Ever since Samsung Display showed off a 17-inch foldable OLED screen last May, laptop enthusiasts (myself included) have been waiting for the form factor of the future to hit shelves. After all, many of even the most exciting laptop releases of this year have been updates to long-standing designs – a 17-inch foldable is one of very few untouched frontiers remaining in this very established market.
Some of the biggest PC manufacturers either have announced that they are, or are rumored to be, working on 17-inch foldable laptops. But in a move that should come as a surprise to nobody who’s familiar with the company and its antics, Asus looks like it might be first to the punch. I’m typing this on the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED, which is the first shelf-ready device of its kind to hit reviewers’ hands. It’s a 17.3-inch laptop with a screen that folds in half. And people: It works.
Well, it mostly works. It does not work well enough that I think you should spend a whole $3,499.99 on it when it ships in (per Asus’s estimate) Q4. I ran into enough issues with it that I can’t, in good conscience, recommend it as a purchase for that amount of money.
But there are lots of great things about it. It’s a gorgeous OLED with brilliant colors. The keyboard is full-sized and very comfortable. And – to repeat – the screen folds in half. The experience is such an improvement from the last foldable I tried (Lenovo’s smaller and glitcher ThinkPad X1 Fold, back in 2020) that it makes me really excited for the foldable devices to come. I really think they’re getting there.
When fully unfurled, it’s a 4:3 17.3-inch tablet. When flipped horizontally and folded at a somewhere around a 90-degree angle, it’s a 3:2 13-inch notebook. (Well, 12.5, but close enough.) Close it up (with the keyboard inside – it fits perfectly) and you’ve got a little book of sorts that’s easy to slip into a purse. You can probably see why a device like this would be handy to have around.
There are other ways you could use it, of course. You could fold it horizontally and hold it like a book, though you’d probably need to be using some fairly specific apps for that to be ideal. You could use it in what Asus calls “Extended Mode,” meaning you fold it into the shape of a regular laptop, setting the top half to be a primary screen and the bottom half to be a secondary screen. You could just carry it around as a mega-large Netflix-viewing machine.
But overwhelmingly, there were two ways I found it useful to use the Zenbook 17 Fold. When I wanted a big-ass screen, I unfolded the thing, knocked out the built-in kickstand, plonked it on my desk, and used the Bluetooth keyboard on the surface in front of it. When I wanted to use it on my couch or bed, I flipped the screen vertical, folded it into a laptop shape, flattened the kickstand, and snapped the keyboard over the bottom half. That may sound like a whole thing and a half, but I promise it’s very quick. (And once the keyboard is on, Windows automatically compresses to the top screen.)
The foldable panel is rated for 30,000 open/close cycles. On paper, that seems good – it means that if you’re opening and closing this thing 10 times a day, you’ll get eight years out of it. (Asus has confirmed that this number refers to full open/close cycles — repositioning the angle of the screen doesn’t count towards that total.) At that point, other parts of this laptop are going to be a problem before the screen is.
I’m heavily caveating that, though, because we’ve seen reports of foldable phones creasing after a disappointingly short amount of time. Most people are going to be opening a phone many more times in a day than they’ll be opening and closing a laptop – this is just to reiterate that you never really know with these things.
And finally, to answer what I’m sure people are wondering: There is not quite a visible crease down the middle of the Zenbook. I do not see one at all when I’m using the device in tablet mode and staring directly at the screen. I do see a very distinct one when viewing it from the right or left side. This does not directly impact my experience as a user, but it is, well, not totally reassuring.
On the other hand, it folds. It’s a 17-inch panel that folds. That’s pretty cool.
The last foldable I reviewed was a 13.3-incher, and the Bluetooth keyboard and touchpad that it came with were so tiny as to be borderline unusable (since they had to fit inside such a tiny chassis). On that model, some keys had four symbols crammed onto them, and the touchpad was not big enough to scroll. But the 17-inch form factor allows for a keyboard sized similarly to that of a 12.5-inch notebook, and this one was quite comfortable to use. I legitimately felt like I was typing on a regular Zenbook keyboard (and I love typing on those).
The keyboard is a bit thin. That’s not to say that the keys lack travel (they’ve got an excellent click) or that the build is flimsy – it just means that my strokes were very slightly depressing the deck. I am not someone who cares about this, and it did not interfere with my experience in any way. But I know it bothers some people a lot, so if you’re in that crowd, this isn’t the keyboard for you.
Overall, I prefer this one to most detachable keyboards I’ve used before, including that of the Surface Pro 8 — it actually feels a bit like a bigger and studier version of the keyboard on Asus’s Chromebook Detachable CM3, which I also praised. And, of course, you can go ahead and use a different keyboard if this one isn’t your speed.
Oh, and the keys aren’t backlit. I can understand this being a tradeoff that folks wouldn’t mind, especially for a detachable. But still, I…just kinda feel like a $3,499 device should come with a backlit keyboard.
The touchpad also has a decent click, but was a bit lacking where palm rejection was concerned – not only did it usually think I was trying to navigate when I put my palm on it, but it occasionally thought I was clicking.
Speaking of build quality: Across the board, it’s impressive. The chassis is all magnesium aluminum alloy with a nice professional color that Asus calls “Tech Black”. There’s no flex anywhere, and the faux-leather covering means I wasn’t too worried about battering it around. The one nitpick here is that the chassis surface – particularly the area around the logo – does pick up fingerprints fairly easily. They’re easy to wipe off as well, but it never took long for more to appear.
Show me this closed, and I’d believe it was a very fancy planner or something. The lid features the new Asus logo, a little arrow, which I much prefer to the big “ASUS” that was emblazoned across Zenbook lids until very recently. The kickstand is quite well camouflaged, and looks just like part of the fancy cover. Screen-to-body purists might notice that the bezels are a bit large, but that’s helpful if you’re holding the device as a tablet.
I am of mixed mind about the ports, which include two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (supporting up to 40Gbps transfer speed) and a 3.5mm audio combo jack. One of the USB-C ports is on the side that includes the webcam, while the other is on the side to its left. This means that when you’re in 17-inch tablet mode, one of the ports is on the top of the display and one is on the left side; when you’re in 13-inch laptop mode, one is on the top, and one is on the top right. I personally think having wires sticking out of the top of the device is ungainly, and would prefer to just have at least one port on the bottom right edge, (though I recognize that Asus’s layout may be constrained).
But the screen is a highlight of this device (apart from the fact that it folds). It’s a 60Hz OLED touch panel with 2560 x 1920 resolution as a 17-incher and 1920 x 1280 resolution as a 13-incher. Brightness topped out at 257 nits, which is not impressively bright, but OLEDs tend to run on the dimmer side. I did, at one point, also see a line of stuck pixels on the right side of the device, which went away with a restart. I wish the refresh rate was higher – scrolling felt a bit stuttery and slow to me on this screen. Users will vary in how much they care about that, but I do feel that 60 is low for a device of this price.
Despite those nitpicks, the Zenbook makes for a pleasurable viewing experience. The screen covered 100 percent of the sRGB spectrum, 93 percent of Adobe RGB, and 100 percent of P3 in our testing – colors are rich and vibrant overall, with details clear. Asus also claims that it emits “70 percent less harmful blue light than an LCD display.” Overall, the company doesn’t appear to have sacrificed a ton of screen quality for foldability, which is an encouraging sign for the future of the category.
It does other stuff too
As of now, Asus tells me there is only one configuration of the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED. It includes a Core i7-1250U processor (two performance cores and eight efficiency cores), 16GB of memory, and 1TB of storage (PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD) with a 75Whr battery and a 65W adapter. The main thing to know about the system’s performance is that it’s fine, but not amazing – and certainly not the reason to buy this.
What I mean by “fine” is that much of the target audience probably won’t have a problem with these specs. I had a fine time running a pile of around a dozen Chrome tabs with Slack and Spotify active along with occasional Zoom calls overtop.
However, this wouldn’t be a great choice for more intense tasks. The chassis got quite hot while I was retouching a batch of photos in Lightroom. That program was also quite slow, freezing and lagging often while I desperately tried to move my sliders. I wouldn’t recommend this as your primary device if you think you’ll even occasionally need to use Lightroom or similar software. In case you’re curious about gaming, I got an average of 120fps from messing around with League of Legends). Feel free to play games around that level of intensity, but I wouldn’t recommend going for anything super demanding.
OLED laptops sometimes give me trouble with battery life, so I was a bit worried about the combination of OLED and 17-inch display on this device. So the fact that I averaged six hours and 36 minutes from continuous use of my aforementioned Chrome tab and Spotify load, with the screen around 200 nits of brightness, was a nice surprise. That is not an absurdly long time for laptops in general, but is a big improvement over what we saw from the X1 Fold. The device took 51 minutes to charge to 60 percent, which is fine.
Now, a potential wrench here is that the keyboard also needs to charge. I haven’t been able to test exactly how long it will last – it made it through the laptop’s lifespan with no problem – but Asus estimates up to 24 hours of use. The one time the keyboard died during my testing period, I did find that it had to charge for a few minutes before it was up and running again, and then I had to unpair/repair it before the device would recognize it. That could lead to some headaches if the keyboard were to die, say, in the middle of a meeting.
But I have some concerns
So far, I’ve painted what I feel is a fairly balanced picture of the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED. I really do think it is a device with some not-uncommon laptop flaws that is still, in general, usable. However, I did run into some problems that make it feel a bit more like a work in progress than a $3,499.99 device should.
First off, a couple things with the keyboard. When the Fold was in laptop mode, the magnets on the keyboard’s underside did a decent job of holding it in place on the bottom half of the screen. But getting it into place was sometimes a bit of a struggle, and I often had to finick around with its position before it would click in.
It’s also only meant to be fastened to the side opposite the webcam — it’s not supposed to go over the webcam (and it won’t click into place there, I tried). While I know most people probably want to have the webcam half be the top half when the Fold is in laptop mode, I personally don’t use the webcam that much and would love to be able to have that be the bottom half at times (since that’s where also where the ports are, and I’d prefer my ports be on the bottom).
Once the keyboard was paired, there was sometimes a lag between what I was typing and what would show up on the display if I hadn’t used the keyboard in a while. For example, I’d every so often start typing after picking up the laptop and the first three strokes or so just wouldn’t register, or would take a beat to pop up. Not the biggest deal, but something that would get annoying if I were using this as my primary device every day. It’s not uncommon to see some sort of delay from Bluetooth keyboards, but this was a bit worse than what I’ve experienced with other ones. (While the laptop supports up to Bluetooth 5.2, the keyboard is connected via Bluetooth 5.)
Last thing with the keyboard: I found an issue that I often find with this sort of detachable deck, which is that sometimes when I was using it on my lap, the angle it was at would mean the touchpad thought it was depressed when I wasn’t depressing it. This wasn’t a huge problem – a bigger problem was that this occasionally happened with the keyboard keys too. A couple of times during testing, the keyboard thought I was holding down a letter key, and I had to furiously smash the Backspace to get it to stop the endless string of letters it was producing.
And then there was some software stuff. It’s hard to know how much, if any, of this is Asus’s fault. But a user shouldn’t particularly care who’s at fault with these things – glitches are glitches.
For one, the dock occasionally disappeared when I opened a full-screen Chrome tab in laptop mode, and it didn’t pop up when I moused around the bottom of the screen. Upon investigation, it turned out that I’d somehow toggled on an “Automatically hide Windows taskbar” setting. Fair enough — nobody wants a dock burned into their OLED — but the taskbar should still be popping up when my cursor is in the area.
Additionally, about a day into my testing process, the unit automatically stopped flipping its desktop’s orientation when I flipped the device around. In other words, Windows would be oriented vertically when I turned the Zenbook on, and when I flipped it horizontally to be in tablet mode, Windows would stay vertical and just be sideways. I ended up having to dig through Display Settings and manually flip the desktop to Landscape every time I switched modes, which was really a pain.
Finally, an issue I had with the Zenbook Fold continues to happen here: I am sideways on Zoom when I take calls in laptop mode. I have not figured out a way to fix this – when I physically flip the laptop on its side, the picture stays sideways. I know you can always take Zoom calls in tablet mode (this puts the webcam on the side, but there’s a Motion Tracking feature you can turn on that will keep you centered in the frame), but it’d be nice to be able to take them in laptop mode too.
Oh, and there’s bloatware on it. I was getting popup ads from the MyAsus software, and McAfee came pre-installed. That’s not a glitch per se, but I felt like I had to mention it.
If this laptop didn’t have the problems it has, it would be a great laptop. That is, of course, something you can say about every single laptop that’s ever been reviewed.
But the Zenbook 17 Fold OLED really is a step towards something excellent. It’s a very nice-looking device. Its compactible form factor makes it a dream to carry around. And it’s two sizes of laptop in one – which is something I, personally, would find quite useful in my daily process.
It’s far from a workstation, and not something you’d want to use for more than a general office workload. If that’s understood, though, the experience is generally smooth, and not nearly as error-ridden as the ThinkPad X1 Fold’s was a year and a half ago. About 95 percent of the time, using the Zenbook 17 Fold was like using any other OLED laptop.
But five percent of a product’s lifespan still adds up to quite a bit of time. I do think the problems I’ve encountered, combined with the very, very high price, make it difficult for me to recommend this as a daily driver.
Still, this product is quite useful, and it’s very cool. The fact that it exists, and that it mostly works, is a great sign for this new category of device. I think a really excellent foldable from Asus is probably on the horizon.
And now it’s time to keep an eye on Reddit and see when exactly people start complaining about a crease.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge