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Asus ROG Flow Z13 Review: Spare the Expense

Asus' gaming tablet-slash-laptop promises a lot.

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Lori Grunin/CNET

In a lot of ways, the Asus ROG Flow Z13 is a terrific idea. The company's tablet-plus-detachable-keyboard gaming laptop comes to the product line launched with the Flow X13 convertible last year and its external GPU dock accessory, the XG Mobile. Detachables in the style of the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 make more sense to me than convertibles, which tend to be bulkier, cumbersome to switch positions and less lap-friendly for tablet use. With a discrete GPU and support for the XG Mobile, the Z13 seems like a great alternative.

And I do like it, from the just-gaming-enough aesthetic to the multiangle kickstand, comfortable keyboard and good CPU performance when connected to power. It's got an HDMI port, too, which is rare these days.

8.0

Asus ROG Flow Z13

Like

  • Nice design including kickstand and color-illuminated window into the guts
  • HDMI port
  • 4K rear camera

Don't Like

  • Keyboard backing material is a dust magnet
  • Thick and heavy
  • Expensive, especially with the external GPU
  • Can get hot
  • Meh webcam and audio

The Z13 comes in a couple of fixed configurations, some harder to find than others. We tested the $1,900 model with an Intel Core i9-12900H, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti and 1,920 x 1,200 display; our evaluation unit came with the XG Mobile external GPU (with an RTX 3080), but I could only find the eGPU bundled with the $3,300 model equipped with a 4K display. There's also a $1,700 model incorporating a Core i7-12700H and RTX 3050 and theoretically an i5-12500H model with only integrated graphics, both of which have the 1200p screen.

Asus ROG Flow Z13 (GZ301ZE)

Price as reviewed $1,900
Display 13.4-inch 1,920x1,200-pixel IPS touchscreen display 120Hz
CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i9-12900H
Memory 16GB LPDDR5 5,200MHz (8GB soldered)
Graphics 4GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
Storage 1TB SSD
Ports 2 x USB-C (1 x Thunderbolt, 2 x PD and DP 1.4), 1 x USB-A 2.0, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x audio combo
Networking Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX211 , Bluetooth 5.2
Operating system Microsoft Windows 11 Home 21H2
Weight 2.6 lbs/1.1kg, 3.2 lbs/1.5 kg (with keyboard)

You don't need to buy the XG Mobile bundled with the laptop, though Asus lists the RTX 3080 version for a whopping $1,500 -- it's not available anywhere, anyway, though it's a year old -- and the AMD RX 6850M announced at CES 2022 has yet to ship. If you're curious about it, we tested it in conjunction with the ROG Flow X13 convertible at the time. It hasn't changed.

Fast. Sometimes.

For gaming, it's nice but not world-changing compared to a typical clamshell or convertible with similar components. The i9 should deliver great simulation performance, since those tend to be CPU dependent, but at least on Riftbreaker's CPU test it was a disappointing 45fps in hybrid mode. Since it does quite well on traditional CPU benchmarks, like Geekbench and Cinebench, as well as Procyon's Lightroom/Photoshop photo-editing test, it's almost as if the system automatically throttles back the CPU in favor of the GPU when it detects a game, though bumping it to Turbo didn't make a difference. Unsurprisingly, Turbo turns the fans to max and creates a mighty wind noise.

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The kickstand is sturdy and can be set to any angle.

Lori Grunin/CNET

The RTX 3050 Ti hits the mark for base 1080p gaming that's GPU dependent, such as 83fps on Guardians of the Galaxy. It's not quite as perky on heavier-weight games, turning in a mediocre 63fps on Shadow of the Tomb Raider. For those, you're probably expected to use DLSS to boost performance by upscaling from a lower resolution. Forcing it to use the discrete GPU and cranking it up to Turbo can add a tiny bit of speed, though: Riftbreaker gained about 6fps on average, a hair under a 5% increase.

Off power, CPU performance drops a lot (about 43% on Geekbench multicore, for example), similarly to the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, in keeping with Asus' aggressive power and noise management. But it doesn't gain as much in battery life.

Ultimately, it's hard to pin down why I didn't like the Asus ROG Flow Z13 more, despite the various nits I've found to pick. And I'm not talking about value for the money -- $1,700 for the current entry-level Core i7 model is expensive compared to traditional competitors like Asus' own X13, but still pretty realistic for what it is. I'm talking about my first-pass internal review criteron, which is "would I use it if I got it for free?"    

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There's a window on the motherboard in the back, with programmable color illumination.

Lori Grunin/CNET

And the answer is "probably not."  That's partly because it doesn't work for me as a tablet. It's thick, and at 2.6 lbs/1.1kg without the keyboard it's pretty heavy for one that's only 13-inch class. It runs hot, lacks the battery life of a tablet (at about 6.5 hours at best), and cuts back performance significantly while off power. It does get silent, though.

I tested the model with the 120Hz 1,920 x 1,200-resolution screen (the same display as on the X13) and while it was okay working with a compatible MPP 2.0 stylus, in this case the Microsoft Surface Slim Pen 2, I got too distracted by the visible pixel grid of the low-ish resolution screen. The speakers never project toward you so the sound is a bit muffled and it has a subpar 720p webcam.

In order to use the components it has, especially the i9 and to a lesser extent the RTX 3050 Ti, thick and heavy are unavoidable to  accommodate the cooling. But then one of the the tradeoffs it makes versus a convertible -- notably, it's difficult to type on it while it's perched on your lap -- isn't worth it so much. Plus cloud gaming is a viable option if you're really looking for tablet-friendly performance.

Once you factor in the cost, especially if you want to boost gaming performance with the pricey XG Mobile, I don't know who it's optimally suited for, despite its various attractions.

Geekbench 5 (multicore)

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022, on battery)
4,826
Asus ROG Flow Z13 (on battery)
6,538
Razer Blade 14 (2021)
7,277
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022)
10,022
Asus ROG Flow Z13
11,620

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 CPU (multicore)

Asus ROG Flow Z13
11,028
Razer Blade 14 (2021)
11,554
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022)
13,013

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 CPU (single core)

Razer Blade 14 (2021)
1,442
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022)
1,573
Asus ROG Flow Z13
1,901

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test (minutes)

Asus ROG Flow Z13
381
Razer Blade 14 (2021)
480
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022)
566

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Shadow of the Tomb Raider gaming test (1080p)

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
44
Asus ROG Flow Z13
63
Razer Blade 14 (2021)
88
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022)
92

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

3DMark Time Spy

Asus ROG Flow Z13
4,625
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
4,668
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022)
7,249
Razer Blade 14 (2021)
9,502

Note:

NOTE: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Asus ROG Flow Z13
2,676
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
2,818
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022)
5,372
Razer Blade 14 (2021)
6,501

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Configurations

Asus ROG Flow Z13 Microsoft Windows 11 Home (21H2); 2.5GHz Intel Core i9-12900H; 16GB LPDDR5 SDRAM 4,850MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti; 1TB SSD
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 GA402RK (2022) Microsoft Windows 11 Pro (21H2); 4.7GHz AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS; 32GB DDR5 SDRAM 4,800MHz; 8GB AMD Radeon RX 6800S; 1TB NVMe SSD
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Microsoft Windows 11 Home (21H2); 3.3GHz Intel Core i7-11370H; 21GB LPDDR4 SDRAM; 4GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050Ti; 1TB SSD
Razer Blade 14 (2021) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (21H1); 3.3GHz AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080; 1TB SSD