When Apple introduced its second-generation MacBook Air, it triggered a new PC category called Ultrabook, and ASUS was first out of the gate with a new lineup of Zenbooks. This week, ASUS is at it again, with a clone of the new MacBook called the ZenBook 3. And as you expect, it exceeds the MacBook in every way. Including, curiously, the price.
As a fan of the PC—and of the diversity that should result by having so many hardware makers competing against each other—I’m a bit embarrassed by this kind of thing. And it’s not just Apple seeing its good ideas usurped by others: The sheer number of Microsoft Surface clones we see in the market today is troubling. (Fear not, ASUS fans, ASUS is copying that too, with new Transformer-branded devices.)
On the good news front, PC makers tend to improve on Apple’s (or Microsoft’s) limited designs. These products run Windows, of course, which is vastly superior and preferable to macOS. They often feature more functionality—better processors, more RAM and storage, more expansion, and so on—and usually much lower prices. When Samsung entered the Ultrabook market a year after ASUS, it unveiled a 15-inch lineup—I still have on, in fact—creating a sub-market that Apple has continued to ignore.
So it’s not hard to imagine how a company like ASUS might tackle the new MacBook, given its history: Design a ZenBook-branded ultraportable that looks nearly identical, provide more of everything—better processor, more RAM, more storage, and of course more ports—and then lower the price. That’s the ASUS playbook.
And that’s exactly what happened.
ASUS did of course design a ZenBook-branded ultraportable, the ZenBook 3, that looks nearly identical to the new MacBook, and even comes in three colors, just like MacBook. (Well, different colors: Royal Blue, Rose Gold and Quartz Grey. Stick with me here.) It’s incredibly thin and light, and while ASUS is proudly explaining that it is even thinner and lighter than the MacBook, I doubt any human would notice the difference.
It can be configured with much better processors—incredibly, up to a Core i7, where MacBook is stuck in the Core m3/m5 ghetto—more RAM and more storage, of course. It has a bigger screen–12.5 inches vs. 12, and smaller bezels. It includes a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello, and delivers (a reported) 9 hours of battery life, compared to 10 hours for MacBook. But thanks to fast-charge technology, the ZenBook 3 can charge to 60 percent capacity in just under 50 minutes.
And of course, the ZenBook 3 is cheaper than MacBook, starting at $999, compared to $1299 for Apple’s entry. That said, you could pay up to $1999 for one of these baubles, if you go the Core i7/16 GB RAM/1 TB PCIe SSD route.
All good right? Yes, but in a weird move, ASUS chose to mimic the MacBook’s biggest mistake in only including a single USB-C port. There is no other expansion. That … is just dumb.
Anyway, if you are pining for a device that is just like the new MacBook, but wanted the familiarity and power of Windows 10, ASUS—and I’m sure other PC makers too, soon enough—are there for you. After all, that’s what these companies do: Churn out a bunch of me-too products—or what ASUS calls “the world’s most prestigious laptop—with just enough differentiation to stave off the lawyers.