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March 5, 2018

Asus ZenBook Flip 14 vs. Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

by John_A

Notebook graphics keep getting better and better, and most recently this includes the thinnest and lightest machines. One example is the Asus ZenBook Flip 14, a convertible 2-in-1 that manages to be thin and light and yet pack in a Nvidia GeForce MX150 discrete GPU. Another example is Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 13, which isn’t quite so thin and light but manages to squeeze in a more robust Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050.

These two 2-in-1s take different approaches to offering flexibility and lower-end gaming chops in relatively small chassis. We pit the Asus ZenBook Flip 14 vs. the Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 to see which approach is the better one.

Asus ZenBook Flip 14

Surface Book 2 13

Dimensions
12.89 x 8.92 x 0.55 (in)
i5 version: 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.51-0.90 (in)
i7 version: 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.59-0.90 (in)

Weight
3.31 pounds
13.5-inch starts at 3.38 pounds

Keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard

Processor
Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7
Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7

RAM
8GB or 16GB RAM
8GB or 16GB

Graphics
Nvidia GeForce MX150
Intel UHD 620
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050

Display
14-inch IPS touch display
13.5-inch PixelSense touch display
15.0-inch PixelSense touch display

Resolution
Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 157 PPI)
3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi)

Storage
Up to 512GB PCIe SSD
Up to 1TB PCIe SSE

Networking
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1

Connectivity
USB-C 3.0, USB-A 3.0 (x2), HDMI, microSD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack
USB-A 3.0 (x2), USB-C 3.1, Surface Connect, SD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack
15-inch only: Xbox Wireless built-in

Windows Hello

Fingerprint scanner
Infrared camera

Operating System
Windows 10
Windows 10

Battery
57 watt-hours
70 watt-hours

Price
$900+

13.5-inch i5: $1,200
13.5-inch i7: $2,000+

Availability
Now
Now

Review
3.5 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars

Design

The ZenBook Flip 14 looks just about like every other ZenBook, with the iconic Asus concentric circle design on the hinge and a Slate Gray aesthetic that’s attractive but very conservative. As a fairly typical convertible 2-in-1, it uses a slightly stiff hinge that allows the display to swivel from clamshell through tent and presentation modes into a rather thick tablet form. Overall, it’s an all-aluminum design that doesn’t stand out in the 2-in-1 field.

Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 13 is a distinctly different animal. It’s significantly thicker at the rear, at 0.90 inches, but it’s only slightly heavier at 3.38 pounds thanks to a lightweight magnesium alloy. All of that extra girth, though, is due to an innovative design whereby the major PC components are all packed into the tear-away display connected via a unique fulcrum hinge to balance the extra weight. You can use that very thin and light tablet on its own, or insert it back into the base forwards or backwards to enable to usual 2-in-1 modes.

Not only is the Surface Book 2 a more modern design with a futuristic vibe, but it’s also more solid. Microsoft wins the design battle by a wide margin.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Performance

Asus chose its components well when configuring the ZenBook Flip 14. You can pick between eighth-generation Intel Core processors, specifically the i5-8250U for low cost, or the i7-8550U for higher performance. This makes it a very potent machine for productivity tasks, while also quite efficient when you’re not pushing the CPU so hard. Then, Asus packed in a low-end discrete GPU, the MX150 mentioned earlier, which is significantly faster than the integrated Intel graphics normally found in thin and light 2-in-1.s

The Surface Book 2 uses the fastest version of the same eighth-generation Intel Core processor, the i7-8650U, and so it promises performance that’s a hair better than the ZenBook. Microsoft stuck a more potent GPU, the GTX 1050, into the machine’s base, which makes it a much better entry-level gaming system, and able to churn through heavier creative tasks even more swiftly. An added bonus is that the tablet portion, with its integrated graphics, is fanless, so the machine is completely quiet unless you’re pushing the discrete GPU.

You’ll find both machines plenty speedy, but the Surface Book 2 13 has a bit more power overall.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Keyboard, mouse, and pen

As a convertible 2-in-1, the ZenBook Flip 14 has the usual diversity of input options — the only thing is they’re all distinctly average. The keyboard’s travel should be more than sufficient, but it has an abrupt bottoming action that makes it feel rather shallow. The expansive touchpad is better, with precise Microsoft Precision Touchpad support and clicky buttons. The active pen, though, is behind the curve with only 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, and the display has a sticky feel that makes inking less than comfortable. The fingerprint scanner does work well with Windows Hello for logging in without a password.

The Surface Book 2, on the other hand, excels when it comes to inputting information. The keyboard is excellent, with copious amounts of travel and a precise feel, and its generously sized Precision Touchpad is rivalled only by the MacBook Pro’s in precise gesture support. The Surface Pen is more accurate with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, tilt support, and some of the quickest response times around. Finally, an infrared camera scans your face almost instantly and logs you in via Windows Hello without asking you to lift a finger.

While the ZenBook Flip 14 is acceptable in keyboard, touchpad, and pen, the Surface Book 2 13 is excellent.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Connectivity

Asus opted to make sure the ZenBook Flip 14 met its users’ legacy needs in connectivity, offering two USB-A 3.0 ports, a single USB-C 3.1 port without Thunderbolt 3 support, a full-sized HDMI port, and a microSD card reader. Wi-Fi needs are met with 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac, and the usual Bluetooth radio is on hand.

Microsoft’s approach with the Surface Book 2 is similar, also building in two USB-A 3.0 ports and a non-Thunderbolt 3 USB-C 3.1 port. That’s an improvement over previous Surface models that eschewed USB-C completely. Add in the usual Surface Connect port for charging and expansion, an SD card reader, 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, and that’s the extent of the machine’s connectivity.

We’re disappointed with both machines’ lack of Thunderbolt 3 support, as that limits display support and makes connecting an external GPU chassis impossible. Asus does include an HDMI port, though, and so it narrowly wins this underwhelming category.

Winner: Asus ZenBook Flip 14

Display

The ZenBook Flip 14 has a  14-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display. It’s very average by objective measurements with contrast, color gamut, and accuracy all being run of the mill, and brightness actually being a little too low. That doesn’t make it a bad display, but it’s nothing special in a sea of 2-in-1s with similar quality. What’s most disappointing is the lack of a 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160) display option that would add a sharper image.

The Surface Book 2 13, on the other hand, continues Microsoft’s trend of selecting extremely high quality displays in the Surface line. This one is a 13.5-inch 3,000 x 2,000 resolution panel that’s incredibly sharp, and it’s in the productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio that’s a bit taller, to show more vertical information (while causing some video letterboxing). The color gamut is just average, but accuracy and gamma are good, so images are true to life. Contrast and brightness are excellent, lending depth to images, and rendering incredible black text on white backgrounds. It’s a productivity user’s dream.

Surface machines rarely lose in the display category, and the ZenBook Flip 14 isn’t about to change things in this shootout. Microsoft wins this category handily.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Portability and battery life

Asus managed to fit a decent amount of battery capacity into the ZenBook Flip 14, at 57 watt-hours. The 14-inch display is a little larger but relatively low-resolution, and the eighth-generation Intel Core CPU is powerful when pushed but efficient when it’s not working too hard. That results in a 2-in-1 that offers surprisingly good longevity when running productivity tasks. Oddly, though, the machine doesn’t last as long on the least-intensive tasks, namely looping a local video. It’s probably good for most of a working day, but might fall just a bit short.

Microsoft packs a whopping 70 watt-hours of battery into the Surface Book 2, divided between the tablet portion and the base. The machine also utilizes Intel’s efficient eighth-generation CPU, promising some serious efficiency. Combined, these factors provides the Surface Book 2 with some of the best battery life you’ll find in this class of notebook. No matter how you’re using it, you’re not likely to find many 14-inch or smaller notebooks that offer better all-day battery life.

The ZenBook Flip 14 is the thinner and slightly lighter option. But the Surface Book 2 isn’t so much larger that we find much fault with its size, and it lasts much longer on a single battery charge. It’s the clear winner here.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Availability and price

The ZenBook Flip 14 starts out at $900 for a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe SSD, which is at the high end of the budget range and a very good deal. The configuration with a Core i7-8550U, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB PCIe SSD comes in at $1,300, which is firmly in premium territory and a decent — but not great — value. Those are the only configurations available, and as noted earlier we bemoan the lack of a 4K UHD option and think many users would be willing to pay for one.

The Surface Book 2 makes no pretense at fitting into the budget sphere. Its lowest-end configuration comes in at $1,200 and scores a seventh-generation Core i5-7300U, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. But, you give up the discrete GPU in that model and would enjoy less performance than you’ll get with the ZenBook Flip 14. If you want that GTX 1050 — and you do — then you’ll have to spend a minimum of $2,000, which brings a Core i7-8650U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. If you want to max things out with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, then you’ll spend a whopping $3,000.

Clearly, the ZenBook Flip 14 is the more affordable machine. You get a lot of performance out of the Surface Book 2 13, but whether that equates to more value is a dubious proposition at Microsoft’s pricing.

Winner: ZenBook Flip 14

Microsoft’s innovative design equals a win

The Surface Book 2 13 is one of the most innovative notebooks on the market, and it simply outclasses other 2-in-1s with its tear-off tablet display and high-performance graphics built into the base. It offers a solid build, great input options, and unparalleled battery life, putting it at the top of its class. The ZenBook Flip 14 is a decent choice against other convertible 2-in-1s given its stealthy gaming chops, but it’s outclassed by Microsoft’s offering.

The biggest reservation when considering the Surface Book 2 13 is its price, which is somewhere in the stratosphere. It’s a premium machine, but we don’t hesitate to recommend it for anyone who wants to maximize their 2-in-1 flexibility and performance.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Dell XPS 13 vs. Microsoft Surface Book 2 13
  • Asus ZenBook 13 vs. HP Spectre 13
  • LG Gram 15Z980 vs. Microsoft Surface Book 2 15
  • Asus Zenbook Flip 14 UX461UN review
  • Samsung Notebook 9 Pen vs. Microsoft Surface Book 2 13


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