While tablets are fulfilling the role of all-screen computing devices, laptops continue to cling to their physical keyboards in some form. But the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED begs the question: what if your laptop was simply a large folding display? Personal computers are interested in going in this direction, but few have dared to jump straight there.
The Zenbook 17 Fold OLED can be bent, splitting the display and adding a physical keyboard, or it can look like a 17-inch monitor with the keyboard in front. There are several configurations in which it can be used, including, if you really want it, as a giant tablet that you can hold in your hands. Even if Asus protects a little and includes a detachable keyboard with the device, the overall product remains simply a forward-looking concept.
Microsoft has their Surface Duo, a much smaller device with two screens. Apple tried using a display called the Touch Bar as its keyboard’s row of function keys, but abandoned the idea. Of course, Samsung also has its Fold line of foldable phones. Taking things to the extreme, the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED isn’t a laptop beholden to the present. So what’s it like using it, and will more companies build big foldable screens that people use as laptops?
Coming soon from Asus.
Asus Zenbook 17 Fold features
The Asus Zenbook 17 Fold is defined by its screen. The 17-inch OLED looks beautiful in person and was a delight for everyday computing tasks. The glossy display exudes color and sharpness, even in various folded positions.
This particular computer uses the 12th generation Intel Core i7 processor with Intel’s Iris Xe graphics. It supports Thunderbolt 4, as well as Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision and Windows Hello to unlock the computer with your face. But this hands-on isn’t about evaluating specs or performance. It’s about understanding how the unique product works in typical situations. Will consumers be attracted to this type of machine or is it a gimmick?
The pros and cons of a virtual laptop keyboard
The most interesting position for the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold is the laptop position, with just a virtual keyboard. If companies could replace physical keyboards with touchscreen keyboards, these laptop-like devices could get thinner and smaller, or use the space for other things like bigger batteries. The problem is that virtual keyboards are nowhere near better than physical ones for prolonged typing right now. Where are the haptics and other sci-fi features for on-screen input?
In the case of the Zenbook 17 Fold, it relies on Windows’ built-in virtual keyboard for text input when the opportunity arises. As soon as you leave a text field, the keyboard disappears. That was ok but not great. It was frustrating not having a way to pull up the on-screen keyboard at any time. Asus includes ScreenXpert to configure screen windows (and rearrange them), which is helpful, but I would have loved a shortcut to bring up the keyboard without having to find an input field to type on.
I really liked the hardware keyboard for this device. It magnetically aligned to cover the bottom part of the screen, then automatically turned on and adjusted the screen display to recognize it. The physical keyboard was a nice size and sufficiently clickable, but I didn’t want it to be mandatory. I wanted the futuristic experience of typing on the touchscreen so I have extra real estate for content most of the time.
There must be a dedicated keyboard app on this device, probably from Asus, that can be dragged onto the screen in any orientation. Hopefully this part of the experience will get more attention in the future.
Is the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold the future of laptops?
After spending some time with the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED, I was pleasantly surprised by its overall performance. It has a lot of growing pains, but abstractly I found it a compelling type of device. It can be a desktop-class device at home when unfolded on a table. It also worked just as well when his hardware keyboard was plugged in in his laptop configuration.
Honestly I thought I would hate using a laptop like this. As amazing as it looked in promotional photos, it seemed too good to be true. Surprisingly, it’s not just the hype that’s being sold here. There’s a lot of substance to hold on to.
I liked the full 17 inch display spread out for web surfing and watching videos. In this position it felt like a computer that I could do any kind of work on. Positioned as a laptop, the device was heavy and thick, but it didn’t feel inappropriate to use outside the home.
Many of the Zenbook Fold 17 OLED shortcomings that I encountered or things that I would have liked were a result of the software. To really pull off an all-screen laptop, the software experience has to be fine-tuned to the hardware. As it is, Windows does a decent job with minor tweaks by a manufacturer, but there were many edge cases in terms of app size and usability that got annoying the longer I used it.
Part of that is there’s no real innovation in using a virtual keyboard, which I think is the next step for any device like this. As more manufacturers make these types of devices, Microsoft may implement software specifically for foldable displays. Google is moving in that direction with Android. For now, I think the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED is a fascinating glimpse into the future of computing, possibly within the next five years.
Coming soon from Asus.
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