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Asus ZenBook 3 is a stylish and capable ultra-thin laptop

The Asus ZenBook 3 has an impressive battery life.
The Asus ZenBook 3 has an impressive battery life.PHOTO: ASUS

Comparisons with the MacBook cannot be avoided but the ZenBook has a slight edge

If Steve Jobs was still alive, he would probably dismiss the Asus ZenBook 3 as a "slavish copy" of the 12-inch Apple MacBook.

Replace the Asus logo on the ZenBook 3 with Apple's and you can probably pass it off as the MacBook. The ZenBook's keyboard, too, is practically a dead ringer for the one on the MacBook, down to the notch below the touchpad that lets you open the lid easily.

Unfortunately, this keyboard also feels as shallow as the one on the MacBook. Asus says that its key travel is around 0.8mm, though, in practice, typing on the keyboard is just a bit better than typing on a virtual keyboard. To be fair, there is decent spacing between the laptop's full-sized keys.

Both the ZenBook and the MacBook are among the lightest and thinnest models in the market. The 11.9mm-thick ZenBook 3 weighs just 910g, or a smidgen less than the MacBook (920g).

More importantly, the ZenBook appears to have the same solid build quality as the MacBook. Its lid feels as rigid as its Apple rival's, thanks to the use of premium, aerospace-grade aluminium.

Of course, there are differences. Most apparent is the royal-blue finish of my review set, a colour not offered by Apple.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $2,598

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-7500U (2.7GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 620

    RAM: 16GB

    SCREEN SIZE: 12.5 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, audio jack

    BATTERY: 40 watt-hour

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

This dark blue shade gives the ZenBook a classy demeanour, complemented perfectly by the gold trim along the laptop edges. The Asus logo and the keyboard backlight are also in gold. Other colours available for the laptop are rose gold and quartz grey.

The ZenBook picks up fingerprints and other smudges easily, which probably explains the cleaning cloth I found in the package.

Speaking of which, you can use your fingerprint to log in to Windows 10 on the ZenBook.The MacBook does not have a similar feature for its OS.

The sensor, which works with the Windows Hello feature to verify your account, is, however, located at the top right corner of the touchpad. Hence, the area around the sensor is effectively unusable.

The touchpad itself is not quite as good as the one on the MacBook, though it supports multi-touch taps and swipes, which can be configured within Windows.

Its 12.5-inch display is protected by the latest Corning Gorilla Glass 4 and has a more-than-adequate 1,920 x 1,080-pixel screen resolution.

This resolution is lower than the MacBook's Retina display (2,304 x 1,440 pixels), but I have no complaints. The ZenBook's screen looks bright and vivid, with the wide viewing angles you'd expect from an IPS display.

The ZenBook 3 is as limited as the MacBook when it comes to ports and connectors. The Asus laptop has a single USB 3.1 Type-C port that is used for charging, display output and data transfer. This, along with a 3.5mm audio jack, is all you get.

Thankfully, Asus has bundled a multiport adaptor, which comes with an HDMI and a full-size USB Type-A port.

The adaptor also has a USB 3.1 Type-C port, so you can charge the device at the same time. In contrast, MacBook owners have to pay $118 for such an adapter from Apple.

I was pleasantly surprised by how loud the four Harmon Kardon speakers - located above the keyboard and at the front lip - sounded on the ZenBook. They may not produce the best audio quality, but they are very decent for a laptop.

Powering the ZenBook 3 is Intel's newest seventh-generation Core i7 processors. Code-named Kaby Lake, these chips are said to perform slightly better than their predecessors, especially for multimedia applications.

In PCMark 8, the ZenBook 3 scored 2,786 for the Home segment, which tests office productivity and light-video and photo-editing apps, compared with 2,594 attained by the HP Spectre. However, the ZenBook also has the advantage of 16GB of RAM or double the system memory of the Spectre.

The ZenBook 3 also has an impressive battery life, which lasted around 7hr in our video-loop battery test. This is about 40 minutes longer than the HP Spectre. The MacBook clocked 5hr 40 min.

  • Verdict: The ZenBook may be inspired by the MacBook's design, but it has a more powerful processor and longer battery life.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'A stylish and capable ultra-thin laptop'. Print Edition | Subscribe