Let’s face it: laptop design hasn’t changed much over the years. And that’s OK.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t real innovation going on. I’m also not talking about unsuccessful experiments (although there will always be some too). This year has been full of significant innovations in the world of laptops that make them better, more powerful and more fun to use – and these are the ones that really stand out.
Winner: Asus ROG Flow Z13
The ROG Flow Z13 shouldn’t be possible. By category, this is a 2-in-1 gaming laptop, i.e. a Surface Pro with RGB lighting and a discrete GPU inside. It’s the first of its kind, but as a concept, I wasn’t sure I understood the premise. Such a compact gaming device is going to be seriously held back by its small size. But once I got the thing in my hands, I realized how awesome the design really was.
Yes, it’s pretty – slim bezels, a comfortable keyboard, and the neat “window” on the lid that gives you a glowing view of the interior. It’s also a true marvel of engineering, given how thin it is – just 0.47 inches thick, or 0.69 inches with the detachable keyboard attached. The RTX 3050 Ti inside doesn’t necessarily make it a gaming powerhouse – but that was never the point. You can play decent PC games on such a small 2-in-1. This is point.
But my favorite thing about the design is how it draws heat away from your hands. Every gaming laptop struggles to keep your palms and fingers from overheating while gaming, and the ROG Flow Z13 avoids that altogether since all those hot components are behind the display. It’s really smart. In this way, it does something that no other gaming laptop can really do, explaining why 2-in-1 tablets could be a great form factor for PC gaming devices after all.
The ROG Flow Z13 also uses the proprietary Asus PCIe port to connect to the XG Mobile external graphics box. Buying the two together is quite an expensive purchase, but you can pump up the graphics potential of this little machine and turn it into a do-it-all desktop docking station. It’s pretty amazing, and exactly the kind of innovation I want to see more of.
Finalist: Dell XPS 13 Plus
The Dell XPS 13 Plus was designed to be a cutting-edge laptop. It strips away many conventions in favor of an adventurous new path. Headphone jack? Faded away. Touchpad ? Invisible. Even the row of keyboard functions has been replaced with illuminated capacitive touch buttons. It’s audacious, which means it’s a design that could have ended in absolute disaster.
And while it requires an early adopter mindset to fully appreciate it, Dell does a good job of justifying most of its decisions. The lack of a headphone jack is due to the edge-to-edge keyboard and the single sheet of glass used for the palm rests. Capacitive touch buttons, meanwhile, allow Dell to move the keyboard closer to the screen, which leaves more room for larger palm rests and a haptic trackpad.
It certainly prioritizes ultra-modern and sleek above usability in some cases, which means it’s not the right choice for everyone. But innovative? You bet it is.
Honorable Mention: Asus Zenbook Fold 17
You might look at the Asus Zenbook Fold 17 and think, “Really? Who needs this? This is the question I asked myself when I saw the device for the first time. A 17-inch 2-in-1 Windows tablet with a foldable screen looks good, but I had doubts about how useful it would actually be.
While there are certainly still a few issues to be worked out, opening up the large 17-inch screen and standing it with the included kickstand makes it an amazing screen to work on, especially since the wireless keyboard is so comfortable . It’s still a niche concept, but the use case for such a device is actually there, and it’s exciting for the future of this technology.
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