressed by its construction. Compared to the other premium laptops in the segment, the ExpertBook didn’t immediately feel like it was super well made. That’s because it doesn’t feel like some exotic carbon fibre or smooth metallic aluminium. It feels kind of like plastic, which I think will turn some people off it initially.

But, the more I used it, the more I was impressed by the build. Yes, the matte surface doesn’t necessarily feel expensive, but it feels good to the touch—almost like sandstone. That also means it doesn’t pick up smudges or fingerprints very easily so it still looks brand new even after all these weeks of heavy use.

The deck also doesn’t flex as much as I thought it would for such a lightweight device—it certainly doesn’t flex when you type on it even if you’re as ganas as I am. 

On top of that, Asus has also gone through the effort of obtaining a MIL-STD-810G durability rating for the ExpertBook B9. They’ve installed rubber standoffs on the motherboard to absorb shock in case of an impact and they’ve reinforced the I/O ports on the laptop so it’ll last longer. In fact, the display itself has a bit of a lip around it on the bezel to protect it from impact the way a smartphone’s case would. 

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A lot of this is invisible, but all of these little insurances—including the spill-resistant keyboard—add a layer of reassurance that I don’t really have with my other laptops. And it’s always nice to have a little piece of mind.

Plus, I think this Star Black colourway looks really good. It’s clean and professional-looking as a suit, but also adds details like little reflective specks in the paintwork that kind of look like tiny stars in a night sky. I love that.

And sure, the webcam doesn’t look super great, but at least it’s in the right spot at the top of the display. Plus, it supports Windows Hello facial recognition and has a built-in webcam cover that you can just slide over. I do, however, wish that the far-field microphones sounded a little better but as far as I can tell, you’re better off with a headset mic—any headset mic.

If the goal that Asus set out to achieve with the ExpertBook B9 was to build a super portable, durable, good-looking laptop that has the power and features a working-person would need, then I think they’ve done a good job. Even though I’m not directly in their target audience, I still think that the ExpertBook B9 suits me really well because to someone like me, portability is king. And if it can also handle the occasional heavy load of the Adobe Suite, that’s the cherry on top.

Though, there is one last thing to note about the ExpertBook B9:

It’s an expensive laptop

There are a number of configurations available in Malaysia:

Asus ExpertBook B9 (33Wh battery, 870g)
Core i5-10210U, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD – RM6,299

Asus ExpertBook B9 (66Wh battery, 995g)
Core i5-10210U, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD (TPM) – RM6,599
Core i7-10510U, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD – RM8,299
Core i7-10510U, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD (TPM) – RM8,599
Core i7-10510U, 16GB RAM, 2TB SSD (2x1TB) (TPM) – RM9,299

And as you can tell, these prices are not for deal hunters like me. This is premium money. This is Dell XPS 13/MacBook Pro 13 money. Compare that to the 990g Acer Swift 5 (SF514-54T-70AA) which can give you a 14” FHD touchscreen, an Intel Core i7-1065G7 (with Iris Plus graphics), 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage for just RM4,699, and you’ll know what I mean.

So if you’re looking for the best performance-per-ringgit, the ExpertBook B9 is not the laptop for you. Because with this, you’re paying for more than just what goes on inside. You’re paying for the unique finish, the durability rating, the excellent keyboard, and all the little flourishes that you’ll need to use it to really see where your money has gone into.

Besides, if you compare the ExpertBook B9 to the world’s most iconic business laptop—the ThinkPad X1—it actually looks like a bargain.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve really enjoyed my time with the ExpertBook B9, and I would have no problems recommending it to people who prioritise portability and are always on the go. I think that it’s powerful enough for most people, and the excellent selection of ports, good keyboard and trackpad are hard to overlook.

And of course there’s its ridiculous weight. I’m not even joking when I say that every other laptop feels too heavy to me now—and it’s not every day that I get my perception completely flipped. 

Photography by Rory Lee with the Sony A6600.