Asus ZenBook 3 vs MacBook: Has Apple Met Its Match?
With its upcoming ZenBook 3, Asus is the latest company to compete with Apple's superthin 12-inch MacBook. Due out later this year, the 12.5-inch laptop is even slimmer than the MacBook and one-ups Apple's offering with a faster CPU and a range of fashion colors. Though we haven't been able to test the ZenBook 3 in our labs yet, we've studied the specs and spent some hands-on time with the slim system to learn about its capabilities.
So based on what we know today, which superslim notebook is better, the Apple MacBook or the Asus ZenBook 3? We matched up these two light laptops, comparing their design, keyboard, display, performance and battery life, and the ZenBook 3 looks like it could be the better value.
|Apple MacBook||Asus ZenBook 3|
|Price||$1,299 to $1,599||$999 to $1,999|
|CPU||Core m5||Core i5 / i7|
|RAM||8GB||4GB / 16GB|
|SSD||256 / 512GB PCIe||256 / 512 / 1TB PCIe|
|Display||12-inch, 2304 x 1440||12.5-inch, 1920 x 1080|
|Ports||USB Type-C, 3.5mm||USB Type-C, 3.5mm|
|Webcam||640 x 480||640 x 480|
|Size||11.04 x 7.74 x 0.52 - 0.14 inches||11.65 x 7.52 x 0.47 inches|
|Weight||2.03 pounds||2.01 pounds|
Both the ZenBook 3 and MacBook are made from premium aluminum alloys, but they have different color schemes. Apple's laptop is available in four metallic colors: Silver, Gold, Space Gray and Rose Gold. Asus' system comes in the very similar Rose Gold and Quartz Gray colors, but it's also available in a unique and stunning Royal Blue shade.
At just 0.47-inches high, the ZenBook 3 is thinner at its thickest point than the MacBook, which is 0.52 inches around its port, but tapers down to an even thinner 0.14 inches near its front lip. Owing to its slightly larger screen, the ZenBook (11.65 x 7.52 inches) is a bit wider than the MacBook (11.04 x 7.74 inches), but it's also less deep.
Asus' laptop is ever-so-slightly lighter, weighing in at 2.01 pounds, compared to the Apple notebook's 2.03 pounds. If you can detect the difference of 0.02 pounds by lifting the two systems, you've got a future as a human postage scale.
Winner: ZenBook 3. Both laptops are superthin, lightweight and attractive, but the ZenBook's Royal Blue color helps it stand out from all the other silver laptops on the market.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The MacBook's shallow keyboard is nothing to type home about, with a mere 0.5mm of vertical travel and not enough snappy feedback. The ZenBook 3 offers a much more tactile experience with its 0.8mm deep keys, though Asus is clearing a very low bar here. HP's EliteBook Folio G1 has a much better keyboard in this size range, offering 1.05mm of travel and fantastic feedback.
Apple employs a rather large, 4.4 x 2.7-inch Force Touch trackpad that makes it feel like you are pushing down but is actually just offering you haptic feedback. Asus hasn't disclosed the exact dimensions of the ZenBook's touchpad, but the glass pad is rather large and offers a real, satisfying click when you press it down. It also has a fingerprint reader in its upper right corner.
Winner: ZenBook 3. Asus' keyboard is clearly superior to Apple's. Which touchpad you prefer depends on whether you like the Force Touch or think it's an annoying gimmick.
At 12.5 inches, the ZenBook 3's display is slightly larger than the MacBook's 12-inch panel. However, Apple's display is a lot sharper, with a resolution of 2304 x 1440 (226 PPI) as compared to Asus' standard 1920 x 1080 (176 PPI).
Both laptops offer eye-popping color. According to our tests, the MacBook can reproduce 107 percent of the sRGB color gamut, while Asus claims that its display can muster 72 percent of the much-wider NTSC gamut.
Winner: MacBook. Both laptops have great color, but the MacBook's display is a lot sharper.
We haven't had the opportunity to benchmark the ZenBook 3. But on paper, Asus has a huge advantage over Apple, thanks to the ZenBook's speedy Core i5 or Core i7 CPU. By contrast, Apple offers much slower and lower-power Core m5 and m7 processors in the MacBook. Both laptops come standard with speedy PCIe SSDs.
Winner: ZenBook 3. There's no way that Apple's Core m CPU can beat the processing power of a Core i5 or Core i7.
Though we have not benchmarked the ZenBook 3, we can make a well-educated guess that its battery life will fall short of the MacBook's. Asus' laptop uses a processor (Core i5/i7) that is much less power-efficient than the Core m chips in the MacBook. To keep the system cool, the ZenBook 3 has to use a spinning fan while the MacBook doesn't need any moving parts. Asus' display is also 0.5 inches larger than Apple's, which means that the ZenBook's screen is likely to use more backlight power. Despite these more power-consuming components, Asus actually employs a slightly smaller battery (40 watt hours versus 41 watt hours).
Also, in our experience, the vast majority of laptops last at least an hour less than their manufacturers' claim when run through the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi). Asus touts the ZenBook 3 as getting "up to 9 hours of battery life," which means that this machine probably won't last a full 9 hours. By contrast, the MacBook lasted 9 hours and 38 minutes on our test, which is just below the 10 hours that Apple claims.
Winner: MacBook. It's extremely unlikely that the ZenBook 3 will last longer on a charge.
The ZenBook 3 has a much lower starting price, with its base model available for just $999, while Apple charges no less than $1,299 for the MacBook. However, the base-model ZenBook has far too little RAM, making it hard to recommend.
At Asus' Computex press conference, the company announced that the $999 ZenBook model would have a Core i5 CPU and 256GB SSD, both reasonable specs, but just 4GB of RAM. The entry-level, $1,299 MacBook has a 1.1-GHz Core m5 CPU and 256GB SSD, but packs a more-reasonable 8GB of memory. In 2016, no premium laptop should come with less than 8GB.
The $1,499 ZenBook 3 offers the best specs for the money, with a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. The $1,599 MacBook also has a 512GB SSD, but pairs it with a much-slower 1.2-GHz Core m5 CPU and the same 8GB of RAM as the base model. If money is no object, Asus also offers a ZenBook 3 with a 1TB SSD for $1,999.
Winner: Draw. The ZenBook 3 has a lower starting price, but Apple has a lower price for a model with 8GB of RAM, which is table stakes for a premium laptop. However, the $1,499 ZenBook promises the best performance for the money.
Though we can't name a final winner until we get the ZenBook 3 into our lab for testing, Asus' laptop looks like a slightly better product right now. While the MacBook has a sharper screen and almost certainly longer battery life, the ZenBook 3 offers a better keyboard, a more compelling design and likely stronger performance.