ASUS Zenbook Flip S Review – Intel Tiger Lake Arrives!
Table of contents
This is the ASUS Zenbook Flip S and it’s actually one of the first thin-and-light notebooks to feature Intel’s new Tiger Lake’s CPUs with XE graphics. As you might expect given the ‘Flip’ model name it is a 2-in-1 device, so you can use it either in tablet mode or in laptop mode. Now I’m typically not a fan of 2-in-1 devices, but I’m know it has its fans, and this one does have a few tricks up its sleeve so let’s take a closer look at Zenbook Flip S.
The Evo Platform
Before I get into the details, I do want to talk about Intel’s new Evo branding, which is what the Zenbook Flip S is classified as. Remember Project Athena? It was a program designed by Intel to work closely with OEM manufacturers to design thin-and-light notebooks that can meet the demands of real-world users. That means snappy performance, extended battery life, and also being able to get the most bandwidth out of a thin-and-light form factor. It was initially introduced in 2019, and now those Project Athena guidelines are being combined with Tiger Lake’s architecture to become the Intel Evo Platform. According to Intel the Zenbook Flip S meets all the requirements like supporting quick charge, Thunderbolt 4, WiFi 6, and instant wake functionality. What does this all mean for the end-user? Let’s find out.
Specs & Price
Starting with specs, our sample comes with the Core i7-1160G7 – which is a new 4-core/8-thread processor – 16GB of RAM running at LPDDR4X-4267, a 1TB NVMe SSD, and a 13.3-inch 4K OLED display, and it costs $1,500 USD. As for availability, the Zenbook Flip S is an exclusive to Costco in mid-October, and then it’s going to be rolled out into other retailers later this month. Something I should mention is that with Tiger Lake any CPU with a 0 at the end of its model number like the i7-1160 can be configured between 5W and 15W depending on the system. Any CPU with a 5 at the end of the number like the i7-1185G7 can go from 12W to 28W. When it comes to integrated graphics, only the models ending in G7 have the full power Intel XE graphics with 96 execution units.
Build & Design
Now let’s talk about the design and build quality, and to be honest it looks quite similar to the HP Spectre X360. Everything from the copper accent colours on the edges to the interior keyboard layout and the font choice looks familiar. I personally don’t mind this, but I would have preferred to see something unique from ASUS. The top lid features this asymmetrical circle finish, which is a Zenbook staple, but I have to admit this notebook is a fingerprint magnet. It’s almost impossible to keep it clean, so definitely keep that in mind.
The hinge is pretty smooth, but it does get wobbly once you have it at a particular fixed location, especially when you have this thing in your lap or on a desk. I think this might have to do with the ergo-lift design, which basically lifts the keyboard at an optimized angle for a better typing of experience and also better airflow.
The other thing I should mention is that the rubber grommets underneath failed to keep the laptop in place. It easily moves around, which was a bit annoying especially when you are typing on and off the keyboard. The power button is located on the edge by the I/O, and it doesn’t really have a tactile feel to it. Every time I tried turning it on I would expect it turn on but it wouldn’t because I had to push the button a little more forcefully. I think it’s a terrible execution by ASUS, they really have to fix that because it does get annoying quickly. I should also mention that the Flip S is 13.9mm thick and it weighs about 2.65 lbs, so you can easily lugs this notebook in a backpack and carry it with you to a coffee shop or school.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The keyboard is okay, it doesn’t have that distinct tactile feel that is present with previous Zenbook devices that we have looked at. Frankly, it feels a bit mushy. Also I found the keys to be too small for my big hands, I constantly found myself making typos. I think the layout feels vertically restricted, even Mike who has small hands told me that this was uncomfortable. It’s also LED backlit with 3 settings of brightness adjustments. They do get the job done when you are in darker environments. The trackpad is fantastic, you are getting a glass surface so navigating within Windows is very smooth. The integrated primary left and right buttons have solid tactile feedback. The integrated number pad is just like the one found on the Zenbook 14 that we looked at not too long ago. If you press the integrated button long enough it enables the num pad, and there is a brightness adjustment button as well. You can still use the trackpad since the software does a good job at predicting when you are trying to use the number pad.
Webcam & Speakers
This is the webcam quality on the Zenbook 14. The video quality looks pretty good, it’s pretty nice and detailed so it should be good for our Skype or Zoom meetings and all that stuff. The microphone is not the greatest, it’s sounds a little bit tinny, but ASUS has built-in some advanced AI noise-canceling features through MyASUS app where you can go tune the settings. There are a couple of great options in ClearVoice like the Single Presenter Conference Call Setting that essentially isolates every other noise except for the person who’s sitting in front of the display. While the audio quality does have a loss of fidelity when AI noise-cancelling is enabled, it does do a fantastic job of isolating any environmental noise. You could have the loudest mechanical keyboard ever made and your listener would never heard it.
The speakers are bottom-facing and they are custom tuned by Harman Kardan. They actually sound pretty good, there is good bass response and the vocals are well detailed so for general media consumption and day-to-day casual usage this thing will get the job done just fine.
Port selection is decent for a notebook this size. On the left-hand side you get a full-sized HDMI 1.4 port and two USB Type-C Thunderbolt 4 for ports. Switching to the right there is a single USB 3.2 Gen1 port and guess what? You don’t get a headphone jack! ASUS did the same thing with the AMD-based Zenbook 14 – which I was absolutely frustrated with – and managed to do the same thing with the Flip S. I don’t know why companies are doing this. People use headphones, this is like the most crucial function that a lot of people use and not having that is idiotic. Sure, they do include a 3.5mm adapter in the box but if you lose that you are kind of out of luck. And let’s be honest, Bluetooth headphones and Windows do not go well with each other. I have had terrible experiences with Bluetooth headphones, especially with Windows notebooks. This is all really frustrating, and I really hope ASUS fixes that. The laptop clearly has room for it, it’s just that they chose not to include it.
Moving onto the display, you are getting a 13.3-inch 4K OLED panel at 60Hz. Now I know what some of you might be thinking: 4K on a 13-inch notebook is pointless. But you know what? After spending a good amount of time using this model I have to admit that it’s freaking incredible. The colours are absolutely beautiful as a covers 100% sRGB, 97% Adobe RGB, and 99% DCI-P3, so this is an excellent option for photographers who want to edit photos on the go. I should also mention that given that this is a 2-in-1 device ASUS does offer an accessory pen, but it’s not included in the box. Given that this is a $1,500 notebook they really should have included it for those who want to take their digital creativity skills to the next level. Back to the display, and this is also very bright panel, it gets as bright as 600-nits so outdoor visibility is perfectly fine.
As for upgradability, there is not a lot going on over here. The memory is soldered onto the PCB and the SSD is user upgradable. The NVMe drive’s speeds are really fast with both read and write rates of over 3Gbps, which is one of the fastest we have seen on a thin-and-light notebook. Considering that this laptop has one of the most power efficient versions of Tiger Lake and a pretty large 67Wh battery I was hoping for amazing endurance, but that didn’t really happen on our web browsing test. I mean, sure, 14 hours would have been a great result if there weren’t any Ryzen 4000U CPUs on this chart. It just seems like AMD really nailed down idle power modes with Zen 2, and Intel is still struggling to keep up. But then again, the 4K screen on the Zenbook certainly doesn’t help here either. When switching over to a load test where the CPU that is actually working on tasks like photo editing and video conversion, the results change dramatically. The 4.5 hour result is super impressive, but it’s also important to put it into context since the Zenbook is only operating at an average package power of 12W in standard mode, which gives it a pretty big advantage against laptops that are set to 25W or even 30W.
The Power Modes
I do want to talk a little bit about how ASUS has set up the different power modes on the Zenbook Flip S as their priority is to essentially run this thing at the lowest operating noise, as well as manage chassis temperatures, but there is still some flexibility when it comes to overall performance. Essentially there is a network of sensors underneath the laptop skin that identifies surface temperatures, and then it adjusts different fan profiles and limits CPU package power so that your lap doesn’t get too toasty. What that means is Whisper Mode is limited to 22 dBA with the CPU running at just 8W, while the Standard Mode allows for a bit more noise and limits power to 12W. Finally, Performance Mode pushes things a bit further with a 13W package power, which is still pretty low since the fans should stick to just 40 dBA.
So what does this all mean for overall performance? Let’s take a look at an extreme example of an Autodesk Maya render to see what happens under full core load. Well it turns out that the clock speeds between the Standard and Performance modes are pretty similar with the i7-1160G7, starting out around 3GHz. Performance hangs on to 3GHz for a few seconds longer before throttling back, while standard sees a gradual decrease but both end up hitting a pretty constant rate of around 1.9GHz. Standard Mode does end up being a lot more consistent. Whisper Mode though, well you’re going to see frequencies all over the place from just 900MHz all the way up to quick bursts of around 2.2GHz.
The interesting thing here is at temperatures between all three modes were pretty similar other than the fact that Performance and Standard allowed the CPU to operate around 93°C for just over a minute. After that things settled down to the mid-70°C and Whisper Mode was even hitting under 60°C in many cases. Remember a lot of this is focused on surface temperatures, but that also means the CPU has to run cooler as well. Finally, there is power and it looks like the Performance Mode has a PL2 of around 27W for a short burst of time before it settles down to 13W. Standard Mode has a more gradual curve and eventually hits an average of 12W. Whisper Mode ends up being super power efficient, but each of the increases in frequency and temperature we saw in the last charts is reflected by a spike in power use. Something else I need to mention is the super high initial power spike in Standard and Performance Modes. It only impacts clock speeds for a fraction of a second, and I have actually never seen a laptop CPU do this. It’s almost like Intel’s algorithm wants to do one thing while the ASUS BIOS just says “Nope, behave yourself and listen to me” before cutting things back.
Difference Between Power Modes
As for actual performance, the difference between ASUS’ performance modes can’t really be seen in more single-core focused apps like Word, meanwhile in long multi-core workloads the Standard and Performance modes are pretty close, while Whisper Mode trails by a massive amount. So what does this all mean? Well we did run our tests in the highest performance setting, but personally I would settle for the lowest noise profile from the Standard Mode because there is very little way in terms of usability. On the other hand, I would enable Whisper Mode if I took this thing to a coffee shop or if I was using it on a plane.
Temperatures & Noise
The surface temperature claims are pretty evident since the keyboard area keeps cool and even most of the as well. There is a small hotspot right in the middle, but even if it’s on your lap that won’t be too much of an issue due to its location. In terms of acoustic performance, in the Performance Mode the Zenbook Flip S is super quiet, even when working away on a full-core workload.
Moving on to performance, let’s start with the obvious. A low-power 8-thread Tiger Lake CPU isn’t going to compete against a 16-core 30W Ryzen monster or even a 25W native 8-core Ryzen 4700U. However, what is really interesting is the i7-1160G7 is able to convincingly beat the 25W i7-1065G7 in multi-threaded workloads. It seems like the switch to this new architecture is a step in the right direction for Intel, and that’s a pretty big deal. Moving on from purely multi-threaded applications to more real-world uses for a thin-and-light laptop, and we see where Tiger Lake really shines. If you are going to be using your ultraportable device for super intense content creation, then something sporting a Ryzen 4000U is the way to go. But with more general tasks the Zenbook Flip S is actually pretty impressive. The same goes for Adobe Premiere where QuickSync video is able to take over while AMD is still having driver hiccups with their hardware accelerated encode and decode algorithms.
Gaming is a bit tough for the i7-1160G7, even though it comes with Intel’s super impressive new XE graphics core and 96 EUs. This is because its limited amount of power now has to be shared between the CPU and the integrated graphics, and the result isn’t all that great. It can sort of beat the Iris Pro in the Dell XPS 13, but it is taken to the cleaners by the super old AMD Vega architecture. I would really love to see how this stacks up to the 4500U configured to 15W, but we still haven’t been able to get our hands on one of those.
I think it’s time to wrap up my thoughts on the Zenbook Flip S. The first thing is the design, and like I mentioned earlier it looks exactly like the HP Spectre X360. I really wish that they did something different and unique with this laptop. The second thing I do want to talk about that 2-in-1 functionality. I personally don’t see myself using this in laptop mode and tablet mode at the same time, but if you find yourself doing that this is probably a great option because that 4K OLED display is absolutely fantastic. It’s bright, it’s colour accurate, and if you watch a lot of movies or if you edit photos this going to be an amazing experience. I wasn’t particularly fond of the keyboard layout because I was making a lot more typos compared to other laptops, so that is something that you should probably try out for yourself and see if you like it. Also the location and feeling the power button is an issue, it’s really not tactile and I don’t like that implementation. I do have to mention that the AI noise canceling functionality with the webcam and the microphone is fantastic. It works amazing, and I hope other notebook manufacturers implement that on their laptops because we are living in a day and age where we are working and learning from home so having this functionality is definitely a bonus.
The lack of a headphone jack is a huge deal breaker for me personally. I don’t know what you think about it, but I don’t know why ASUS did it. They should definitely bring it back because it’s a crucial element that I personally use a lot. The performance of the Tiger Lake chip inside the Flip S is okay, however is definitely not going to blow your minds compared to what the AMD Ryzen 4000U series processors can do. Honestly, let me know what you think about the Zenbook Flip S. Is it something that excites you? Are you impressed with Tiger Lake’s performance or are you reserving judgment until we can test a higher wattage version? We are going to try to do that shortly.