Asus ROG Z13 Flow review: Like a Microsoft Surface, but for gaming
Quick verdict: The Asus ROG Z13 Flow is a bold experiment in matching up gaming power with the flexibility of a tablet-style PC that delivers plenty of grunt… until you need the battery to last.
- Great for gaming, especially with the XG Mobile eGPU connected
- Convertible form factor works well, especially with a gamepad
- Includes keyboard, unlike a real Surface
- Poor battery life
- eGPU is bulky and impossible to quickly disconnect
The Asus ROG Z13 Flow is, at first glance, a blatant clone of the very successful Microsoft Surface line of tablet PCs.
Except it's more than that because it bears Asus's Republic of Gamers sub-brand, meaning it's designed as a gaming productivity tablet.
It's a wild idea that Asus mostly carries off well. However, it does fall foul of the classic pitfall of gaming laptops in terms of battery life. It's definitely a contender in the gaming laptop arena, although you will pay a premium relative to a standard, chunkier gaming rig.
Design: A Chunkier Surface with an equally chunky eGPU
It's genuinely not hard to work out where Asus's mad scientists got the idea for the Asus ROG Z13 Flow's design from. The first time my better half walked into my office while I was testing it, she outright assumed that it was some new form of Microsoft Surface Pro.
From the front, the resemblance is quite remarkable, with the same style of detachable keyboard and a kickstand peeking out from the rear. At least with the Asus ROG Z13 Flow, you get the keyboard included as standard. This omission is something I've hated in every generation of Surface Pro to date. On the minor annoyances side, if you do have pets, be aware that the base of the Z13 Flow's keyboard will pick up cat hair and fluff at an alarming rate.
Look at the back, and the differences become more apparent. One nice flourish that Asus has added to the Surface design is a small rubber tab on the kickstand, making it much easier to flip out when you want to prop your tablet up.
It also features a lot more vents because this is a gaming tablet and those creatures do run hot from time to time.
You also get a tiny window into the internal circuitry of the device. Is it a useful feature? Hell no – it's just there to look cool for the gaming crowd that will appreciate this kind of detail. It's on the back so you're not forced to look at it, but it certainly makes the Z13 Flow stand out.
Were this a Surface Pro, that would be just about all you get, but the secret sauce that makes the Asus ROG Z13 Flow a gaming-specific tablet is the inclusion of an external GPU module, the Asus XG Mobile.
It's the same design as last year's Asus ROG Flow X13, which means you're not only adding GPU power but also expanding ports by a huge margin when it's connected.
Standalone, the Asus ROG Z13 Flow has a single USB-C, a single USB-A and a headphone socket to play with.
With the XG Mobile eGPU connected up by its proprietary socket, you gain 4 more USB ports, HDMI, DisplayPort and Gigabit Ethernet.
There's a little bit of something for everyone there whether you're working or playing. Like the X13, though, I'd balk at calling it truly "mobile" because it requires power and thick cables hooked up to a laptop that will complain heavily if you don't go through its attachment and removal procedures carefully.
The Asus ROG Z13 Flow uses the same side-mounted fingerprint sensor as the X13 does. I struggled to get the X13 to recognise my digits reliably, and the same was sadly true for the Z13 model as well. For such a premium-priced laptop, it's baffling why Asus can't pack in a more reliable fingerprint reader.
It's luggable, but you're not going to whip it out in-flight any time soon unless you already travel in the first class cabins.
Asus ROG Z13 Flow review: Its performance is fast without the eGPU but blitzes it when connected
While your choices with many tablet-style PCs are limited typically to just a few configurations, it can get quite complex with the Z13 Flow.
The top-tier model runs with a 12th Gen Intel Core i9 i9-12900H processor and a GeForce RTX 3050Ti GPU. The middle-tier option has a 12th Gen Intel Core i7-12900H and a GeForce RTX 3050 GPU.
At the lowest end of the scale, you get a 12th Gen Intel Core i5- 12500H CPU and Intel's own Iris XE graphics solution to play with.
You could get quite a wide difference in performance between that low-end model and the premium version I've tested with.
If you opt for the lower-end CPUs, you also take a hit in screen fidelity, dropping from a 3840x2400 display down to a 1920x1200 pixel one on the Core i7 and Core i5 variants.
It doesn't just end there, either, because the XG Mobile eGPU comes in a variety of flavours too. If you did buy 2021's X13 and its eGPU, you'd be hooking up a GeForce RTX 3080, while the newer model of the external graphics enclosure runs with an AMD Radeon RX 6850M XT GPU.
The model Asus sent me for review was the premium model with the Core i9 on board, 16GB of onboard RAM and 1TB of onboard storage, but with the older RTX 3080 eGPU to add performance. Windows 11 Home was pre-installed with a light sprinkling of additional apps such as Disney+, Spotify and McAfee Personal Security along for the ride.
So how does it compare against other devices? There's a tricky split here because it's taking on the likes of the Surface Pro while also offering an alternative to more traditional gaming laptops.
So in productivity terms, here's how the Z13 Flow compares against the Surface Pro and a range of gaming-centric laptops using PCMark 10:
The gaming angle is still the key one here because while you might fool the boss that you're working on your Surface clone, that eGPU is always beckoning. It makes a considerable difference too, as can be seen in its 3DMark Time Spy results:
To be fair to the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft doesn't pitch it as a gaming system in any way, unless FreeCell still counts as a game.
Speaking of games, I was keen to see what kind of real-world difference the eGPU might make. To test that, I fired up Microsoft's Forza Horizon 5 with the eGPU connected and disconnected. Forza Horizon has its own internal benchmark tool designed to give you optimal settings based on your graphics capabilities, so it detected the change straight away.
Here's the difference in average frames per second according to that benchmark:
Forza Horizon 5 shoots for a plain 60fps to maintain performance, so you wouldn't necessarily suffer without the XG Mobile eGPU. Still, the differences there are quite stark, opening up options for a lot more fancy visual effects along the way or for better performance in other games.
Asus ROG Z13 Flow review: The battery is good for a gaming laptop, poor for a tablet
The Asus ROG Z13 Flow can certainly bring it when it comes to gaming power, but the same isn't quite true for actual battery stamina.
It's the classic problem of gaming laptops since forever because the strains of that extra pixel-pushing power take their toll on the power cells of any battery.
However, the Asus ROG Z13 Flow isn't just any laptop because it's also squarely aimed at that productivity market that might consider an alternative like a Surface Pro or the other Surface clone devices from other makers.
Putting the Asus ROG Z13 Flow through Finder's battery life test, which presents a light video workload, and then PC Mark's more intensive gaming test showed where the Asus ROG Z13 Flow sits in this regard.
If the Asus ROG Z13 Flow is a gaming laptop to you, then its battery life is a little better than you might see on other models.
If it's a productivity laptop, it's well behind the pace you should expect. Either way, if you really do need to go mobile with this tablet, you're very likely to run out of power before the day is up – or right when you've got that perfect head shot lined up.
If you do opt for the XG Mobile eGPU, its power supply can also charge the Asus ROG Z13 Flow. If not, you get a much more compact and travel-friendly charger to use.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you want a supremely flexible and powerful gaming tablet.
- Don't buy it if you want a really portable and powerful gaming laptop.
The laptop space, even within gaming laptops where there's often a lot of cutting edge technology under the hood can be rather stale, with the same designs and ideas proliferating.
The Asus ROG Z13 Flow is something different, and that's laudable. It takes that essential Surface-style tablet PC design and gives it a fresh, gaming-centric makeover. If you're up to adding its eGPU option, it can stand among the very best gaming laptops.
However, like just about every other gaming laptop, battery life is sub-par, and that bleeds through into its productivity potential. Adding and attaching the eGPU is a whole process unto itself, and when it's in place, it's not a particularly easy device to carry around or use outside a desk environment.
It's worth consideration, although at the full price of the rig tested, you could score a standalone, bulkier gaming laptop instead. You'd still have the same battery life concerns, but not the same issues around connecting and disconnecting the bulky eGPU.
Asus ROG Z13 Flow review: Pricing and availability
The Asus ROG Z13 Flow retails from $2,499 for the Core i5 variant to $3,399 for the Core i9 variant tested, with the XG Mobile eGPU costing extra again on top of that.
How we tested
The Asus ROG Z13 Flow was extensively tested over a fortnight's direct usage for both productivity tasks, video watching and more than just a little bit of gaming because that's the core appeal of this particular tablet device. The ROG Z13 Flow and XG Mobile eGPU used in this test were loaned to me by Asus for the purposes of review.
The reviewer has more than 2 decades of tech product reviewing under his belt and is a multi-time Australian IT Journo award winner, including awards for best reviewer and best technical journalist.