The ZenBook S 13 OLED is a superb Windows ultraportable with one of the best displays we’ve seen on a laptop
- Lightweight, attractive design
- Glorious 2.8K OLED display
- Fast, M1-rivalling performance
- Battery life could be better
- 720p webcam
Manufacturers of lightweight Windows Ultrabooks have had a hard time of it over the past two years with the emergence of Apple’s M1-powered MacBook Air (£949), but the Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED comes closer than any other to mounting a full-blooded challenge.
I’ll ignore the fact that the M2-powered MacBook Air is imminent and may well extend Apple’s lead in this space once again. For now, however, this is the closest a compact Windows laptop has come to overhauling Apple’s all-conquering machine.
Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED (2022) review: What you need to know
Indeed, in many respects, the Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED is superior to the M1 MacBook Air and will remain so even when the M2 is widely available. In the main, that’s due to the system’s 13.3in 2.8K OLED display, which is just as sharp but even more vibrant than Apple’s MacBooks.
It’s a glorious display but not the only reason you might want to pick up a ZenBook S 13 OLED instead of Apple’s finest. You might also want to consider it for its gaming capabilities. Although it’s far from a gaming behemoth and can’t match dedicated machines with discrete graphics chips, the combination of its AMD Ryzen 7 6800U/6600U CPU and integrated Radeon 680M GPU packs a surprisingly powerful punch.
Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED (2022) review: Price and competition
Configuration tested: UM5302T – AMD Ryzen 7 6800U CPU with integrated AMD Radeon 680M GPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 13.3in 2,880 x 1,800 OLED touchscreen (no stylus support); Price: £1,300
There are two models of the ZenBook S 13 OLED available, each with a subtly different configuration. You get the choice of either a Ryzen 7 6800U or a Ryzen 5 6600U, 16GB or 8GB of RAM and the choice between a 512GB or 1TB SSD. And there are two display options as well: one with stylus support and a peak brightness rating of 600 nits and one with stylus support and a slightly lower peak brightness of 550 nits.
The ZenBook’s main competition at this price comes from the M1 MacBook Air and the forthcoming M2 model. Both are cracking laptops with great all-round performance and killer battery life but neither come with OLED tech, a touchscreen or stylus support like the Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED.
As for the Windows competition, nothing contemporary comes close. There’s the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 for £999 but the AMD Ryzen 5 configuration we recommend only comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and its 4000-series Ryzen is two generations older than the one inside the ZenBook S 13. It doesn’t come with an OLED display, either.
Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED (2022) review: Design, keyboard and touchpad
Clearly, the Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED’s natural rival is the Apple MacBook Air, but there isn’t much the two machines share when it comes to design. Where the MacBook is slim and finished in fairly plain silver with softly curved corners and edges, the ZenBook is more angular and presents more in the way of visual interest.
I was sent the light green (“aqua celadon”) model, finished in a textured matte aluminium, and it looks great, especially finished off with its chromed piano-style hinge.
The ZenBook doesn’t feel quite as solidly built as the MacBook – tap the bottom of the machine and it gives off a slightly hollow sound – but it doesn’t feel particularly flimsy, either. Indeed, a MIL-STD 810H rating should mean it’s easily capable of shrugging off the abuse of the day to day commute.
In even more positive news, the ZenBook S 13 OLED is significantly lighter than the MacBook at 1kg versus 1.29kg. It also comes with a broader selection of ports and sockets – three USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 sockets, all capable of data, charging and DisplayPort video output. There’s even a fingerprint reader, and with Wi-Fi 6E connectivity included, it has all the core boxes ticked.
The keyboard is comfortable enough to type on with plenty of travel (1.4mm) and a spacious layout. There’s a three-stage backlight so you can see to type in dim conditions and the key action is comfortable enough, if a little on the light side.
The ZenBook’s touchpad is spacious, accurate and reliable and also comes with Asus’ trademark numberpad built in – hold your finger on a small icon in the top right corner and a number pad glows into existence beneath the glass. You can then proceed to tap the numbers on the touchpad to enter them into a spreadsheet or the Windows calculator app, for instance. It’s ingenious but it still can’t compete with a dedicated physical number pad for rapid data entry.
The only real disappointment, however, is that this faster of the two ZenBook S 13 OLED models only has a 720p webcam where the lower spec model has a 1080p camera. The 720p webcam produces well-exposed images but they’re a little on the soft side. The microphone picked up my voice nice and clearly, though, so that’s some compensation.
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Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED (2022): Display
Undoubtedly, the Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED’s most exciting feature is its sumptuous 13.3in, 16:10 aspect ratio, 2.8K (2,880 x 1,800) OLED touchscreen. That’s much sharper than the OLED displays we’re accustomed to seeing on laptops of this type and in this price bracket, since normally they’re limited to just 1080p. According to the technical specifications, Asus says it’s “Pantone Validated”, produces 100% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut and has Dolby Vision certification.
As a display for watching online content, it’s simply brilliant. In normal use the brightness level peaks at around 380cd/m2 and it hits 595cd/m2 when watching HDR video. Plus, since the display is an OLED unit, black really is inky dark so those bright highlights really stand out in dark scenes.
For creative work, it’s equally capable. Fire up the MyAsus control centre software and you’ll be able to choose between Native, sRGB and DCI-P3 colour spaces, and in the latter two of these, colour accuracy is superb. With sRGB selected, I recorded a Delta E of 0.8 and in DCI-P3 mode it was an equally impressive 1.1. Delta E is a measure of colour difference compared to what it should be, so the lower the score, the better. Anything below or even approaching 1 means there’s barely any detectable difference betwee the onscreen colours and those intended by the creator.
Alas, the speakers aren’t quite a match for the display, though they do support Dolby Atmos. As you’d expect, there isn’t much bass here but you do get plenty of mid range. The problem is they’re not particularly loud, so if you want the best possible audio to go with the stunning visuals you’re better off connecting a pair of decent headphones.
Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED (2022) review: Performance and battery life
Where the Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED faces its biggest challenge versus the MacBook Air is raw speed and battery life and, where most Windows ultraportables have fallen short in this regard lately, the Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED performs admirably.
That’s thanks in the main to its octa-core AMD Ryzen 7 6800U CPU, which here is backed by 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and AMD Radeon 680M integrated graphics.
Indeed, in our in-house media conversion and multitasking benchmarks, the ZenBook outperformed the M1-powered MacBook Air, although it was slightly pegged back in the Geekbench 5 CPU test.
It isn’t quite as good as the M1-powered MacBook Air when it comes to graphics processing, but it does pull ahead, overall, compared to Windows machines with Intel’s Iris Xe integrated graphics.
Storage performance is impressive, too, outperforming the MacBook Air for sequential reads, although not for writes. Battery life, on the other hand, isn’t quite as good. With the screen set to 170cd/m2 and flight mode engaged, it gave out after 9hrs 46mins, a full five hours short of the MacBook Air.
That’s not a terrible performance, however. This is a laptop that should get you through a large chunk of the working day without needing a recharge and you won’t balk at having to carry around the 65W USB-C charger, either, as it’s absolutely tiny by laptop standards – it’s closer in size to a smartphone charger than most laptop bricks.
Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED (2022) review: Verdict
It’s a bit of a shame that Asus has launched the ZenBook S 13 OLED just as Apple is about to unleash the M2-powered MacBook Air, because versus the older M1 MacBook Air, this is a surefire winner.
Aside from weaker battery life, the ZenBook competes strongly on all fronts: it’s just as fast, it’s lighter and better looking, has superior connectivity and its 2.8K touchscreen display is drop dead gorgeous. The M2 MacBook Air may well arrive and steal its thunder in a few weeks time but at £1,300 there is no better Windows ultraportable.