When Apple released the M1 Macbook Air in late 2020, it sent the Windows laptop makers scampering.
Apple’s first in-house laptop chipset offered class-leading performance and battery life, virtually rewriting the rules for what one could expect from a thin and light laptop. Since then, both Intel and AMD have had time to release a new round of processors, with Intel’s 12th generation chips being the flavour of the season. One such CPU – the Core i7-1260P – powers the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED that I’m reviewing here.
The Asus Zenbook 14 OLED looks and feels premium.
I’ve used it extensively over the past couple of weeks and even had the opportunity to briefly compare it with the M1 Macbook Air, so read on to find out how it fared. I must mention that the original review unit that I received was defective, with some battery and thermal issues, but the replacement unit I received worked flawlessly.
Asus has launched a number of laptops with 12th generation Intel chips but this particular model, the Zenbook 14 OLED, comes only in two configurations.
The base configuration costs Rs 89,990 and comes with the Core i5-1240P. The one that I have with me, running the Core i7-1260P, sells for Rs 1,04,990. Apart from the chipsets, the configurations are virtually identical with both models sporting 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD, and the name-worthy OLED screen.
The publicity material accompanying the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED describes it as the “crown jewel” of Asus’s laptop lineup and it’s easy to see why. Asus has pulled out all stops when it comes to hardware.
The lid is handsome and distinctive.
The body of the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is made out of aluminium alloy and feels quite premium. The design is handsome and distinctive, with the matte finished lid featuring contrast lines slashing across the surface, and the Asus Zenbook branding in barely visible text in a corner.
The dark “Ponder Blue” colour I have shows up smudges very easily though, and it’s not long before you’re itching to wipe it down with a cloth. If I had a choice, I’d get the pale green-ish “Aqua Celadon” colour that is the alternative. At 1.39 kg, it weighs about par for the category and it feels good in the hand (yes, the lid opens with one hand).
The 2.8K 16:10 OLED screen is a 10-bit panel with 550 nits of peak brightness and a 90Hz refresh rate. In non-technical terms, it’s simply a stunning screen. Perfect OLED contrast combined with excellent brightness and a 100 percent DCI-P3 colour gamut means everything looks gloriously crisp and vivid with accurate colours. Watching YouTube and Netflix on the laptop is a sheer joy. HDR videos also look terrific. There’s really no substitute for inky OLED blacks and the perfect contrast you can get on these screens.
My one small gripe is that it’s a glossy screen, and I wish that in future iterations, they apply some sort of anti-reflective coating to tame the reflections a little bit.
The speakers are loud and full, with the Dolby Access app providing you the ability to tune the EQ a little bit. These may not be the best speakers I’ve heard on a laptop, but they’re definitely in the ‘very good’ category. If you’re in a quiet room, you can happily watch Netflix on these speakers without reaching for headphones.
The branding is subtle.
The backlit keyboard is responsive, with good travel, and feels fast to type on. The expansive touchpad (which also features the Asus party trick – a backlit capacitive numpad) is precise and smooth.
The port selection on the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is par for the course, with a single USB-A 3.2 port on the left, and an HDMI port, a micro SD card slot, a headphone jack, and two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports on the right. I do wish the Thunderbolt 4 ports were on either side for flexibility of charging, but that’s not a major complaint.
I usually don’t spend time on the nitty gritties of the storage and RAM, but I have to talk about it here because the 512 GB SSD is a really fast PCIe 4.0 unit with class-leading read and write speeds, and the RAM is 16 GB of LPDDRX5 memory at 5200 Mhz, once again – about as fast as you can get in a machine like this. In short, Asus has done everything they can to make the Zenbook 14 OLED a really fast laptop.
The screen is stunning, but reflective.
The Core i7-1260P is a part of Intel’s new P-series of chips, slotting in between the old U-series chips for ultra-light laptops, and the H-series chips for workstations. Essentially these chips are meant for laptops designed to deliver near workstation performance in a thin and light form factor.
And the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED fits that description to a T.
There’s really only one word to describe this laptop’s performance – and that’s fast. Everything is as zippy as you’re likely to encounter. The laptop boots up quickly (although the few-seconds lag between pressing the fingerprint sensor equipped power button and the boot process commencing takes some getting used to), programs open quickly, webpages load fast, and even Lightroom and Photoshop run fast.
The fast RAM and storage mean that you can juggle a number of Chrome tabs, Photoshop, a 4K YouTube video, and MS Office, and the machine doesn’t break a sweat. Of course, with Intel’s own 96 EU Iris Xe GPU on board, it’s not quite a gaming machine, but other reviewers have mentioned that you can get some amount of casual gaming done at good frame rates. Thunderbolt 4 means you can plug in an external GPU, but I doubt any serious gamers would buy this laptop anyway.
The illuminated capacitive touchpad is a fun party trick.
While the Core i6-1260P does run hot, the thermal management on the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is passable. The rear of the chassis does get warm under heavy loads, but it remains quite usable if you’re at a desk, although if you want to use it on your lap, this can get uncomfortable at times. The fan gets audible under load, although personally I don’t find that too much of a concern.
The battery life is okay, with the 75 Wh cell delivering 5-6 hours on the balanced power profile for my usage, which is typical for this kind of Windows laptop. You could probably eke out a bit more by fiddling with screen brightness, power and fan profiles, but it’s definitely not an endurance champion.
Another notable downside is that the 720p webcam is a middle-of-the-road unit. It’s still quite usable, edging out the old Logitech C270 that I use regularly, but in 2022 at this price range, I would have liked a 1080p unit at least.
The left side has a USB-A 3.2 port.
The right side has a micro-SD slot, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a headphone jack, and an HDMI port.
Asus Zenbook 14 OLED vs M1 Macbook Air - Photographers’ Edition
With Apple’s recent price hike, the M1 Macbook Air sells for Rs 99,900 (for 256 GB storage and 8 GB RAM), which is very close to the Rs 1,04,990 price of the i7 model of the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED I have with me, although this has 512 GB of storage and 16 GB of RAM. OS agnostic laptop buyers are likely to be comparing these two models before they make a choice, so I did a comparison of the two.
I didn’t get a lot of time with these machines side by side, so this is not a comprehensive comparison, but a quick look at both of them, to help you decide.
Straight off the bat, the Zenbook 14 OLED’s screen outshines the M1 Macbook Air’s display. Brightness, colours, contrast – it’s a no-contest. While the Mac has a great screen by any measure, it’s still no match for this OLED.
Apart from the screen, the hardware is quite closely matched. Both machines look and feel premium, the keyboards and touchpads are great, and the 100 gram weight difference in favour of the Mac is hard to discern in use. The Mac is, of course, stingy with the ports, featuring only two Thunderbolt 4 ports, so the Asus easily wins this by offering USB-A, HDMI and a micro-SD slot in addition.
The ‘ergolift’ hinge raises the back of the base a little bit off the surface.
In use, the machines are very evenly matched. Apart from your preference for Windows or macOS (and I’m personally equally fond of both), there’s very little discernible difference in day to day use. Everything loads fast and smoothly, and multiple apps and tabs are unable to faze either machine. Of course, the battery life on the Asus is no match for the Macbook’s 10-11 hours.
But the key comparison for me personally was to try importing RAW files and exporting JPEGs in the software that I use for my day to day work, Lightroom Classic, which is the most time-consuming aspect of my day job as a photographer.
And in these tests, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED was comfortably ahead of the M1 Macbook Air. While both systems are faster than the 2018 Mac Mini that is my main computer, the Asus was over 30 percent faster in the import test, and almost twice as fast when it came to exporting JPEGs. What’s more, the Asus on battery was still substantially quicker than the Mac plugged in.
I was surprised with these results and repeated the tests a few times to be sure. The Mac does edge out the Asus if you’re exporting the same set of files again (I assume due to good memory management), but that is not a typical use-case scenario so it’s not of much significance.
I have to mention here that the M1 Macbook Air is a fanless model. Under heavy load, the Asus gets quite warm and has its fan blazing whereas the Mac is dead silent and only moderately warm. These are very different machines, but if you, like me, do your photo editing sitting at a desk, plugged in, these distinctions may not matter so much.
The lid folds all the way back to 180 degrees, if you’re into that sort of thing.
In short, if you’re a photographer who uses Lightroom and are deciding between these two machines, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is likely to serve you better than the M1 Macbook Air, unless you do a lot of travelling and editing on the road. Of course, I’d urge you to not extrapolate from this to draw conclusions about performance with other apps, but if any of you have run any such comparisons, do tweet them out to me.
Should I buy it?
If you’re looking in the Rs 1 lakh range for a premium laptop, the answer is an unambiguous yes. The good bits of this laptop – the hardware, performance, speed, screen, keyboard, touchpad, etc – are top notch, and the not-so-good bits – the battery life, thermals and webcam – are still acceptably decent. Asus has gone to great lengths to create a top class laptop experience and hasn’t dropped the ball in any department, which is a rare thing to say about a laptop these days.
Using the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED has been a thorough pleasure, and I think I am going to miss it a little bit when it goes back.
This Asus Zenbook 14 OLED was sent to the reviewer as a loaner unit for review purposes. The unit will be returned on completion of the review. Asus has been given no advance information about the content of this review and exercises no copy approval.
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