If Asus and Apple were starring in a superhero movie, they would be arch rivals. For the past few years, Asus has been offering laptops that meet Apple’s MacBooks nearly spec-for-spec but cost a lot less.
The ZenBook 3 Deluxe has been introduced at CES 2017, and it’s a very impressive addition to the ZenBook lineup of stylish, premium devices. With its 14-inch display, it competes both with the 12-inch MacBook, which is what we’re comparing the ZenBook 3 Deluxe in this article, and the 13- or 15-inch MacBook Pro, accomplishing many of the same things as Apple and even outperforming Apple’s expensive laptops in several key categories.
Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe vs MacBook
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It’s no secret that MacBook users care about style. Asus knows that it’s impossible to convert a die-hard, long-term MacBook users only by offering better technical specifications—the device must also look and feel great. Indeed, the Royal Blue and the Quartz Grey finish of the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe looks fantastic. They stand out next to the four colors the MacBook comes in—Rose Gold, Space Gray, Gold, Silver—making the MacBook look somewhat tame in comparison.
Both laptops are made from high-grade aluminum, but their size and weight is understandably different. Owing to the larger screen, the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is 0.39 pounds heavier (2.42 versus 2.03 pounds) and almost two inches wider. The exact dimensions of the Zenbook 3 Deluxe are 12.95 x 8.27 x 0.51 inches, whereas the MacBook measures 11.04 x 7.74 x 0.14–0.52 inches. In reality, the difference in screen size is the main thing you’ll notice when using the two laptops.
Winner: Tie. As much as we like the striking Royal Blue, we don’t want our subjective preferences to influence this otherwise objective comparison. It could be argued, however, that being able to choose from four colors instead of just two is a major advantage. But what good is it to offer four colors, if the stunning blue with golden accents isn’t among them?
Being the larger of the two laptops, there’s much more room for a full-size keyboard on the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe than there’s on the Apple MacBook. While both laptops have fairly similar layout, the keys on the MacBook have only 0.5 mm vertical key travel. The ZenBook 3 Deluxe has 1.2 mm.
Even faithful Apple users aren’t in complete agreement with Apple’s continuous effort to reduce the key travel as much as possible. With just 0.5 mm vertical key travel, it’s hard to distinguish between individual keys without looking, and it can also make your fingers sore if you regularly type thousands of words in a day. For this reason alone, we’ve found the keyboard on the ZenBook 3 Deluxe to be significantly more comfortable and it also has a much gentler learning curve.
The ZenBook 3 Deluxe boasts an improved touchpad with a new piece of software for the input known as Touchpad Handwriting. Pressing the Function key and the spacebar opens a virtual touchpad on the screen and activates the automated word recognition. You can then simply scribble words on the touchpad with your fingers and let the word-recognition engine do the rest. While this feature can be used with English, it’s geared toward the Asian market and speakers of character-based languages, such as Chinese or Japanese. Also part of the touchpad is a fingerprint reader.
We’ve found both touchpads to be smooth, highly accurate, and large-enough for multi-finger gestures.
Winner: Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe. The longer key travel of the ZenBook 3 Deluxe makes for a much more comfortable typing experience.
When it comes to ports, the MacBook, with its single USB-C port, offers fewer options than most smartphones; with them, you at least get a dedicated 3.5 mm jack for headphones. MacBook’s USB-C port supports charging, USB 3.1 Gen 1 (up to 5 Gbps), native DisplayPort 1.2 video output, VGA output using USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter (sold separately), and HDMI video output using USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter (also sold separately). In other words: the dongle life awaits you.
There’s no arguing that the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is also one of the most progressive laptops on the market when it comes to ports, offering no legacy USB ports. However, Asus gives you a total of three ports to play with and an audio jack as well. The audio jack and a single Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port are on the left side, while another Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB-C charging port are on the right side.
What’s more, Asus includes a Mini Dock with an HDMI output, a USB-C port for charging, and a traditional USB port right in the box. If you want a comparable accessory from Apple, you will have to pay $79 for the AV Multiport Adapter.
Winner: Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe. Having no ports available sucks. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen every time you plug a charger to the MacBook without a dongle at hand. We understand that Apples take pleasure from removing ports, but we don’t take pleasure from carrying half a dozen of expensive dongles for basic accessories.
Given that the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe has a 14-inch display and the MacBook only has a 12-inch panel, one would expect the ZenBook to have a higher resolution, right? In reality, it has just the Full HD resolution, while the MacBook has 2304 x 1440 pixels, which translates to 226 pixels per inch. The Full HD resolution at 14 inches, on the other hand, is just 157 pixels per inch. The difference is noticeable right away, especially when editing images or video footage. Text and web pages look sharper as well but not by much.
In terms of their display performance, the ZenBook has better colors, but the MacBook is brighter and thus better for outside use. The ZenBook 3 Deluxe covers 111 percent of the sRGB color gamut, whereas the MacBook covers only 107 percent. The ZenBook’s Delta-E rating, which represents the distance between two colors (with a dE of 1.0 is the smallest color difference the human eye can see) is slightly worse than the MacBook’s. If you’re a casual user or someone who doesn’t do any color-sensitive work, you may actually even appreciate the slightly warmer and more saturated colors of the ZenBook 3 Deluxe. Of course, if you want a laptop for editing pictures and video on the go, the more accurate MacBook is a better option.
When tested, the MacBook managed to hit 327 nits of brightness, while the ZenBook 3 Deluxe only got up to 309 nits, which is very close to the average for the ultrabook category.
For some puzzling reason, both Apple and Asus apparently think that a blurry, low-resolution web camera will do for a premium ultrabook. But having your own grandmother not recognize because of how fuzzy the image is doesn’t sound like the kind of experience we expect from a laptop that costs more than $1,000, let alone one that costs more than $1,500.
Winner: Apple MacBook. The original ZenBook 3 has a 12.5-inch display with the same resolution as the 14-inch display that comes with the ZenBook 3 Deluxe. Why? We’d like to know as well. Asus has missed a great opportunity to go with a QHD display and blow Apple out of the water. Instead, Apple is the winner in this category, despite the fact that the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is superior when it comes to color reproduction.
The ZenBook 3 Deluxe is available either with the Intel Core i7 processor clocked at 2.7 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.5 GHz or the Intel Core i5 processor clocked at 2.5 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.1 GHz. The MacBook is available with either the Intel Core m3 processor clocked at 1.2 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.0GHz or the Intel Core i5 clocked at 1.3 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.2 GHz. The CPU specifications tell the full story: the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe is much faster than the MacBook, especially than the relatively slow version with the Intel Core m3 processor.
All versions of the ZenBook 3 Deluxe come with the Intel HD Graphics 620, while the MacBook always comes with the Intel HD Graphics 615. The two graphics chipsets are virtually identical, and you should see little to no difference in performance.
Storage space, both volatile and SSD, is another area where the ZenBook 3 Deluxe wins because it’s available with up to 1 TB PCIe SSD and 16 GB of RAM. The MacBook, on the other hand, is only available with up to 512 GB PCIe SSD and 8 GB of RAM. Asus also uses faster SSD drives than Apple, rated at approximately 500 megabytes per second versus only 350 megabytes per second for the MacBook. With such top-tier hardware specifications, the beefiest version of the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is really a full-fledged workstation in a sleek 14-inch body.
One advantage of performing demanding tasks on the MacBook compared to the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is how it stays quiet. The MacBook features a passive cooling system, which means that it doesn’t require a cooling fan to keep the temperature under control. The ZenBook 3 Deluxe uses 3 mm liquid-crystal-polymer fan blades, which, while relatively noiseless, can become noticeable when using the laptop in an otherwise quiet environment.
Both laptops havea speaker system that is perfectly adequate for casual multimedia consumption, but the quad-speaker system by Harman Kardon that Asus has selected for the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is about 30 percent louder than the MacBook.
Winner: Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe. If you want as much performance or as much storage space as you can get, the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is an easy choice. But if you consider yourself to be a regular user, you might be satisfied with the MacBook and its passive cooling system.
The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe has a 46 Wh 4-cell lithium-polymer battery. The MacBook has a similar 41.4 Wh 4-cell lithium-polymer battery. However, the Asus has a much smaller resolution than the MacBook. And since fewer pixels to power means lower power consumption, you can expect the ZenBook 3 Deluxe to last slightly longer than the MacBook.
Of course, the m3 version of the MacBook will last much longer than the i7 version of the ZenBook 3 Deluxe when you push both laptops to their limit, but that would be like comparing apples to oranges.
Winner: Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe. The Asus lasts longer on a charge, and having more than one USB-C port means that you can charge it and keep your USB flash drive connected at the same time.
The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe starts at $899 for the model with 8 GB of RAM, and it goes up to $1,699 for the top model with 16 GB of RAM. The base model of the MacBook costs $1,299, while the model with more storage space costs $1,599. Keep in mind that the $1,599 MacBook still has only 8 GB of RAM. The value of the base ZenBook 3 Deluxe compared to the base MacBook is simply astonishing. Asus even includes a dock for attaching peripherals for free. Apple charges $79 for a similar accessory.
The only bummer is that the Royal Blue version of the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is only for those who’re willing to pay $1,599 for the more expensive model.
Winner: Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe. The value offered by the base model of the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is unprecedented. And those who’re willing to pay up for the premium model will be greeted with fantastic performance and the lovely blue color.
The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe has outperformed the MacBook in nearly every category. What Asus is offering for the price of the MacBook can’t beat, even the MacBook Pro, which costs hundreds more. We can see how the compact size of the MacBook would be attractive to someone, but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s also the 12.5-inch ZenBook 3.