Windows never had a MacBook Air alternative: a default no-nonsense and dependable notebook I can recommend to most people. It’s always the case of what the buyer values the most and living with a trade-off or two. For all the variety in the PC market, no single Windows laptop has ever checked all the essential boxes. The new Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED changes that.
The 2023 Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED had tall shoes to fill. Its predecessor from last year was itself hard to fault, barring a handful of minor flaws, and yet, the new Zenbook S 13 manages to deliver in a body that’s more than 0.2 pounds lighter and 0.15-inch thinner than before.
Asus Zenbook S13 OLED – Photos
The shrunken chassis hasn’t led to a compromise in hardware either. For $1399.99, the new Zenbook S 13 offers top-of-the-line specs, an OLED screen, abundant ports, and a battery that can go toe-to-toe with far chunkier machines. After spending a few weeks with it, the Asus Zenbook S 13 has become my go-to recommendation whenever someone asks me what Windows laptop to buy.
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED (2023) – Design
The minute you unbox the Zenbook S 13 OLED, it strikes you how lightweight it is. At 2.2 pounds, it’s noticeably lighter than the latest MacBook Air (2.7 lbs). Despite the high-end specs and traditional ports, it’s also just 0.43-inches thick at its slimmest side. I could barely tell when it was in my backpack and in the first few days, I regularly checked to make sure I didn’t forget it at home.
The Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED looks nice too. Though much of it is encased in a standard brushed metallic finish, its lid is coated in what Asus calls “plasma ceramic aluminum” material. Not only does this artistic design allow the laptop to appear uniquely stylish, but it prevents the lid from showing as much in the way of dust and smudges as a typical all-metal notebook. Plus, the lid’s ceramic texture is delightful to hold, and lugging it around has a certain elegant appeal that its rivals can’t quite match.
What’s more impressive, though, is how solid the laptop feels. Unlike other overly light and slim laptops, the Zenbook S 13 OLED doesn’t have a flimsy build. There’s no flex on its keyboard or screen and you can even easily lift the lid open with one finger. The one pet peeve I have with its exterior is the bottom, which is a little plasticky, and more importantly, its pair of rubber feet aren’t the best at preventing the laptop from slipping when it’s on a smooth surface. I often resorted to placing the bundled free leather sleeve underneath the laptop.
Another highlight of the Zenbook S 13 is its display’s 180-degree hinge. You can push the screen all the way back so that it lies flat on a surface. I found little use for this but it can come in handy when you’d like to show someone the screen or follow a recipe video while it’s placed on a low kitchen counter.
The hinge serves a second, more practical purpose: when you open the lid, it tucks under the bottom, lifting and pulling the keyboard deck inwards. This puts the keyboard at an angle as if it’s on a stand so that your hands are in an ergonomic position. Typing on the Zenbook S 13 OLED, therefore, feels more natural and comfortable for prolonged periods. However, there is a downside to this: Because the entire laptop rests on the sharp, metallic hinge instead of the entire bottom, it can bite into your lap if there’s nothing else (like a cooling pad) between you and the laptop.
The 13.3-inch OLED (2880 x 1800) screen is the centerpiece of the Zenbook S 13 and rightly so. Watching movies and TV shows on this laptop is a joy. When you’re streaming Last Of Us, for example, the night sequences won’t look greyish. Because an OLED screen can shut off its pixels individually, the dark frames will feature true blacks, enabling the rest of the colors and subjects to pop. Elevating this is the built-in Dolby Vision HDR support, which brightens up compatible content even further, similar to how an HDR picture or video does on the iPhone’s Photos app. It works across both offline and online content, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video streams on the Edge browser. It’s one of the best cinematic experiences you can have on a laptop.
The screen is also plenty bright and I had no trouble using it at an outdoor cafe. My only complaint is that it’s not a touchscreen and I had to retrain my mind to not reach for it when I want to quickly scroll or tap an option. It’s an odd omission given how common it is on Windows notebooks.
This year, Asus hasn’t skimped on ports either: there are two USB-C slots, a traditional HDMI and USB-A port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. I wish, though, that the two Type-C ports weren’t both on the left side. The two built-in speakers are Harman Kardon-branded but they’re nothing to write home about. While they’re loud enough for when you watch a quick YouTube video, you’ll always want to reach out for your headphones for all other purposes. I also rarely raised the volume to its highest because, since the laptop is so thin, the speakers vibrate the entire keyboard deck.
The webcam and microphones, on the other hand, are excellent. The full-HD camera offers a clean and well-lit feed on video calls even in dim scenarios. It also has an infrared sensor so that you can log in with your face. Similarly, the mics picked up my voice even when I had my noisy air conditioner on, and the other person rarely had an issue hearing me.
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED (2023) – Keyboard and Trackpad
I wasn’t expecting the Zenbook S 13’s keyboard and trackpad to impress, considering the slim design, but Asus has somehow made it work.
The backlit keys are sufficiently wide and have enough space between them that I don’t accidentally hit two at a time. I was up to my usual typing speed in no time. The 1.1mm key travel (0.1mm more than MacBook Air) offers a satisfying response and yet, they’re surprisingly quiet. I also found the dedicated buttons for muting the mic and shutting off webcam access useful. The glass touchpad likewise is spacious and I didn’t face any problems navigating with Windows gestures.
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED (2023) – Software
The Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED runs Windows 11 Home out of the box and offers a handful of complimentary subscriptions, including Microsoft 365 for a year. At the same time, it comes preloaded with far too much Asus bloatware and I spent about 10 minutes uninstalling most of it as soon as I booted it for the first time.
There are a couple of nifty additions from Asus, though. The MyAsus app specifically let me easily personalize several everyday aspects that normally I had to tune from third-party software. You can, for instance, enable a “Whisper mode” for it to quieten the fans when you’re on a video call. You can activate noise cancellation for the microphone, which is fairly effective, and set the webcam to keep you in the frame even when you’re moving.
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED (2023) – Performance and Gaming
The Asus Zenbook S 13 is powered by Intel’s latest 13th-Gen i7 chip. The model Asus sent me costs $1399.99 and includes 32GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage. In comparison, a MacBook Air (M2) will set you back $2099 for 24GB RAM and 1TB storage.
The Zenbook S 13 OLED’s i7 processor did a more than fair job of handling my everyday workflow. Whether it was multitasking between dozens of browser windows or hopping between one Zoom call to another, rarely did the laptop skip a beat.
Asus Zenbook S13 OLED – Benchmarks
Because of the slim build, though, the Zenbook S 13 OLED can be quick to get warm, and its fans whirl up frequently in response to prevent it from throttling the performance. That being said, I often switched to the Whisper mode when I could no longer bear the fan noise, and the laptop ran just fine for regular tasks like browsing the web. On the PCMark 10 benchmark, the Zenbook S 13 OLED scored a decent 5472.
The Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED, however, is not fit for gaming or graphic-intensive tasks. It’s not equipped with any discrete GPUs and instead relies on Intel’s integrated Iris Xe Graphics.
On 3DMark, it finished with a below-average 4001 in the Fire Strike test, 1487 on Time Spy, and 13,456 on Night Raid. Similarly, it got a meager 454 on the Unigine Heaven benchmark. It also barely could run the games we typically test laptops on. In Total War: Warhammer III, it averaged 8fps on Ultra settings and 15-20fps on High. On the Ultra preset, Forza Horizon 5 rendered at 10fps.
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED (2023) – Battery life
The Asus Zenbook S 13’s battery life is what ultimately convinced me it can be a legitimate Windows-based MacBook Air alternative. While I could never reach Asus’ advertised 14 hours claim, it consistently lasted me nearly nine hours on regular use. For me, that includes a dozen or so browser tabs, a few active apps like Spotify and Slack, an hour-long Netflix episode, and a 30-min video conference. Plus, the bundled 65W USB-C adapter supports fast charging, so when I did run out of power, I could bring it back up to 50% in about 40 minutes.
When we ran down the Zenbook S 13 OLED’s battery life in PCMark’s Modern Office benchmark, which measures the laptop’s endurance in a range of realistic scenarios like video conferencing and web browsing, it lasted an impressive 10 hours and 55 minutes.
The Asus Zenbook S13 OLED is available from Amazon with an MSRP of $1,399.
The Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED offers a compelling package for those in need of a run-in-the-mill Windows laptop. Apart from a handful of complaints like the noisy fan and the absence of touch input, there’s little to fault. It features an all-day battery life, a thin, light, and unique design, an impressive OLED screen, and fast performance at a cost that undercuts most of its rivals. Unless you plan to game or edit high-end videos on your laptop, you can’t go wrong with the Zenbook S 13 OLED.