Asus ZenBook Flip S Review

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The Windows 10 2-in-1 arena has exploded over the last few years, with a host of different form factors that can morph from a traditional notebook into touch- and pen-based tablets. The 360-degree convertible is a popular a category that’s expanded to include everything from 17-inch behemoths to incredibly thin and light machines with 13-inch displays, and smaller. In our Asus ZenBook Flip S review, we look at one of the newest, and most extreme, examples of the latter design.

According to Asus, the ZenBook Flip S is “the world’s slimmest convertible laptop,” and the machine is certainly slim at 0.43 inches thin. It’s also equipped with a powerful seventh generation Intel Core i7-7500U, meaning that — in theory at least — you’re not compromising function for form.

You’re also not being asked to pay too much. The ZenBook Flip S is a reasonable $1,400 with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD). That price includes an active pen, a USB Type-C hub, and a slip case. We reviewed the Microsoft Signature Edition version available only at the Microsoft Store, so it didn’t include all Asus software utilities. If you can live with the matte gray color scheme and don’t need the active pen, then you can get the same basic configuration for $1,200 at Best Buy, with all of the Asus utilities pre-installed.

All this looks promising, but it raises one fundamental question — what are you compromising to smash all that power into a thin device?

Luxurious, rock solid, and hot

The ZenBook Spin S is a stunning machine, just like the smaller ZenBook 3 and the larger ZenBook 3 Deluxe. Our review unit was adorned with a royal blue and gold color scheme, and we liked it — a lot. It’s easy to fabricate shiny parts and bold colors and end up creating something garish, but that’s a faux-pas that Asus masterfully avoided.

The ZenBook Flip S has great performance — but keep it away from bare skin when it’s working hard.

The laptop’s colors blend together at just the right angles, curves, and diamond-cut edges to create a machine that’s subtle yet striking. Asus’ trademark concentric ring effect on the lid firmly places the machine in the ZenBook family. It’s a premium and attractive look, and according to Asus, is also expensive to create.

Build quality is also a highlight. The ZenBook Spin S is light, but still manages to feel balanced whether the lid is open or closed.

At 2.43 pounds and 0.43 inches thin, it’s around half a pound heavier than the ZenBook 3, but it’s also a bit thinner – even though it’s a 360-degree convertible that can fold into four configurations including notebook, tablet, tent, and multimedia modes. The machine’s size is reduced by slim display bezels, yet Asus managed to put the webcam in the preferred location above the display.

Asus built the 2-in-1 with aircraft-grade aluminum alloy that’s 50 percent stronger than what the company typically uses, and it shows. The ZenBook Flip S feels like one solid chunk of metal.

The hinge — which Asus calls the world’s smallest — stays right where you want it, as well, and it spins around into tablet mode with confidence. Attention to detail is apparent throughout, with a nice cutout that makes it easy to grab the hinge and lift. When it’s opened beyond 135 degrees, the edge of the lid props up the keyboard at a slight angle, for more comfortable typing.

Asus ZenBook Flip S UX370UA-XB74T-BL Compared To

However, while Asus engineers are good, they’re not magicians. Physics matters, and if you pack a full-power Core i7 processor into such a tight space, you’re going to pay a price in thermal management, and even a modern cooling system can only go so far. The chassis gets hot on the bottom left side where the CPU is located, and when the machine is working hard, you won’t want to hold it on your lap.

Limited but futuristic connectivity

When a notebook is this thin, there’s not a lot of room for ports. Some smaller machines, like Apple’s MacBook and Asus’s own ZenBook 3, include a single USB 3.1 Type-C port. That means that not only do you need a dongle for legacy devices, but you need one just to connect a second peripheral. Asus includes two USB 3.1 Type-C ports to go with a 3.5mm headset jack in the ZenBook Flip S, which is an improvement, but still represents limited connectivity.

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Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Note that either port can be used for charging the machine with the included USB Type-C charger — and in our testing, by some third-party chargers, as well.

Asus mitigates the pain a bit by including a USB Type-C mini dock with a third USB 3.1 Type-C port, an HDMI connection, and a USB 3.0 Type-A port. It’s color coordinated as well, and so it looks good when plugged into the ZenBook Flip S, and the included slip cover includes a handy pocket for when you need to carry the dock around with you. Built-in ports are always better, but kudos to Asus for including a couple of nice accessories.

The usual 2-in-1 input options with a few tiny flaws

It’s inevitable that a thin 2-in-1’s keyboard will be at least somewhat compromised compared to thicker notebooks with significantly more room. Surprisingly, though, the keys aren’t as shallow as, say, those on the MacBook’s keyboard, which feels like you’re typing on a piece of wood. Asus has engineered a crisp, precise, and satisfying action into a keyboard without a lot of space.

The ZenBook Flip S has one of the best keyboards we’ve seen on a thin and light machine.

The ZenBook Flip S keyboard benefits from a backlight with three useful brightness levels, and a pleasant gold color that consistently illuminates without being blindingly bright. Overall, it’s not the best keyboard we’ve ever used, but it’s nevertheless one of the best we’ve used in such a thin machine.

The touchpad is good — mostly. It’s large, smooth, and provides full support for Microsoft Precision multitouch gestures. The one weakness is that the integrated buttons register clicks in too small an area. We found ourselves consistently needing to look at the buttons to make sure we were pressing in just the right place. If you only use taps for left and right clicks, then you’ll be perfectly happy with the ZenBook Flip S’s touchpad.

Next, there’s a 10-point touch display that’s precise and responsive. However, the display feels like it has a coating that makes it a little sticky, and slows down swiping the tiniest bit. At the same time, the display feels great when using the included active pen with 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity.

Windows 10 Hello password-less login support is provided by a fingerprint reader located on the right side toward the front. We found it accurate and reliable.

The 1080p display is merely average

Asus currently offers only a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display for the ZenBook Flip S in North America, which is just fine given its 13.3-inch dimensions. The company lists a 4K UHD option on its web site, but that hasn’t made its way to stores yet.

Our testing found the display was just average in most tests. Its color gamut was 70 percent of AdobeRGB and 94 percent of sRGB, which is less than its Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, but slightly better than the similarly thin and light Acer Spin 7. Color accuracy, on the other hand, was a bit worse than we like to see at 2.82 (1.0 or less is considered excellent), though right in line with our comparison machines.

Brightness was on the low side at 285 nits – over 300 nits is usually preferred to overcome bright lighting on glossy displays like the one on the ZenBook Flip S.

The machine’s 2-in-1 competition had similar results, however, such as the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 at 251 nits, and the Lenovo Yoga 720 13 at 291 nits. The contrast ratio was on the low side as well at 720:1, while the QHD+ display on the XPS 13 2-in-1 was excellent at 1120:1.

Although these objective results are underwhelming, the display was nevertheless a pleasure to use. Its contrast might be a bit low according to our colorimeter, but it’s nonetheless sufficient for comfortably working with black text on a white background.

In general, the ZenBook Flip S provided a vibrant productivity and video-watching experience (although gamma was a little dark at 2.4, meaning darker scenes in videos were a little harder to see). Like many “average” displays today, this one may not be the best for professionals who need super accurate colors, but it’s very good for everyone else.

Just good enough audio quality

Asus partners with Harman Kardon on the ZenBook Flip S’s audio system, and touts larger speakers with a more dynamic design. There’s also the IcePower AudioWizard app, to adjust sound for the use case (music, video recording, game, and speech) and push volume to the max. In our testing, we found audio to be good enough for watching the occasional video and for casual music listening, but volume was limited and distorted at 100 percent. Bass was nowhere to be found.

The powerful processor makes its presence known

Asus took an aggressive approach to performance with the ZenBook Flip S. Rather than opting for a more conservative chip, Asus has packed in a powerful seven generation Intel Core processor, the Core i7-7500U. It outran many other 2-in-1 devices, but not all of them.

While the ZenBook Flip S performs better than the low-power CPUs in machines like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 — another incredibly thin machine, just like the ZenBook – there’s some apparent throttling going on compared to other slightly thicker machines with the same Core i7-7500U. And, as we noted earlier, the chassis can become hot at full load.

The Geekbench 4 results demonstrate that, at least in short-run performance tests, the ZenBook Flip S benefits greatly from its full-power CPU. It scored 4,142 in the single-core test and 8,158 in the multi-core test. That’s very competitive with other machines using the same CPU, and significantly faster than most competitors, including the thicker HP Spectre x360. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, with its low-powered CPU, scored a much lower 3,837 in the single-core test, and 6,401 in the multi-core test.

Asus managed to squeeze better performance out, but at the cost of using the notebook on a lap.

Our more intensive Handbrake test, which encodes a 420GB video to H.265, tends to push the CPU harder for a longer period, meaning that heat and throttling are more likely to be factors. And in fact, the ZenBook Flip S took 1,477 seconds to complete the test. That’s slow compared to the HP Spectre x360, which finished in 1,095 seconds, yet had the same processor. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and Acer Spin 7, however, both took longer at 2,027 and 1,751 seconds, respectively.

One way to interpret these results is that Asus managed to squeeze better performance out of the ZenBook Flip S’s very thin chassis than if it had opted for low-power CPUs, but at the cost of being unable to use the notebook on a lap. We didn’t find heat to be an issue during regular use, such as web browsing, email, and general productivity tasks. In the end, we think the decision to use a fast, full-fat Core i7 was the right call.

Supply snafus limit storage to SATA SSDs

Asus hoped to equip the ZenBook Flip S with PCIe solid-state drives (SSDs). However, Asus informed us that last-minute supply issues limited it to using slower SATA SSDs. For now, all North American units will be so equipped, although at some point faster SSDs might make their way into the pipeline.

As usual, the use of SATA instead of PCIe resulted in good but not great storage performance. The ZenBook Flip’s Sandisk X400 512GB SATA SSD scored 459 megabits per second (Mb/s) in the CrystalDiskMark read test, and 411 Mb/s in the write test. That compares to the much faster scores achieved by the modern Samsung PM961 PCIe SSD in the Lenovo Yoga 720, for example, at 2,060 Mb/s read and 1,209 MB/s write.

Given that the ZenBook Flip S is likely to be used for mainstream productivity tasks, web surfing, email, and the like, this kind of storage performance isn’t likely to matter. If you want to work with large files, then you might slightly miss a faster SSD, but overall performance should still be more than acceptable. In our subjective use, the ZenBook Flip S booted quickly, opened apps and files without delay, and we didn’t notice any storage-related slowdowns.

Gaming? Are you kidding?

Thin and light 2-in-1s like the ZenBook Flip S don’t even pretend to be gaming machines. Fitting a real GPU into such a tiny chassis would likely result in a meltdown, so you’re guaranteed to find nothing better than integrated Intel HD graphics.

It’s no surprise that the ZenBook Flip S didn’t blow us away in our gaming benchmarks. In the Fire Strike test, the Asus scored 997, which is competitive with other 2-in-1s, but still a score that means you’re best off running older games at lower settings.

For kicks, we also ran a couple of quick Civilization VI benchmarks, and the results were entirely predictable. At 1080p and medium detail, the ZenBook Flip S only managed 12 frames per second (FPS). Cranking things up to ultra detail dropped performance all the way down to 6 FPS. That’s unplayable at either detail setting.

Go ahead and waste a few minutes with Candy Crush if you want, but don’t expect to play anything that’s graphically demanding.

Easy to carry, but the battery could last longer

Asus couldn’t jam a ton of battery capacity into the ZenBook Flip S given its dimensions, so there’s only 39 watt-hours worth of juice to keep you working away from a plug. Given the relatively high-end components, that doesn’t bode well for battery life. As it turns out, though, Asus does manage to achieve respectable life relative to its small battery capacity.

Our most aggressive Basemark test, which runs a machine through a series of intensive CPU and GPU web operations, was hard on the ZenBook Flip S. It scored right around two and a half hours, which isn’t impressive, but it’s similar to competitors like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet. Given that the Asus uses a full-power CPU, that’s not a bad result.

The video loop test was more forgiving, helping the Asus last around nine and a half hours, which is right in line with its primary 2-in-1 competition. The XPS 13 2-in-1 managed about an hour longer, but otherwise, the ZenBook Flip S was quite competitive.

We saw the same results in a test that runs a machine through a loop of popular web sites, where the Asus lasted for just over six hours. That’s a solid score right in line with most 2-in-1s, although the XPS 13 2-in-1 again performed better at over seven and a half hours.

Overall, we found battery life to be good enough for long sessions of productivity, but depending on your workload, you might not be able to work through a full day without hitting the charger. Fortunately, Asus incorporated its fast charge technology into the ZenBook Flip S, which means it charges from zero to 60 percent in 49 minutes. It doesn’t take long to get a bit of a charge to keep you working in a pinch.

In terms of sheer portability, consider this — the ZenBook Spin S is within spitting distance of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s dimensions, at least in terms of width and height. It’s thicker, naturally, but still incredibly thin for a full-on Windows 10 2-in-1 at 0.43 inches. That means that it’s easy to toss into a bag and carry around. In fact, you might forget you’re carrying it, because its 2.43 pounds won’t weight you down.

Software

The Microsoft Signature Edition version of the ZenBook Flip S has no extraneous software installed. If you pick up the Best Buy version, you’ll see Asus’s utilities such as IcePower AudioWizard for adjusting audio, and Splendid Technology for adjusting the display. Otherwise, it’s relatively free of bloatware.

Warranty info

Asus includes the usual one-year warrant on parts and labor, but adds in a year of accidental damage protection. That’s some real extra value and helps ensure your investment is secure.

Our Take

The Asus ZenBook Flip S is an incredibly well-built and attractive 360-degree convertible 2-in-1 that’s a real pleasure to use. It’s easy to carry around, it provides solid performance, and it exudes quality and elegance. Given its tiny dimensions and weight, it’s one of those rare convertibles that are truly comfortable using in tablet mode with a pen for drawing and taking notes. It’s one main flaw is that it gets hot when you push the CPU, and that limits when you can comfortably use it in your lap.

Is there a better alternative?

There are a slew of similarly useful 2-in-1s in the Windows PC ecosystem, and a few that are equally as thin and light as the ZenBook Flip S. Most of those use low-power CPUs and aren’t as quick, while stepping up to slightly thicker machines can increase performance and battery life.

The clearest competitor is the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which is slightly thicker at up to 0.54 inches, and weighs just a little bit more at 2.7 pounds. At $1,600 with the same 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD, and when equipped with the optional active pen, the Dell is more expensive. The Dell lasts a little longer on a charge, but the ZenBook Flip S is the better performer, and packs in some extra value with its included slip cover and USB Type-C mini dock.

The Acer Spin 7 is another thin and light 2-in-1 that offers a slightly larger display at 14 inches. That’s a dubious choice with a Full HD display, because it’s not so much larger that its in another class in terms of display size but it’s slightly less sharp. There’s no directly comparable model currently available, but you’ll spend $1,250 for 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. The ZenBook Flip S is clearly a superior option given its superior specifications, performance, battery life, and build quality – not to mention its lower Best Buy price of $1,200.

Meanwhile, if you’re not fully invested in the idea of a severely thin-and-light 2-in-1, then you could always step up to a machine that’s a little bit thicker. That would help avoid thermal management issues and allow for a much larger battery and so more time away from a charge. The HP Spectre x360 is a great alternative in this regard, and it’s similarly priced at $1,350 for 16GB of RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD.

How long will it last?

The ZenBook Flip S is equipped with two USB Type-C ports and includes a handy USB Type-C mini dock, meaning that you’re covered with connectivity if you’re willing to carry around an extra part. It uses relatively recent components and has a modern look and feel. It’s a machine that should last you more than a few years of useful productivity performance.

Should you buy it?

Yes. In fact, you should give it a look even if you’ve never been interested in a thin and light 360-degree convertible 2-in-1. You won’t find many that are better built and manage to squeeze so much into so tiny a frame. Just don’t use it your lap if you’re going to push the CPU.



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