(Pocket-lint) - It's clear the era of folding, flexible displays is well and truly upon us in 2022. At the annual IFA tradeshow, we saw a few different methods of using the technology to create practical solutions to everyday problems.
For laptops, that problem is wanting to have a big screen to work on, but still be able to carry it around with you easily. With these flexible machines - which are, more technically, big flexible Windows tablets - the idea is you can have a much bigger display than a typical laptop but one that can fold smaller and go in your bag.
Lenovo launched its second generation X1 Fold at IFA 2022 to tick this box, and the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED is Asus' offering - but how does it hold up in real-world use?
There's no denying that the idea behind the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED is a compelling one, and one that tries admirably to solve the issue of making bigger-screened machines more portable. As with any first-generation product though, there are some issues that need ironing out and refining.
The display is absolutely superb and the versatility is unmatched, but the design doesn't make this device quite as portable and convenient as we'd like to see. Its wedge design forced by the gap in the hinge means it's quite a bulky machine, even when it's shut.
With that, its meagre processing power and the serious cost involved in owning one, we suspect buyers of this latest futuristic computer will be limited to cash-happy early adopters. As technology fans, we loved playing with it, and we suspect that there's a bright future for these larger foldable devices - just as soon as those prices start coming down.
Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED
- Gorgeous display
- Well-executed design
- Excellent versatility
- Undeniably cool and futuristic
- It's big and bulky
- Processing power is underwhelming
- Very expensive
- Screen is a dust and smudge magnet
- 37.85 x 28.76 x 0.87~1.29cm (unfolded)
- 1.50 kg
- Folding design with kickstand
- MIL-STD 810H drop/impact protection
The Asus Zenbook Fold 17, when shut, is fairly thick and looks more like a binder than a notebook. One side is covered with a faux leather material, while the other has a unique dark blue frosted glass finish that creates an aurora-like effect. The glass panel is emblazoned with a very Star Fleet-esque Asus logo completing the futuristic look.
It's designed to be used in a number of ways, and all of them are executed quite cleverly. You can, of course, use it as an all-screen laptop or a gigantic tablet. More often, though, we found ourselves using the bundled keyboard and trackpad to use it either as a traditional laptop or as something akin to an all-in-one desktop replacement.
Folding out the display completely and using its built-in kickstand gives you a spacious 17.3-inch 4:3 OLED monitor, and you can use the keyboard and trackpad to navigate Windows. We loved working this way. So long as you have a desk available, it's an amazingly portable productivity station, and we think it's the most compelling use case for this form factor.
It's far too heavy and large to be used like a tablet for any length of time, so we almost never did. Meanwhile, using it in a laptop orientation, with the full touchscreen, was novel but ultimately felt half-baked. Folding or unfolding the hinge prompts you to snap windows into various suitable configurations, which is handy, but using the on-screen keyboard will hinder the layout. Most of the time we ended up grabbing the keyboard/trackpad combo and using that instead.
Doing so leaves you with a seriously chunky and heavy 12.5-inch laptop, which is less than ideal. However, we were impressed with the implementation. The keyboard snaps into place with magnets and the screen auto adjusts itself into laptop mode, rearranging your windows to suit. This configuration will net you more battery life since it's only using half the screen and it's worth noting that the keyboard can remain in place while folded for ease of transportation.
The keyboard, despite its thinness, is surprisingly nice to type on and offers plenty of key travel. The palm rest is covered in the same faux leather that's found on the Zenbook's outer, which helps to keep things looking cohesive.
The trackpad, on the other hand, is less impressive. It has a sloppy, rattly clicking mechanism and the Bluetooth connection occasionally meant that our cursor suffered lags and stutters. You also have to remember to charge the keyboard panel separately, which is a bit of a hassle.
Our biggest gripe with the design is how the plastic coating on the display attracts dust and fingerprint smudges. The bezels are made from a velvety-feeling fabric, which also picks up dust and hair very easily. This means it's essentially impossible to keep the device looking clean. When you have something so futuristic and expensive in your hands, the constant dirt and smears can quickly ruin the effect.
Display, speakers and webcam
- 17.3-inch OLED 4:3 flexible display
- 2560 x 1920 resolution, 500 nits peak brightness
- 5MP webcam with Windows Hello support
- Harman Kardon-certified quad speakers with Dolby Atmos support
When unfolded, the Zenbook 17 Fold gives you a massive 17.3-inch 4:3 display with a 2560 x 1920 resolution. It's larger than you'll find on any laptop, and it's crisp and clear with the excellent colours and contrast you'd expect from a high-end OLED panel. It's accurate, too, with 100 per cent coverage of the DCI-P3 colour space and Pantone validation.
Unfortunately, the glossy plastic coating nerfs this display somewhat by creating some distracting reflections, especially in brighter environments. With a 500-nit peak brightness, it struggles to compete with the daylight, but it looks much better indoors.
The speakers, meanwhile, are very clear and detailed. They're capable of outputting some serious volume, too, just don't expect any bass response. For casual viewing, dialogue comes through clean and clear, but if you want to enjoy some music then you should probably get your headphones out.
The webcam impressed us, managing to look good even when viewed full-screen on the massive unfolded display. It's still not quite on par with a smartphone selfie camera, but it's closer than we've seen on most laptops and more than sufficient for Zoom calls. It also supports Windows Hello, so you can log in with your face, which we're always pleased to see.
Power, ports and performance
- Intel Core i7 1250U
- 16GB LPDDR5 RAM - 1TB PCIe 4.0 SSD
- 2x Thunderbolt 4 - Wi-Fi 6E - Bluetooth 5
- 75Wh battery - 65W Type-C charging
For our average workday tasks, web browsing and light Photoshop use, the Zenbook 17 Fold performed admirably thanks to its abundance of memory and speedy storage. However, don't go into this expecting a performance machine, it's powered by the Intel i7 1250U, which is a low-wattage chip designed for thin and light notebooks.
For a lot of people, this processor will offer more than enough horsepower, but with its large and luxurious display, we couldn't help but try some video editing. Piecing together 4K 60fps clips from the DJI Osmo Action 3 in Adobe Premiere, the machine really started to struggle. A creative workhorse this is not.
Given the product's substantial price tag, the performance is a little disappointing. You're paying a serious tax for the R&D that went into this unique machine. Still, there's nothing quite like it on the market and if you don't need that much computing power, then you might not be dissuaded.
When it comes to battery life, we were pleasantly surprised. Ultrabooks with OLED screens tend to be more milliamp hungry than their IPS counterparts, but somehow Asus has managed to make the Zenbook 17 Fold and its gigantic display extremely serviceable. You can expect north of seven hours with light workloads, and even longer in the 12.5-inch laptop mode.
Charging is handled with a 65W USB-C adapter that's provided in the box. It also benefits from a feature called Easy Charge, which allows it to accept charging from a variety of sources at 5V to 20V over USB-C, including power banks. This is very handy if you forget your charger.
When it comes to IO, the Zenbook 17 Fold is more tablet than laptop. You get two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a headphone socket and that's it. It's worth keeping in mind that charging will take up one of your two ports, as well, so you'll likely want to invest in a decent USB-C hub.
While the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED form is exciting and futuristic, there's definitely some work to be done to make this a more elegant and practical solution. The system has its merits, though, and we're excited to see what the future holds for this category.