Asus ZenBook 3 vs. Apple MacBook: Super Skinny Laptop Face-Off

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It would be a mistake to write off the Asus ZenBook 3 as a MacBook clone, because it's not. Sure, it's really thin, like Apple's trendsetting ultraportable, but Asus' machine stands out, offering a full-power Core i5 or i7 processor (no Core M weak sauce here) in a very svelte frame. The ZenBook 3 also has a very colorful 12-inch screen, and offers surprisingly robust audio, given its small size.

asus zenbook vs macbook design colorThe MacBook is the trendsetter for a reason, though: It offers a sharp display, surprisingly good ergonomics and excellent battery life. Read on to see which system deserves your money.

Design

Both the MacBook and ZenBook 3 are among the thinnest and lightest laptops on earth.

asus zenbook vs macbook design profileMade of 6013 aluminum alloy, which Asus said is 50 percent stronger than typical aluminum, the ZenBook weighs 2 pounds and measures 11.65 x 7.53 x 0.47 inches thick. The unibody aluminum MacBook is ever so slightly heavier and thicker at 2.03 pounds, and it measures 11.04 x 7.74 x 0.14-0.52 inches.

asus zenbook vs macbook design asus keyboardThe MacBook comes in four colors, including Rose Gold, Space Gray, Gold and Silver, and the ZenBook 3 comes in Quartz Grey, Rose Gold and Royal Blue. I don't like that you have to pay $500 extra to get the blue on the Asus. Still, I love how the blue carries over to the keyboard, as well as the gold, diamond-cut edging. Plus, the Asus' touchpad has a fingerprint sensor that supports Windows Hello, which makes it easy to log in.

Winner: ZenBook 3. The blue version will turn more heads.

MORE: Best Ultrabooks (Thin-and-Light Windows Laptops)

Ports

If you like to plug in more than one peripheral at once, you won't like the MacBook or ZenBook 3.

asus zenbook vs macbook port apple 675326They both have only a single USB-C port, which is used for charging. There are a growing number of USB-C accessories, but you'll want to use a dongle to accommodate most of your existing devices.

asus zenbook vs macbook port asus 675333The good news is that Asus includes a Mini Dock in the box, which has both an HDMI output and traditional USB port, in addition to a USB-C port for charging. Apple charges $79 for its AV Multiport Adapter.

Winner: ZenBook 3. At least Asus includes a dock.

Display

The 12.5-inch screen on the Asus ZenBook 3 is bigger than the MacBook's 12-inch panel, but it's not as sharp. It packs 1920 x 1080 pixels, compared to 2304 x 1440 pixels on the 12-inch MacBook's display.

asus zenbook vs macbook displayAsus does include special True2Life technology that you can turn on and off via software, which is designed to increase the sharpness and contrast of videos, and we found that it worked well.

The ZenBook 3's display is a bit more colorful, covering 111 percent of the sRGB color gamut versus 107 percent for the Apple. With a Delta-E rating of 1.08 (0 is perfect), the ZenBook's screen has colors that are slightly less accurate than the MacBook's.

Last but not least, the MacBook's display is brighter, hitting 327 nits on our tests; the ZenBook 3's 309-nit brightness is above the ultraportable average, but below the Mac's.

Winner: MacBook. While it's less colorful, the MacBook's screen is sharper and brighter.

Audio

I fired up Spotify and listened to some U2 and Chris Stapleton on both the MacBook and ZenBook 3, and the Asus had the edge. While the MacBook's speaker produces more volume, it sometimes struggled with the high notes, which sounded harsh at maximum volume.

The four-speaker system on the Asus delivered a more balanced performance on such tracks as “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,” with the jangling guitars nicely complementing Bono's soaring vocals. Also, unlike with the MacBook, you can adjust the sound profiles on the ZenBook using the AudioWizard app.

Winner: ZenBook 3. More speakers = more balanced sound.

MORE: Best Asus Laptops

Keyboard and Touchpad

When you look at the numbers, the ZenBook 3 would seem to have the superior keyboard.

asus zenbook vs macbook keyboard asusIt offers 0.8 millimeters of travel, which is more than the MacBook's 0.5 mm. However, the ZenBook's keys felt mushier as I typed. The MacBook feels flatter and stiffer at first, but its unique butterfly mechanism offers a more solid feel.

asus zenbook vs macbook keyboard appleThe MacBook also offers a roomier touchpad at 4.4 x 2.7 inches versus 4.1 x 2.4 inches for the ZenBook. More importantly, the Force Touch trackpad on the Mac provides a smoother scrolling experience and more accurate cursor navigation (it's less jumpy).

Winner: MacBook. The Asus is good, but the MacBook is better.

Performance

The MacBook and ZenBook 3 use different processors, with the Asus starting with a full Core i5 7th Generation Kaby Lake CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $1,099. We tested the $1,599 model, which steps it up to a Core i7 chip, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

The MacBook starts with a low-power Core m3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and we reviewed the faster Core m5 model with the same amount of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

asus zenbook vs macbook geekbenchOn Geekbench, which measures overall performance, the ZenBook 3 scored 7,647, which far outpaces the MacBook (5,906).

asus zenbook vs macbook harddriveThe Asus also packs a faster SSD, as it turned in a transfer rate of 508.92 megabytes per second. That also beats the MacBook's 355.9 MBps.

asus zenbook vs macbook spreadsheetThe only test where the MacBook outshined the ZenBook was our spreadsheet test, which pairs 20,000 names and addresses. The Apple took 3 minutes and 11 seconds, but the Asus wasn't that far behind at 3:34.

Winner: ZenBook 3. It's simply more powerful.

MORE: Best Apple Laptops

Heat and Noise

Because the ZenBook 3 has a Core i5 or i7 chip instead of a more power-efficient Core M processor, it needs a tiny fan to dissipate heat. It works well, too: both the keyboard and touchpad stayed below 91 degrees after streaming video. The bottom of the system hit 97 degrees, which is only a bit above our 95-degree comfort threshold.

The fanless MacBook got a little toastier on the bottom, hitting 100 degrees.

Winner: MacBook. The Asus runs cooler, but it's also louder.

Battery Life

This is the biggest reason to go with the MacBook. On the Laptop Mag battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi, the Core i7 ZenBook 3 lasted 7 hours and 5 minutes. That's not bad, given how thin this system is, and we would expect moderately better endurance from the less powerful Core i5 version.

asus zenbook vs macbook batteryHowever, the MacBook lasted a very strong 9 hours and 38 minutes, which is more than enough for a cross-country flight.

Winner: MacBook. It has significantly more staying power.

Webcam

While both the MacBook and ZenBook have low-resolution cameras, the ZenBook 3's shooter is truly awful.

asus zenbook vs macbook webcamThe selfie I shot in my office was quite blurry and delivered inaccurate colors; it looked like I went through a spray-tan booth.

The MacBook's image looks fairly fuzzy, too, but at least the hues are more realistic.

Winner: MacBook. The lesser of two evils.

Value

The Asus ZenBook 3 starts at a lower $1,099, which beats the MacBook by $200. You also get more for your money in terms of performance, because you get a Core i5 chip instead of the Core m3 CPU you get on the Apple. Asus also includes a dock for attaching peripherals, whereas Apple charges $79. Both systems start with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

MORE: Best Laptops Under $500

Those willing to pay a premium can choose the $1,599 ZenBook 3 in fetching Royal Blue, which also steps you up to a Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM. The $1,599 MacBook gives you a roomy 512GB SSD like the ZenBook, but Asus' splurge configuration also includes 16GB of RAM, while the MacBook stays at 8GB. If you want a Core m7 processor, you can pay Apple $1,799.

Winner: ZenBook 3. More oomph for your money.

Overall Winner

The ZenBook 3 and MacBook are both very strong ultraportables, but their strengths are in different areas, which is why this match ends in a draw. Still, there are clear winners here, depending on your priorities.

asus zenbook vs macbook final chart v2Get the Asus ZenBook 3 if you want better performance and richer audio, and you want better specs for your money. The MacBook is the ultraportable to get if you prefer longer battery life, as well as a slightly better typing experience, a sharper screen and better webcam.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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18 comments
  • AnzSo Says:

    You forgot to mention that these are dual-core cpus that are used not quad_core... there is a difference in performance depending if the application is programmed for dual or quad core and able to use multiple threads or not. It is something is worth mentioning and it is a very important factor when deciding on a new laptop.

  • Shirley Dulcey Says:

    Right now the ASUS store is only offering two configurations of the ZenBook 3: the base configuration (i5, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM) in silver for $1099, and the fancier configuration (i7, 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM) in blue for $1599. Other stores offering the ZenBook 3 seem to only have the same two configurations.

    The $500 premium isn't for the blueness but for the fancier components. ASUS may or may not make different combinations of specs and color available in the future; for now, spending the extra $500 is the only way to get a blue laptop.

  • Flo123 Says:

    Do you have any prove for writing the Blue version is 500$ more expensive? All stores I see they cost the same in each colour so what you write is not true.

  • Bob James Says:

    One more thing, sorry for got to say, I got the blue upgraded machine with 16 gigs of RAM, 512 gig SSD, and i7-Kaby Lake.... It's a speedy workhorse.

  • Bob James Says:

    I jus got this machine three days ago... so far, so good... on a plane to London and the battery life is ok for a seven hour flight... I also have the 2016 MacBook... The build is hard to distinguish between the two machines... and the keyboard (at least to my liking) is a bit more comfortable on the Asus.... If you want a 2 lb Windows machine with the latest hardware.... this is a good bet.

  • 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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