This is the future of ultraportable laptops: a machine capable of editing in 3D and Photoshop without bending under pressure or giving up anything in portability. Everything about the new Asus ZenBook Flip 14 looks and sounds like a standard 2-in-1 laptop: a slim body, a powerful processor and a long battery life, except for this: a discrete graphics chip. It's what makes the ZenBook Flip 14 unique among the many other 2 in 1 available.
Intel and AMD are still working on their collaboration for more powerful GPUs in ultrabooks, but the ZenBook Flip 14 uses the new GeForce MX150 chip from Nvidia. The MX chip series is Nvidia's solution to increase graphic performance in ultrabooks and 2 in 1. In terms of performance, the MX150 fits in the lower branch of the GTX 10 cards, below the GTX 1050 with VR capability.
So, with all that power, can the ZenBook Flip 14 be a great gaming and laptop computer? Let's find out.
This particular ZenBook Flip 14 costs $ 1,299 and is available online, but there is a SSD Core i5 / 8GB / 256GB configuration at the initial price of $ 999. Here, I have a Core i7-8550U quad-core 1.8GHz, 16GB of RAM , the GeForce MX150 graphics chip, 512GB SSD and a 1920 x 1080 touch screen. These are not the specifications of a laptop for e-sports quality games, but they are perfect for mobile device users and students looking for a ultrabook fast, with enough sound for applications like Photoshop.
Finally, you get the login with the Windows Hello fingerprint and a Windows ink pen to draw in the box.
Asus is no stranger to the production of ultrabooks or laptops for games. The ZenBook tries to blur those lines with its discrete GPU. But as a productivity machine? The user experience of the ZenBook Flip 14 is pleasant.
Let's start with the input devices. The keyboard has an excellent backlight but it has a similar path to the butterfly keyboard of the MacBook Pro. It is not my favorite (or my top 5), but it works.
The fingerprint scanner of Flip is frustratingly inconsistent
The touch panel is smooth and, to my surprise, it includes a sensor with fingerprint protection from Windows Hello. But there is something strange: it is prone to misinterpret my fingerprint. After mapping more than one fingerprint and trying to unlock the ZenBook, it often failed and asked me to enter my PIN. This is the first time that I have come across a Windows Hello fingerprint sensor, and I hope that Asus can improve its accuracy through an update.
The speakers are Harman Kardon brand, with a decent volume. It sounds pretty rich and "fills" the laptop and part of the surrounding room, even at 30 percent of the volume. At the same time, they lack a clear reproduction of sound because they are mounted under the computer. On a bed or on your lap, it will muffle the speakers unless you turn the ZenBook screen in store or tablet mode. But who wants to flip a screen to hear it clearly?
As for the screen, it's good. A screen with 100% AdobeRGB rating makes me very happy. There is also the 178 degree viewing angle, which is a must for the tent and easel modes. It's all brightness, contrast and colors.
The 360 degree hinges that hold the laptop are simple. If you look more closely, they seem to be the most polished and robust part of the Zenbook Flip 14 and, of course, they are robust and soft. But there is a pinch of flex in the lid when the laptop is closed.
One more note: the webcam. It's 720p, quite disappointing, and it behaves more like a placeholder than something you'd like to use regularly.
To keep the battery life stable and avoid running hot with a discrete GPU at all times, Asus is also using Nvidia's Optimus switching technology. When you are not using an application that uses many graphics, the ZenBook returns to its Intel screen chip.
However, the MX150 from Nvidia has only 2 GB of memory, which could go a long way in a GTX 1050 or 1060, but not here. League of Legends, a relatively lightweight game, is often reduced to 33 fps during team fights, in medium-high settings.
My years of PC games have taught me that if a machine can not go through League of Legends, it will not impress me anywhere else. So I tried two other "easy" games: Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The ZenBook Flip 14 could not collect average frame rates higher than 40 fps for any of the three games.
Yes, the MX150 can push some graphics and handle Photoshop / Lightroom with ease, but can not play; I will not be caught outside with this in a LAN meeting.
The ZenBook Flip 14 has a great build quality. It's compact and lightweight, with fans that keep the system cool and quiet, unless you're playing, of course.
As for the ports, the ZenBook 14 is decently equipped with two USB 3.0 ports, a 3.1 USB-C (not Thunderbolt 3 not to charge the laptop), HDMI output, charging port, microSD card slot and, finally, a 3.5mm Jack audio.
On paper, many of the aesthetics of the ZenBook seem a delight: a thickness of 0.54 inches, a weight similar to a 3.3 pound pen and much ventilation under the system (towards the back). Only the vents, which heat up strongly, make it uncomfortable in your lap for more than half an hour.
Other details include that the fingerprint magnet finish can only be used with the Fn plus an F1-F12 key to change things like brightness and backlighting of the keyboard when they should be activated by default.
The Flip 14 achieves excellent battery life, even with its most powerful GPU
I would also have appreciated more a tactile distinction between the volume control and the power button. Both are on the left side of the machine and are very easy to confuse with each other; There are no buttons to feel around (only the power light). Or turn the system to search for it, or discover that only one depresses while the other is a volume control.
The ZenBook Flip 14 battery is one of its main features. In high performance mode, I can hold between eight and nine hours of battery life. But, if I try the ZenBook as the productivity machine that it was meant to be and restore some of the energy management, I can easily reach 11 hours.
Those are good usage numbers, no matter how you turn it, especially with a discrete graphic chip and a Core i7 processor. When you have run out of power and need to charge, you will use a small Asus power pack with a patented power outlet. There is no USB-C load anywhere, which would have qualified as one of the best features of the ZenBook if it had one.
In the end, the ZenBook Flip 14 is a good 2-in-1 system, with the impressions of a normal laptop, for less than $ 1,300. The excellent build quality, fast processors / graphics cards and reliable battery life are common qualities in an ultrabook, but the ZenBook takes it to a higher level by giving it a little more power.
The ZenBook Flip 14 may not have the level of brightness that the last Lenovo Yoga had, but unlike Yoga, it has a discrete graphic chip, the latest Intel chip, and still has the ability to maintain good battery life. It simply will not win any game.
Fast processor plus a discrete GPU
Great battery life
Bright and colorful screen
Fingerprint scanner inconsistent
It's not great even for light games
The keys are superficial
Poor quality of the front camera