Asus ZenBook 3 vs MacBook: Has Apple Met Its Match?

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 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.

Specs Compared

  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
Key Travel 0.5mm 0.8mm
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

 

Design

 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.

MacBook Colors

 

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 ZenBook 3

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.

MacBook Keyboard

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.

ZenBook keyboard

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.

Display

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).

Apple MacBook

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.

Asus ZenBook 3

Winner: MacBook. Both laptops have great color, but the MacBook's display is a lot sharper.

Performance

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.

Battery Life

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).

Apple MacBook

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.

ZenBook 3

Winner: MacBook. It's extremely unlikely that the ZenBook 3 will last longer on a charge.

Value

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.

MacBook

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.

Asus ZenBook 3

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.

Bottom Line

ZenBook 3 vs MacBook

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.

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
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13 comments
  • Ravsan Says:

    When will zenbook 3 pro will be out?

  • Saima Says:

    Wooow...... I like this laptop

  • Marco Says:

    For a technology website, I'm surprised that you guys got fooled by Intel's new model numbers. The Zenbook 3 may look like it has the MacBook beat in the CPU department, the reality is that it's only a small upgrade because starting with Kabylake, the m-core series will be labelled as part of the i-core series. So the newest m5 and m7 chips will become the lower end of the new i5 and i7 family respectively. The only way to tell is if it has a Y in the CPU model number (i7-7Yxx).

  • Calvin Says:

    One thing you didn't even mention was that the macbook has no fan and relies solely on natural air movement to cool it. In addition, it has very little ventilation on it, with no vents at all on the bottom. Its only method of dealing with heat is to thermal throttle, or reduce its processor speed and performance. In high use scenarios it's been seen to cut to about half of its full performance. Although admittedly I don't know for sure, the Zenbook most likely has a huge advantage in cooling as it actually has a fan for the CPU. I don't think this article stressed the difference between an i7 and i5 and a core M, something most consumers won't really know. A core M usually is not even compared to an i5 or i7 due to how different they are in nature and performance -- core Ms are not suitable for anything more than very light application use. This just simply doesn't compare to the speed that an i5 or i7 provides.

    Another thing that is greatly misportrayed in this article is RAM. The Zenbook does only have 4gb of RAM, but I don't think that people understand what RAM is. Random Access Memory determines how much memory applications can use at once without putting it in more permanent storage (in this case the SSD). It's ridiculous to eliminate the possibility that 4GB of it is just not an option. 4 is easily enough to run multiple web browsers and a few other applications at the same time. I always thought that the 8GB on the macbook was overkill due to how limited it is by the processor. What's the point of having the capacity to run lots of applications at once if they will just run very slowly? RAM has almost no direct impact on how well applications run until you start opening extremely RAM-intensive applications, like 3D games, or lots and lots of applications at once. In the end, if you're not planning on doing intense gaming and opening other applications at once, the 4GB will probably not bother you as long as you close applications you aren't using fairly often. The processor more than makes up for this loss and the zenbook will perform much better in general.

    Also, the price of both of these is waaaaay higher than anything I would consider getting for the specs -- take a look at the razer blade or the previous gen zenbooks. Just because these are smaller shouldn't double the price for similar performance. (The check on "value" for both of the laptops set me off )

  • Saint Deviant Says:

    I like the design but this laptop is too tiny. Asus should go for a 14" or 15" variant slim down just like the Gram or XPS. More importantly intel iris graphics or a GT option from NVIDIA.
    These laptops that uses fan for cooling should a seperate source of power hence leaving the battery to what its suppose to do.
    These best design laptops always come short especially Dell Xps.

    But this design can make asus dominate the market this should be the one to go up against the macbook pro with better screen and graphics as well battery and weight

  • md shamim ahmed Says:

    I am poor but honest. I like latop please help me. how much laptop?

  • Penis Says:

    Why 4GGGGGG?????? Omg this makes no sense...

  • whatever Says:

    You're missing the point with the processor... Skylake fanless vs. Not. To some people that will be a big enough draw over raw processing power.

  • MyStockAlarm.com Says:

    It's semms like a design copy by Asus

  • The Pool Man Says:

    When you compare Mac to Zen prices, you forget that the Zen will likely be on sale at regular intervals... where Mac's typically stay at their price.

    The current Core M Zenbook is $699... but routinely $599 on the MS store. And rebates appear now and again at Amazon.

    Win ---> Zenbook

  • Justin Temple Says:

    And no word that the Asus is a total copy. Shame on you Assus designers!!!

  • Ruturaj Says:

    Dubbest thing they did was 4gb, if only it had 8gb it would have sold much better.

  • JuanSoto Says:

    16:9 aspect ratio?! Ugh... I'll give this matchup to Apple. The zen is another laptop for the finger pokers, tv watchers... the unwashed masses. Conformity comes in only one shape and it's 16:9

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