Asus’ Zenbook S 13 OLED holds a special place in my heart. When people ask me what the best MacBook Air alternative for Windows users is, the 2022 model has been my go-to for the past year. It’s thin, it’s light, it’s sturdy, it has a great screen — what’s not to like?
And then, this year, Asus made an announcement that sent me into a panic. The company announced that it had made the Zenbook S 13 even thinner and lighter; while it was thin and light before, it’s now, at 2.2 pounds and well under half an inch thick, one of the lightest laptops you can buy. That, to be frank, scared me. Because when Windows laptops get unbelievably thin and light, that can mean sacrifices. It means keyboards and touchpads get shallow and ports go away and a chassis that runs as hot as the Sun.
Thank the heavens above — that has not happened to the Zenbook. The 2023 Zenbook S 13 OLED is thinner, lighter, and still great. With an Intel processor, an OLED screen, and a premium but still appealing $1,399.99 price tag, it’s my favorite Windows laptop that I’ve tested for quite some time. It remains my recommendation for Windows users seeking an alternative to the MacBook Air. See, everyone? I found one! Here you go.
The main thing to know about this device is how light it is. It’s noticeably lighter than both last year’s model and the latest MacBook Air. I carry it around in my backpack, and I feel like I’m carrying nothing. I actually stopped to open my bag and make sure the device was in there one time — that’s how weightless it is. At 10.9 millimeters (0.43 inches) thick, it’s also one of the thinnest devices out there — even thinner than Samsung’s more expensive Galaxy Book3 Pro.
There’s always the worry that a thin device means a flimsier build. While the Zenbook doesn’t quite have the build quality of the MacBook Air (it feels a bit plasticky, especially on the keyboard deck), it’s sturdy enough. I brought it on a cross-country trip, and it survived all manner of bumps and jostles without a scratch — certainly better than many more expensive devices would have fared.
In particular, the lid is solid. It’s made of what Asus calls “plasma ceramic aluminum,” it’s got an attractive artistic design, and the texture feels quite nice, certainly a step up from the rest of the chassis. One neat thing is that each lid has an individually unique look due to the way that Asus uses “temperature and electricity” to fine-tune the devices. I can’t tell you how much of a difference that actually makes — I’ve only got a sample of one to look at — but it’s a fun little factoid. And it does a great job of hiding fingerprints, which I almost never get to say about dark laptops.
Asus is also promoting this as the most eco-friendly Zenbook ever produced. The lid uses “pure water” and requires no “organic compounds, strong acids, or heavy metals,” and the ceramic aluminum component is 100 percent recyclable. Every company makes lofty claims about the environmental footprint of its products, but what I like about what Asus is doing is that it’s focusing on the aspect of its gadget that actually has a substantial environmental impact: the manufacturing process. (That said, as I preach at every opportunity, the most eco-friendly gadget is one that lasts a long time.)
My one big note on the chassis itself is that the pads on the bottom of the Zenbook aren’t particularly effective. The device was slipping and sliding on my table and a lot on my lap desk — much more than I tend to see from its competitors.
The 2880 x 1800 OLED display doesn’t disappoint. Colors popped, brightness was aplenty, and the 16:10 panel left plenty of room for browsing and scrolling. There can be a lot of glare in brighter settings; even with the screen’s brightness fairly high in my office or at times when I was right by a window, I was seeing a lot of myself as I worked.
Glare was much less of a problem in my somewhat dimly lit apartment, where I could keep brightness at 30 to 40 percent without seeing any. I do miss the high refresh rate OLED panels that you can get on some Asus devices in this category, but it’s still a great viewing experience overall.
Then, we get to the port selection, which has managed to remain fairly robust despite the downsizing. You get an HDMI 2.1, two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 (allowing for the connection of a 4K external display), a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A, and a headphone jack. Both of the USB-C ports are on the left side, which can be ever so slightly a pain, but I will take that any day over the one-on-each-side-and-no-other-ports setup that is becoming troublingly common on 13-inchers these days. Please, please let me keep that HDMI.
The 65W USB-C adapter will take up one of those ports. The Zenbook also supports Asus’ USB-C Easy Charge, which means you can juice the device up with a wide range of USB-C chargers, including portable chargers and power banks. That won’t necessarily be fast, but it’s handy if you’re someone like me who forgets to bring their charger to places more often than they should. (Good battery life, as you’ll see later on, helps me out here as well.)
The video calling experience comes with some fancy new features, including two-way AI noise cancellation (fine; nobody had trouble hearing me on video calls) and various webcam effects including lighting optimization, background blurring, and the infamous eye tracking feature. Audio is a bit of a weak point — the thin chassis doesn’t leave a lot of room for bass, and you’ll miss it in many songs if you’re not actively listening for it.
I love Asus keyboards, and this one doesn’t disappoint. I wasn’t necessarily at my fastest or most accurate on it, but the keys are so wide with such a satisfying click that I was having a great time nonetheless (and it’s quite quiet). The deck is much sturdier than you often find on devices this thin, and my keystrokes didn’t depress it at all. The font (the same one you see all over Asus’ lines) is quite large and easy to read, which my eyes quite appreciate. There is a bit of backlight bleed, which I know bothers some of you more than it does me.
The touchpad has shrunk a bit since last year, but it’s still fairly big and especially quite tall. It also does not turn into an LED numpad as last year’s did (but that, in fairness, has always struck me as having a somewhat narrow use case). Otherwise, the touchpad has a bit of a loud and firm click (I much prefer the Zephyrus G14’s blissfully easy one), but it’s smooth to the touch and doesn’t collect prints or smudges. I’m slightly relieved to see that it didn’t go haptic in the march to thinness. While there are certainly good haptic trackpads out there, we’ve also seen a whole bunch of thin and clunky ones on the Windows market as of late.
There was one oddity I experienced: sometimes when using the Zenbook on a surface that wasn’t flat (and even occasionally on my lap desk), pressing the palm rest in certain places, at a certain angle, would inadvertently depress the touchpad. This is something you see every so often on very thin devices, and it was occasional here — I did not see it nearly as often as I do on, say, the Surface Pro 9. Still, this is an annoyance that you wouldn’t expect to see on something like the XPS 13 (or the haptic-equipped MacBook Air).
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED (2023) benchmarks
|Geekbench 6 CPU Single||2337|
|Geekbench 6 CPU Multi||8359|
|Geekbench 6 Open CL / Compute||15078|
|Cinebench R23 Single||1808|
|Cinebench R23 Multi||7271|
|Cinebench R23 Multi 30-min loop||6901|
|PugetBench for Premiere Pro||443|
|Shadow of the Tomb Raider (1920 x 1200, highest)||18|
|4K Export (Adobe Premiere Pro 15)||6:28|
Inside this Zenbook is Intel’s brand-new 13th Gen Core i7-1355U. Intel didn’t promise huge performance gains from these chips compared to the 12th Gen U-series, but this is still one of the top ultraportable chips that you’ll see on the market this year.
The model I received is $1,399.99. It has 32GB of RAM (LPDDR5) and 1TB of storage. It’s the top SKU you can buy — and currently, from a look at Asus’ website at the time of this writing, the only 13th Gen Intel SKU you can buy.
For $1,399.99, those specs are a pretty decent deal. The M2 MacBook Air, for comparison, can only go up to 24GB of memory, and pairing that with a terabyte of storage would cost you at least $1,999. When you consider that the Zenbook is thinner and lighter, with a better port selection and a higher-resolution screen, it makes for an attractive alternative on paper.
The AMD Ryzen 6000 series was in last year’s Zenbook S 13 OLED, and that powerhouse chip was a big part of what made the device such a standout. On the other hand, that device was also basically impossible to buy much of the time, and rumor has it that supply issues on AMD’s end were at least partially to blame. So I was half relieved and half anxious to hear that the line had been switched to Intel-exclusive this year.
But the 13th Gen Core i7 is holding its own against both AMD’s and Apple’s offerings. It performed comparably to the Ryzen 7 6800U that was in last year’s test unit on the graphics tests we ran. It did a bit better in Premiere Pro performance (where Intel is quite strong) and a bit worse in gaming performance (where AMD is quite strong). Some of its synthetic benchmark scores have been behind those of its AMD predecessor, and perhaps that discrepancy will show through in heavy workloads, but for the most common ultraportable use cases (emailing, web use, standard office tasks), I don’t notice much of a difference. It’s not as big of a problem for me as it would be on a gaming laptop or workstation.
Against Apple, the Zenbook actually beat the M2 MacBook Air in single-core benchmarks. (The MacBook dominated in multicore benchmarks since it has two more performance-oriented cores than the i7-1355U does and was unsurprisingly a stronger graphic performer.) While the M2 achieves better results overall, it’s not quite giving Intel’s ultraportable chips the sound drubbing across the board that it once was.
Benchmark testing was where the Zenbook’s thin profile started to show through a bit. It was clear that the fans (which were quite loud under these heavy loads) had a tough job of keeping the Core i7 cool, and temperatures often bounced into the low 90s during benchmark testing. That’s not 2022 XPS levels of heat, but it’s still hotter than I prefer to see. The thermal limitations were reflected in Cinebench scores, which decreased between the 10-minute and 30-minute runs.
Whisper Mode kept the fans completely silent
This wasn’t a concern during my regular work use, of course, which consisted of around 20 Chrome tabs with Spotify sometimes running in the background. That’s where I was able to put on Whisper Mode (accessible in the MyAsus software), which kept the fans completely silent. Whisper Mode significantly limits performance, and I didn’t quite get the unbelievable speed that I do from the MacBook — I occasionally saw some drag with things like window resizing and opening some heavier apps like Lightroom — but it was still plenty comfortable for use, and what warmth did occur beneath the keyboard wasn’t enough to be a distraction. You can turn off Whisper Mode for heavier work, but expect to hear a low hum from the fans now and again.
But the aspect of this device that was by far — by very far — the most exciting surprise was battery life. I ran the battery down many times on the Zenbook doing the daily workload described above, and I averaged just over eight and a half hours of use from it. Eight and a half! On the whole, it was better than last year’s Zenbook. It’s around what I usually get from the MacBook Air.
The aspect of this device that was by far — by very far — the most exciting surprise was battery life
And that’s what really seals the deal for me with this laptop. It has been so difficult for me to really enthusiastically recommend a portable 13-inch Windows laptop in recent years because their battery life just hasn’t been comparable to what the MacBook Air can provide. I finally, finally found one that lasts about as long. Finally!
That doesn’t mean the Air doesn’t have plenty of other advantages over the Zenbook. It is, on the whole, a more premium device (and its higher price reflects that). But I am so, so pleased to see all-day battery life from an Intel machine that I’m finding it hard to care too much about the Zenbook’s other flaws.
At the end of the day, this device is a good package, and the combination of performance, screen, port selection, specs, and battery life that it offers beat what you’ll find in some more expensive products. There are areas for improvement, particularly with the speakers and trackpad, but not many egregious compromises. If you’re asking me for a Windows-running MacBook Air alternative, the Zenbook S 13 OLED is very much it.