There was a brief moment when it seemed like the most exciting laptop developments — folding screens and multiple displays — were hitting an insurmountable roadblock. Sure, various PC vendors showed off their versions of these devices, but that was before Microsoft cancelled Windows 10X and component shortages strangled the tech industry on a global scale.
Shortly before the chaos ensued, Lenovo released the ThinkPad X1 Fold, but given that it was an offensively expensive business laptop with poor performance and middling battery life, it’s hard to say whether it did more good than harm in convincing people that foldable PCs are the future. I’m not saying I’m a believer, but I’m glad we get to find out.
And with that, Asus announced at CES 2022 today the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED, a foldable tablet the likes we haven’t seen before. I say this because, unlike the X1 Fold, this Zenbook has a massive display, a mainstream processor, and the latest connectivity standards. Before I dig into those details, let me spare you the suspense: Asus isn’t sharing pricing details but it does promise a Q2 release. And no, we don’t have any battery life estimates, either.
Asus calls it a laptop but the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED is best described as a convertible tablet that can fold in half to turn into something similar to a Moleskin notebook. Spread open the Zenbook and you’ll look down at a continuous 17.3-inch, 2.5K (2560 x 1920) OLED touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a 2-millisecond response time.
When unfolded, the Zenbook 17 Fold measures 14.9 x 11.3 x 0.46 inches but folds to become a 12.5-inch device with measurements of 11.3 x 7.45 x 1.25 inches. So yes, it’s thick in notebook mode, but then, the overall footprint is drastically reduced. And since it weighs just 3.75 pounds (or 2 kg with the keyboard), you shouldn’t have any problems carrying it around. That said, holding this 17-inch tablet in your hand to watch YouTube or stream a movie might require stretching beforehand and an ice bath afterward.
Where the X1 Fold’s screen was too small to bend in half and use as two separate displays, the Zenbook 17’s massive panel folds in the middle to create two 12.5-inch, 1920 x 1280 displays. This essentially puts the tablet into clamshell laptop mode, but the deck is replaced with a screen. You could use the on-screen keyboard, but since that’s a terrible experience 100% of the time, Asus is bundling in a Bluetooth keyboard with a touchpad and a respectable 1.4mm of key travel.
With the display bent at a 90-degree angle, you can either view one window that waterfalls down to the bottom half or split multiple windows into quadrants. To make that process easier, Asus created a software feature called ScreenXpert 2 and added a Mode Switcher app that dynamically responds to the orientation of the panel.
Getting back to the hardware, the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED runs on an unspecified Intel Core i7 U-series chip. Intel spent CES 2022 talking about the high-power 12th-gen H-series processors, so we don’t know much about the low-power engines powering this tablet except that they’ll be available in 15W and 9W versions.
They should, given those power requirements, help the Zenbook 17 Fold last for more than a few hours on a charge. How long exactly? We don’t know and Asus won’t say, so we’ll need to run our own tests to find out. The X1 Fold lasted for only 7.5 hours and it had a much smaller 13.3-inch panel. If you can’t sense my concern: I’m worried.
We also need to talk about durability thanks to Samsung and its smartphone embarrassment. Asus didn’t go into nearly as much depth to convince us that the Zenbook 17 OLED’s “precision-engineered” hinge can withstand years of opening and closing, but we’ll do our best to test its strength once we get one of these in for review sometime in the first half of this year. We’ll also put a magnifying glass to the centre crease, though those vivid OLED pixels should distract us.
I don’t know if the Zenbook 17 OLED, or any other foldable tablet (assuming more arrive), will convince me that they’re the “next big thing’ in mobile computing, but regardless, I’m eager to give this thing a try, if only to hold a massive OLED panel in the palm of my hands.