Many publications (The edge included) heralded this year’s MacBooks as the best laptops you can buy today. For many users, they will be.
But a few surprisingly compelling Windows-based alternatives have popped up in Asus’ high-end Zenbook lineup, offering the build quality, display and performance to match Apple’s best. The 13-inch Zenbook 13S OLED option proved to be a worthy competitor to the M2 MacBook Air, and eyes turned to the 14-inch Zenbook 14X OLED (and, in particular, the mighty Space Edition) as a possible rival to the fan-equipped MacBook Pro M2.
I got a first look at a preview build of the Zenbook 14X OLED Space Edition in January, and this week I got to test an actual, finished unit for performance and battery life. The Zenbook actually beats the MacBook in a number of important areas, but it loses in one crucial category.
Zenbook 14X vs. MacBook Pro: Dimensions
The Zenbook and the MacBook are very, very similar in size. The Zenbook weighs 3.09 pounds, while the MacBook weighs three pounds. The Zenbook is 0.62 inches thick, while the MacBook is 0.61 inches thick.
I will say, from extensive experience carrying both, that the Zenbook feels noticeably heavier, especially when I lift it with one arm. But they are both fairly thin and light devices for the power they offer.
Zenbook 14X vs. MacBook Pro: Price
The Zenbook is slightly more affordable than the MacBook Pro, although I don’t imagine the difference will be very significant for most buyers.
There’s only one configuration of the Zenbook 14X OLED Space Edition – it features a Core i9-12900H processor, 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. It’s priced at $1,999 on Asus’ site, although some retailers currently list it for $1,979.99.
If you wanted to buy a 13-inch MacBook Pro with 24GB of RAM (the maximum available) and 1TB of storage, you’d have to pay $2,099, a premium of $100. While neither the Zenbook nor the MacBook M2 are cheap, they’re both in the realm of what mainstream ultraportables cost. A 32GB/1TB version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro (even with the base CPU option) would cost $2,599.99.
Now, if you’re someone whose workload won’t take full advantage of the 1TB/32GB offered by the Zenbook, you might be better off buying, say, a $1,699 MacBook Pro with 16GB of memory and 512 GB of storage and save several hundred dollars on the Zenbook. It will depend on your daily needs.
It’s also true that the 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro is often on sale these days (you can currently get a 16GB/512GB model for $1,599). If you can get by with 512GB of storage and don’t mind the extra weight (the 14-inch weighs around 3.5 pounds), this is the model to go for.
Zenbook 14X vs. MacBook Pro: design
Sorry, Apple, but no MacBooks can be compared here. Both of these laptops are very sturdy, well-built, and hard to squeeze. But when it comes to looks, the M2 Pro still has the same boring, gray, chunky bezel design that MacBook Pro models have had since 2016. The 14-inch device has an updated design, but all good considered, it still looks, well, MacBook-y.
The Zenbook 14X OLED Space Edition, meanwhile, looks like a spatialship. Design elements on the lid and keyboard deck evoke a shuttle and cockpit, and apparently there’s some Morse code hidden in there if you fancy sitting down and doing some decoding. Obviously that’s a subjective thing, but I’d go for the Zenbook style every time.
The Zenbook 14X also wins when it comes to display. The Zenbook has a 14-inch, 16:10 OLED touchscreen with a 2880 x 1800 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate. The 13-inch MacBook Pro has a slightly smaller 13.3-inch display with a lower resolution (2560 x 1600) and a lower refresh rate (60 Hz). While the MacBook’s screen is certainly good, I’d choose the Zenbook any day – it’s crisp and vibrant, and I’m still here for those deep OLED blacks.
The Zenbook also has what’s called the ZenVision display on its lid, a 3.5-inch OLED panel that can show your music, time, battery percentage or other stats, a business card, the text of your choice or pretty animations of little astronauts. (It’s supposed to be the spaceship window, I guess.) The MacBook Pro has a touchscreen Touch Bar on its deck, while the Zenbook has a row of physical features, but personally I find the ZenVision display much cooler.
The Zenbook also features the ErgoLift hinge, a feature you’ll find on all types of Asus laptops. This hinge bends slightly under the keyboard and lifts it a few degrees off the floor for better airflow, and it sinks into your legs when you’re using the Zenbook on your lap. It’s not super sharp, but that’s something you have to deal with that the MacBook doesn’t have.
Zenbook 14X vs. MacBook Pro: performance
If you’re looking for a Windows laptop that can beat Apple’s silicon in CPU-intensive tasks, the Zenbook 14X OLED Space Edition is your bet. It offers some of the best performance I’ve seen from a laptop of this size this year. I don’t imagine it will have any issues with a general office workload.
As you can see, the Zenbook is quite powerful for its size and outperformed the MacBook M2 and M1 Pro on many of our CPU benchmarks. Both Apple products, however, have a head start when it comes to graphics performance, including gaming and video work in Premiere Pro. If your work is graphics-heavy, the MacBook is a better buy for you. (Oh, and in case it doesn’t go without saying, the gaming benchmarks are for testing purposes only – if you’re going to be gaming a lot, skip all those models and get something like the Zephyrus G14.)
MacBook unplugged performance is also better. This machine shows identical scores when running benchmarks on battery power. But that’s not the case for the Zenbook – scores dropped when unplugged. Its Geekbench Compute score, for example, dropped to 20,675 on battery power.
Zenbook 14X vs MacBook Pro: Battery life
Unfortunately for Asus, the MacBook leaves the Zenbook in the dust here.
The MacBook Pro M2 lasted me over 16.5 hours of constant use around medium brightness. The 14-inch M1 Pro gave me around 10 hours. Even with battery saver on and the screen dimmed to 60Hz, the Zenbook only lasted me about a quarter of that time with the same workload and brightness setting. I spent an average of four hours and 35 minutes on this machine, and it was a consistent result across a number of trials.
For many people, the extra hours of the MacBook are probably worth the extra money – it’s a very big difference. Even if your budget is limited, it might be worth upgrading to a less capable MacBook Pro in order to get that extra time.
Intel really needs to address the efficiency issue that its processors seem to have. The stark difference between these two otherwise similar competitors should illustrate how unacceptable a 4:35 battery life is in today’s market. This is one of the worst results I’ve seen on a non-gaming laptop this year, and I’d really like to see at least seven hours from a device at this price point. It even loses out to some dedicated gaming machines – the AMD-powered ROG Zephyrus G14 lasts me almost twice as long.
Which should you buy?
The Zenbook’s disappointing battery life makes it a very good case for the MacBook Pro, the best buy for most people. Even if you like the futuristic design of the 14X, it comes at a pretty steep cost. Especially if you’re looking for a portable on-the-go device, the extra hours of freedom from an outlet that the MacBook gives you should be worth an uglier computer. For those willing to compromise on RAM, storage and a few hours of battery life, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is also a great alternative – and it can be had for less than the Zenbook if you can find it on sale.
If you are looking for a Windows alternative to the MacBook Pro and you don’t care about battery life at all, this Zenbook is competitive in just about every other way. It’s incredibly well-built and powerful with a great screen, and its dynamic design is fun like no Apple laptop has ever been. It’s a shame that Asus didn’t put an AMD chip inside.