HomeTechnologyAsus Zenbook S 13 OLED review: the MacBook Air alternative
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED review: the MacBook Air alternative
August 15, 2022
If you’ve used one Asus Zenbook at this point, you’ve used them all. They’re the closest thing to what Asus has with a MacBook Air competitor, with a slightly thinner chassis, touchpads with nicer features, and price tags that are a little less intimidating. In recent years, they have also become one of the cheapest ways to get an OLED screen on a laptop.
But this particular Zenbook, the $1,299 Zenbook S 13 OLED, is also exciting because it’s one of the first devices I got to test with AMD’s highly anticipated Ryzen 6000 series in it. And while the Zenbook’s chassis is otherwise unobtrusive, the chip inside delivers both CPU performance and integrated graphics that are, again, some of the best you can get in an ultra-thin laptop. That power, combined with the ultra-portability that the Zenbook line is known for, makes the Zenbook S 13 OLED a very viable MacBook Air alternative for those open to Windows.
The Zenbook S 13 doesn’t look particularly different from the legions of other Zenbooks out there, but that’s hardly a bad thing. Weighing in at 2.43 pounds and measuring 0.59 inches thick, it’s one of those devices that you can squeeze into even the most stuffed backpacks (and one that you won’t even feel when it’s inside). While the lid and deck feel a little tacky, there is very little flex in the lid or keyboard deck. Both were also fairly resistant to fingerprint collection, an issue I’ve had with Zenbooks in the past.
If you slap an OLED panel on an ultraportable line, there’s a danger that that line will become exorbitantly expensive and destroy battery life. That makes this device a relief. This OLED touchscreen, while not as vibrant as you might see from the most expensive OLEDs on the market, is still quite nice, reaching a perfectly usable 360 nits in my tests with almost no glare. (And it’s 16:10, giving more vertical space.)
And I still averaged seven hours and 45 minutes of office work on this device with the screen at medium brightness and Battery Saver on (which was quite consistently the time I saw across multiple trials). While I can get a few more hours out of the most recent MacBook Air, it’s still good compared to the various 12th-generation Intel machines I’ve tested this year (as well as all sorts of Intel-powered Zenbooks).
Zenbooks are also some of my favorite multimedia machines, and this one works well for that use. Audio was quite good, with audible bass and percussion and no distortion at maximum volume. It sounded pretty similar to the MacBook Air when tested side-by-side, with vocals perhaps a little clearer on the Air. There’s a noticeable surround effect – it felt like my music was surrounding me – and everything is adjustable in the Dolby Access app. I actually thought that the game and movie profiles (which prioritize positional accuracy) led to better sounding and better surrounding music than the music profile (which felt a bit muffled by comparison).
The microphones, which support AI noise cancellation, gave me no problems either, and people could hear me just fine over my apartment’s very loud air conditioner.
The only major drawback that people should be aware of is the port selection. The Zenbook is now approaching MacBook connectivity levels – all you get are three USB-C ports and a headphone jack. I like that there is at least one USB-C port on each side (and they are USB-4 ready). Asus includes a USB-C to USB-A adapter in the Zenbook’s box, but using dongles left and right is still a hassle. (There’s at least a headphone jack, which some previous OLED Zenbooks have made the unfortunate decision to omit.)
The unit I’m testing (the only Zenbook 13 S configuration I’ve been able to find for pre-order) is currently listed for $1,299. It includes the eight-core Ryzen 7 6800U, 1TB of storage, 16GB of RAM and the 2880 x 1800 OLED display. That is a very attractive price for those specs, especially considering the screen.
The system performed well throughout my workday. I’ve used a slew of Chrome tabs in addition to all sorts of downloads, apps, and a Zoom call on Battery Saver with no lag. I occasionally felt some heat on the bottom of the device, but never felt anything on the palm rests or keyboard. (And I couldn’t hear the fans unless I had the Performance profile on, and even then they weren’t obnoxious.) During intense testing, the CPU didn’t get past 96 degrees Celsius (but it did take a lot of time hovering between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit). degrees Celsius, which is definitely hot).
The Zenbook completed a 5 minute 33 second 4K video export in just over 15 minutes. That doesn’t compare favorably with scores we’ve seen from previous machines that completed this test, as the latest version of Premiere Pro delivered slower scores than previous iterations across the board. Still, for video novices, it’s worth noting that these types of workloads are generally not AMD’s forte. The device loses to the M2 MacBook Air (as well as the M1 device) on PugetBench for Premiere Pro, which tests live playback and export time at 4K and 8K, as well as several 12th-generation Intel systems.
Outside of those usage scenarios, however, AMD’s integrated graphics are very impressive. I’ve been saying this for years, but there’s not much reason to buy laptops with entry-level Nvidia MX GPUs when integrated graphics do it well.
The system achieved an average of 238 fps League of Legends and 114 fps on Rocket League‘s maximum settings (all at 1080p resolution). overwatch was even playable with Epic settings, averaging 52 fps on that preset and 83 fps on Ultra. Even Shadow of the Tomb Raider was more than playable on the lowest settings, averaging 53 fps. (Although it wasn’t playable on the highest settings, averaging 25 fps.)
These results are some of the best we’ve seen from integrated graphics in a 13-inch device. They beat the M2 MacBook Air (not to mention the M1 model), and they beat the Intel 12th Gen Dell XPS 13 Plus as well. Considering how much cheaper this device is than both laptops, that’s pretty impressive (and frankly encouraging) to see.
That’s my biggest takeaway from the Zenbook S 13 OLED: AMD still makes some of the best integrated graphics you can get in a laptop of this size.
The eight-core Ryzen 7 chip remains a serious challenger to both Apple and Intel’s best mobile chips to be found in the 13-inch space. While it doesn’t offer the long battery life that the M2 offers, nor does it have Intel’s dominance in creative workloads, it’s still an all-round powerful chip that delivers a truly excellent gaming experience without too much external heat. Perhaps one day Intel will make its way back to the top of the chip market — but not this year.
Combine this with the acceptable battery life the Zenbook gave us and the OLED touchscreen, and I’d say it’s an excellent option for anyone who finds premium ultraportables like the MacBook Air above the budget (or just Windows). prefers macOS).