Asus ZenBook 3 review: Finally, a MacBook alternative for Windows 10 fans
The Asus ZenBook range has always been – let’s put it politely – an homage to Apple’s MacBook Air. Nowadays, though, that brand is no longer a byword for thin-and-light portability, so the new ZenBook 3 takes its inspiration instead from the 12-inch MacBook. And at £1,390 on Amazon UK (or just under $1,500 on Amazon US), it is pretty much in the same price bracket.
If the MacBook is the target, the ZenBook 3 certainly hits the mark. Look past the brushed swirl on its aluminium-alloy lid and you could almost get the two laptops mixed up. Even the colour options are eerily familiar. Alongside the distinctive Royal Blue trim, the ZenBook 3 can be had in either pale Quartz Grey or Rose Gold.
The ZenBook 3 isn’t a precise duplicate, though. Measuring 11.9mm deep, it’s very slightly slimmer overall than the MacBook. At 910g it’s 10g lighter, too, and while the chassis is a very similar size, the overall shape is a little more stretched, to accommodate a 12.5in 16:9 display (as distinct from the MacBook’s 16:10 panel).
Asus Zenbook 3 review: Performance
While the ZenBook 3 outwardly resembles the MacBook, its internals are a bit more ambitious. In place of a Core m3 CPU, Asus has gone for a Kaby Lake dual-core Core i5-7200U. This isn’t as powerful as a desktop Core i5, but it’s a decent performer, and it’s impressive to see it crammed into such a tiny frame. There’s even a Core i7 option for those with more demanding workloads.
Asus Zenbook 3 review: Connectivity and battery life
Before you get your wallet out, there are some points to be aware of. First, like the MacBook, the ZenBook’s only connector is a single USB Type-C port, a consequence, no doubt, of that super-thin design. A dangly adaptor is included in the box, allowing you to hook up USB-A, USB Type-C and HDMI cables, but without this, you can’t connect a peripheral and charge the device at the same time.
Asus Zenbook 3 review: Keyboard and screen
The keyboard has nice big keys, with an impressive 0.8mm of travel, but we’re not fans of the slanty yellow labels on our Royal Blue test unit, which to our eyes cheapen the overall design. It also has more give in the middle than we’re comfortable with, and lacks a positive clicking action.
We’ve a similar grumble about the trackpad. The glass-covered surface is a decent size, but the “buttons” at the bottom feel flimsy; again, the whole case bends when you press down on them. You can’t use the full area of the trackpad, either, thanks to the fingerprint reader weirdly located at its top-right corner.
Finally, let’s talk about the screen on the Asus ZenBook 3. Mostly, the news here is good: we measured its peak brightness at 360cd/m², effectively on par with the MacBook’s 367cd/m², and the 1,000:1 contrast ratio gives superb solidity to text and pictures. Colour reproduction isn’t bad either, stretching to 85% of the sRGB gamut, although the MacBook is ahead on 92.6%.
Its resolution, however, is a bog-standard 1080p, giving the ZenBook 3 a pixel pitch of 176ppi – a lot lower than the 227ppi of the MacBook’s Retina display. As a result, it’s fair to say that the Asus ZenBook 3 doesn’t quite achieve the pristine smoothness of Apple’s screen. It’s by no means blocky, though. Unless you put the two laptops side by side you’re unlikely to find any cause for complaint.
We should also mention that this isn’t a touchscreen. That’s for the best, considering how light the whole thing is: try to prod the display and the entire chassis rocks backwards.
Asus Zenbook 3 review: Verdict
If you’re in the market for an ultraportable laptop you’ll no doubt already have eyed up the 12in MacBook – but you may well have been unsure whether the low-power processor will meet your needs, or indeed unsure about switching to macOS.
The ZenBook 3 makes a very interesting alternative. It’s just as compact and nearly as beautiful, it runs Windows, and it offers significantly better performance.