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Apple's new MacBook Pro and M3 processors are (rightfully) stealing a lot of headlines for their performance, and, of course, the new fingerprint-resistant Space Black color.

In true Apple fashion, the company's made a big fuss about the performance improvements this year, and while I certainly don't drink the Kool Aid of their 'world-changing' marketing mumbo-jumbo, the fact that laptop reviewers continue to use the MacBook Pro as the benchmark comparison laptop speaks to just how powerful and influential the MacBook Pro lineup has become.

Thankfully, other manufacturers aren't letting Apple have all the fun. Earlier this year, Asus dropped its new Zenbook 14X OLED (2023), and, in my opinion, it's one of the most compelling alternatives to the MacBook Pro currently available.

Incredible laptop. Unbeatable price.

Asus Zenbook 14x Oled Ux3404 Product Photo Inkwell Gray

Asus Zenbook 14X OLED (2023)

5 / 5

Asus delivered a powerul, sleek, beautiful laptop with few compromises, at a price that's easy to recommend.

Design and hardware - Subtle beauty

The design of the Zenbook 14X is a departure from previous Asus designs, and as the kids say, 'I'm here for it.' It perfectly bridges the gap between boring, industrial standard blah blah and different for the sake of being different. The entire chassis is an aluminum alloy and there are subtle lines on the hood that draw out the Asus logo. I received the Inkwell Gray one - which is just a fancy black - and honestly I really like the extra flair that spruces it up a bit without looking too weird.

Source: CrackBerry

The Sandstone version is a bit different, however, with a unique ceramic coating that Asus developed a proprietary process to make. As the name suggests, it's more of a beige color that's supposed to have a smooth matte finish that doesn't attract fingerprints. And according to the reviews I've found about it, Asus seems to have nailed it.

There's a subtle beauty to the understated design

As you would hope with a premium laptop, it's very thin and lightweight at just under 17 mm and 3.5 lbs. I do wish the screen flipped all the way around like a proper 2-in-1, but it does lay fully flat and, honestly, that's more of a nice-to-have than a necessity.

Source: CrackBerry

On the spec front, you can get up to a 13th Gen Core i9-13900H processor, 32GB of RAM, and 1 TB of storage (which is the model I was sent to review). It is a tad light on I/O for a laptop that's trying to be a prosumer device though with only two Thunderbolt 4 ports, one HDMI 2.1 port, one Type-A, and a headphone jack. That's more than you'll find on other laptops at this range though, so there's that.

Oh, and I feel like I need to mention this up front: all of that is only $1,500. That's not the starting price either. For everything listed above, you're only paying $1,500. No, it's not the cheapest, but that's quite a bit less than what you'll pay for a comparable laptop for sure.

So let's talk about what all you get for the money.  

Display - King of screens

The display is arguably the best part of this laptop. It's a 14-inch OLED screen with a 2880 x 1800 resolution and a beautifully smooth 120Hz refresh rate. The 16:10 aspect ratio is also a welcome sight to see in today's remote-working world.

I'll be the first to say that I'm not a hardcore display spec guy, but I do know a purdy screen when I see one - and this thing is gorgeous. It's OLED, so naturally you get the super vivid colors and incredibly deep blacks and the 120Hz refresh rate is buttery smooth.

Source: CrackBerry

I thoroughly enjoyed everything I did on this laptop from watching movies to gaming. Sure, you can get laptops with better screens, but that's also going to cost you more money and you'll have to compromise somewhere else. Asus put a fantastic display in this laptop, and I'm a fan.

It also maxes out at 600 nits of brightness, which does just fine when working outdoors. Direct sunlight might be a challenge, but just move your chair or wait five minutes and you'll be fine.  

Performance - more than you'll ever (probably) need

Let's face it - for the vast majority of us, a Core i9 134900H processor (read: nearly the top of the lineup for Intel chips) is going to be massive overkill for almost everything we do. And if you're not a gamer, that's even more true.

I'm absolutely in the "way-more-than-I'll-ever-need" camp here, as the Zenbook 14X simply flew through everything I did on it. Whether working, streaming, gaming (more on that later), browsing, emailing, or any of the other things one normally does on their laptop, never once did I notice a stutter or a slowdown. It simply ran like a champ.

But that's to be expected from the 13th Gen Core i9 processor under the hood coupled with 32GB of LPDDR5 RAM and a whopping terabyte of storage - again for only $1,500.

Zenbook Branding
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On the graphics side of things, it comes equipped with an Nvidia RTX 3050, which I think is actually a great call on Asus' part. It's obviously not the highest-end GPU, but the fact that it's a dedicated GPU that's still well above middle-of-the-road is impressive. I never noticed an issue while gaming on it, but I also don't regularly play the most hardcore, bleeding-edge games, and if that's you, you're not going to buy this laptop anyway.

For my gaming purposes, as long as a game I want to play will run smoothly without looking super pixelated, I'm a happy camper. I'm not into ray tracing and all the super high-end stuff the kids all talk about these days. I just want to be able to turn my brain off for an hour or two and game.

And for that, this machine is pretty much perfect. I had no complaints or issues playing any game I wanted to, nor did the fans become annoyingly loud once they kicked on. And yes, they do come on a bit sooner than I'd like on a higher-end laptop, but I'm not really bothered by it.

Battery life - Something's gotta give

The biggest downside to all this power in a sleek little package is that there isn't a whole lot of room for a big battery. Battery life on the Zenbook 14X is fine. It's not fantastic, but it's not completely useless either. I was able to get about 4-5 hours of screen time between charges, as long as I made sure to either hibernate it or completely shut it down when I was done using it - standby time continues to be an issue with pretty much every Windows machine.

Now that doesn't include a whole lot of video streaming, gaming, or design work. That was just basic day-to-day usage, so if you do plan on using it a lot for those kinds of things, either get used to packing your charger or just make sure you've got some juice before you leave the house.

Overall, I'm perfectly fine with the battery life. Sure, it could be longer, but aside from the M-series MacBooks, I'm willing to bet that's the case with nearly every laptop out there. At least it comfortably gets me between the times I'm away from a charger.

Keyboard, trackpad, and ports

Truthfully, I've not used many Asus laptops before, and after using this keyboard and trackpad, it's another reason I'm kinda sad I haven't. The keys are very solid with an impressive amount of travel. They're much sturdier than other laptops I've used and noticeably more so than my 2020 MacBook Pro. It was immensely pleasurable typing for hours on this keyboard and I never once wished for even my old Dell XPS keyboard over this one.

Source: CrackBerry

What I appreciate, too, is how quiet they are. For as much travel as they have, they're actually quite silent as well, more of a low thunk than a clack that you hear from so many others. Other companies obsess over getting their machines as thin as possible and often that leads to annoyingly loud keyboards (here's looking at you, old butterfly-keyboard MacBook that no one misses). It's really quite nice.

That trackpad is buttery smooth and responsive, but the physical click was a bit deeper and stronger than I expected, to be honest. It involves a fair amount of effort to actually click the thing, which really shouldn't be happening on a 2023 laptop at this price point. After using the excellent haptic trackpad on my MacBook Pro for so long, this one just feels outdated.

Num Pad
Source: CrackBerry

The trackpad does house a somewhat secret function though - if you tap and hold on the top right corner for two seconds, a virtual num pad shows up that you can actually use like an old-fashioned num pad, at least, that's the idea. In reality, it works in a pinch, but for anyone who really needs to input a lot of numbers very quickly (which is the primary reason for having a num pad), it just doesn't work. It's a cool feature, but not one I think many people will find useful. Thankfully, you can still use the trackpad with the numbers showing, which makes it easy to multitask, if you need to.

I do want to reiterate here that I am a bit disappointed in the lack of ports. While the two Thunderbolt 4 ports, USB-A, full-size HDMI 2.1 port, and headphone jack do at least offer the essentials, I feel like they could have added at least one more somewhere, or even put one Thunderbolt 4 port on each side instead of putting them both on the right. But maybe that's just me.

Right Side Handheld
Source: CrackBerry
Left Side Hand Held
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The Zenbook 14X OLED boasts a fairly impressive audio setup on paper. It's Harman Kardon certified (which, who really knows what that means?) and full Dolby Atmos support. I was perfectly happy with it. It's nowhere near the room-filling 16-inch MacBook Pro (there I go again), but it's certainly well above average for most laptop speakers. Gaming and streaming were both quite pleasant with these speakers.

Asus also claims 'Two Way AI Noise Cancellation' which is supposed to filter out all ambient noise except for human voices. Obviously, this is to help improve video call quality, and while I didn't seem to notice any ground-breaking differences between my other laptop, all my video calls sounded great.

Final thoughts

Personally, I think Asus nailed it here. At $1,500, they've designed a pretty great laptop that I can easily say would be a fantastic option for almost anyone. They didn't try to make it an end-all powerhouse for creative professionals, nor did they cheap out and leave out important features that most people need. It's sleek, powerful, and has a helluva display.

I'm always torn when it comes to these things because on the one hand, you can't compare the Zenbook 14X to the MacBook Pro - Apple's vertical integration of hardware and software means they'll always have an advantage no one else will.

But you can compare it by looking at how well both things fit the needs for most people. And budget absolutely has to be a factor in fitting those needs. In that sense, the Zenbook 14X handily comes out on top, in my opinion.

If you simply must have a MacBook Pro, then get one - you're probably not reading this article anyway. If you really want a great machine to do everything you need it to do and do it well, save yourself a good chunk of change and go with the Zenbook.

And let's be honest: both laptops will crush 99.9% of what 90% of customers will use it for anyway - web browsing, email, Netflix, and the occasional game or three. From that perspective, it comes down to either personal preference or money. If money outweighs personal preference, Zenbook 14X it is, no question.

For anyone looking for a well-built, portable laptop with plenty of power to do most anything you need, all at a pretty amazing value, look no further than the Zenbook 14X. You can get it now from BestBuy.

Incredible laptop. Unbeatable price.

Asus Zenbook 14x Oled Ux3404 Product Photo Inkwell Gray

Asus Zenbook 14X OLED (2023)

5 / 5

Asus delivered a powerul, sleek, beautiful laptop with few compromises, at a price that's easy to recommend.

Read more