(Pocket-lint) - Asus was the original pioneer of modern hybrid computers. Give us half a chance and we'll start reminiscing about the old Transformer tablets, a bit like your grandad talking about "the good old days". Times they were a-different back in 2011.
More recently Asus hasn't kept at the forefront of the most subtle style of the hybrid: the 360-degree laptop. The last ZenBook Flip suffered from slightly floppy build, which just didn't feel the part compared to the competition.
Asus is back with a bang, though. The ZenBook Flip S is one of the sleekest 360-degree laptops around.
Asus ZenBook Flip S (UX370UA) review: Design
- 313 x 218 x 10.9mm; 1.1kgs
- Striking blue and gold finish
- Aerospace-grade aluminum alloy
- 360-degree hinge design
The Asus ZenBook Flip S is the sort of hybrid to buy if you want a laptop with a lifestyle bent. Not a tablet someone has stuck a keyboard onto.
It's the kind of machine you wouldn't realise had hybrid chops until you start bending it around like a show-off yoga master. And that also means it's the kind of hybrid we'd be happy to use every day as a work computer.
It is just 1.1kg and 11.9mm thick, making the Flip S just ridiculously portable. Machines we'd still consider light enough to carry around all day might weigh and extra 50 per cent on top of that. It's the Asus' weight we notice most, as there's something almost airy about carrying the ZenBook Flip S.
There are plenty of the usual ZenBook design cues. A spun finish on the lid is classic Asus, although the gold-on-blue colour scheme is a little more eye-catching, a bit like HP laptops of late.
Like several of the latest ultra-thin laptops, though, the Asus ZenBook Flip S isn't packed with connectors. There are two USB Type-C ports, one of which taken up by the power plug when you're charging.
Both are also just 'standard' USB-C 3.1, with 5Gbps bandwidth rather than the 40Gbps you get with the Thunderbolt 3 port, as used in the latest Dell XPS 13. For most of us there'll be no perceptible real-life difference. It can still be used to attach a monitor, or even a whole bunch of peripherals using a dock. However, when you pay £1300 for a laptop it'd be nice to see all the latest standards in place.
Unlike the earlier ZenBook, however, the Flip S is super strong. No floppying about here: it's made from aerospace-grade aluminium, which makes it far more rigid to work on. Hurrah.
Asus ZenBook Flip S (UX370UA) review: Features and keyboard
- Low-travel (1mm) shallow keyboard
- Great glass-topped trackpad
- 'Hidden' fingerprint scanner
There are some neat extras, too, like the subtlest fingerprint scanner you'll find on a laptop. Most manufacturers put one by the trackpad, as an obvious little square. The Asus ZenBook Flip S crams a skinny one into its right edge, just as Huawei and Acer offer in some devices.
Cut-size fingerprint scanners often don't work that well, but this one is great, unlocking the Flip S on first attempt just about every time. It takes a while to teach your finger to use it blind, though, as it's not indented.
The Asus ZenBook Flip S keyboard may be a bit of a crowd-divider, as it's approaching MacBook territory, but even those who want more key travel will have to admit Asus hasn't done a bad job.
It has a shallow action design, with 1mm travel, but the keys are big, and the feel is well-defined. It's meatier than some MacBooks, and the travel is deeper too. If we have to put up with ultra-shallow keyboards, this is a style we can get on-board with.
The Asus ZenBook Flip S also has a keyboard backlight. Its LEDs are white, but thanks to the golden key font they glow yellow.
Asus has mostly nailed the touchpad this time too. It's a big textured glass pad with plenty of width, plenty of depth and a fantastic top surface. It does make a rather high-pitch sound when clicked, but that's the only niggle. And getting away with that as your biggest problem counts as a touchpad victory.
Asus ZenBook Flip S (UX370UA) review: Screen
- 1920 x 1080 resolution 13.3-inch IPS LCD touchscreen
- 4K UHD resolution (3840 x 2160) available in some regions
- Pressure-sensitive stylus included
The Asus ZenBook Flip S has a 13.3-inch 1080p touchscreen. This is a totally standard premium laptop screen in terms of spec, but performance is a cut above most laptops you'll find at £700-900.
Colour is punchy and well-saturated, where slightly more affordable options just don't quite manage to render the deep red, blues and greens that the Asus ZenBook Flip S can fire out. This may not be a true ultra-wide gamut screen, but is exactly what we're after in this sort of laptop.
Similarly, it's more reflective than a top MacBook, but we tried using it out in the park on a bright day and it was still bright enough for comfortable use. The hybrid angle also brings a couple of great extras: a touchscreen being the most obvious one, a stylus being the other.
Flip the screen over for the classic 2-in-1 hybrid "tent" pose and Windows 10 will switch to tablet mode too, with the interface (UI) optimised for touch use. The included stylus is a more unusual touchy-feely extra, which comes included in the box, alongside a neat carry case.
A trial version of Autodesk Sketchbook comes preinstalled, and it's a great demo of what this 1,024 pressure-sensitive stylus can do. Press harder and virtual pencil marks get darker. A low-pressure gesture tracks just a light line. We imagine some Asus ZenBook Flip S buyers will barely use the stylus, but it's great for arty types. The experience of the thing isn't quite as good as an Apple Pencil, lacking that final 10 per cent of natural feel. But it is fun to use.
Asus ZenBook Flip S (UX370UA) review: Performance
- Intel Core i5 and i7 CPU options
- 512GB SSD as standard
- Integrated graphics
One thing you'll have to accept when buying an ultra-fancy laptop like the Asus ZenBook Flip S is that you can get similar performance for less cash. It has a Core i7-7500U processor, which you'll find in the £900 Dell Inspiron 5000. But, let's be blunt, that Dell just isn't as nice, is it?
One of the star features of this laptop is a 512GB SSD, which is normally a very expensive upgrade with other manufacturers' machines. This gives loads of space for your applications and media files, without the performance hit of using a hard drive. It's not like there'd be space for a second storage drive in the Asus ZenBook Flip S either.
As you'd hope, general performance is great. It comes out of sleep in about a second and Windows 10 feels very responsive. There's easily enough power on tap for some Photoshop work, or even some lighter video editing.
The one missing element, becoming more common is slim laptops, is dedicated graphics (GPU). There's just the usual Intel HD 620 graphics, built into the Core i7. This'll handle older games like Skyrim at "low" or "mid" settings well enough, but the Asus ZenBook Flip S is the wrong laptop to buy if you're hoping for a 1cm-thick gaming laptop.
Gamers would be better off with the HP Envy 13, which has a pretty decent entry-level GeForce MX 150 GPU, or the Razer Blade. The latter has a killer GTX 1060 graphics card. But it's also £2,000 with a 512GB, and a lot thicker and heavier — if still amazingly portable for something with such gaming power.
The Flip S is a laptop for general computing use. It handles this with style, staying virtually silent and, in our experience at least, relatively cool. Given the thickness, that's impressive.
Asus ZenBook Flip S (UX370UA) review: Battery life and speakers
There's currently only so much you can do with a laptop this thin, though. And that shows in its battery life. Where conventional laptops like the Dell XPS 13, Lenovo 720 and HP Envy 13 sail into the double figures of hours use between charges, the Asus ZenBook Flip S will last for about seven hours.
That's below the golden stamina of all-day use. Bear it in mind if you need a laptop to last all the way through a long day of meetings or a transatlantic flight.
It uses a 39Wh battery, where the top ultra-slim performers have cells well over 50Wh. This is hardware butting heads with design, and design won this fight. Charging is fairly fast, though, getting to 60 per cent battery in under an hour. Like the laptop itself, the charger is nice and small.
Asus has managed to pull off some seriously neat tricks considering the Asus ZenBook Flip S's super-slim frame. The speakers are really quite impressive, for example. MacBooks are a bit louder, but few laptops of any size can make kick drums sound as punchy as the ZenBook Flip S. It's a huge bonus for everything from music to movie dialogue. Most audio benefits from that extra 1/4lb of beef.
Asus has picked its fights rather than trying to ace everything, though. The ZenBook Flip S's camera is almost bizarrely bad, using a rubbish VGA sensor. It's like a small bowl of Wotsits at a Michelin star restaurant's tasting menu, but then most people we know don't even touch their laptop camera these days, so it might not matter to you.
The Asus ZenBook Flip S is one of the best hybrid laptops going. Its screen is vibrant, you get plenty of storage, build quality is fab and the price is competitive once you consider the 512GB SSD.
There's just a couple of niggles to deal with: battery life doesn't reach the all-day gold standard, while some of you are going to hate the shallow keyboard.
Mostly, though, the Asus ZenBook Flip S is very thin, very light and very pretty. Improve the battery life next time and it'll be more than competitive.
The alternatives to consider
HP Envy 13
We're not sure how HP did it, but the HP Envy 13 comes with discrete graphics and costs less than most similar 13-inch laptops. If you want a bit of extra power, this is a sound choice.
Read the full article: HP Spectre 13 review
Microsoft Surface Laptop
Micosoft's Surface products are all good. But, boy, they don't come cheap. To get one at a sensible price, you'll need to take a Core i5 with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD, costing £1,249.
Read the full article: Microsoft Surface Laptop review