I’ve never had such a conflicted relationship with a gadget, and it’s agonising. You see, ASUS made a really cool thing, but I’m having a hard time recommending it. It’s not so much the execution, but rather the price and, well, the entire concept. OK, so let me get to it: the device I’m talking about is the ASUS ROG Flow Z13, a gaming tablet with a detachable keyboard and an optional external GPU.
Somewhere between an engineering marvel and an impractical experiment, the Flow Z13 is essentially a Microsoft Surface turned gaming rig. I don’t mean something that can stream from the cloud or run Android games — this is a proper gaming machine, complete with a discrete GPU. If that wasn’t odd enough, the Flow Z13 gains serious horsepower when connected to ASUS’ proprietary eGPU, the XG Mobile.
In theory, the ROG Flow Z13 provides loads of power in a compact chassis along with the flexibility to turn into a gaming workhorse when stationary. It mostly achieves that promise; the Flow Z13 is a capable tablet — with or without the eGPU — thanks to its speedy performance, good display, and comfortable keyboard. There are just a few problems: it’s expensive (very expensive when you add the eGPU), awkward to hold or use in your lap, and the battery life is well below average. That said, if you want a Surface Pro-like device with more graphics oomph, this is your best (and only) bet — otherwise, look elsewhere.
ASUS ROG Flow Z13
WHAT IS IT?
A portable gaming tablet that can connect to an eGPU with an RTX 3080
Starts at $2,499-$3,499 (depending on which Intel chip)
Wonderfully over-designed, More portable than most laptops, Fast performance, Bright display, Comfortable keyboard
Prohibitively expensive with XG Mobile, Poor ergonomics, Subpar battery life, No IR camera
Price and configurations
The ROG Flow Z13 I tested comes with an Intel Core i9-12900H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, an RTX 3050 Ti GPU, and a 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200-pixel at 120Hz display. It costs $3,499.
There is a slightly cheaper model, though the economics don’t add up. For $3,099, just $400 less, you can buy a base model with a Core i7-12700 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and an RTX 3050 GPU.
Pretty but impractical
“Loud” comes to mind when looking at the Flow Z13. While I typically prefer an understated look, I’m sold on the flashy appearance of this tablet, even if it’s all a bit…extra. Clearly, ASUS didn’t get the memo about the market’s recent shift away from overtly “gamery” aesthetics, because the Z13 has them all. RGB lighting illuminates the keys and a glass panel on the rear (more on this below); sharp, aggressive cutouts (a vent in the shape of “06”) and decals (an eye-roll-inducing “For those who dare” motto) are mapped across the back panel, and there are even pops of red accents here and there. There is so much going on that your eyes have no idea where to focus.
At least, once they’re done marvelling at the rear glass windows, beneath which you can see a section of the motherboard highlighted in rainbow-hued RGB lighting. I get the same giddy excitement staring at this thing from an inch away as I do peaking through a glass desktop case at a sea of RGB. It’s all very sci-fi, and as much as I try to act mature, I can’t deny that something about this design speaks to my childish nerd. Whoever designed the Z13 just wanted to make something cool, and this thing looks sick.
It’s just an ergonomic pain in the arse. I say that about most detachable tablets, but this one can be particularly infuriating. That glass window I talked up is raised, so the tablet wobbles when you place it on a flat surface. A part of me dies every time I hear it scrape against my glass desk. ASUS, why isn’t it flush?!
Then there’s the broader problem of rotating a kickstand each time you want to go into laptop mode, and how unsteady the tablet feels on your lap. The latter complaint, it should be noted, is hardly a knock against the Flow Z13 — it feels as sturdy as any Surface Pro. What’s nice about this form factor is that kickstand mode puts your gameplay front and centre, with no keyboard between you and the screen.
The Flow Z13 is predictably chunkier than your average tablet, at 11.9 x 8.0 x 0.5 inches and 1 kg without the included keyboard. Add the accessory, and the thickness jumps to 0.7 inches while the scale tips to 3.4 pounds. For comparison, the Surface Pro 8 comes in at 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.37 inches and 1 kg, while the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 is 12.3 x 8.9 x 0.73 inches and 2 kg.
The ROG Flow Z13 was always going to be heftier than other tablets on the market given that it houses a discrete Nvidia GPU. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the additional thickness allows enough space for a USB 2.0 Type-A port. Only one, though, to go along with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C input, a microSD card slot (under the hinge), and a headphone jack. The power button located above a volume rocker doubles as a fingerprint sensor. And while we’re talking Windows Hello, the Flow Z13 lacks an IR camera for facial recognition, a feature that should really be included at this price.
Keyboard worthy of a gamer
Those who will actually game on this thing will be pleased to know that it ships with one of the better detachable keyboards I’ve used with a tablet. It reminds me of Microsoft’s Type Cover keyboard in that the keys are pleasantly bouncy and have surprisingly deep travel. My fingers effortlessly sprung from one letter to the next and were met each time with plush, springy feedback.
The keys should be large enough for all but those with massive hands. They are a tad smaller than what you find on most laptops, but much more comfortable than other keyboard accessories. And in keeping with the overall design, these keys are single-zone RGB backlit. For what it’s worth, I typed at 126 words per minute with a 97 per cent accuracy rate, which is right around my best result on any keyboard — tablet, laptop, or mechanical. Below the keyboard is a touchpad that gets the job done. It’s on the small side, but responsive and smooth to the touch.
Featherweight chassis, heavyweight punch
Let’s not waste any more time. The real question is whether ASUS was blowing smoke or if the Flow Z13 can actually play games without connecting to the eGPU. The short answer: yes, it can. The tablet’s Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti GPU will run most modern games at the 1920 x 1200-pixel resolution on high graphics at well above 30 frames per second.
We benchmark at Ultra settings, and even then the ROG Flow Z13 performed admirably, powering Far Cry 5 at 1080p at a smooth 52 frames per second, well above the 30-fps “playability” standard. Coincidentally, I got the same results on the Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark, meaning you won’t have any issues playing those popular titles using the built-in graphics card. Metro Exodus, however, was a different story, averaging a lowly 30-fps and often dropping well below that threshold during the test. I was also surprised by Total War: Warhammer II, which averaged 41 fps, a decent result but less headroom than I’d prefer.
If you need more graphical oomph for high frame rates or better graphics, the Flow Z13 connects to ASUS’ XG Mobile eGPU via a proprietary connection on the left side of the tablet. For those who missed our ROG Flow X13 review, the XG Mobile is essentially a docking station that houses a mobile Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU. It gets you all the ports you could possibly need: HDMI 2.1, DisplayPort 1.4, RJ-45 Ethernet, four USB 3.2 Type-A inputs, and an SD card reader.
I’m just not sure it’s worth the hassle unless you have really high gaming demands. For one, the XG Mobile isn’t all that mobile. Combine its 1 kg with the Flow Z13’s weight, and suddenly the entire setup is significantly heavier than portable gaming laptops, like ASUS’ own 2 kg Zephyrus G14 or the Alienware x15 (2 kg). With such a brawny GPU under the hood, the XG Mobile requires its own power source, which comes via a chunky 280W power adaptor — just the sort of thing you were hoping to avoid by buying this system.
The proprietary connector that plugs into the left side of the tablet reminds me of a VGA port in all the wrong ways. It’s chunky, inflexible, and a locking slider needs to be enabled for the eGPU to work. Once you’ve connected, the system will take a few minutes to switch over to the eGPU. If you disconnect the XG Mobile before doing so safely via the Windows Taskbar, the Z13 will get angry and force you to restart the next time or ask you to “accept the risk.”
Anyhow, once it’s running, it sprints. The RTX 3080 in the XG Mobile supercharged this tablet, which ran Total War: Warhammer II at 99 fps, a 58-frame increase. Even the toughest of these games — Metro Exodus — played at a cool 78 fps with the settings on Ultra. Tomb Raider took full advantage of the 120Hz screen, running at 125 fps while Far Cry 5 wasn’t far behind at 117 fps.
The Flow Z13 also did well on our computing benchmarks thanks to its Intel Core i9-12900H CPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512TB SSD. The tablet scored an 11,358 on the Geekbench 5 overall performance test, topping the Zephyrus G14 (9,830), Alienware x15 (9,339), and decimating the Surface Pro 8 (5,873).
It also did well rendering a 3D image in Blender, a task it needed only 3 minutes and 51 seconds to complete, putting it ahead of the Razer Blade 14 (5:58) and Surface Pro 8 (8:25) but slightly behind the Zephyrus G14 (3:15). It performed similarly on the Handbrake test, needing only 7 minutes and 11 seconds to convert a 4K video to 1080p, a task that took the Surface Pro 8 more than 12 minutes. This time, the laptops had an edge, with the Razer Blade 14 (3:48) and Zephyrus G14 (3:15) turning in faster times.
When ASUS first revealed the Flow Z13, my immediate fear was the potential for overheating. It didn’t. Not even during long gameplay sessions. A max temperature reading of 120 degrees Fahrenheit might sound hot, but it’s not when compared to most portable gaming laptops. The Zephyrus G14 flirted with the 140s while the keyboard remained over 100 degrees throughout my GPU testing — in comparison, the keyboard on the Z13 doesn’t warm when the system is running.
Fast and bright display
Bright, colourful, and fast, the 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200-pixel (FHD+) panel is a delight for watching movies, browsing the web, or playing games.
The 120Hz screen kept up as F1 cars rocketed their way across the screen as I watched the Imola Grand Prix, and the panel did justice to the cars’ colourful livery. When I watched the trailer for Severance, the screen captured the pure white snow surrounding the ominous office building and matched that hue on the lifeless interior walls. I was particularly entranced by the ‘90s aesthetic, with its muted colours and funky retro tech.
After playing several rounds of Halo Infinite, there was no doubting that the 120Hz panel improved my kill-to-death ratio (it still wasn’t great, FWIW) compared to playing on my 60Hz office monitor. Keep in mind, however, that you need to be connected to the XG Mobile to reach frame rates that’ll take advantage of the screen’s high refresh rate.
Whatever was on display — sports, a movie, video games — looked crisp and detailed. And since the screen gets very bright, at 495 nits, I had no problems using the tablet outside on a sunny Texas day. I just prefer playing on a larger screen, though the size restraints are understandable here.
The dual speakers on the Flow Z13 are fine. They were loud enough to fill my small office and didn’t distort when I moved the slider to 100%. Treble and midrange tones were crisp, if somewhat frail, and there was a predictable lack of bass. These are good enough for watching YouTube videos and casual listening, but gamers should certainly buy a good headset, like the HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless.
The battery life of a gaming rig
The ROG Flow Z13 wants so badly to be a gaming laptop that it followed the lead of its larger rivals by lasting only 6 hours and 26 minutes on our battery test, which involves video playback at 200 nits of brightness.
That puts it just behind the Razer Blade 14 (6:41) and several hours short of the Zephyrus G14 (9:21). Other tablets, like the Surface Pro 8 (8:18), trade the extra graphics oomph for longer runtimes.
Should you buy the ROG Flow Z13?
No, you probably shouldn’t, and it’s a shame because the gamer nerd in me wants to love this thing. It has a fun design, a bright 13.4-inch display, strong performance, and a decent keyboard that’s included in the box. It even avoided overheating and remained relatively quiet throughout my testing.
As you can see, the execution is quite good. I just can’t get past the cost $5,198 with the XG Mobile. I would rather save money and buy a good gaming laptop; ASUS’ own ROG Zephyrus G14 is a more balanced option and doesn’t sacrifice too much in the way of portability. OK, so it isn’t as speedy as the Flow Z13 with XG Mobile, but it’s easier to travel with and considerably more powerful on its own than the tablet is. Another deal-breaker for me is the poor ergonomics; I’d much rather spend this kind of cash on the Flow X13, the laptop version of this hybrid device.
And yet, I do think the Flow Z13 is the right device for someone. Ignore ASUS’ marketing and a more appropriate audience becomes clear: people who want a Surface Pro 8 but need extra graphics power, like 3D designers, artists, or developers who travel for work. If you fall into that category, one more bit of advice: check your credit limit before you shell out on the Flow Z13.