Just before the holiday season hits Asus loves to release their new and improved line of Republic of Gamers (ROG) laptops. Aimed at FPS and esports enthusiasts alike, ROG laptops are mid-range gaming systems that have yet to disappoint me due to their impressive price-performance metrics. The Asus ROG Strix GL703VM Scar Edition continues to deliver the premium level of build quality I’ve come to expect from an Asus product, but the specs feel all too familiar.
Retailing for $2,000 CAD, the Asus ROG Strix GL703VM’s base configuration packs in some powerful hardware. At the forefront of the system is an Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core processor running at 2.8GHz base, partnered with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card with 6GB of GDDR5 memory. The base configuration also includes 16 GB of GDDR4 SDRAM running at 2400MHz, a 256GB NVME SSD, and a 1TB SSHD for storage, but these can be upgraded before purchase or later on if the user desires. These specs are respectable for the price, but they aren’t anything new that I’ve yet to experience which is a little disappointing.
That being said, the GTX 1060 and i7-7700HQ are a great combination for everyday multitasking and 1080p gaming, delivering framerates of 60FPS in most AAA games on high settings. However, what users will get the most value out of when they use the ASUS ROG Strix GL703VM is the new 17.3” 120Hz monitor in esports titles, including Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. A majority of gaming laptops in this price range only allow for a 60Hz G-Sync panel, but Asus has decided to take the risk and provide something different from the status quo to their consumers. Personally, I find this to be a great design choice considering their target market of FPS gamers, who prioritize framerate over fancy graphics. Compared to the previously reviewed GL702VM, this generation’s screen feels substantially more vibrant and saturated, packing a full sRGB range and a matte finish for minimal glare.
I also love that the Asus ROG Strix GL703VM borrows its core chassis design from the Asus Zephyrus lineup. The sleek gunmetal backplate, the carbon fiber body, and the minimal amount of coloured accents makes every design aspect pop, while still retaining the illusion of something professional. Users can find commonly used ports on the left side of the GL703VM, which includes two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, mini display port, an RJ45 LAN jack and a headphone jack as the cherry on top. Another set of USB 3.0 ports, an SD Card Reader and a USB Type-C port can be located on the right side of the machine, which are perfect to use for peripherals or a VR headset.
While the Asus ROG Strix GL703VM retains the same chicklet keys from previous generations, I really enjoy the new layout and how the keys are spaced. The completely customizable Aura RGB lighting system is a great touch for users who want to add a personal splash of colour or effects to their experience and I always appreciate that the WASD keys shine brighter so the user can locate them easily during dark lit gaming sessions. The touch pad also remains the same, but still feels responsive and tracks the user’s inputs accurately.
The only disappointment that continues to persist in every ROG laptop I’ve tried thus far are the jet-engine like sounds that come out when these machines are under load. Even while wearing a headset, the Asus ROG Strix GL703VM blasts its fans so loud I can still hear them revving while playing games. This is, unfortunately, a problem that most gaming laptops suffer from and is the key reason I feel nervous playing games on-the-go or in a college study hall because I feel I’m distracting other people. One problem that was thankfully addressed was heat. In my previous review of the GL702M I docked points because the machine would get so hot that I didn’t want to pick it up or put it on my lap until it cooled down for a solid five minutes. While the GL703VM still hits those high temperatures internally when under load, the reworked heat distribution and the size of the heat spreaders makes it so that the user doesn’t need to feel it themselves, which is a great improvement.
I highly recommend picking up the Asus ROG Strix GL703VM if you’re looking for a mid-range gaming laptop. While I was initially disappointed by the all too common specs, this machine won me over easily with its sleek design and new 120Hz monitor. When Asus picks a target market they know exactly how to cater to them with tailor picked features and useful software that they will want to take advantage of. What’s even better is that these late 2017 models can be found frequently going on sale for upwards of $300 off, perfect for the budget-oriented student that needs a powerful machine for school and still wants to game.
A retail version of this device reviewed was provided by the manufacturer. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedureshere.
Chrome OS has been gaining traction in recent years. Being a low-cost option that allows most people to do all their computing needs in a low overhead option, it is no wonder it is garnering a following. Google is not content in having Chrome OS running on exclusively low-end hardware, and for this fall’s lineup, the company is releasing the $999 USD convertible laptop, the Google Pixelbook. Being one of the most beautiful laptops currently available on top of Chrome OS maturing as a platform, the Pixelbook makes an attractive, albeit unique offering to the laptop market in 2017.
To review the Pixelbook, I did something different than I normally do: I used it as my primary travel laptop, only using my desktop for office work. I did this to immerse myself in the ecosystem and see if the set of tools on the Chrome OS platform—with the addition of Android Apps—would allow for most of my computer needs. Being a newer platform, Chrome OS lacks many of the apps people expect on MacOS, Windows, or even Linux. So to really experience what the Pixelbook had to offer, the best way was to engross myself entirely in the platform.
Before we get into what the Pixelbook was like to use overall, I would be doing this review a disservice were I not to talk about the design and overall feel of the laptop. While the concept of convertible laptops has been around for a while—in many form factors—few achieve the brilliance of what the Pixelbook has on offer.
With a weight of just over 2.5 lbs. and a thickness of just 10mm, the Pixelbook is near impossibly thin and light, making it one of the most convenient laptops to take on road trips or even just to and from work.
The all metal and glass construction give the Pixelbook a feel of quality, and the subtle touches such as the white section of glass on the back of the screen harken back to the design seen on the Pixel series of phones. It is a laptop that oozes quality and design from all angles, and believe me, using it in the wild will turn heads.
The keyboard is one of the best I have ever used. The backlit, chicklet style keyboard offers plenty of space, while the travel of the keys gives a satisfying level of click that makes it a true joy to type on.
Just below the keyboard is the white silicone palm rests that call back to that white on metal aesthetic observed on the back of the laptop. While a bit odd at first, after typing on the laptop for a while, they provide the perfect amount of comfort without being distracting. They also act as a separation between the screen and the metal body that ensures the Pixelbook stays safe when it is closed up in your bag.
Sitting between the two silicone palm rests is the white glass trackpad. As one would expect (or at very least hope) from a laptop of this level, it is a joy to use. With a great feel and an accuracy level that can is comparable to what is seen on MacBooks.
While the trackpad is fantastic, the speakers I would only call subpar. Located under the keyboard of the unit, the speakers are good for most standard audio listening, although, with no real bass to speak of, the audio profile experience on the Pixelbook is far from optimal. I will say I like that even when in tablet mode the sound managed to sound clear, without the muffled audio experience I have seen on other convertible laptops.
The display of the Pixelbook, while not one of the best screens on the market, more than makes for a fantastic viewing experience. The 12.3” touchscreen has a 3:2 aspect ratio with a resolution of 2400 x 1600. It looks stunning, is bright, and can be used even on a sunny day. If there is one gripe I have to point out it is the bezels. I see why they are needed, giving a place to grab in tablet mode, but with so many moving to reduce this area as much as possible, it is strange seeing Google release a product like this in late 2017.
Under the hood of the Pixelbook—on the base model we tested—is a seventh generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. It is also possible to get the Pixelbook with an i7, 16GB RAM and 512GB storage, but even at the base configuration, it is overkill for what Chrome OS needs. Even with over ten tabs open, Android apps running, and a YouTube video playing, the machine never showed any sign of slowing down. The fact this is all achieved without the need for any level of fans or the Pixelbook getting hot is a testament to the design by Google.
For IO, Google has granted the Pixelbook two USB-C ports, one on either side of the unit, and yes, both can be used to charge the unit and allow you to expand the ports with dongles. On the left-hand side, the Pixelbook also has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume rocker, and a power button.
While the laptop is a marvel of design and craftsmanship, people buy laptops for what they do, not how they look, and this is where things get a bit more complicated. The Pixelbook, as I mentioned earlier runs Chrome OS, and it comes with all the limitations and advantages that entails.
Chrome OS is built on Linux, but Google has built from that one of the most rock solid, stable, and secure desktop OS’s currently on the market. Never in my time using the Pixelbook did I experience any crashes or any fear of getting a virus.
With that stability and security comes some limitations. Until recently Chrome OS had a very limited series of apps. Basically, it just a way to run the Chrome web browser. It did that job very well, and if you live your life based on the Google apps ecosystem, you will be able to do most of your everyday tasks. Sadly, this also means if you are a creator that needs more advanced tools such as video or audio editing software, you may be out of luck.
Google claims the Pixelbook has a 10hour battery, and in testing, running Android and having a series of tabs open in Chrome, I would say that is close to accurate. I managed on average 9-10 hours on a single charge, and while this dipped while running more advanced Android games, I would say I was impressed with how the Pixelbook faired, especially considering its svelte form factor.
Games that did work, worked well, I tested a series of games throughout working with the Pixelbook. Games like Minecraft: Story Mode, and The Banner Saga worked perfectly. There was no sign of stuttering, graphical glitches or even slow down. If I was not aware I was playing Android games, I would be sure I was working on a native application. Google has done some real work ensuring these games work, and while not everything worked, those that did, worked perfectly.
Now, I should mention that the Pixelbook is a convertible laptop, and the hinge Google uses for the device makes it a joy to flip to tablet mode, tent mode, and everything in between. While I did not find myself using it in tablet mode all that often, for the most part, I had no troubles and the OS worked in that form factor. I did notice a few minor hiccups, especially with the Chrome OS touch keyboard missing some of the features I would expect from a modern tablet keyboard, but for the most part, it works, at least for minor tasks.
Before we go any further, we should touch on the elephant in the room: Android apps. With the Pixelbook, Android Apps are now at the forefront of the Chrome OS experience. They help bridge the gap between what Chrome OS can do as a platform and other OS offerings. In my experience, they worked, and in some cases worked great.
Apps—like most of the Google Suite, Microsoft Office, and even Netflix—ran smoothly. They resize as expected, can be moved around, and feel like part of the native Chrome OS experience. Now drag and drop between Chrome and Android apps is currently non-existent, at least from testing, but everything else works as you would hope. It is these few apps that make me hopeful for Android apps on the platform.
Sadly not everything worked as well as these few apps. Many felt like phone apps or games running on a laptop. Many are in a virtual orientation, some needed to restart to be set in full screen, and some simply crashed when they were started. It is still in the early days of the platform, and I was surprised at how the apps that ran, ran very well, with no stuttering or major issues. but it is clear that developers need to do some work to ensure games and apps can run as intended on the platform.
It is amazing to see how far Google has come from the Beta to running apps like Facebook Messenger or Spotify so well, but it still feels as if Android apps on Chrome OS are second class citizens. There needs to be more work put into making the Android App experience feel more natural, ensure things crash less and allowing apps to work with the native desktop environment when possible.
For most cases, it is just a matter of Google helping developers move their apps over to a bigger screen using the latest tech, but this is an issue Google has struggled with for years. Look at the Android Tablet market to see how that is going. But if they can make it work, and build the Chrome OS Android library, it does make for some exciting possibilities, even just looking at what works now.
Not to be left out of the stylus-future most modern laptops are embracing, Google made the Pixelbook Pen available. For $99 USD ($129 CAD) you can have an active stylus that, while it may seem like a needless expense, actually expands on what makes the Pixelbook so special. I should mention that there is noticeable lag when using older android stylus apps. The ones that use the newest API’s were smooth and acted as one would hope, but the older models were almost unusable making for a less than ideal experience. For a pen that costs $99, you hope to have a slew of uses out of the box, sadly that is not the case at this time.
While the app selection may be on the low side, the stylus can be used to navigate the desktop and this seems to be the way the Pixelbook is meant to be used. It is a quick and intuitive way to use the OS, especially in tablet mode.
While the Pen is very comfortable to hold, I am a little disappointed Google did not include a place to attach the pen to the unit. If you are not using the pen, you will need to find a place to stow the stylus, as it does have a tendency to roll away when just left on the desk. The Pixelbook Pen does, however, pack a fun little feature: with the help of the button on the side, it can be used to select part of the screen for use with Google Assistant.
Oh yes, the PixelBook is the first Chrome OS-based device with Google Assistant built right into the OS. It can be accessed as discussed above, and with the help of the Pixelbook Pen, it can also be called by the simple tapping of the Google Assistant key on the keyboard. While I am not a fan of assistance on desktop operating systems, I actually found Google Assistant handy to have around, especially when working and needing to quickly check up on something.
The Pixelbook is a wonder of design and technology, but it also feels like a step into a Chrome OS future I am not sure everyone is ready for. Overall the device feels very well put together, the OS is evolving in the ways it needs to, and with new features added every few months, it is a platform that packs loads of potential. But sadly, potential does little for people who need a feature or application the platform lacks right now.
If you are someone who does writing or spends most of their time in the browser, the Pixelbook could be a perfect laptop for your needs. However, if you are someone who uses their laptop to create, be it images, video, or audio, the platform may not be ready for that—just yet. Whatever your reason, if you feel Chrome OS is right for you, the Pixelbook is the flagship device for the platform, and is the new tech to beat as my favourite device of 2017.
A retail version of this device reviewed was purchased by the reviewer. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedureshere.
Gaming on a PC can be cumbersome. With the best setups being large hulking machines that primarily live underneath our desks, PC gaming isn’t a very mobile hobby. In response to this, gaming laptops have been on the rise to meet the demands of players looking for a mobile solution that can still provide them with power comparable to their home systems. MSI has stepped up as one of the premier builders of portable gaming machines. Recently, I’ve gotten my hands on an MSI Stealth Pro laptop, a portable machine that features much of the same hardware that can be found in a top-tier home PC.
Laptops are designed to be carried around and the MSI Stealth Pro certainly accomplishes that. It is one of the lighter 15-inch laptops around weighing in at 4.2 lbs. This means that the laptop can easily slide into a backpack or bag and sit comfortably while you go about your day. When you finally take the laptop out, you are greeted with a wonderful black brushed aluminum finish with red accents. The laptop’s interior is a similar black aluminum construction. Nestled in the body of the laptop is the backlit keyboard in all its colourful glory.
The MSI Stealth Pro comes with a 1920 x 1080 screen that just begs to be seen. Colours on the screen are vibrant. The muted pastels and sharp details of Absolver looked stunning. Playing other games such as The Witcher 3 and Total War: Warhammer, I found myself amazed at how crisp and clean the visuals were. This laptop certainly brings its A-game in the graphics department.
Underneath the hood of this machine is some amazing hardware. The star of the show is the Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU. This card, while a bit aged, still carries its weight. Many of the games that I played on this machine were auto-detected to ultra settings and the card handled it all with ease. Only in The Witcher 3 did I find myself lowering the settings down to high so that I could keep the FPS around 60 instead of the 40 that it was at on high.
Alongside the wonderful graphics card is an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor. Comparable to many other top of the line laptop CPUs, the MSI Stealth Pro can comfortably stand alongside them. Even with many tabs open in Chrome, video streaming, and a game running, the laptop handled it all wonderfully.
The MSI Stealth Pro comes with a 256 GB SSD that has plenty of space for all of your important programs and services. Alongside the SSD is a 1 TB HDD. Between the two hard drives, there is plenty of space for anything you might ever need.
All this strength does come at a cost. That cost is most evident in the battery life of the MSI Stealth Pro. With just normal web browsing over Wi-Fi, this laptop only lasted around 3 hours. When gaming on battery, that lasted much shorter.
At the end of the day, the MSI Stealth Pro is an amazing laptop. It packs strength comparable to an average home system with the portability of a laptop. All of this comes without cost to the laptop’s size or weight. While this laptop suffers from poor battery life and some users have reported issues with heat, it still managed to handle anything I threw at it. For anyone looking for a strong laptop that is always ready to go, you cannot go wrong with the MSI Stealth Pro.
With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft shifted away from a passive player with hardware, diving headfirst into making their own devices. This attention to delivering uniquely Windows experiences is evident in the Surface Book range of laptops. With its fall 2015 launch, the Surface Book gave us a good idea of what to expect from the flagship Windows laptop. Now with 2016 coming to an end, Microsoft has released an update to the line with the Surface Book with Performance Base. While not a true successor to the range, it still manages to be one of the most impressive laptops on the market, even if that power does come with a hefty price tag.
The Surface Book remains one of the more inventive 2-in-1 laptops currently available, even a year after release. The unique dynamic fulcrum hinge gives the notebook a new futuristic feel. Combine that with the silver magnesium body with beautiful, sharp lines and the Surface Books look straight out of a science fiction film. It’s a stunning 13.5 device that stands a testament of how new laptops should look.
The vibrant 3000×2000 display is completely removable with the simple press of a button, revealing one of the most powerful tablets currently on the market. The 13.5-inch size makes it a great note taking machine, with the help of the included stylus pen.
The real excitement happens when you drop the screen into the dock. This base is much more than a simple keyboard – it allows the real power of this laptop to be unleashed. Packing a NVIDIA GeForce 965M with 2GB, and an extended battery that will extend the life up to 16 total hours. The base gives the system access to power performance users crave. The fact Microsoft was able to pack this all into a form factor that is only marginally heavier than last years model is impressive (3.7 lbs vs. 3.5 lbs).
The model tested was the fully loaded $3,300 rig. This computer comes packed with a high-end I7 CPU, 16GB Ram, 1TB SSD, and the aforementioned Nvidia 965M dedicated graphics chip. This notebook is no slouch, even running multiple tabs, working with Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premier, there was no noticeable slowdown. The Surface Book hummed along taking every program we could throw at it.
With all this horsepower, the Surface Book with Performance Base can run games, and in some cases, very well. It will not replace a dedicated gaming rig, or a modern gaming laptop working with the latest and greatest from the Nvidia 1000 series, but if you are a game player on the go and only have this, you should be able to enjoy even some of the most recent titles.
In our tests, we tried it all, the latest titles from Microsoft first party studios including Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4, along with titles such as Civilization VI, Overwatch and Diablo 3. Forza Horizon 3 was the worst of the lot, even with the graphics turned way down and running at 1080P, the Surface Book could not manage to achieve a playable framerate. Gears of War 4, on the other hand, worked surprisingly well. With native resolution running on medium setting and V-Sync off, the Surface Book managed to get a very playable framerate at around 30FPS. It did not look as good as you would see on a well-equipped gaming desktop or even the Xbox One, but it was very playable. I even managed to get some Multiplayer in a while testing the laptop and saw no issues during high intensity gaming sessions.
Civilization VI, as expected, ran as any player would hope. With all settings turned up, running at native resolution, the Surface Book showed no lag or stuttering. The game was a pleasure to play, and with the added touch screen features, was a real joy to play on with the Surface Book. The same can be said for Overwatch and Diablo 3, while both can run well on relatively modest hardware, The Surface Book with performance Base managed over 75FPS at 1920 x 1200, and Diablo 3 maintained an impressive framerate at max settings at native resolution in crowded areas.
Overall the Surface Book surpassed all my gaming expectations. It is an ultraportable 2-in-1 that any gaming enthusiast can use, and not regret. It will not replace that beefy gaming laptop anytime soon, but it also is far more portable for a long trip.
Looking at the 3DMark’s Cloud Gate benchmark we see the Surface Book with Performance Base achieve an impressive score of over 8800. In the more intensive Skydiving test, it squeaked out at over 10,000. Those numbers put it above most gaming laptops from 3-4 years ago, and even above many every day bigger laptops from 2016. There is no denying, the Surface Book with Performance Base is a beast of a machine wrapped in a very stylish package. While it won’t have any chance of running VR on either the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, it is hard to expect a laptop in this class to come close to the specs for VR, especially without producing significantly more heat.
With all its features, the Surface Book would be wasted if it was not enjoyable to use. Thankfully, Microsoft managed to make one of the most comfortable laptops I have ever tested. The keyboard has the perfect level of feedback and travel to make every keystroke satisfying. The glass touchpad is also best in class. Many Windows laptops drop the ball when it comes to the touchpad, making them nearly unusable. Microsoft has managed, by some miracle, to make a touchpad that feels as good as a Mac trackpad, and that is saying something. All touch gestures work as expected, and the size works perfectly on the small form factor device.
The 16-hour battery life that Microsoft boasts, while possible, is not the norm. If you are doing any possessor intensive computing, the Surface Book with Performance Base will archive around 10 hours, and that number could drop to around five if you start any rendering in Premiere. While not the near mythic levels of battery that Microsoft advertises, you should have little issues running the Surface Book in a normal days use without a charger. If you are going on a trip, bring a charger with you, but the peace of mind knowing your laptop will last you through the day is a great feeling.
Microsoft has opted to not drop all standard USB ports and SD Card readers in favour the newer USB type C standard, and that is fine by me. It was refreshing to be able to use the Surface Book for field work and be able to use it with a range of devices without the need for dongles or adapters. All standard cables plugged into the 2 USB 3 Ports on the side, and the SD card, as always, was an invaluable tool to have when taking photos. The magnetic charging cable was also a welcome sight. I have broken many a laptop by tripping on the charging cable, so the fact I have one less thing to worry about is a relief.
At over $3000 this is not a small investment and something that may set it out of reach of many would-be buyers. But if you have the funds to spend, the Surface Book with Performance Base is a great laptop. It is the flagship device Microsoft needed, and it is one that any Windows fan should keep in mind this holiday season. Yes, there are cheaper laptops that can do most of what the Surface Book with Performance Base can do, but few look or feel so good doing them.
The time has come again for me to explore the wonderful world of laptops. This time, however, I won’t be talking about a hefty gaming laptop adorned with neon lights, but rather something much more portable, convenient, and better suited to everyday use. I’ve been given another apple from the ASUS tree, and this time it comes in the form of the ultra-handy Zenbook UX305UA.
ASUS have produced a pretty well-rounded machine with the UX305UA, but it isn’t a new design. This Zenbook is a slightly updated model of the UX305LA, which came out in 2015. ASUS dropped in the latest Intel Skylake platform and probably called it a day, essentially keeping everything the same from the LA. What we are given is a super-sleek and lightweight laptop with a gorgeous display, great battery life, and impressive internals. However, noisy fans, the lack of a backlit keyboard, and a Wi-Fi range that’s rather limited may cause some potential buyers to second-guess their decision.
To start off, the UX305 is beautifully designed—on the outside as well as the guts of the machine. Measuring in at around 13 inches, it’s been outfitted with a slim-aluminum body with a unique circular design etched into the surface. From what I’ve read, there seem to be only two colour options available: Obsidian Stone and Aurora Metallica. I spent my time with the Aurora model, which is the lighter colour of the two. It’s been reported that the Obsidian is very prone to smudging, so I recommend you go with the Aurora if that’s going to be an issue. The full-metal body does add some slight weight to the laptop, but to me this means a tougher body and that’s more than welcome on a thin laptop. Measuring in at just over half an inch thick and slightly under three pounds, you’ll be hard pressed to find something more compact. Then again, while it isn’t up there with the thinnest or lightest among its companions, it’s definitely one of the most portable.
This is further backed up by the workload the UX305 can handle. Powering this undersized monster is in Intel i7-6500U running at 2.5 GHz. Producing our graphics will be Intel’s HD Graphics 520 that can power its way right through to 950 MHz. This is further enhanced by dual-channeled RAM, which sits at 8GB. Thanks to this, we see graphical results comparable to that of lower mid-range graphics cards, so if you were planning on gaming with this thing, then I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. A game like Overwatch for example ran smoothly at low graphical settings and a lower resolution. That’s about as good as you’re going to get with a game like that on this laptop, so don’t even think about installing The Witcher 3. The good news comes if you plan to use this for work or everyday use. It had no problem operating at a fast pace; even with multiple Internet tabs open and a couple programs running. This all looks extra pristine on the Zenbook’s full HD 1920×1080 display. Furthermore, I clocked the machine at draining its battery from full to zero in just over nine hours, which is more than the average battery on the market.
I must come back to the bad news though. The keyboard is an issue with the UX305, which I’ve noticed in other reports on the device. For one, it’s not backlit, which is inexcusable in this day in age. The keys themselves are a nice size and their layout is acceptable, but typing takes some time to get used to. I found the keys to be kind of stiff and pretty soft, and the feedback I received never did feel right. It’s a pretty quiet keyboard, but I do not recommend using it for long periods of typing. I’ll quickly mention the track pad as well, because there are some who still prefer it to a mouse. It’s actually rather smooth and has a reasonable response time along with good accuracy. There is very little in the way of customization, however.
The machine also gets noticeably loud at times, which is probably why its operating temperature is so cool. The fan would kick on often and aggressively, even when I was just doing simple things like browsing the Internet. Again, I’ve found several other similar reports of this as well. While the fan doesn’t run long on simple tasks, it gets the point that you think you left a program running the whole time and your machine is overheating. These overworking fans do their job very well though, as the Zenbook never got to a point where it was uncomfortable to hold, or left my desk feeling like it was on fire.
In the past, I’ve had some good and bad experiences with ASUS products, but more times than not I’ve felt satisfied with what I was using. The Zenbook UX305UA is no different. This machine may not look like it can do much based on first glance, and that only improves the experience. Workhorse would be a good word to describe it, as it has no problem handling daily office tasks or if you’re looking to kick back with a movie on the HD display. Gaming is a no go here, unless you like indie titles, and even then you could find a better machine for the same price. Though there are some physical setbacks, the Zenbook is all about value for work, and it provides that in spades.
In an event in Beijing Xiaomi revealed two new pieces of tech that will be turning some heads in the near future. The new Mi Notebook Air, the first laptop from Xiaomi, and the Redmi Pro, a new high-end budget phone.
I remember feeling like the biggest cheese when I got my Microsoft Surface. While other people were bringing their iPad’s to school, thinking they were so great, I would walk up to them and say “Oh yeah? Well does your oversized iPhone have a keyboard and a USB port? Didn’t think so.” Then I would walk away smugly, never letting on that my Surface was a Surface RT, Microsoft’s entry into the tablet market. The existence of the Surface Pro made my unit obsolete and to this day it serves more as a paperweight than anything else, but it was a birthday gift, and one should never look a gift horse in the mouth. If only I had a Microsoft Surface Book, then I could’ve really spun some heads.
The Surface Book feels like the logical conclusion to the tablet era: built as solid as a dedicated laptop, but allowing for the versatility that comes from a tablet. That may sound like a familiar line from my Spectre review, but this versatility is thanks in no small part to the Surface Book’s detachable screen.
Staying true to the Surface’s design, the tablet screen is not bound to the keyboard, allowing for the full freedom that tablet devices enjoy. As a tablet, the Surface Book comes in at a concise 12.3”x 8.6”x 0.3” fitting easily in almost any backpack (and I might go so far to say, any messenger bag). Even with the keyboard the Surface Book sits at a lean 12.3”x 9.1”x 0.9,” weighing only 3.3lbs.
On its own, the screen feels durable and offers a crisp 3000×2000 resolution. It’s improved by the inclusion of the Surface Pen, which clips snuggly to the side. While Surface fans may be shocked to find the kickstand missing, the screen attaches to the keyboard on a firm swivel hinge, locking to metallic clips. Users can set the screen facing the keyboard, laptop-style, or reversed so the keyboard acts as the stand (without the worry of sliding the keys around on tables).
Disengaging the tablet can be a bit tricky at times, as the function can be hindered by certain running applications or battery life. This can make the whole affair a bit inconvenient, however, given how sturdy the magnetic clips are it’s a small trade-off for such structural integrity.
Durability is consistent throughout the whole unit; the keyboard has a sleek, metallic feel and a rigid design. Although, if I have one complaint it comes from the very tight feeling I’ve always felt the Surface tablet keyboards have. The keys feel very squished together and often I hit “s” when looking for “a”. However, this is more an subjective criticism and not an intense design flaw.
On top of a strong exterior, the Surface Book comes with a powerful interior. The device I reviewed came equipped with an Intel Core i7-6600 dual-core processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of space. With its two USB 3.0 ports, I could confidently record and edit video, and, with what may be my favourite feature, sketch in Photoshop—It was a joy to take the Surface outside and draw with technological precision while surrounded by nature.
As a tablet, the Surface Book uses an Intel HD Graphics 520 graphics card, but while docked, the Surface Book is backed by the power of a Nvidia GeForce 940M GPU with 1GB dedicated memory. While the Surface Book is by no means a gaming rig, it can handle less demanding games on reduced settings. The fact that it can handle as much as it did puts it leagues above most other tablets.
As always I tried my favoured Enter the Gungeon, and it ran as smooth as expected. Trying to run a bit of Vermintide, I had to drop the resolution and bring some of the detailing down to average, but it ran smoothly afterwards.
Running some of the more ambitious games may be hit or miss though. With reduced settings (essentially console settings: mid to low), the Surface Book could handle The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, although it struggled to run Batman: Arkham City (but that might not be entirely the tablet’s fault).
The Surface Pro feels like a thing out of time. It has no business being as good as it is, which is essentially a boosted tablet. That being said, it also has no business being as expensive as it is; the i7 model costing $3,499.99 dollars CND, ($2699.99 USD). At such a steep price, anyone looking for a powerful laptop can find competent rigs from Alienware or Asus within the $1500-2000 mark, and anyone looking for a general-use Surface Pro can find one for $1100 (on the low end.)
Although if money’s no object to you, then I would strongly recommend the Surface Book. For all it’s capable of doing, combined with unprecedented versatility, the Surface Book stands well above its predecessors and competitors.
I’ve never totally understood why people own tablets. It’s probably the reason I never got into them, even at their conception. Why would I want a bigger version of my phone, when I have a more powerful laptop I’m already carrying in a bag? It’s the same reason that my Surface RT sits on the shelf, mostly collecting dust. Even the “merging” of the two offered in some laptops never truly sold me, because they would always be as limited as a tablet. However, the HP Spectre Pro x360 G1 may have changed my mind, offering as it does the power of a laptop with the convenience of a tablet.
I was genuinely impressed with the Spectre. Initially I had concerns due to its size – it weighs in at a mere 3.2 lbs, and feels a bit thin at .61” when folded. However, the Spectre is surprisingly sturdy, with a durable metallic feel to it. At 2.5” x 8.5”, the Spectre fits comfortably in most bags, and its lightweight feel never wears on your back. The 13.3″ LED touchscreen is solid, responsive, and easy to maintain. I never once felt worried as I folded it about and sat it upon the table so I could watch videos in a crisp 1920 x 1080 resolution while I was washing dishes.
The Spectre’s keyboard maintains the strong, metallic feel of the whole unit. While the keyboard backlight only has an on/off setting, I never found the keys were too dark to see in low-light usage. The Spectre’s speakers output quite a bit, although I felt it was an odd design choice for the speakers to be located under the laptop. Because of this, when used as a laptop, the Spectre produces sound that can be a bit muffled; however, when the Spectre is folded into tablet-mode, the sound does come across more clearly and audibly.
If I have any complaints with the Spectre’s design, they are minor. The elongated keyboard and trackpad take some getting used to. Very often I found myself typing “s” in place of “a,” and having to reach quite a bit with myhand for the right-click button, both of which got a little annoying. However, like I said, these are mainly preference complaints, and not real design flaws.
Behind its sleek design comes a bit of power. The Spectre is backed by a i7-5600U 2.6GHz Dual-Core processor, and 8 GBs of RAM. The Spectre can competently handle most laptop use, smoothly running Adobe Suite, Microsoft Office, and Hauppauge Capture.
It’s quite a competent gaming laptop as well. I enjoyed some smooth rounds of Enter the Gungeon on it, and even, to my surprise, some Warhammer: Vermintide missions, too. While the Spectre admittedly struggled to run Vermintide at higher video settings, the game ran fairly smoothly with the graphics reduced. Streamers and Let’s Players will also find use in the Spectre as it comes equipped with an HD webcam and three USB 3.0 ports (perfect for a PVR, mic, and controller).
The battery life on the Spectre is phenomenal, lasting upwards to 12-hours on a single charge. The unit also charges pretty quickly, which is helpful to those of us who might otherwise overcharge their computer by falling asleep with it plugged in. Given the combo of strong battery and efficient charging, I found I never unexpectedly ran out of battery.
An added bonus of the Spectre is its 360-degree swivel hinge. I’ll be honest, flipping a laptop’s keyboard over into a stand always used to make me nervous, for fear of the buttons getting scratched and ruined. But the Spectre made me see the value in pairing a high-end laptop with a tablet possessing the power of a laptop. Being able to use an Alienware for streaming while having the Spectre for recording that stream took my Twitch game to a whole other level.
Much like Windows Surface Pro, the SpectrePro comes equipped with touch-pen functionality, allowing for a more precise use of the touch-screen, which is essential for working with programs like Photoshop. As a sort-of artist, this would be invaluable to me, as I am often doodling during my commute or on the go, and the added workspace of Photoshop would be incredible. Sadly, the version I demoed did not come with the pen, so I must continue to dream.
The Spectre x360 Pro sold me on the idea that laptops can be tablets, and tablets can be laptops. It’s perfectly versatile, convenient to use, and backed by more power than you’d expect in a device like this. For a laptop ranging from $1500-2000 (depending on the customization) it really is worth the price, especially as an alternative to the Windows Surface Book that currently dominates the market. If you’re in the market for a device with all the power of a laptop and the ease of use that comes with a tablet, the Spectrex360 Pro is the one for you.
The new Razer Core has been announced with price and availabilities.
The graphics card enclosure will cost $399 along with the purchase of a Razer Blade Stealth or a Razer Blade. The enclosure itself will sell for $499. You can pre-order one starting in March from the Razer Store and the device will begin shipping in April.
The enclosure is compatible with the AMD Radeon 300 Series and the NVIDIA Maxwell chipsets.
The Razer Core is a special enclosure for graphics cards so that even a laptop can run those high-end, demanding games. Simply install your graphics cards and plug the Core to your laptop. The Core needs no tools to install your chipsets and it’s aluminum case promises to be all the protection you need.
With the Core plugged into your laptop, it will not only charge the internal battery, but it will be like using a desktop with the new computing power that’s available to you.
A full list of specs and compatible cards can be found here.
Earlier this year, ASUS launched the startlingly mediocre ROG G771J. When I reviewed it, I felt it was an affront to everything the Republic of Gamers badge stood for. And it wasn’t just me; by and large, consumers and reviewers alike have been underwhelmed by it. While some say that a successful act is a difficult one to follow, I’d argue that a failure from arguably the most trusted brand in gaming is even more difficult. Get it right, and at best it’s a thankless success—get it wrong, though… It’s no surprise, then, that I approached the latest 17 inch, mid-high-end ultrabook GL752VW with a sense of trepidation. I didn’t know if my confidence in ASUS could handle another disappointment on the scale of the G771J.
Sure, irritating little faults persist, such as the insane lightshow that escapes from under the keycaps when the backlighting is on even the lowest setting, but I wouldn’t expect a total physical redesign between then and now. And really, it was that thermal throttling that killed the 771 for me. At first glance, the new i7-6700HQ running at a slightly faster 2.6 GHz, the new GTX 960M, and even slimmer profile wouldn’t inspire confidence in the 752’s ability to handle its heat. But in truth, I never once experienced any throttling in my time with it. And boy, did I make a run of it.
Knowing that heat was the bane of the 771’s performance, I immediately set out to make the new 752 weep. I threw all the same games (and some new ones too) at it, pushing both the CPU and the GPU to their limits, and it never once hiccupped under the stress. Not once. Clearly ASUS maintains a staff of literal wizards, because the thinner form factor and more powerful hardware has no business being more heat-stable. But it was and it is, and you can colour me impressed.
I’m also quite fond of the all-aluminum version that ASUS sent over. The brushed finish is supposed to be styled after the F-22 Raptor—though perhaps that’s best kept quiet as the F-22 was one of the most needlessly over-expensive military projects in history that requires more than forty hours of maintenance for every hour of flight. We’ll look past that, though, and just admit that it’s quite a handsome brute. And brute it is. It shaves nearly a full pound off the 771, but the 752 is still a big, lumbering, 6.6lb, 17.3 inch laptop. I’ve always been a big supporter of clunky, high-powered portable options, but after my experience with the almost dainty Alienware 13 a few months back, I’m not so sure that bigger is always better anymore. But I certainly can’t fault the 752 for targeting a sector of the market that desires a larger option, and to be honest, 6.6lbs is very manageable for the size—especially considering the performance it boasts. And I’d be lying if I said that 17 inch IPS panel was anything but stunning.
It all does come at a bit of a price, though, and oddly for one of my articles, it’s not actually the monetary one. Actually, I find the prices all throughout the range of options to be very reasonable, as long as you shy away from the options with the ludicrously expensive 32GB ram packages. Where the 752 really suffers, though, is—like the 771—in battery life. It’s a never-ending arms race, the one between display size, hardware performance, battery life, and weight. At some point, at least one, and probably even two of those contenders is going to have to bow out to let the other two or three really shine. It’s difficult to really fault ASUS for following their mission statement of no compromise in the pursuit of performance, but it’s probably worth mentioning that when not plugged in and downloading via WIFI, I managed to eat through the majority of a charge while just downloading Mechwarrior Online, let alone even playing it. Of course, it’s a press model, and I don’t know who else has abused it and how badly, but with the incredible performance it boasts, I wouldn’t expected the consumer 752 battery life to be much better. Maybe it’s not so far off from that F-22 after all, then.
If I had to nitpick—and obviously I do—the placement of all the ports towards the front is pretty awkward. It leaves connected devices and cables either in your way, or cutting across your work area, rather than conveniently down the backside of a table. But small annoyances aside, the GL752VW is an incredible piece of kit, and pound for pound, dollar for dollar, I truly believe it can stand toe-to-toe with any other mobile option around at the moment. Most importantly, though, it’s a return to form for ASUS, and it’s absolutely, unquestionably worthy of that prestigious Republic of Gamers badge that it wears.