Finding the balance between power and portability is something PC makers are constantly struggling with, especially when it comes to gaming laptops. After all, high-quality parts generate heat and consume a lot of power – all of which conflict with portability and battery life.
However, ASUS has done the seemingly impossible. ROG Flow Z13 packs one of the most powerful mobile chips in the Intel 12th Gen Core i9 12900H and Nvidia’s RTX 3050Ti graphics into a 13-inch Windows tablet that’s not much bigger than a Surface Pro 8.
The Z13 has a built-in multi-angle kickstand, as well as a detachable keyboard and pen that come in the box. The Z13 even supports ASUS’ external GPU dock accessory with a mobile RTX 3080 that, when connected to the Z13, rivals the performance of larger gaming laptops.
So did the Z13 crack the portable game code?
Measuring 302 x 204 x 12mm and weighing 1.18kg (1.53kg with the keyboard cover), the Z13 is just a little heavier and thicker than the Surface Pro 8 and a lot lighter than most gaming -laptops.
It also looks and feels premium with an aluminum frame tastefully styled with cutouts and etchings. By far the slickest design touch is the transparent window on the back that shows part of the motherboard and is lit by RGB lighting.
While the Z13 is a bit too heavy to hold as a tablet, the built-in sturdy kickstand meant I could comfortably place the Z13 on my lap or set it on a table with a linked Xbox controller, making for an enjoyable way to play. took care of Computer games.
Another key selling point of this tablet format is the fact that the components are placed behind the screen, meaning the keyboard folio always feels cool and comfortable no matter what you’re using on the device. That is not the case with other gaming laptops.
Snapping onto the detachable keyboard feels just as satisfying as it does on the Surface Pro. While I would have preferred slightly larger keys and a trackpad, the keys offer a surprising amount of freedom of movement and, combined with a slightly larger 16:10 display, the Z13 doubles as a decent productivity machine.
Screen and speakers
The 13.4-inch display uses a regular IPS LCD panel with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and a refresh rate of 120 Hz. It’s not as pixel-dense as something you’d find on a premium ultraportable, but it’s sharp enough and gets bright enough at over 500 nits.
There’s also a 4K 60Hz display option, but that resolution seems excessive for a screen of this size and will likely result in shorter battery life.
The stereo speakers are average at best. They don’t get particularly loud and are seemingly devoid of any bass, while their placement on the underside of the tablet means the sound can be muted with ease. While gamers will usually play with headphones on, it’s a disappointing result given the great sound from the built-in speakers on other tablets like the Surface Pro 8 and iPad Pro.
The webcam is well below what you’ll find on Surface, but in line with what you’d expect from a gaming laptop, which adds up to some grainy video calls. The webcam doesn’t support Windows Hello to sign you in with facial recognition, but the side-mounted power button has a built-in fingerprint sensor that worked reliably in my testing.
Ports and Connectivity
The Z13 has just three USB ports (2x Type-C and 1x Type A) and a headphone jack and microSD card reader hidden under the kickstand. While that’s more ports than what you’d find on other thin-and-light tablets, it’s a little underwhelming as far as gaming laptops go.
Both USB Type-C ports are on one side, the top one is Thunderbolt 4 and the bottom one is USB 3.2 with DisplayOut support. It would have been nice to have a USB-C port on both sides to make charging easier.
Beneath the Thunderbolt 4 port is ASUS’ own PCIe port, where you can connect the powerful but very expensive XG mobile external graphics dock – more on that later. In addition to boosting the Z13’s graphics performance to mobile RTX 3080 levels, the dock offers a ton of extra ports, including 4x USB ports, as well as HDMI 2.1, DisplayPort, Ethernet, and even a full-sized SD card reader slot.
ASUS claims the Z13 has over 10 hours of battery life, but I couldn’t come close to that. When used as a productivity laptop with the display at 120Hz, the Z13 lasted less than 5 hours. Reducing the refresh rate to 60 Hz didn’t make much of a difference to the runtime.
Compared to the more than 8 hours you get with other thin and light notebooks and even gaming laptops like ASUS’ own G14, this is a disappointing result.
The Core i9 chip also doesn’t really sip power when in standby. I let the Z13 sleep on a 55 percent battery on a Friday night, and when I went back to using it Monday morning, the battery had drained to just under 10 percent.
At the very least, the Z13 has a 100w fast charger in the box, inflating the battery to 50 percent in just 30 minutes.
The i9 12900H is the same powerful CPU you’ll find in the best and fastest laptops on the market, but the big difference is that it’s throttled to keep the temperature down. While single core speeds remain unaffected, multicore speeds were about 10 to 20 percent slower in synthetic benchmarks. This is still a very impressive result considering we are talking about such a power hungry and hot chip in a compact 13-inch tablet form factor, but those who need all the performance the Core i9-1200H has to offer should get a consider full size gaming laptop.
For the GPU, the Flow Z13 series is available with Iris Xe graphics and an optional Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 or RTX 3050Ti discrete GPU, which is the model I reviewed. Both RTX chips are Max-Q variants, stocking 35W and up to 40W with Dynamic Boost. ASUS has also added a MUX switch to the design, which improves performance in certain games.
With the 3050Ti discrete GPU in the review unit, I was able to play demanding titles like Metro Exodus and Red Dead Redemption 2 at 42 fps (frames per second) with the native screen resolution of 1920 x 1200 and with graphics settings on high. While older titles like Witcher 3 hit a smooth 60fps, you’ll want to lower the graphics settings to medium in more current AAA titles.
If you have $1699 in your pocket, you can invest in ASUS’ XG Mobile eGPU for a significant performance boost. The advantage of using ASUS’ proprietary connector is that it gives you a more direct PCIe connection to the CPU that uses the full 8 lanes of PCIe Gen 3 instead of the four lanes you get with a Thunderbolt-based external GPU . This means you should get all the performance that the mobile variant of the RTX 3080 GPU has to offer, without any real bandwidth limitations.
Plugging in the XG Mobile eGPU has more than doubled frame rates across the board with Red Dead Redemption 2 and Metro Exodus delivering a consistent 103 fps with the same settings and resolution. Meanwhile, the performance of games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider has nearly tripled, at 150 fps and much more than the 120Hz refresh rate of the Z13.
ASUS’ proprietary connector is a sturdy one and the cable is very short, which makes for some cluttered ergonomics. It’s not exactly plug and play either. After plugging in the XG Mobile, you will be prompted to close all running applications that are using the GPU and after that it will take about 20 seconds for the eGPU to initialize. You should also remember to remove the XG Mobile from the system tray before safely removing the connector.
With components you’d normally expect to cram into a large and bulky gaming laptop into a relatively slim 13-inch Windows tablet, the ROG Flow Z13 is nothing short of an engineering marvel. I love being able to just turn on the Z13, pair a controller and start gaming right away without the keyboard getting in the way. It’s also nice to have the option to plug in a beefy external GPU if I want that extra performance.
However, the Z13 compromises battery life to get there, significantly short compared to other detachable notebooks and gaming laptops.
The biggest problem with the Z13 is one of price. The Z13’s discrete RTX 3050Ti graphics model retails for $3499, and ASUS’ external GPU accessory adds another $1699 to the total. The reality is that the 3050Ti graphics chip doesn’t deliver the performance PC gamers expect at this price. Jumping for the eGPU accessory adds bulk, weight and cost to the equation, making choosing an equally powerful gaming laptop a less complicated and cheaper choice.
The ASUS ROG Flow Z13 is an interesting but ultimately flawed device that makes it hard to recommend.
Solid build quality
Pen and detachable keyboard included in the box
Multi-angle stand makes impromptu gaming sessions easy
Runs surprisingly cool and quiet under load
Charges quickly with the included 100W fast charger
High price for portability
Discreet RTX 3050Ti graphics are meager compared to laptops for its price
Asus’ eGPU accessory is absurdly expensive
RAM is limited to 16 GB and cannot be upgraded
Average battery life and standby times
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