Every once in a while I receive one of these bizarre little computers that Asus has made in collaboration with someone, and my senses get a little overwhelmed. They made one with an animated exploding head on the lid. There was one that turned into a DJ deck. There was one covered in dogs.
But this latest release – the ROG Flow Z13 ACRNM – may be the craziest yet on my desk. There is no discernible theme, rhyme or reason for it. It’s pure chaos, from head to toe. What, you know what, fine. It’s 2023. Fair enough.
The Flow Z13 is the second collaboration between ROG and ACRONYM, a clothing brand that sells pieces like this $1,800 dress… I think? It’s a 13.4-inch gaming tablet with a kickstand and detachable keyboard – a gaming Surface Pro, for lack of a better description.
Priced at $2,499.99, our Core i9 13900H/RTX 4070/16GB RAM/1TB SSD/2560 x 1600 model test unit targets a fairly niche audience — on-the-go gamers with deep pockets and a deeper desire to play a sharp chaotic stylish. Most people shouldn’t spend that much. If you are looking for the convertible tablet, you can get one Surface Pro 9 for $500 less. If you’re looking for gaming power and portability, this is a very similar one Zephyrus G14 is even cheaper. But the Z13 serves its specific, specific niche about as well as a laptop can.
Here are some phrases Asus uses in its press materials to sum up the aesthetic it’s going for here:
- “Redefining Mobile Computing”
- “Beautifully refined yet raw”
- “Really unique device”
- “A hands-free dream machine”
- “A functional but striking work of art”
It’s avant-garde, that’s for sure. Every time I look at this thing, I see something different. The underside is covered in logos and typography (and it’s not just stickers; they’re laser etched into the metal). The dark leather cover also has a funky-looking shape. Can’t say I really know what they are. If any of you regularly use ayahuasca and expect to be aware of its deeper spiritual meaning, feel free to let me know in the comments.
The back is studded with rubber pads, which look a little weird, but also hold the device securely in place if you try to place it on a table. The corners have “drop-resistant crash-resistant bumpers.” There’s also a strap you can attach to the corners to sling the thing over your shoulder like a suitcase. Let’s just say I’m really glad this didn’t pan out when I was in college, because I would have absolutely strolled around campus with this dangling like a fanny pack around my stomach. The cool kids would have bullied me, and rightfully so.
Eclectic design aside, this is a 13-inch tablet with an RTX 4070 and an H-Series Core i9 inside. That’s highly unusual – those are the types of chips you’d generally expect to see in much larger gaming rigs. The keyboard is detachable; the default is not. This stand allows for both vertical and horizontal orientations, a feature Asus has long believed people need. I don’t need a 16:10 Windows tablet in vertical orientation, but more power to you if you do.
A Surface Pro-type deal for gaming
Now the Z13 isn’t particularly portable as tablets. At 2.91 pounds and 0.61 inches thick, it’s hardly an iPad, and it’s not the kind of thing I’d necessarily want to bring out for an hour-long presentation. But if I had to choose between carrying this thing in my backpack or, say, carrying a Titan GT77, I’d choose this one any day. I used this for some banking and cafe work and was able to place it on those busy work surfaces with no problem.
Another thing to mention: the display. This model has a refresh rate of 165 Hz and a resolution of 2560 x 1600. It is quite vibrant. There were a number of different color modes available for different types of games, and I found that they improved the viewing experience. The 13.4-inch screen is a bit small for playing most games, and I had to peer through some windows here and there, but at least the QHD resolution delivers crisp detail.
So those are the bells and whistles. Here’s what it’s like to use the thing.
The Z13, well, you know. It is a 13 inch tablet. So with that in mind, the frame rates were fine.
In particular, it had no problem running demanding titles at native QHD resolution. I saw an average of 232 fps on it CS:GO and 55 fps on Red Dead Redemption 2, with both titles at maximum settings. Those are both better results than we saw from last year’s Zephyrus G14 (which was a fully-fledged traditional gaming laptop, not one of these tablet things). They’re not stunningly good to the point where they blow other premium gaming laptops out of the water, and Asus clearly has the (it only gets 65W of power – yes, it can go that low) RTX 4070 to squeeze it into this chassis. It’s a bit like packing an entire college room into the trunk of a sedan. Of course you did, but at what cost?
But I digress. Throughout, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the device kept the temperature down. I haven’t seen many spikes above 70 degrees Celsius while playing. Also, the nice thing about this form factor is that no matter how hot the chassis gets, it generally won’t transfer to the keyboard or palm rests and affect your gaming experience.
For an additional fee, people can also connect the device to the XG Mobile, a range of external GPUs that should deliver significantly higher frame rates. You can currently get one for about $1,000.
Oh, and the Z13 supports Nvidia’s Advanced Optimus. This essentially controls your MUX switch for you automatically – it turns off the integrated GPU when you’re gaming and turns it back on (and turns off the discrete GPU) when you’re done gaming, eliminating the need to do any digging settings of your laptop to do that manually. Nice! Pleasure! Please see it.
If you were expecting this device to have excellent battery life, bless your heart, but it has nothing like that. I averaged four and a half hours of continuous work, which involved bouncing around 20-ish Chrome tabs, streaming Spotify, Slacking, and the like. I got a better battery game result than I expected, at about 48 minutes Red Dead Redemption 2 play on one charge. The included 130W adapter can charge the device up to 50 percent in 30 minutes, according to Asus estimates.
Regular readers of my reviews might expect a diatribe here about how excellent battery life should be a basic expectation for a portable machine, but frankly I don’t have it in me. I know people aren’t buying this for excellent battery life or top-notch frame rates; they buy this because it looks like it fell from space. They should too.
I have to complain about one thing
I’ve been an open-minded non-curmudgeon throughout this review, so I hope you’ll allow me to grumble about one thing. I just can’t with the keyboard. It is too much.
The keys feature what Asus calls “Acronym’s own custom alphabet”. I’m glad to hear that Acronym has its own alphabet. Unfortunately, it’s not the alphabet I need to type with for work.
I am a very skilled typist when it comes to words. For example, if I have to type a number on the Z13, it becomes a scavenger hunt. It’s not that the real numbers aren’t on the Z13’s keys, but they’re buried in a dump of so many other symbols and colors and wacky doodads that my eyes couldn’t instinctively find them. Other things are just not delineated. For example, the key that decreases the brightness is labeled “DARK” and has a small faint grid on it. I get what you’re going for, acronym, but I just want the normal brightness icon. You can brighten up the brightness icon. Just give me the brightness icon.
It looks like it fell from space
Crazy designs are great until they start to affect a device’s day-to-day function. Kooky laptops are laptops first. The Zephyrus G14 acronym (which I was excited about when it was released) labeled the keyboard keys in a storybook-like font that made them easier, not harder, to read. It sprinkled other decorations around the keycaps, but they were clearly and distinctly delineated from the actual actual labels of the keys.
Dazzling designs are great, and this device is a unique offering that you won’t find anywhere else on the market. I admire products that are unashamedly themselves, whether it’s movies or clothing or consumer technology. But the foundations must not fall by the wayside. And I hope that as companies continue to innovate, they remember that.