Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371 Review: This tiger can’t roar

asus zenbook flip s ux371 review olympus digital camera

Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371

“The ZenBook Flip S UX371 is among the first Tiger Lake laptops, but doesn't put Intel's new processor tech to good use.”
  • Rock-solid build quality
  • Spectacular display
  • Excellent keyboard and useful NumberPad touchpad
  • Very good port selection
  • Disappointing processor performance
  • Gaming falls short of expectations
MSRP $1,500.00

Intel has released its latest architecture, Tiger Lake, promising greater performance from both the CPU and the GPU. We already took a look at an Intel Tiger Lake prototype and were impressed by the platform’s performance. Now, we’ve had time with our first complete Tiger Lake system, the Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371.

This 2-in-1 laptop retails for $1,500 and is equipped with an 11th-gen Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 4K OLED display. It looks strong on paper, but does it live up to our lofty expectations?

Performance

It’s risky being among the first companies to release a laptop based on a brand-new platform. Asus might have run afoul of that risk with the ZenBook Flip S, because its benchmark results don’t live up to Tiger Lake’s promise. I blame overly conservative tuning of the CPU. During all of my CPU testing, even under the heaviest loads, the fans barely spun up. I had to listen carefully at the bottom of the chassis to hear that they were even running. That tells me that the laptop is not working hard enough to keep the fans busy. I tried the Asus fan speed utility set to Performance mode, but that made no difference.

In Geekbench 5, the ZenBook Flip S was faster than laptops running the 10th-gen Core i7-1065G7, but not by much, and mainly in single-core mode. It scored 1,535 single-core and 4,913 in multi-core mode. Compare that to the Microsoft Surface Book 3 13 running the Core i7-1065G7 that scored 1,316 and 4,825. The Samsung Galaxy Flex with the same 1oth-gen CPU scored 1,264 and 4,583. That’s not what we expected to see from Tiger Lake.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

In our Handbrake test that converts a 420MB video to H.265, the ZenBook Flip S took one second less than four minutes, identical to the Surface Book 3 13. In the older version of the same test, the ZenBook Flip S was two seconds under four minutes, and beat the Galaxy Flex by just 16 seconds. Again, that’s not the expected performance.

I ran Cinebench 20, and the results were even worse. The ZenBook Flip S scored 482 in single-core mode and 1,254 in multi-core mode. The Surface Book 3 13 managed scores of 429 and 1,433.

The benchmark results don’t live up to Tiger Lake’s promise.

Note that the Intel Tiger Lake reference laptop we tested with a Core i7-1185G7 performed much better in all of these benchmarks — even better than the uptick in clock speeds would indicate. It scored 1,563 and 5,995 in Geekbench 5, and finished the Handbrake test in just less than three minutes. Its Cinebench 20 scores were 463 and 2092. These results (other than the single-core Cinebench score) represent more considerable differences than I would have expected between the two Tiger Lake CPUs.

I contacted Asus, and I’m confident that they’ll be running their own tests and tuning the thermal profile so that the laptop lives up to its potential. If I get better results from a firmware update, I’ll revise this review accordingly.

Gaming

It’s difficult to say whether the ZenBook Flip S lives up to its gaming potential, because we have no other laptops with exactly the same CPU and GPU combination. The closest we have is the Intel reference laptop, and so that’s what I’ll primarily compare it to here, although we need to keep the CPU differential in mind.

The ZenBook Flip S scored 3,947 in Fire Strike, while the Intel reference laptop scored 5,181. The Asus scored much better than the older Acer Swift 5 with Intel Iris Plus graphics, which turned in a result of 2,120. However, I can’t help but think there should be a bigger differential given the reference laptop’s score.

I ran Civilization VI next, where the ZenBook Flip S hit 31 frames per second (fps) at 1080p and medium graphics. That is much lower than the Intel reference laptop at 45 fps. Stepping up to ultra graphics, the Asus managed 17 fps, while the Intel reference laptop ran at 26 fps.  Again, the Asus seems to be underperforming. Note that the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 with Ryzen 4000’s integrated Radeon graphics hit 45 fps in 1080p at medium detail.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Next, I tested Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The ZenBook Flip S has a 4K display, but I limited my testing to 1080p for reasons that will become immediately apparent. In 1080p at the high graphics preset, the ZenBook Flip S managed 11 fps. While this title is clearly beyond the GPU’s capabilities, it’s disappointing that the HP Spectre x360 13 with Intel Iris Plus graphics, which averaged 12 fps, essentially tied the Tiger Lake-powered ZenBook

In Fortnite, the ZenBook Flip S managed just 13 fps in 1080p and high graphics. The Intel reference laptop hit 34 fps, and the Spectre x360 13 with Intel Iris Plus ran at 12 fps. Once again, this isn’t what I expected to see.

Those are all the gaming benchmarks I ran, given the disappointing results. As with the CPU testing, if I get a firmware upgrade that makes a difference in these results, I’ll report back.

Battery life

The ZenBook Flip S packs 67 watt-hours of battery capacity inside its thin and light frame, which is impressive for a laptop of this size. At the same time, there’s the power-hungry 4K OLED display to consider, along with a new generation of Core i7 that I haven’t yet run through our official battery tests. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Unfortunately, the ZenBook Flip S once again decided to throw us a curveball. Our most demanding Basemark web benchmark test, which is intended to show how long the laptop will last when you’re pushing the CPU and GPU, wouldn’t finish its test loop. I tried several times and was unsuccessful. Unfortunately, that means I can’t report on its longevity when running under load.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

In our web-browsing test, which provides a good idea of life in moderate day-to-day use, the ZenBook Flip S lasted just under seven hours. Given the 4K OLED display, that’s not a terrible score, although compared to the Full HD-equipped Dell XPS 13 that lasted for about 12 hours, it’s fairly weak. Note that the ZenBook Flip S did last over an hour longer than the HP Spectre x360 13, another popular laptop with an OLED display. Still, you’ll probably struggle to work an entire day without plugging in.

On our video test, which loops through a Full HD Avengers trailer, the ZenBook Flip S lasted for 12.25 hours, which is almost three hours longer than the Spectre x360 13. I would have expected this test to be the most impacted by the display, but the ZenBook Flip S did fairly well. The XPS 13 lasted for two hours longer, but that’s less of a difference than I would have expected.

Overall, the ZenBook Flip S offers good battery life for a laptop with a 4K OLED screen. If you plan to be away from the office for eight hours or more, you’ll want to carry your charger with you, but the battery lasts long enough that you won’t have to bring a charger for all but the longest meetings.

Design

The ZenBook Flip S is a good-looking laptop, with a black aluminum chassis augmented by Red Copper (Asus’s term) diamond-cut edges. The usual Asus concentric swirls adorn the lid. It all comes together to make for an elegant design that works as well in a coffeehouse as a conference room.

The laptop is ruggedly built. There’s no flexing, bending, or twisting in the lid, the keyboard deck, or the chassis bottom. The 2-in-1 hinge is just a bit too stiff to open with one hand, but it does a great job of holding the display in the right place in clamshell, tent, media, and tablet modes. It’s at least the equal of laptops like the HP Spectre x360 13 and the Dell XPS 13, which makes sense given its premium price.

The ZenBook Flip S doesn’t have the thinnest display bezels, which is a departure from other recent ZenBook models. The side bezels are thin and the top bezel is reasonable, but the bottom chin is rather large, and in turn makes the overall footprint larger than necessary. The Spectre x360 13 is roughly the same size in width, but significantly less deep. The ZenBook Flip S is thin, though, at 0.54 inches, and it’s light at 2.65 pounds. That compares to the Spectre x360 13, which is  0.67 inches and 2.88 pounds. With thinner bezels, the Asus would be more comfortable to carry around.

Connectivity is strong for such a thin and light laptop, with two exceptions. On the left-hand side, there’s a full-size HDMI 2.0 port and two USB-C with Thunderbolt 4 ports. On the right-hand side is a USB-A 3.1 port. Unfortunately, there’s no SD card reader, which is a disappointment, and Asus made the odd choice of dropping the 3.5mm audio jack and relying on an included USB-C to 3.5mm dongle instead.

Apparently, Asus customers preferred the HDMI port, and so the company decided to drop the 3.5mm jack instead — which is an unfortunate choice because now you need to give up a USB-C port just to plug in some headphones. Wireless connectivity is via the latest available, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0, and I noticed excellent performance throughout my review testing.

Display

The ZenBook Flip S is one of a growing number of laptops equipped with OLED displays, which I find to be a very good thing. The other OLED laptops we’ve tested have uniformly provided excellent display experiences, and I was looking forward to seeing if Asus chose as good a panel as other manufacturers.

In fact, as I discovered upon subjecting the display to my colorimeter, Asus chose a spectacular display that has virtually no weaknesses.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

First, it’s incredibly bright at 492 nits, more than most of the OLED panels we’ve tested. The HP Spectre x360 13’s version, for example, comes in at 405 nits, which is still very bright but not in the same ballpark. The ZenBook Flip S display’s contrast is exquisitely high as usual for OLED, at 491,630:1 (the Spectre x360 13 is at 405,210:1). Compare that to the excellent IPS display on the Dell XPS 15 that’s 1480:1 — which is high for an IPS display but nowhere near as deeply black as the Asus. These numbers exaggerate the real-world difference, but OLED’s contrast gives it an obvious advantage in movies, games, and high-resolution photos.

Color gamut is another strength of the ZenBook Flip S display, at 100% of sRGB and 99% of AdobeRGB. The XPS 15 barely beats it out with 100% of both, but few displays we’ve tested lately come so close to maxing out both color spaces. And the ZenBook Flip S is color accurate as well at 0.88 — anything under 1.0 can’t be seen by the human eye and is considered excellent. The Spectre x360 13 was less accurate at 1.29. The ZenBook Flip S display’s gamma was also spot-on at the ideal gamma curve of 2.2.

Asus chose a spectacular display that has virtually no weaknesses.

Simply put, this is a bright, high-contrast display. I love it as a writer, because of blacks that stand out boldly from white backgrounds and incredibly wide and accurate colors. This is a display that would make any creative professional happy. Whether you look at it objectively through a colorimeter or subjectively for whatever task you desire — including bingeing video, which is a real treat — this is one superior display.

Audio via the two downward-firing speakers was clear with little distortion at top volume.The speakers could get fairly loud with nice highs and mids, although bass was lacking (unsurprisingly). You’ll want to put on a pair of headphones for music and serious bingeing, but for casual YouTube and Netflix, the audio is more than good enough.

Keyboard and touchpad

The ZenBook Flip S inherits the same keyboard that Asus used in the ZenBook 14 UX425, and it’s a great choice. There’s plenty of travel, ample key spacing and size, and a light mechanism with a bottoming action that’s crisp and precise. My favorite keyboards remain the MacBook’s Magic Keyboard, and the one HP uses in the Spectre line (and the latest Envy 15), but the ZenBook Flip S comes in close behind.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The touchpad is large and wide, and it incorporates Asus’ NumberPad 2.0, which turns the touchpad into an LED-lit numeric keyboard. You toggle it on with a long press on a button in the right-hand corner and change brightness using a button in the left-hand corner. It works well, and turning the NumberPad on does not interfere with using the touchpad as a touchpad. If you enter a lot of numbers, then you’ll appreciate the feature.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The touch display is responsive, and an active pen supporting 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity will be in the box when the laptop ships. One didn’t come in my box, though, so I wasn’t able to test the pen.

Finally, Windows 10 Hello support is provided by an infrared camera and facial recognition. It was fast and accurate throughout my testing, and while I prefer a fingerprint reader, it provides an easy login option.

Our take

At $1,500, the ZenBook Flip S is solidly in premium territory. And part of what might justify that price — in addition to the exquisite OLED display — is that it’s one of the first laptops to be available with Intel’s Tiger Lake platform. Unfortunately, Asus has some work to do to leverage the new platform. The  ZenBook Flip S performed more like a last-gen laptop, and that reflects directly on how Asus tuned the laptop’s performance.

Otherwise, the ZenBook Flip S is a well-built and attractive 2-in-1 that competes well against other similarly priced and equipped laptops. It’s just such a disappointment that we didn’t see Tiger Lake at its best.

Is there a better alternative?

The primary competitor to the ZenBook Flip S is likely the HP Spectre X360 13, which is still running 10th-gen CPUs. It has an equally nice OLED display, it’s quite a bit smaller, and performs just as well. You’ll also spend a few hundred dollars less to configure a similar machine.

If you don’t need a 2-in-1, then the Dell XPS 13 is a very compelling option. It’s recently been announced as joining the Tiger Lake club, and once it does, I’m certain it will be a strong performer. It’s the best 13-inch clamshell laptop on the market, making it a viable competitor to just about any other 13-inch machine.

How long will it last?

The ZenBook Flip S is a robust laptop that feels like it will last forever. It’s well-built and configured with the latest technology, so it should last you years of productive work. As always, we’d love to see more than a one-year warranty, but Asus does throw in a year’s worth of accident protection.

Should you buy it?

No, not yet. If Asus resolves the performance issues, then suddenly, the ZenBook Flip S becomes a very compelling 2-in-1. Until then, I’d hold off.

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