ASUS Zenbook 17 Fold OLED review: Great screen, now do the keyboard


Just like a relationship, going on a trip with a gadget is one of the best ways of finding out how well you and your partner work together. So to really test ASUS’ first go at making a laptop with a flexible display, I took the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED on a journey across four countries in nine days. And while there are a few issues that need to be addressed, my experience was surprisingly positive and renewed my excitement for the category as a whole (especially after Lenovo’s ambitious but flawed first try back in 2020). Now that doesn’t mean you should run out and get one, because starting at $3,500, the Zenbook 17 Fold is far from affordable. But for all the foldable haters out there, ASUS’ latest effort has proven it’s way too early to write off the next wave of new-fangled flexy laptops.

Design

For the Zenbook 17 Fold it’s almost as if ASUS took the blueprint for the ThinkPad X1 Fold, put it in a photocopier and then hit the enlarge button. Sure, the Zenbook is a little prettier thanks to some leather panels and a bit of lovely frosted glass around back, but it’s clear ASUS didn’t try to deviate too much from Lenovo’s formula. We have a big flexible OLED display (with no obvious crease, I should add) that’s augmented by a built-in kickstand and a detachable magnetic keyboard that neatly fits inside the gap that forms when the system is folded in half. While it’s a bit bulky, measuring 1.25 inches thick in clamshell mode and weighing just over four pounds including its keyboard (4.04 to be exact), the Zenbook 17 Fold is still lighter than a lot of similarly-sized traditional laptops like Dell’s XPS 17.

Pros

  • Slick 17.3-inch flexible display
  • Surprisingly powerful speakers
  • Good battery life
  • Nifty IR webcams

Cons

  • Mediocre performance
  • wonky Bluetooth keyboard
  • Kinda bulky
  • Very expensive
  • Clunky support software
  • no stylus support

That said, I’m not trying to neg ASUS’ lack of originality, because by going with a bigger 17.3-inch display (up from 13.3 inches on the ThinkPad X1 Fold), it created a hybrid that finally works as both a laptop and a portable all-in-one desktop of sorts. In laptop mode, the ZenBook 17 Fold converts to a system that’s similar in size to a 12.5-inch notebook. This is great when you’re trying to get work done on an airplane tray table or anywhere else space is a premium. And because the detachable keyboard sits on top of the bottom half of the screen, you still get a very familiar mousing and typing experience.

But when you get to a hotel or cafe with a bit more room, that’s when the real magic happens. By fully deploying that 17.3-inch screen, suddenly you have a ton of extra space for productivity, gaming (well light gaming) or anything else. Does it take some extra effort? Yeah. But at the same time, it’s actually kind of practical (and it doesn’t hurt that it reminds me of playing with Transformers as a kid). You can prop up the Zenbook using ASUS’ built-in kickstand while positioning the Bluetooth keyboard wherever you like. And because there are two Thunderbolt 4 ports on different sides of the machine, it’s easy to plug in peripherals or a power cable when you need to recharge.

In laptop mode, the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED is similar in size to a 12.5-inch notebook, which makes it easy to use in tight spaces without feeling too cramped.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Aside from laptop and desktop modes, you can also use the Zenbook 17 Fold as a big tablet, which allowed my wife and I to watch She-Hulk while waiting at the gate for our flight. Despite some sizable letterboxing, it was really nice having a bigger display to look at as opposed to huddling around a six-inch phone. There’s even something ASUS calls book mode that feels kinda like you’re holding a giant magazine (remember those?). Though similar to tablet mode, the sheer size of the screen makes both tablet and book modes feel a bit too unwieldy to use with any sort of regularity.

Unfortunately, ASUS didn’t copy the same sort of mil-spec 810G durability Lenovo provides with the X1 Fold. But even so, after more than a week of being tossed in a bag that got thrown under seats or into multiple overheard cargo bins, the Zenbook made it out unscathed. So not quite army-grade, but as far as my battle testing goes, it gets a pass.

Display and cameras

In addition to desktop and laptop modes, you can also use the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED as a big tablet or even in book mode, the latter of which kind of feels like holding a giant magazine.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

As for the screen itself, ASUS touts a peak brightness of 500 nits for HDR content, though in more typical conditions, I found that the Zenbook outputs closer to 350 nits, which is plenty bright for general use. Around the outside of the display, there are half-inch bezels that do look kind of chunky compared to other modern laptops. But given the amount of bending, flipping and moving of the screen you do with the Zenbook, I don’t think I’d want them any smaller, at least not until ASUS can shave some weight off this thing.

The real highlight of the 2560 x 1920 OLED panel is all the bright colors and deep blacks. I know OLED screens are becoming more popular on premium systems, but the vibrancy you get from them is even more impressive on a flexible display. The screen’s one small weakness is its shiny coating, which likes to pick up fingerprints while also being a bit more reflective than your typical glossy panel. I also want to mention that despite its display dominating the Zenbook’s design, its quad Dolby Atmos speakers sound quite good for its size.

The Zenbook 17 Fold OLED features a main 5MP cam along with some extra IR cams that can be used to automatically lock the laptop when you walk away or activate a screen saver to prevent potential burn-in.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

To handle video calls, the Zenbook features a nifty set of cameras which include a 5MP main shooter and some IR sensors, which can be used for facial login or to detect your presence. This allows the laptop to automatically lock itself when you walk away for some added security or to turn on a screen saver to reduce battery drain and prevent potential burn-in. The one quirk is that because the Zenbook was designed to be primarily used in desktop mode, you’ll get vertical pics and videos in laptop mode, which isn’t exactly ideal for meetings. Meanwhile, because the webcam sits on the side of the display in desktop mode, properly positioning your face in the center can be a little tricky too.

Performance

The ZenBook 17 Fold is pretty well-rounded with an Intel Core i7-1250U CPU, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. Performance was generally smooth and I only encountered a few hitches once the battery dipped below five percent. But, the choice of a U-series chip means the Zenbook isn’t quite as powerful as many traditional clamshells, with systems like the Dell XPS 13 Plus and Lenovo Yoga 9i posting higher scores across a number of tests including Geekbench 5 and PCMark 10. In short, it can handle typical productivity and even a bit of very casual gaming, just don’t expect much more than that.

Keyboard and software

The Zenbook 17 Fold's keyboard connects wirelessly over Bluetooth and can be stowed inside the system while traveling. But it's plagued by erratic connectivity that often causes your cursor to jump around or not respond to input.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Alright, so far everything has been pretty positive, but without getting overly doom and gloom, it’s time to talk about the Zenbook’s flaws. In theory, its magnetic keyboard is the perfect companion for a flexible hybrid. It connects wirelessly over Bluetooth and its tailored dimensions mean you can tuck it away neatly inside the display while traveling. You even get 1.4mm of key travel, which is pretty great on a peripheral this thin.

Unfortunately, actually using it feels like trying to give medicine to an upset baby, because no matter how nicely you ask, it just won’t listen to you. At first, the keyboard struggled to stay connected, which meant I had to unpair and repair it every time the Zenbook went to sleep. Then I noticed that its touchpad was jumpy and erratic, sometimes bouncing around without me moving my finger or being slow to respond to commands.

Asus' ScreenXpert software makes it easy to arrange in various layouts across all of the Zenbook 17 Fold's assorted modes.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

To make matters worse, while the system is supposed to automatically recognize when you lay the keyboard on top of the bottom half of the screen in laptop mode, for some reason the Zenbook simply ignored that procedure when launching certain apps. This causes everything to jump back into full-screen mode until you lift the keyboard and drop it down again, which is downright frustrating especially when you’re trying to play a game. It’s not just me either, practically every other person who has reviewed the Zenbook 17 Fold has encountered similar issues, which is a real shame because it puts a real damper on the device’s potential.

Furthermore, while the keyboard has a USB-C port for charging and excellent battery life (upwards of 12 hours), you still have to charge it separately (there’s no backlighting either). This feels like a weird oversight compared to something like a Surface Pro and Microsoft’s Type Covers, where you never need to worry about connectivity issues or keeping the keyboard topped up because they’re an integral part of the system. But with the Zenbook, while it looks like a core component, the keyboard feels more like an afterthought.

The Zenbook 178 fold features two Thunderbolt 4 ports on different sides of the system, so at least one is always easily accessible.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Also, I have to mention that on a device this expensive, some of ASUS’ software and pre-loaded bloat is rather irritating. In addition to McAfee LiveSafe constantly bombarding you with unnecessary notifications, trying to find important settings in the MyASUS app is a real chore. But the thing that really pisses me off is that ASUS’ GlideX app — which lets you turn a spare tablet or phone into a secondary display — is limited to 720p and has embedded ads unless you pay extra to unlock the Plus, Pro or Ultra tiers. I mean come on, this is a very expensive (and sort of experimental) premium device, those perks really ought to be free. And no, limited-time promos don’t count.

Battery life

When it comes to longevity, one of the big fears with a flexible convertible like this is that all the extra support required to hold everything together takes up valuable room where a battery might go. But to my pleasant surprise, the Zenbook 17 Fold fared better than I expected. On our local video rundown test, it lasted 14 hours and 9 minutes in desktop mode, and an even better 15:26 in laptop mode. That’s a good mark for any portable PC, and as long as you’re not overloading the processor, the Zenbook’s battery holds up during everyday use as well.

Wrap-up

The Zenbook 17 Fold has a built-in kickstand which makes desktop mode super easy to use whenever you have some extra table space.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

After using this thing for the better part of two weeks and lugging it across half of Europe, I’ve got some thoughts. At first, I was constantly worried about breaking it during my travels. But once those concerns faded, I started to really appreciate its flexibility. Simply thinking about this as a standard 2-in-1 isn’t quite right, because it’s a lot more adaptable than that.

Depending on the situation, the Zenbook 17 Fold changed from being a big tablet for watching shows and movies to an ultraportable that let me work in tight spaces to a portable desktop I could use as my command station away from home. I’m usually one who longs for the comfort of a second monitor when I’m not at my desk, but those yearnings didn’t hit nearly as hard on this trip. And to my delight, it performed well in all of those roles. On top of that, between Windows 11 and ASUS’ ScreenXpert tool, it’s much easier to choose the right app layout for whatever mode you’re in. (If you’ll remember, the original ThinkPad X1 Fold was designed to run on Windows 10X, which ended up getting canceled last year.) And the decision to include a bigger 17.3-inch screen gives you more room for work or play, while also making content look great.

Asus' bundled leather case is a thoughtful inclusion that really helps protect the Zenbook 17 Fold while traveling.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

However, where the Zenbook falters is in its software, wonky Bluetooth keyboard, and of course, that $3,500 price tag. But what’s really stopping me from loving it is the short time I’ve spent with Lenovo’s 2022 ThinkPad X1 Fold. That’s because for Lenovo’s second-gen flexible laptop, the company came up with a brand new chassis featuring a more compact hinge, a revamped keyboard and a redesigned stand. Lenovo also retained its mil-spec durability and stylus support, neither of which you get on the Zenbook. So while the Zenbook 17 Fold is an admirable first attempt and improves on the category as a whole, it still has a few regressions that leave it feeling more like a polished take on a slightly dated design than a true rival to Lenovo’s next-gen foldable.

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