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The ZenBook 3 is the Lightweight, Powerful Notebook PC Users Have Been Waiting For (Hands-On)

The Asus ZenBook 3, announced yesterday at Computex 2016 in Taipei, has been billed as a MacBook competitor. Understandable — everything from the slavish devotion to thinness to the insistence on having only a single USB Type-C port suggests that Asus took a lot of inspiration from Apple’s new ultraportable notebook. It’s clear from the press event that Asus wants to take on Apple, too, but it seems a little misguided — the computing market in general is becoming more and more tribal, with companies using services to make it more difficult to switch operating systems. That’s to say it’s unlikely that the ZenBook 3, a very attractive machine, will win over many Apple users, but that’s OK — this machine looks like it’s going to dominate anything other PC manufacturers have come up with.

The 12.5″ ZenBook 3 is a have-it-all type of notebook — you get premium mobile processing power in a frame lighter than almost any other notebook PC on the market. It’s slightly thinner than the MacBook at 11.9 mm, and will be very easy on the back at just a hair over two pounds. The frame is made of aircraft-grade aluminum, which helps keep the notebook as light as it is. And, to Asus’ credit, they’ve put their own design touches on the ZenBook 3 — the back has the usual spun metal finish with the concentric circle design Asus is known for (love it or hate it). They’ve also added gold highlights on the diamond-cut edges around the frame, which pair well with all of the colors Asus had on display (blue, rose gold, and grey).

Inside, Asus has really emphasized performance. Instead of using a more efficient, less powerful Intel Core m processor (like the MacBook), the ZenBook 3 comes with Intel Core i series Skylake processors. That’s paired with 16 GB of 2133 MHz RAM on the highest-end configuration, which is a bit faster than we usually see in notebooks. SSD speed is similarly impressive, with up to a 1 TB drive using a PCIe slot, which allows the computer to read and write to the drive faster. Asus is known for having excellent motherboards, so we’re not too surprised that they’ve been able to make such a fully-featured lightweight notebook like this — it’s a hidden advantage that looks like it’s paying big dividends here.

The ZenBook 3 is cooled using a 3 mm thick fan, which Asus says is the world’s thinnest — to fit into the case of this notebook, it almost has to be. Still, with so much power packed into this machine, we can’t help but wonder whether or not overheating is going to become an issue. We’ll know for sure if we can get our hands on one down the road.

With all these premium specs, it’s a surprise that the display is a bit disappointing. The ZenBook 3 tops out at a 1920 x 1080 resolution display, which doesn’t look as bright or vibrant as what the MacBook has to offer. It’s protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4, so at least it should get too scratched up. The 82 percent screen-to-body ratio also helps, but we definitely would have preferred to see a 1440p option on a machine that is being marketed as premium.

Next page: Audio, video, keyboard, battery life, and price

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