ASUS ROG Flow Z13 review: Impractically cool | Whuff News


TThe Surface Pro design has been with us for nearly a decade, so it’s a bit surprising that in all that time, no one has really tried to make a detachable 2-in-1 gaming machine. Almost everywhere you look, there’s a hybrid version of every kind of device — from tablets to smartphones — aside from a gaming PC. And while ASUS teased us with the ROG Mothership in 2019, now the company is finally back to turn that concept into an actual retail device: the ROG Flow Z13.

Design and display

For those familiar with Microsoft’s detachables, if you take one look at the Flow Z13 (which starts at $1,800) you’ll immediately see why I mentioned the Surface Pro line, because ASUS has basically taken that blueprint and made it all game. You get a bright 13.4-inch full HD screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, a handy stand on the back and a magnetic strip to attach the removable keyboard cover. The cover also feels similar to the Surface, right down to the speed of the keyboard and its too-small touchpad. This means that any hardcore RTS or FPS player will definitely want to keep an external keyboard. ASUS also hides the microSD card slot and removable M.2 cover behind the kickstand, just like the Surface Pro. You’ll also find an 8-MP camera on the back, although its image quality leaves a lot to be desired (the front cam is good). Elsewhere, we have one USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4, a USB A port and several other ports hidden under a protective seal. But more on that later.

ASUS ASUS ROG Flow Z13

Benefit

  • Bright 120Hz screen
  • USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4
  • Unique design
  • Good performance for the size
  • the M.2 SSD slot is easily accessible

Cons

  • Not practical
  • expensive
  • Top-heavy
  • poor rear camera image quality

Just like the Surface Pro, the Asus ROG Flow Z13 has a built-in kickstand and a detachable keyboard.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

That being said, while the overall design is Surface-like, the Z13 gives off a very different vibe. ASUS’s over-the-top cyberpunk aesthetic combined with splashes of red and black accents might be a little off-putting to some. But I kind of like it, especially the window with RGB lighting on the back. Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb and say we need more transparency tools in general.

Specifications and performance

On the inside, we get some fairly large components, especially for a system of this size. We’re talking about an Intel Core i9-12900H CPU, 16GB RAM, 1TB M.2 SSD and an RTX 3050TI. In normal use browsing the web or social media, the Z13 is relatively quiet, although that changes when you launch a game. Fan noise is noticeable, but not a real nuisance. And while the back of the Z13 gets warm, ASUS’ tablet design and vapor chamber cooling system help keep throttling to a minimum.

One of the most striking features of the Asus ROG Flow Z13 is the window with RGB lighting that shows the system's motherboard.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Now normally, pairing an i9 chip with a 3050 Ti makes no sense. In most games, the Z13 will be held back by its GPU, which makes a high-end CPU seem like overkill. In benchmarks, I saw a frame rate of 37 fps in Forza Horizon 5 on ultra settings, 64 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider on highest and 40 fps in Metro Exodus on top. So good, but not exactly surprising.

That’s where those hidden ports come in. Once you remove the protective seal, you can attach ASUS’ optional (and expensive) XG mobile graphics dock, which has more ports (HDMI 2.1, DisplayPort 1.4, Ethernet, four USB Type 3.2-Ports and an SD card reader), along -same as an RTX 3080 graphics card. And after I connected everything, the game performance doubled, with frame rates in Forza Horizon 5 jumps up to 87 fps at the same settings, with similar results for other titles (134 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and 95 fps in Metro Exodus).

For those who want better performance than the ROG Flow Z13, Asus makes the XG Mobile external graphics dock.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

So now, we’re looking at a portable gaming tablet that has the kind of performance you’d normally only get from a big 15- or 17-inch laptop. And since the dock is removable, you have the option to leave it on if you don’t want to play. It also has its own power cable, allowing it to deliver juice to the Z13 when connected. So in theory, if you throw these two in your bag, you can leave the basic ASUS charging brick at home. And when you’re not using the dock, under that seal next to ASUS’ proprietary XG port, there’s a USB-C 3.2 connection that supports video out with G-sync.

However, there are some quirks about the XG dock. First, you can’t disconnect it at will. Before you pull the plug, you have to manually disable it from the icon in the Windows system tray, which takes more than a moment. You also don’t get to choose the GPU that’s inside, either an RTX 3080 or nothing. This means that if you want to upgrade in the future, you’ll have to buy a new dock, assuming ASUS even makes a second generation. And because of that proprietary port, the XG Dock is only compatible with this system and the ROG Flow X13, which is essentially the laptop version of the Z13.

Battery life

on the Asus ROG Flow Z13, there's a removable seal that hides the extra USB-C port and the system's proprietary XG port.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

One of the biggest drawbacks of the Z13 tablet design is that it doesn’t have much room for a large battery. In our video summary test, the system’s 56 Whr power pack lasted just five hours and 38 minutes. That’s four hours shorter than the Zephyrus G14 (9:45) and almost two and a half hours less than the Alienware X14. This means you’ll probably need to bring the ASUS power brick with you when you leave home, especially if you’re planning on actual gaming. And in the real world, even with the most relaxed workloads, I found the Z13 often gasping for energy before the end of the day. On the plus side, the Z13 uses USB-C Power Delivery, so at least the charger can charge other gadgets as well.

Wrap it up

The right side of the Asus ROG Flow Z13 has a single USB Type-A port and a 3.5mm audio jack.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

When it comes to formulating products, I’m usually not that conflicted. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea, I love the way it looks and I love being able to use a great GPU when I want extra performance. I also like being able to open it up, plug in the controller and just play the game – no need to worry about the keyboard. There is nothing else like the Z13. The problem is that the whole kit isn’t very practical, and it’s not a great value either.

When you’re using it as a laptop – you know, on your lap – because all its guts are tucked away in what’s essentially a tablet chassis, it’s really, really heavy. Also, its battery life isn’t particularly good, lasting at least two to three hours shorter than every other gaming laptop we’ve tested recently. And even though it’s relatively thin, when you think about all the accessories you might want to carry with it, the Z13 doesn’t really let you pack any lighter when compared to rival 14- or 15-inch laptops.

The Asus ROG Flow Z13 comes with a USB-C power adapter, though it can also charge using the optional XG Mobile graphics dock.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

And then there’s the price. The Z13 starts at $1,800, or around $1,900 for a similar one to our review unit with a 3050TI GPU, which is as high as you can get in specs. And if you want docked XG mobile graphics, your all-in price rises well over $3,000.

A similarly equipped traditional gaming laptop, such as the Alienware X14 costs about $200 less. Meanwhile, ASUS’ own G14 Zephyrus is available for as low as $1,450, and that’s with a slightly more powerful RTX 3060. So if you just want to play on the go, you can save a lot of money just by getting something less exotic. And if you need some extra performance from time to time, you’re probably better off getting a regular external GPU enclosure that you can upgrade yourself down instead of ASUS’s proprietary dock.

The unique design of the Asus ROG Flow Z13 means you can use it as a tablet, even while playing games.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Now none of this means you shouldn’t get one. But you should know what you are dealing with first. The Flow Z13 is a very interesting system, and for those looking for a portable and customizable machine with big-time performance, I’m glad ASUS is finally making a 2-in-1 gaming/detachable tablet a real device after years. . And while its high price will make the Z13 a very hard sell for most people, I still think it’s practically cool.

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