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Asus ZenBook 3 review - hands on - now slimmer than a MacBook

Lee Bell
3 Jun 2016
Dell Zenbook laptop - thickness
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Asus takes on the Macbook yet again with its latest, and slimmest, ZenBook device

Asus has been competing against Apple’s MacBook with its thin-and-light ZenBook series of Windows laptops for some years now, and it isn’t giving up. The Taiwanese firm has unveiled its third-generation ZenBook at Computex in Taipei, and there I got a first look at the device before its official release later this year.

The next-generation ZenBook has been completely redesigned to compete with the thinnest laptops out there, and now features a super slim 11.9mm chassis that weighs just 910g. Comparably, Apple’s thinnest 12in MacBook is 13.1mm thic and weighs 920g. In practice you're unlikely to be able to choose between them then.

Dell Zenbook laptop - keyboard

Asus said it has been able to achieve this weight without compromising strength by crafting it from aerospace-grade aluminium alloy, a premium material the firm claims is 50 percent stronger than the standard alloy used in most laptops. I can't attest to that statement but it's certainly highly believable when you get your hands on it. The ZenBook 3 feels super sturdy and robust, even when you pick it up and give it a twist and bend.

As well as feeling strong and light, its overall design is rather easy on the eye and features Asus’ signature ZenBook spun-metal finish. However, it still falls short of besting the simple, clean lines of the MacBook.

Dell Zenbook laptop - screen

The ZenBook 3 features a full-size backlit keyboard with a 19.8mm key pitch and a 0.8mm key travel, something Asus claims is a standard seen on most desktop keyboards. This makes the typing experience more comfortable despite its compact size, and I had no problem typing some practice text at speed.

The touchpad is a glass-covered number with a smooth surface to give it a more accurate input. It also incorporates palm-rejection technology, Smart Gestures, and handwriting support. It did feel at times that it was perhaps a little too smooth, as it took a few attempts to find where on the screen I’d hurled the pointer, but I think this would fine after a little getting used to. There’s also a built-in fingerprint reader on the touchpad which gives users instant one-touch access, allowing you to sign in and unlock ZenBook 3 quickly and securely without having to type a password or PIN.

Dell Zenbook laptop - lid

The ZenBook has a 12.5-inch display with a 1,920x1,080 resolution, I was expecting something a little more considering the Transformer 3 Pro, which it launched alongside, has a huge 2,880x1,920 resolution screen on the same 12.5in screen size. Nevertheless, it’s got a wide 72 percent NTSC colour gamut and has an edge-to-edge covering of tough, scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 4. It may not be a technical marvel, but there's nothing to complain about here.

In terms of potential performance, the ZenBook 3 has the options of coming with an Intel Core i7 processor alongside a hefty 16GB of RAM. In our tests, the ZenBook 3 handled everything we threw at it with ease. For storage, there’s up to a 1TB of PCIe SSD capacity available, giving plenty of space for 1000s of photos and videos.

It’s also worth noting that the ZenBook 3 has a new cooling system inside featuring what Asus claims is 'the world’s thinnest fan design' measuring just 3mm, making more efficient cooling at a thinner form factor. We obviously couldn’t break inside the ZenBook to see this for ourselves. It makes the whole laptop quite a different beast from the MacBook which uses a lees powerful Core M processor and has passive cooling for it.

Unfortunately, to achieve such a slim design, Asus has had to follow in Apple’s footstep and limit the device to a single port, like on the Macbook. This means you will only find a USB-C connector for charging and peripherals, so you'll need a dock if you’re looking to purchase a ZenBook for a more serious work setting.

As for battery life, the ZenBook 3 claims to provide up to 9 hours on a single charge. According to Asus, a fast-charge technology will bring ZenBook 3 back to life and up to 60 percent capacity in just 49 minutes.

So, how much does this all cost? That’s the best bit. The bottom-spec version of the ZenBook 3 will cost just £550. However, the the specification mentioned here will set you back at least £880. Asus is yet to tell us the exact differences between the various models and what their UK pricing will be.

When it is launches officially in August, the ZenBook 3 will be available in three colours: Royal Blue, Rose Gold and Quartz Grey. It’s worth noting that Asus tends to delay shipment dates announced at Computex depending on regions, so don’t be surprised if, come August, the ZenBook 3 still hasn’t arrived in the UK.

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