Unless you're a hardcore technology nerd who craves the latest cutting-edge innovations and has money to spare, don't go buying first-generation products. This isn’t to say that first-generation products are bad. Far from it. It’s just that the refinement in the next iteration almost always makes that the better purchase.
Take Google’s Pixel 6 Pro vs Pixel 7 Pro, and you’ll know exactly what I'm talking about. The former was when Google introduced their in-house Tensor chip. The performance leap in the latter (thanks to the upgraded chip) and the subtle design changes are why it is the better product.
But why are we talking about this today? Because I’m here to talk about Asus’ foldable laptop, a new category for the company. It’s a first-generation product of a relatively new category that might end up being truly revolutionary, although Asus is not the only company with a product in it: competitor Lenovo has also added the word “Fold” to their folding laptop. The category doesn’t have a name yet, but some have called it a wordy “large Windows folding tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard”. You could also call it a “laptop with a flexible display”. It’s early days for this product category, so it’s safe to say we’re far from agreeing upon any naming conventions.
Are folding displays the future of laptops?
Asus’ game-changing and industry-leading foldable laptop may not be the first to the market, but it’s a grand attempt at showcasing the future, and I’m here for it. Over the past two weeks, I’ve fallen in love with this not-so-perfect and very expensive laptop.
The Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED retails for ₹329,990 (it comes bundled with a Bluetooth keyboard and a carrying case) and is priced outside most people’s budgets. I’ll take you through the many reasons I love this laptop (and one big reason why I felt frustrated).
The ZenBook 17 Fold comes with Intel’s latest 12th-gen Core i8-1250U processor along with the Iris Xe integrated GPU (which means you shouldn’t try and play any high-end games on this laptop). The laptop comes with 16GB of DDR5 RAM and a 1TB SSD. There’s Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.0 for connectivity. Asus is offering the ZenBook 17 Fold in just a single configuration.
To unfold and then fold
I was left a bit in shock when I first unboxed the ZenBook 17 Fold. Unfolding the stunning 17.3” 4:3 canvas was an absolute delight. At just 8.7mm thin and 1.5kg in weight, I marvelled at how Asus has nailed one of the key aspects - display - for a foldable in its first attempt. I’ve been in love with OLED displays for quite some time now, and the one Asus outfitted on the ZenBook 17 Fold was nothing short of brilliant. OLEDs triumph over traditional LCDs as they are more efficient, offer much wider viewing angles, can get much brighter and produce a nearly perfect black.
The giant screen is a unique experience, and none of the YouTube videos of this foldable will do justice. Asus is leading the brigade for OLED displays (their entire 2022 line-up comes with OLEDs) on laptops, and the ZenBook 17 Fold doesn’t disappoint. Having an OLED is much more desirable, as I have preached above, and the ZenBook 17 Fold’s OLED display is a treat to the eyes.
The hinge has been tested for 30,000 cycles. I went on a mad folding binge (must have been at least a hundred times) the first day I got the laptop, and I have almost no issues to report. It’s a smooth experience through and through. The laptop has great colour accuracy (for professional-grade viewing), 500 nits of brightness, a 1000000:1 contrast ratio, a snappy 0.2 ms response time, and good viewing angles.
The laptop can be used in four different modes
Laptop mode: There’s the traditional laptop mode wherein you get a 12.5-inch screen (3:2 aspect ratio) and a Bluetooth keyboard that has a magnetic lock and fills up the lower half of the screen.
Extended mode: Simply remove the keyboard while leaving the screen partially folded. That gives you what Asus calls extended mode. You get two 12.5” screens.
Tablet/reader mode: Put the keyboard aside, and the giant 17.3” (4:3 aspect ratio) display can be used! You can use this as a folded e-book or as a tablet.
Desktop mode: Thanks to the sturdy kickstand on the back of the display, one can completely unfold the display and use it as an all-in-one, along with the Bluetooth keyboard.
All this is possible thanks to Asus’ proprietary foldable hinge design. With the FIFA World Cup currently taking place, the primary television in the house has been predominantly occupied with the action in Qatar. Therefore, other sports are relegated to the other devices in the house. Thanks to the foldable laptop I have with me, these other sports get a large canvas, and I can have a comfortable viewing experience.
What’s even more impressive is that the crease is barely visible. Unless you’re actively trying to find it, you don’t even realise it is there. Furthermore, the device is sturdy, with a premium finish and is well-built.
A remarkable but not perfect laptop
All that I’ve said above may lead you to believe that the laptop isn’t without any flaws. You’d be surprised as to just what Asus got wrong at the very basic level. The Bluetooth keyboard is below-par for 2022. I have used many Bluetooth keyboards, and the one bundled with the ZenBook17 Fold leaves a lot to be desired. Turn on the laptop, pair the keyboard, and start typing. Is it that easy? Quite the opposite. Each time I turned on the ZenBook 17 Fold OLED (either from sleep mode or after being completely shut off), I had problems pairing the Bluetooth keyboard. It’s very slow to pair, and not as instant as Asus would like you to believe. Either I had to press the Bluetooth button on the keyboard or go into settings and tap the name to get it to pair.
One day, while I was typing away for a lengthy period, I went into the settings and checked the battery life of the Bluetooth keyboard. It read 0%, but somehow was still working. About thirty minutes later, as I was nearly done with another article, the keyboard was still chugging along. It seems that even the battery percentage is off.
While the Bluetooth keyboard seemingly works on ‘low battery’, the laptop seems to stutter when it's nearly about to run out of juice. It seems to stutter and randomly throw the laptop off when below the 15 percent threshold. I’ve noticed this while watching videos or browsing multiple Google Chrome tabs.
Is it worth the exorbitant price tag?
This review isn’t meant to justify the laptop’s price tag. It’s admittedly outrageously expensive, and we all know that is the case for most first-generation products. This laptop is giving us a glimpse into the future and heralding the entry of a new product category. This kind of laptop, in its first generation, is for two types of people. First, for those who like to own all the cutting-edge technology, and have the money to spare for it. Two, for those who need a larger canvas for when they’re travelling.
There’s a bright future ahead for foldable products (as Samsung will tell you with the sales of the Galaxy Fold 4 and Galaxy Flip 4 smartphones) as everyone wants to do more within their limited space constraints. Cutting-edge innovation always comes at a cost. As technology progresses and production ramps up, costs come down. The consumers are the first ones to reap those benefits. So, within a few years, if laptops with flexible displays pick up as a category, one can expect prices to drastically reduce. Also, the second iteration of a “grand” product, is almost always better than the first. In all likelihood, the second generation of this product will come with slimmer bezels, be thinner and lighter, and launch at a cheaper price point.
I personally cannot wait for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to roll around in January of 2023 and then for IFA Berlin (another trade show) a few months later for companies to showcase their next round of folding laptops. I’m all in for fodables, but one needs to be patient as the products get better and become more affordable.