Apple Macbook (2016) vs. Asus Zenbook 3: Which book is more “ultra”?

Asus Zenbook 3
Matt Smith/Digital Trends
By the time Asus CEO Jonney Shih left the stage at Computex 2016, it was crystal clear that the new Zenbook 3 — slated for release in summer 2016 — was being touted as the nemesis of the new Macbook. Shih’s speech, supported by a series of sleek infographics, repeatedly compared the Zenbook to the Macbook, focusing on the smaller frame and increased processing power of the Zenbook 3. Asus, holding home-court advantage at Computex (held in Taipei), chose to take the fight to Apple by promoting the Zenbook as the Macbook’s counterpart.

Apple, on the other hand, didn’t devote much press to the 2016 Macbook. After a celebrated 2015 release, the new iteration of the Macbook received a few key updates — notably, new processing chips. While they were busy promoting the new iPhone SE and a bevy of Apple Watch straps, the new Macbook slid silently onto shelves across the world.

While it seems unlikely that Apple will recognize — let alone embrace — the Zenbook as any sort of anti-Macbook, the two ultrabooks are extremely similar on many fronts. A month ago, we compared the Macbook Air 13 with Asus’ Zenbook UX305CA, and the Zenbook came out on top. In a battle between two of the top laptop computers on the planet, can Asus defeat Apple once again? Let’s find out.

Macbook (2016)

Macbook 2016

Asus Zenbook 3

Asus Zenbook 3

Dimensions 11.04 x 7.74 x 0.14-0.52 (in) 11.7 x 7.5 x 0.46 (in)
Weight 2.03 pounds 2.01 pounds
Keyboard Full size, backlit keyboard Full size, backlit keyboard
Processor Intel Core m3/m5/m7 Intel Core i5/i7
RAM 8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3 4-16GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 515 Integrated Intel HD Graphics 520
Display 12-inch LED-backlit with IPS technology 12.5-inch Full HD LED-backlit with IPS technology
Resolution 2,304 x 1,440 1,920 x 1,080
Storage 256-512GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage 256GB-1TB SATA3/PCIe Gen3 SSD
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Ports USB-C, headset jack USB-C, headset jack
Webcam 720p FaceTime camera VGA Web Camera
Operating System Mac OS X El Capitan Windows 10 Home or Pro
Battery 41.4-watt-hour 40-watt-hour
Price $1,299+ $999+
Available from Apple Asus
Review 3½ out of 5 stars Hands-on

Specifications

In order to save space and create a lighter, more svelte ultrabook, Apple decided to build the new Macbook with Intel Core M processors — either m3, m5, or m7, depending on how much you’re willing  to spend. The M series is designed to approximate the power of a full Intel processor at a fraction of the energy cost and heat production, and it certainly does a passable job. The Zenbook 3, though, sports a standard core Intel i5/i7 processor chip, which runs at a base speed of about 2.3 GHz. The Zenbook certainly has the upper hand when it comes to processing power.

Both companies claim an effective battery life around nine hours, and the Macbook registers somewhere around that mark; we haven’t spent enough time with the Zenbook to evaluate its battery.

Asus Zenbook 3
Matt Smith/Digital Trends
Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Both models of the Macbook boast 8GB of RAM running at 1866MHz. The high-end Zenbook blows these numbers out of the water with double the memory, running at a more common 2133MHz — probably more than you’ll ever need from a laptop. Entry-level Zenbooks will have as little as 4GB of memory.

The display on the 12-inch Macbook is the best we’ve ever seen from an Apple notebook, sporting a glorious 2,304 x 1,440-pixel resolution. The Zenbook is no slouch either, featuring 1,920 x 1080-pixel resolution, but it can’t quite match the clarity of the Macbook. The high-end models of both notebooks boast blazing-fast PCIe SSD-style storage — up to 512GB for the Macbook, and up to 1TB for the Zenbook.

Winner: Asus Zenbook 3.

Design

Make no mistake — these are both gorgeous ultrabooks. Apple keeps on keepin’ on with the new Macbook, featuring the familiar brushed aluminum, tapered to a neat 0.14″ thick at the corners. Weighing in at a mere 2.03 pounds, the unibody Macbook is available in four colors — the OG Silver, Space Gray, Gold, and the all new Rose Gold.

retinamacbook

If you think the new Macbook sounds lithe, you’re right. But somehow, Asus managed to make the Zenbook 3 even slimmer and lighter. At just about 2.01 pounds, it’s on par with the lightest laptop computers out there — a ridiculous feat, considering the power packed within. The Zenbook is also built on a unibody frame, crafted from aerospace-grade aluminum. It’s available in three colors — Rose Gold, Royal Grey, and the flagship Quartz Blue. Each of these colorways features gold trim and the “Asus” logo in gold atop the computer.

The Zenbook boasts the highest screen-to-body ratio of any ultrabook at 82%, due to a razor-thin 7.6mm bezel. The Corning Gorilla Glass 4 screen measures just 0.4mm thick, about half the depth of most cover glass.

The gold edging on the Zenbook also matches the keyboard font and backlight, creating a beautiful color contrast with which the Macbook just can’t compete (though something is certainly to be said for the clean, traditional “Apple” look). Both keyboards are full size and backlit, though the Macbook introduces new “butterfly” style keys, which place the pressure sensors on the edges of the key (in comparison to traditional, “scissor” keys), allowing for easier and more effective keyboard navigation. Despite the upgraded sensors, though, the keyboard can become more of a burden than a tool over time; our reviewer found that his hands started feeling sore after just about an hour of use.

Both computers include just one USB-C port (plus a single microphone/headphone jack), so you’ll need a dock if you want to connect them with, well, pretty much anything. The USB-C ports double as ports for the wall chargers, which is cool in an “oh great, now I have to buy more stuff” kind of way.

Winner: Tie.

Price and availability

If you need a laptop right now, you’ll have to opt for the Macbook, as the Zenbook 3 is slated to release sometime this summer. That being said, those who are willing to wait for Asus to release its new ultrabook will thank themselves later. Though full specifications haven’t been divulged for all the Zenbook models, the $999 model is more powerful than the $1,299 Macbook in almost every way except RAM capacity.

Asus Zenbook 3
Matt Smith/Digital Trends
Matt Smith/Digital Trends

The Zenbook’s i5 processor is miles ahead of the m3 chip in the Macbook, and Asus is just a step ahead of Apple in every area except screen resolution. Unless you’re an Apple purist, there’s not much reason to recommend spending $300 more on a less powerful machine.

Winner: Asus Zenbook 3

Conclusion

Generally speaking, the improvements that Apple has made to their flagship laptop series would be worthy of high praise. The new Macbook is smaller, faster, and more powerful than the Macbook Air ever was, and it’s been wrapped in an elegant, alluring package.

But with the introduction of the Zenbook 3, Asus combines the power of an Intel Core i5 or i7  processor with a frame just as sleek as the MacBook. The high-end Zenbook can reach outrageous prices (up to $1,999 with all the bells and whistles), but even the base-level model is just as good — if not better than — the Macbook, for $300 less. On top of all that, it’s a pretty handsome machine.

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