Almost exactly two years ago, I published a review of the mindblowing Asus ROG Mothership — a concept 2-in-1 gaming machine that was well before its time. I remarked at the end of my review that no one should buy it but I hoped that Asus would one day take the Mothership and shrink it down to the size of an iPad Pro. Well hot damn, they actually did it!
The new Asus ROG Flow Z13 is the sequel to that crazy-ass machine and maybe should have been called the ‘ROG Babyship‘? No? Well, it’s everything I wanted the original Mothership to be; it’s powerful, can actually fit in a backpack and is infinitely more practical than its forebear. Oh, and it’s relatively affordable at starting price of $2499 going all the way up to $3399 for the top-end model. Still, it’s a far cry from the $10,000 price of the Mothership.
Asus has packed the Z13 to the gills with great hardware like 12th Gen Intel CPU, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050/3050Ti Graphics, 120Hz refresh touch displays and even thrown in a detachable keyboard for good measure. Take that Microsoft Surface Pro. So has Asus really created the ultimate gaming laptop? I spent two weeks with the Flow Z13 to find out and the answer is, yes and no.
Asus ROG Flow Z13 and XG Mobile Review
When Asus set out to create the Mothership, their vision was to redefine what we call a gaming laptop and they mostly succeeded. The problem was that it was too big and too expensive. The Flow Z13 fixes both those issues. The Z13 is much smaller measuring just 1cm thick and weighing only 0.7kg, is lightyears from the 3cm thick, 4.8Kg Mothership. It sports a 13.4-inch display which is just 0.5-inches bigger than the biggest Apple iPad Pro.
But unlike the iPad, the Z13 isn’t a sleek, polished slab but instead looks like someone ripped a piece of a wall from a Borg ship. Asus leaned heavily on the gaming and sci-fi aesthetic that I loved but some might find a bit too much. A generous dose of circuitry patterns run the gamut of the back panel drawing your eye to the PCB Window that shows a glimpse at the motherboard inside. And of course, this lights up by Aura Sync RGB lighting for quite the show.
A bold red arrow draws your attention to the red flap used to easily pull out the Z13’s kickstand. This sturdy stand can hold the Z13 up in various angles of repose with the standard upright position for your everyday productivity and typing tasks or shared gaming with friends. It can also go down to an almost flat 170-degrees that’s great for creative tasks like drawing or photo editing. It’s a sturdy stand that never wobbled and I’m sure will stand the test of time.
Your essential I/O live on the left and right edges of the Z13 with a Thunderbolt 3 port and the special connection port for the XG Mobile external GPU on the left. On the right-hand side, you have a power button with an integrated fingerprint sensor, volume controls and USB 2.0 and a 3.5mm audio jack. The sensor works very well though it’s physically quite thin which makes placing your finger on it a challenge.
At the top, all you have are exhaust vents and at full load, the hot air blowing out of those vents easily holds a piece of paper aloft. The design is great because it sucks air in from the bottom and blows it out the top, keeping it away from you. I’ll touch on thermals a little bit later in the review but suffice to say, it’s rather impressive.
At the bottom is a magnetic 7-pin port for connecting the bundled keyboard. It’s pretty powerful and requires a good amount of pull to get the board off. It also happens to be a great place to keep the Asus Pen stylus which is also magnetic. The keyboard which also doubles as a screen protector for the Z13 has a soft felt back that I had a hard time keeping free of flint.
Typing on this keyboard is a pleasant experience thanks to a generous 1.7mm of travel. The keys feel deep and springy and though there is a bit of flex so don’t go banging away at it like a mad detective story writer. It also has N-key rollover which is great for gaming but you’ll likely use a controller for the best experience. The touchpad is expectedly small but still quite precise, smooth and responsive to my gestures and taps. It’s wholly unnecessary given the touch display but it does come in clutch during productivity tasks.
Display and Pen
The Z13’s 13.4-inch display is an IPS-level panel with a 16:10 aspect ratio, 60 or 120Hz refresh and a 30ms response time. The entire screen is covered with durable Gorilla Glass, the same sort used on your smartphone and should keep the Z13 from getting unsightly scratches. There are two variants of the panel; a WQUXGA(3840 x2400) 60Hz refresh and a WUXGA(1920 x1200) 120Hz refresh.
I got the latter and while I initially thought I’d missed out on 4K, at this screen size the 1080p resolution is perfect because of the higher pixel density. Not to mention the power savings that a lower resolution display offers. Above the display is a 720p webcam which isn’t great but at least it’s there. Oh and there’s an 8mp camera on the back in case you wanna take pictures of your fellow gamers?
Both variants get plenty bright up to 500-nits which they use for Dolby Vision HDR. Combined with 85% DCI-P3, 100% sRGB the colours pop and sizzle though the contrast isn’t the greatest so don’t expect inky blacks. It’s adequate for creative work but if you need greater accuracy for photo manipulation or colour grading, you’ll have to use an external display. There’s also support for Adaptive Sync and the use of a Stylus.
I got the Asus Pen packaged in the box though you won’t get that as part of the standard retail package. The pen brings a new level of interaction with the Z13 thanks to its 4096 level pressure sensitivity and low latency makes writing and drawing on the tablet a pleasurable experience. It also has two buttons for mouse clicks and an eraser though I found myself using it a lot more for doom scrolling the internet than drawing masterpieces. I can’t say if it’s better than an Apple Pencil on an iPad though as I’ve never used one of those but the option is there if you need it.
Performance & thermals
The Flow Z13 comes in three main variants with the base model housing a Core i5-12500H and Intel Iris X Graphics. The next model has an i7-12700H and an RTX 3050 while the top model which we got for review has the i9-12900H paired with an RTX 3050Ti. This sounds impressive but to put things into perspective, these are the lowest power variants of the CPU and GPU. The RTX 3050Ti is a measly 40W max TDP which already puts it at a disadvantage.
That said, I was far from disappointed by the Z13’s performance. In fact, it scored excellently across our suite of performance benchmarks, even outperforming a Razer Blade 14 in Cinebench R25 while almost matching it in PCMark10 productivity benchmark. Keep in mind the Blade 14 has an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX and more room for cooling. Impressive so far.
When we turn to games, that’s when we start to see the shortcomings of the weaker RTX 3050Ti. The Z13 falls far behind the Blade 14, which isn’t to say it performed badly but can’t keep up with a 100W RTX 3080. Still, I was really happy with the overall performance with most games hitting 60fps at 1080p medium to high settings. And knowing that you can play games anywhere from your couch to a cafe on such a large, beautiful screen is exhilarating.
Even while pushing games, I was incredibly impressed with how low the fan noise levels were on the Z13. This won’t alert the whole neighbourhood that you are playing games unlike most other gaming laptops. Asus provides several fan presets in the Armoury Crate software including a 0dB mode where the fans don’t spin up at all. That one is for light use cases like doom scrolling Twitter.
Thermals were likewise impressive. The Z13 maintained an average of 75C on the GPU and 80C on the CPU during extended gaming sessions. I did see the i9 hit 97C during CPU stress tests but not at any other time which is pretty damn good, hey?
Go, go XG Mobile!
Surprisingly, you can get even more performance out of the Z13 when you use the optional $1699 ROG XG Mobile external GPU. This thin package looks like an A5 sized novel and houses either an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 or AMD Radeon 6850M GPU with a max TDP of 165W — four times that of the onboard RTX 3050Ti.
It uses the proprietary XG Mobile interface on the side of the Z13 which requires you to plug in the adapter and then lock it to activate the connection. Once that’s done, the Z13 MUX switch turns off the internal GPU and uses the XG Mobile. The result is an immediate doubling, sometimes tripling of performance in games. You can use the internal screen or connect an external monitor via DisplayPort or HDMI on the XG Mobile. I was even able to test some 4K gaming and was able to achieve averages around 30-40fps average in most games.
But it’s not only performance gains that the XG Mobile brings but also a wealth of additional connection ports for the Z13. You get 4 more USB 3.2 Type-A ports, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0b, DisplayPort 1.4 and a UHS-II SD Card reader. The XG Mobile also has its own, built-in 330W power supply that’s more than enough to feed both the eGPU and the Z13.
While the XG Mobile is small, it’s definitely not something I’d want to lug around in my laptop backpack although you definitely could. In my experience, it’s best left on your desk as a dock for your Z13 to power your gaming monitor and peripherals. There is one downside though; Asus doesn’t bundle the XG Mobile with the Z13 so you’ll have to pay separately for this and that will cost you a whopping $xxxx. If it’s worthwhile for you, go for it as this is how you’ll get the best performance out of the Z13
After looking at the impressive components and their equally impressive performance, you’ll be right to be concerned about how long it will last on a single battery charge. Asus claims all-day power, whatever that means, I’ve long since abandoned all hope for a gaming machine to last all day. In my testing, the Z13 generally lasted anywhere between 4-5 hours of moderate use.
That’s not terrible but given a powerful machine like the iPad Pro can last almost triple that, it doesn’t look as rosy. Turn on some gaming on the go and that will quickly tank to little more than two hours depending on how hard you’re pushing the GPU. Something like Hades won’t be as taxing as Elden Ring so go figure. It also has a MUX switch so you can turn off the 3050Ti altogether but that didn’t change my overall results by much.
To be fair, the Intel i9 CPU and RTX 3050Ti is a truly power-hungry combination and I suspect that these numbers are quoted from the far less voracious i5-12500H model. I think for most people, that one is the better option. Thankfully, the Z13 supports fast charging via its pleasantly small 100W USB Type-C charger. It will get the Z13 from empty to 50% in just 30min which is quite frankly, impressive. Also, it uses Type-C for charging which means you will never be at a loss for a charge if you forget yours at home.
I’ve loved my time playing with the Asus ROG Flow Z13. It is a marvel of computer engineering and I still can’t believe Asus managed to shrink the OG Mothership into a proper and powerful 13-inch gaming tablet that doesn’t cost as much as a second-hand car. Performance is exceptional for productivity and games and the versatility to use it in so many different ways for different things is truly hard to beat. And when you add the XG Mobile into the mix, it makes this a bonafide desktop gaming experience.
But in a world where the Steam Deck exists for much less than the Z13, I’m not sure who exactly needs a dedicated gaming tablet. Throw cloud gaming services like Xbox Cloud and Nvidia GeForce Now that let you play your PC games via streaming, then it makes far more sense to buy something like an iPad Pro. The price is sadly still too high for what you get and if add on the $1700 XG Mobile, you’re talking well over $5000 and yet you can get comparable performance from a $3000 laptop like the excellent Asus Zephyrus G14 or Razer Blade 14.
As much as I love the Z13 and marvel at the feat of engineering Asus has achieved, I can’t see the Flow Z13 fitting in my life as a device for work and play. It’s really a hard one to recommend to any particular person unless you are a Graphiti artist/ gamer/ blogger/ social media influencer, I guess. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that what Asus has created here is unlike anything else on the market and a perfect showcase of the ROG ethos and I love it.