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Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Asus Zenbook flip S review

 There’s one really strong argument in favor of buying the ZenBook Flip S: the screen. This $1,449 2-in-1 has a 4K OLED panel, and it’s one of the best displays you can get on a 13-inch notebook.

Asus Zenbook Flip S

OLED panels — which made a name for themselves in high-end TVs but are growing more popular in laptops as well — can deliver a stunning picture compared to IPS LCD displays. But all those pixels suck up a heck of a lot of battery, and companies sometimes slap them on laptops that can’t fully fill their power needs. That’s particularly true in thin-and-light 13-inch machines, which are working with really limited space for a battery. And it’s how you end up with releases like the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, a gorgeous OLED device that can’t make it five hours on one charge.

The ZenBook Flip (which you should be able to buy sometime this month) isn’t quite that bad. It has a bigger battery than the Galaxy and lasts just long enough that life span isn’t a disqualifying factor. Ultimately, though, you’re still compromising on battery life for this screen quality — OLED laptops of this size are uncommon for a reason.

So, to start with the screen: it’s a stunner. There’s no glare, despite its glossy texture, so work in bright settings isn’t a problem. Pictures were vibrant, blacks were deep, and colors were bright — it makes MacBook Pro screens look cheap. In testing, the ZenBook covered 100 percent of the sRGB gamut and 100 percent of the Adobe RGB gamut, and it reached 452 nits at maximum brightness. 

It isn’t hard to find 4K OLED screens in larger laptops — it’s the display quality combined with a compact convertible build that make the ZenBook Flip S such an ambitious device. It’s just 2.65 pounds (1.2kg) and 0.55 inches (13.9mm) thick. Design-wise, it’s a world away from the last major ZenBook Flip release, the UX370 (this model is the UX371) — Asus has brought the line into the modern era with sharper corners, smaller bezels (3.9mm on the sides), a sturdy build, and smooth premium finish. You may not even notice the copper accents or the modest keyboard backlighting unless you’re looking for them, but they round out a very nice professional look.

Occasionally, the screen also didn’t switch out of tablet mode after I swiveled it from the tablet to the laptop position, and I’d have to redo the transition. This is an issue you’ll sometimes have with Windows 2-in-1s — it’s not unique to the Flip — but it can be a headache nonetheless.

Like other modern ZenBooks, the Flip S comes with Asus’ NumberPad 2.0. When you tap a tiny icon in the top right corner of the touchpad, an LED touch-based numpad pops up. (Swiping down from the top left corner also brings up the calculator app, which is handy.) The numpad works really well, and you can also use the touchpad to navigate and click around while it’s up — the ZenBook never mistook my swipes for number inputs or vice versa. It’s worth noting that the touchpad isn’t quite as comfortable of a location for data entry work as the right side of the keyboard, but it’s still the closest thing you’ll get to a numpad on a laptop of this size.

The port selection is fine, except that there’s no headphone jack. Asus says it removed that in the name of thinness, and the Flip does ship with a dongle. But plenty of the ZenBook’s competitors (including the OLED Spectre x360, which is only a tiny bit thicker) have been able to squeeze one in. It’s also missing a microSD slot, which the Spectre also has. Apart from that, there’s an HDMI port, two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, and one USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A. The laptop also supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 — no LTE.

So all in all, a nice display in a nice form factor. What’s the catch? It’s battery life. The ZenBook Flip S comes with a 67Wh battery, which is huge for a 13-incher — and I’m not sure it would be usable with a much smaller tank. With my usual office workflow and brightness around 200 nits, I got just five hours and 15 minutes. Sure, you’ll probably get a better result if you set the screen to 1080p — but if you’re going to be doing that regularly, save your money and get a 1080p screen

The ZenBook Flip S certainly won’t slow you down if you’re just using it for multitasking in Chrome, Slack, Zoom, and other productivity apps. (The bottom did get uncomfortably hot at some points during my testing, though the keyboard only got a bit warm). But this laptop isn’t the best choice for running demanding programs.

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