While tablets fill the role of all-screen computing devices, laptops continue to cling to their physical keyboards in one form or another. The Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED, however, begs the question: what if your laptop was just a big foldable screen? Personal computers are interested in moving in this direction, but few have dared to tackle it directly.
The Zenbook 17 Fold OLED can be folded with the screen split and a physical keyboard added, or it can be designed to look like a 17-inch monitor with the keyboard in front of it. There are several different configurations it can be used in, including, if you really want, as a huge tablet to hold in your hands. Even though Asus is protecting itself a bit by including a detachable keyboard with the device, the overall product is still just a forward-looking concept.
Microsoft has its Surface Duo, which is a much smaller dual-screen device. Apple tried a screen called Touch Bar as a row of function keys on its keyboard, but it abandoned that idea. Of course, Samsung also offers its Fold line of foldable phones. Asus’ Zenbook 17 Fold OLED goes to extremes and isn’t a laptop beholden to the present. So what’s it like to use it, and will more companies build large foldable displays that people use as laptops?
Coming soon to Asus.
Features of the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold
The Asus Zenbook 17 Fold is defined by its screen. The 17-inch OLED is gorgeous in person and was a joy for everyday computing tasks. The glossy screen exudes color and sharpness, even in its 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 practice is not 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 in the laptop position, with only a virtual keyboard. If companies could replace physical keyboards with touchscreens, these laptop-like devices could become thinner and smaller or use the space for other things like bigger batteries. The problem is that virtual keyboards aren’t far better than physical keyboards for extended typing these days. Where are the haptics and other sci-fi features for screen input?
In the case of the Zenbook 17 Fold, it relies on Windows’ built-in virtual keyboard for text input when the occasion arises. As soon as you leave a text field, the keyboard disappears. It was good, but not great. It was frustrating not having a way to bring up the on-screen keyboard at all times. Asus includes ScreenXpert for configuring windows on the screen (and rearranging them), which is useful, but I would have liked a shortcut to show the keyboard without needing to find an input field to press.
I really liked the hardware keyboard of this device. It magnetically aligned itself to cover the bottom of the screen, then automatically turned on and adjusted the screen display to recognize it. The physical keyboard was well-sized and sufficiently clickable, but I didn’t want its use to be mandatory. I wanted the futuristic experience of touchscreen typing so that most of the time I could have extra space for content.
There must be a dedicated keyboard app, probably from Asus, on this device that can be swiped across the screen in any orientation. Hopefully this part of the experience will get more attention in the future.
Is 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 execution. It has a lot of growing pains, but in the abstract I found it to be a compelling type of device. It can be a home office machine when unfolded, lying on a table. It also worked just as well when it had its hardware keyboard attached in its laptop setup.
In all honesty, I thought I was going to hate using a laptop like this. As unbelievable as it looks in the promotional photos, it seemed too good to be true. Surprisingly, the hype isn’t the only thing sold here. There’s a lot of substance to hold on to.
I liked the full 17-inch screen spread out for browsing the web and watching videos. In this position, it was like a computer on which I could do any type of work. The machine, positioned like a laptop, was heavy and thick, but it didn’t seem unreasonable to use it outside the home.
Most of the Zenbook Fold 17 OLED flaws I encountered or things I wanted to improve were the result of software. To really take advantage of an all-screen laptop, the software experience must be finely tuned to the hardware. As it stands, Windows does an adequate job with minor customization from a manufacturer, but there were many edge cases regarding app sizing and usability that got annoying as I used it.
Part of that is that there’s not really any innovation around using a virtual keyboard, which I think is the next step for any device like this. Maybe if more manufacturers create these types of devices, Microsoft will implement software specifically for foldable displays. Google is moving in this direction with Android. For now, I think the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED is an intriguing look into the future of computing, perhaps within the next five years.
Coming soon to Asus.
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