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Review: ASUS Zenbook Flip

The ASUS Zenbook Flip is a convertible 2-in-1 that attempts to distinguish itself in a highly competitive industry with its sleek and functional design, decent specs, and cool price. The Zenbook Flip UX360CA we used is an attempt to improve upon ASUS’ Transformer Book Flip, which was widely thought to be bulky and frustrating to use in tablet mode. In stark contrast, this Zenbook did practically everything my little heart could have desired, and did it with style. Like all convertible laptops, in order to switch into tablet mode, you simply rotate the 13.3" (16:9) screen Exorcist style until it folds neatly underneath the bottom and you’ve got yourself a tablet. It never gets old, and the ASUS Zenbook is just as fun to use as its competition.

UPDATE: For hands-on coverage, check out our ASUS Zenbook Flip video review.

First Impressions

When it comes to packaging their product, ASUS’ experience shows. The chassis is a glossy purple (or as ASUS calls it, Mineral Gray) made from one block of metal, which made me stand out a bit in a coffee shop that was full of nothing but silver. It’s not overly girly, but if you want variety it also comes in gold; not exactly subtle with their color choices.

The experience of flipping the screen into tablet mode takes a bit of getting used to because it feels like I’m mishandling an expensive piece of equipment, but it’s also quite satisfying. It folds over without resistance and (almost) instantly switches into tablet mode and back again. The entire design is made for the device to seamlessly be put to use whether you’re at your desk or on the couch. I do wish it was a little less wobbly in tablet mode, it doesn’t feel as firm as I would like, but it’s a minor issue.

Cool and Quiet

When in tablet mode the keyboard is exposed on the bottom (like all 2-in-1s without detachable keyboards), but it does deactivate the keys so it shouldn’t cause any interference. I’m often losing my computer accessories, and I have a feeling a keyboard would be in equal peril, so I appreciate the fact that it is all one piece. I didn’t really mind feeling the keys on the back with my fingers while I was holding the tablet in my hand as I read up on current events, but I could see how some people might not enjoy the sensation of key exposure.

The Zenbook in tablet mode was a stellar experience, with lightning-fast response times and minimal issues with its touch screen. I stress minimal because there were a few times when I went to close out of a window and it gave me a little bit of static. This device is quiet all-around, which is fantastic if you value the sound of silence. It doesn’t use fans, instead ASUS opted for a 0.5mm-diameter chromium-copper alloy heatpipe which keeps it essentially soundless. It stays cool too; even when running Netflix in my lap for a full hour with plenty of other browser action happening in the background, there were no heat issues.

But when I say it stays quiet, I mean that it stays quiet everywhere. Even at 100%, the speakers were pretty weak. It should be noted that the sound that did emerge was crystal clear and entirely fine for watching movies at home. However, for those who want to use this with a lot of ambient noise, whether coming from conversation or engines, it could be a bit of a problem.  

ASUS Zenbook Flip Specs

  • Intel Core(R) Core(TM) m3 6Y30 CPU @ .90 GHz)
  • 8 GB Memory 512 GB SSD
  • 13.3" Touchscreen 1920 x 1080
  • Windows 10 Home 64-Bit28GB, 256GB or 512 GB SSD
  • 12.60" x 8.66" x 0.55" 2.87 lbs.

As you may have noticed, the specs are fairly standard except for that CPU. 0.9 GHz?! What is this, a processor for ants? Kidding aside, it is probably sufficient for the average user who is using Netflix, Facebook, and maybe Word, but this is pretty underpowered for anyone who wants to run a great many applications at once.

There’s ASUS For Us

At 2.87 pounds and .5 inches thick, it’s portable enough to take from room to room, on a plane, on a train, with green eggs and...well, you get it. It’s big, but it’s not prohibitively big. Those who like their print to be on the larger side and a screen that could easily be shared between two kids when on a long car trip will appreciate the size. The variety of viewing options also make it appealing in situations such as travel, not only can it be a tablet or a laptop, but everything in between. If you want to pitch it like a tent, that’s an option too.

The 1920x1080 screen made video viewing pleasurable if not entirely mind-blowing, and Windows 10 Home was entirely satisfactory when it came to perusing the web and the news. I couldn’t get enough of being able to switch to a laptop configuration quickly when I hit one of my more productive moods and wanted to make notes for some new thought I had. When you’re going back and forth between the different viewing options, the screen quickly orients itself in whatever direction you need it to. There’s no need to put the laptop down on the table to get everything back to where it should be, thus saving your keys from the dreaded scuff. When you need to use it as a laptop, you can set it right up on your desk with its nice rubber safeguards protecting your investment. When I wasn’t using it, I closed it up just like I would my normal laptop, because old habits  die hard.

For those of you who keep it simple though, the price point is exceptionally reasonable for what you get and compared to similar convertibles.

The keys took me a nanosecond to get used to, but for the most part I found it comfortable to type on. Travel distance and the gap between keys were entirely suitable. I was able to type at almost the same speed as on my regular laptop. The trackpad didn’t impress me quite as much; it was pretty sensitive and somewhat sticky, but other people have said it functions just fine for them. I found myself wanting to use the more responsive touchscreen more often because of the touchpad, also because touchscreens are awesome.

The Zenbook also has an excellent 3 cell 54 Whrs Polymer battery, and I found it going strong even after extended use. The manufacturers description has it at about 10 hours, but with my extended Netflix use, I might knock off an hour from that on a personal level. It also charges quickly, which I especially appreciated.

ASUS has a habit of coming out with more models than the market seems to know what to do with, which is helpful in that it offers people variety, but not so great if they want to really stand out amongst the crowd. Following the trends of many other 2-in-1 laptops, they have several versions of the Flip that will be made available featuring better processors and more storage for a heftier price tag. As it stands, the only pricing that’s out right now is $799 for the Signature Edition model with 8GB RAM and an impressive 512 GB SSD. This stands at about the same or slightly lower than similarly decked out 2-in-1s, many of which will go for at least $850 for roughly the same specs (minus the underpowered CPU.)

Switching It Up

There is really no getting around a very basic fact of the Zenbook: this thing is useful if you’re using it for basic tasks at home. When I needed a keyboard in tablet mode, it just seemed to magically appear before I even realized I needed it. When I wanted to watch something, I was always able to find the perfect angle. When I wanted to type something a little more lengthy, it all went smoothly. Users seem to hate that there’s no backlight on this 2-in1, but I found the screen was bright enough to illuminate the keys. Windows 10 Home is simple to navigate, and the Zenbook already comes with your standard pre-installed apps like Skype, Flipboard, Weather, etc. whether you like it or not.

In terms of connectivity, you’ve got 2 USB Type A, a USB Type-C port, plus a micro HDMI port and a SD Card slot, so there are plenty of options to connect your accessories. A power button plus volume buttons on the left-hand side make it easy to adjust the sound when you’re watching something in tablet mode.   

For Those Who Think Zen

The ideal audience for this convertible 2-in-1 is definitely going to be for those who want a clear screen for viewing videos at home and a keyboard that’s functional enough to sustain a moderate amount of typing. We don’t recommend this for business, unless the tasks are about on par with those you’d do at home. Power users will probably not be in the market for a convertible laptop, but for those who are the low end processor will probably be a turn off. For those of you who keep it simple though, the price point is exceptionally reasonable for what you get and compared to similar convertibles. Bargain hunters take note.

A Few More Things

ASUS has a good handle on what they do, and their numbers reflect it. At the number 4 slot by units sold in 2015, this Taiwanese company has certainly given it their all when it comes to engineering slick-looking products. Their efforts are reflected in this model, and it’s made a sizable splash in the convertible community.

As it is, the version with the lower Core M model will be accompanied by the m5 and m7 versions, all of which will see an appropriate price bump for machinery that can handle more tasks without slowing down. This is, of course, entirely standard for the computer market. There is no official word out from the company about what those prices will be, but we’ll likely see jumps in the $150 – 200 range for each upgrade. This machine would likely benefit from a bit more branding to help it really stand out to an overwhelmed buyer, perhaps by focusing on one feature that sets them apart rather than several.

The Zenbook is pretty great, and with a faster processor, a better trackpad, and some slight tweaks, it could be even better. We're looking forward to seeing what comes next from Asus!

SECOND OPINION: SENIOR EDITOR JOSH RAY

The Zenbook Flip struggles in one big area: marketing. There are so many products on the market that qualify as 2-in-1s, it's hard for a legitimately great product to stand out. Heck, even ASUS's own lineup of 2-in-1s swallow attention away from the Flip. And, of course, we're discussing the Zenbook Flip UX360A, not the Zenbook UX306, UX501 or any other name-by-boggle devices in their catalog. 

And this is a shame -- the Flip is the Macbook Air killer and should be treated as such. 

It basically crushes the Macbook Air across all categories for 95% of people. Notice I said 95%? Because the design team who made the Zenbook Flip knew what they were doing. The Intel M3 is a better choice for this form factor than the M5 or M7, let alone the i-series. And ASUS (as well as Intel) should focus on the 2.2Ghz Turbo Frenquency rather than listing the 0.9GHz base.

Aside from the naming, the M3 is a solid choice since it allows ASUS keeps the whole package 100% fanless, which isn't nothing. In fact, it's something. Something awesome and deserves more attention considering 95% of Zenbook buyers won't need a CPU hot enough for fan action. 

Really, I've been recommending the Flip for all kinds of people. I even talked to diehard Macbook Air fans who wanted to know why Apple doesn't do the flippy 2-in-1 thing. Good question. (Update: said person bought the ASUS. They had a bit of a rough start with the "premium software" but, otherwise, are super happy with the switch)

If ASUS really wants to make a Apple-killer, they should step up with a full backlit keyboard and Thunderbolt 3 charging. And then give it a unique name with fancy marketing because, really, we should be seeing the Flip in coffee shops everywhere.