After delivering an ambitious gaming convertible notebook last year, the svelte ROG Flow X13, ASUS is taking that concept even further with the Flow Z13 tablet. Think of it like a souped-up Surface Pro: the Z13 packs in Intel's new 12th-gen processors and up to NVIDIA's RTX 3050 Ti all in a sleek slate. Weighing in at 2.43 pounds, it's clearly not meant to replace smaller tablets like the iPad. Instead, ASUS sees it as a way to bring your PC games everywhere — say a cramped airplane tray table — without the bulk of a laptop.
Like the ROG Flow X13, the Z13 can connect to the ASUS XG Mobile external GPU, which supports up to AMD's Radeon RX 6850M in addition to NVIDIA's mobile RTX 30-series lineup. That eGPU still relies on a custom PCIe connection, which can reach up to 63 Gbps of graphics bandwidth, making it more capable than Thunderbolt 4's 40 Gbps. I was wary of the XG Mobile last year, given just how expensive and flaky similar eGPUs have been. And that was before we learned it would cost $1,500 with the 3080, and that it wasn't nearly as fast as reviewers would have liked. At the very least, the Z13 promises to be a better performer than the X13 with its built-in hardware, so maybe an eGPU would be unnecessary.
In person, the Z13 is exactly what you'd expect from an ROG gaming laptop to look like. The preview unit ASUS sent for me to borrow felt dense and sturdy, surprisingly so for its 12 millimeter thickness. Unlike iPads and other tablets, it feels strong enough to survive a backpack commute without a protective case. From the front, you could easily mistake it for a notebook. From the sides and back though, it's more like a Super Surface, with a flexible kickstand and keyboard cover.
I wasn't able to run any games and benchmarks on the ROG Z13, unfortunately. (I'd wager ASUS's software and drivers aren't ready for serious testing yet.) But I could see why it could be compelling: An RTX 3050 Ti in a machine this size would be a dream for travel (at least, when that's safe again). And its 4K 13-inch display was perfectly fine for productivity tasks (there's also a 1080p 120Hz option). Given its size, though, the Z13 felt too heavy to use as a standard tablet. It's also not nearly as "lappable" as the Surface Pro devices; it's just too heavy to stay put while you're typing.
ASUS deserves credit for actually including the keyboard case with the Z13, something Microsoft still refuses to do with the Surface Pro. And the typing experience actually feels pretty decent, so long as the Z13 is planted firmly on a flat surface. I could see it being a solid option for casual gaming, but the WASD inputs don't feel nearly as responsive as a basic desktop gaming keyboard. Basically, if you're expecting to compete while using the Z13, plan to bring along a separate keyboard.
You'll likely be able to connect most of your accessories to the Z13 as well, since it includes both a USB 2.0 Type-A connection, as well two USB 3.2 Type-C ports (one is hidden under the XG Mobile connection. There's also a microSD card slot, which is useful for throwing in additional storage or offloading media.
Without knowing the ROG Z13's price and testing it properly, it's hard to make any final judgements. Personally, I think most consumers would be better off investing in a gaming notebook, which would have bigger screens, faster hardware and more capable keyboards. But ASUS already makes plenty of those, including our beloved Zephyrus G14 and G15. The Z13, which is expected to land in the first half of 2022, is clearly meant for gamers who prioritize portability more than anything else. For them, this might be the tablet of their dreams.
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Tue, 04 Jan 2022 20:00:04 +0000