The Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED is very much a first-generation product, but an intriguing one. WIRED has an exclusive look at how Asus arrived at the first 17-inch laptop with a foldable screen.
In foldable phones, Samsung got off to a shaky start before perfecting its offerings over four generations, with Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and Honor producing similar and expensive offerings. But what about laptops and tablets? There are rumors that Samsung could launch a foldable version of its Galaxy Tab range in 2023, while a foldable laptop-like computer has so far been limited to Lenovo’s X1 Fold offering, launched in mid-2020 with a follow-up planned soon.
If you’ve seen the Lenovo machine, you’ll recognize the Asus design immediately. However, the latter’s foldable has a much larger screen: the Lenovo has a 13.3-inch panel compared to the 17-inch panel of this device. This is reflected in the Asus’s price, which starts at $3,500 (£3,300).
So what do you get for that high price? I’ve been testing the ZenBook 17 OLED for the past two weeks, stay tuned for our full review soon, and from my experience so far, this is a fully formed device. It’s beyond concept and a viable purchase for someone who wants to splash out a lot of cash
The screen is a flexible 17.3-inch OLED that, like the Lenovo before it, can be fully unfolded to take advantage of the large screen size. A kickstand on the back keeps it propped up at a comfortable angle, and there’s a Bluetooth keyboard included for big-screen typing. The quality of the 2K OLED HDR panel, along with a maximum brightness of 500 nits, is impressive and it’s a great size for watching videos and movies by yourself or with someone else.
Once you fold the screen into a shell, you can place the Bluetooth keyboard on top of the bottom half of the screen. This transforms the machine into a 12.5-inch laptop. This mode feels less fully realized; the large bezels become more noticeable when the screen is smaller, which takes away a bit of the futuristic charm. As you’d expect, the ZenBook 17 Fold OLED will recognize when you place the keyboard on the bottom half of the device and the display will respond accordingly.
Inside, you get Intel’s latest 12th-gen i7-1250U – this is one of the first devices to launch with the chipmaker’s lower-powered U-series flavor of its latest processors. There’s 16 gigabytes of RAM and a 1 terabyte SSD, and the 17 Fold offers two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a headphone jack. For thickness, it measures 0.34 inches unfolded and 0.51 inches folded (0.87 cm unfolded and 1.29 cm folded). The entire assembly (computer and keyboard) weighs 3.31 pounds (1.5 kg). Carrying it around, it feels heavier than you’d expect for a device this size when folded, but that’s not bad when you consider you’re actually carrying a 17-inch machine.
Going to Fold
These are the basics for Asus’ first entry into the foldable market. But how did it get here? The company began its work in this direction more than 10 years ago, and the prototyping work began more than three years ago. The research and development teams for this foldable product worked through approximately 20 iterations before arriving at the final product. Asus tried a 13-inch model and even tried a reverse wraparound fold (similar to Huawei’s Mate X2), but those designs fell by the wayside. To learn about the prototyping process, I spoke with Asus’ Technical Marketing Director for Gaming and PCs, Sascha Krohn, and Senior Design Director Bastian Albinus.
“Trial and error.” This is how Albinus describes the prototyping process. “You always imagine that things are nice and smooth, but in reality they rarely always work out, or you hit a bump in the road that you didn’t expect.”