When we first had a look at the ASUS ZenBook S last month, we all walked away impressed with its beautifully constructed all-metal body, its gorgeous 13.3-inch IPS display, versatile USB Type-C ports, and its thin and small profile.
But what about the competition? Surely the wealthy men and women of Wallstreet aren’t bereft of choices when it comes to thin and light laptops to use in their world of board meetings and hostile corporate take-overs. Indeed they aren’t, as we put the ZenBook S side-by-side with one of its fiercest competitors, the HP Spectre.
On paper and underneath the slim metal chassis, these two machines are almost identical. Both can be had with an Intel Core i5 or i7 U-series processor, up to a 4K touchscreen display, 16GB of RAM, 1TB of PCIe SSD storage, and premium branded sound systems (Bang and Olufsen for the Spectre, and Harman Kardon for the ZenBook S).
They even both have two USB Type-C Thunderbolt ports capable of data transfers up to 40Gbps.
Battery life is quoted at 13.5 hours for the ZenBook S, and 11 hours and 15 minutes for the Spectre. Fast charging is also supported on both devices with HP promising 0% to 50% in approximately 30 minutes, while ASUS promises 0% to 60% in 49 minutes.
So choosing between these two on specs alone is quite difficult. But then again, we would imagine that the business executive wouldn’t care about splitting hairs between similar spec sheets. They would probably go with the one that reflects their status and prestige. No, in this case appearance and aesthetics could equal performance and function.
Disclaimer: The ZenBook S we’re featuring in this article is an engineering sample, and so there are some physical differences to the actual product. But the dimensions and overall aesthetic should be the same, and we have had our own hands-on of an actual ZenBook S to base on.
As we’ve mentioned before (probably a hundred times by now) the ZenBook S’s metal chassis is an example of fine craftsmanship from ASUS. There’s minimal flex whichever part you try to bend so it really feels like a solid slab of metal when its closed up.
When it’s closed up, and especially in this Deep Dive Blue color, this slab of metal is also very discreet. You wouldn’t notice it immediately on a dark conference table if not for the gold ASUS logo and outline. It’s an exercise of restrained elegance.
The Spectre is also made out of metal, with gold accents running along the edges. But whereas the ZenBook S is as discreet as a black ledger on a office table, the Spectre goes out of its way to show its premium underpinnings. After all, HP is offering the Specter in two colors: Ceramic White and Dark Ash Silver. With those kinds of choices, HP definitely wants you to notice the Spectre. And we do get the message, it’s a premium laptop alright.
weight and dimensions
If it wasn’t already obvious, these are currently the thinnest and lightest laptops from both companies. The Spectre comes in at 10.44mm thin and weighs 1.1 kg, while the ZenBook S is 12.9mm thin and weighs 1.0 kg.
Where the difference is noticeable, however, is in the area they occupy on your table. Lying down, the Spectre is noticeably larger than the ZenBook S. That’s because the part of the chassis that houses the ports and the fancy hidden hinges takes its own space, as we shall see later.
ASUS and HP seem to be bent (get it?) on getting creative with the hinges on their laptops. For ASUS, they have their ErgoLift hinge mechanism, while HP is proud of the Spectre’s hidden hinge. The ZenBook S and Spectre diverge a little here as we see the two company approach the hinge very differently.
When fully opened, the ZenBook S’s keyboard is lifted up to a 5.5-degree incline. Two small rubber nubbins under the ZenBook S protects the chassis from scraping the surface, so no worries there. This provides a better typing position for the user, in addition to better cooling.
For HP, however, aesthetics is more important as the Spectre’s hinges are sort of a decorative part of the laptop as well. Quoting the Spectre’s product page on HP’s website:
Drawing inspiration from high-end cabinetry, the hidden coaxial hinge was designed to fold flush, almost disappearing from view.
We’re not gonna deny that it’s an eye-catching part of the device. But HP may have gone a little overboard with it. It’s shiny and chrome-y appearance reminds us of those cheap toys with chrome painted plastic. Or maybe it reminds us of shiny bathroom fixtures. But maybe it’s not just our cup of tea, and the wealthier bunch might find that this perfectly matches their jewelry and Rolex.
Keyboard and trackpad
Both the Spectre and the ZenBook S have backlit chiclet keyboards and they both have little travel. There will be some who dislikes these kinds of keyboards, but we assume those who are looking into very thin devices such as these are willing to live with the compromise.
The trackpads are a bit small on both devices, with the ZenBooks S’s being a little bit bigger, but also houses a fingerprint reader. We wish that the trackpads on both are bigger, especially when your cursor will be traversing 4K worth of pixels on the screen. But any complaints here is mitigated by the fact that both the ZenBook S and Spectre have touchscreens.
In terms of keyboard layout, we have to give it to the Spectre. The Spectre has a full-size left shift key, dedicated Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End buttons. These are the sort of keys that people who do a lot of document viewing and typing emails will appreciate.
The ZenBook S does fight back with a better elevated typing position thanks to its ErgoLift hinge mechanism.
The Spectre and the ZenBook S are both boasting up to 4K 13.3-inch displays. Okay, if we can’t split them by their specs, we can at least split them by their form.
Both displays have thin bezels with edge-to-edge glass covering them. But the ZenBook S outdoes the Spectre with a seemingly thinner bottom bezel. We say ‘seemingly’ because the ZenBook S’s display actually has a large bottom bezel. It’s just that because of the whole ErgoLift thing, the bottom bezel is obscured by the elevated keyboard. This gives the illusion that the ZenBook S has small bezels on all sides. Whether that’s a happy coincidence or a conscious design choice, it’s a clever trick.
One interesting bit is that the Spectre’s display is covered Gorilla Glass NBT. None of the ZenBook S documentation we have says anything about a similar scratch-proof glass, so the Spectre does give a bit more peace of mind.
In terms of ports, they both have the exact same amount of USB Type-C’s (3 in total, with 2 of them being Thunderbolt 3) with a single 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack. But the Spectre has them all on its back side whereas the ZenBooks has them to the sides.
Ergonomically, the Spectre’s rear ports are a bit awkward. Yes, the reversible USB Type-C ports do eliminate a lot of guesswork. But when you’re sitting down at your desk and you need to plug something in, you’ll need to feel the ports at the back first. You might even end up scratching the metal finish if you don’t properly insert your cable on your first try.
By contrast, the ZenBook S has a more practical lay out of ports to its sides so you won’t have to do any guessing or lifting the entire device just to see what’s on the back.
Having spent an entire day examining and admiring both the ZenBook S and Spectre, it’s still hard to declare a clear winner. Both of them are very premium feeling and incredibly well built.
But none of us were multi-millionaires, nor were we business executives. So we couldn’t really put ourselves in the shoes of the sort of people who will buy these.
If we can sum it up, it would go along the lines of this: If you want something discreet, has easily accessible ports, gives a good typing position, and a smaller footprint, get the ASUS ZenBook S. Oh, and go for the Burgundy Red color if you want it to pop out a little.
But if you want your laptop to project your luxurious lifestyle and want something that wouldn’t look out of place in your mansion full of expensive artwork, get the HP Spectre. It’s simply a more beautifully crafted machine.