While this year’s Computex was challenging for many component companies, with no significant new motherboard activity and nothing whatsoever on the graphics card front, Asus stormed it anyway with both the largest and most impressive display of them all.
THE SUPER PHONE
We started Computex on Monday night with the as-always crazy ROG event which was big on lights, lasers and spectacle. The most unusual product was the ROG Phone. It’s a gaming phone, and Asus has gone all-out with both its specs and design, as well as a big set of peripherals. Inside is an overclocked (!) and cherry picked (!!) Qualcomm SD845 octa-core CPU running at 2.96GHz. Keeping it cool is a laptop-style vapor-chamber cooling system with lots of copper. Graphics are handled by an Adreno 630 GPU and Asus claim it’s up to 30% more power efficient – and – with 2.5 times the graphics bandwidth of stock hardware.
An almost unheard of 8GB of memory is onboard, with up to 512GB of storage. Its Wi-Fi is next-gen 802.11ad – making it the first consumer device we’ve seen that supports that standard. The outrageous specs continue with a 90Hz AMOLED screen that supports HDR.
But this is more than just chunky hardware and a ‘gaming’ moniker. There’s a special on-screen virtual control pad system and top finger buttons of the sort you’ll find on any console control pad, and if you desire more control you can buy a dock that has a second screen built-in of exactly the same specs – think a Nintendo DS on steroids – and inside the dock is a 6000mAh battery. Mega.
You can also buy a cooling unit – not for the CPU or GPU – but for your sweaty palms.
It blows air outwards
to your hands and felt rather nice in my brief testing. That accessory also doubles as a USB connector, directing the cable down instead on the traditional top or bottom where it would get in the way. And, there’s a Mobile Desktop Dock for playing on your PC screen as well, plus, a Wigig dock using 60Hz Wi-Fi to transmit the display to your TV.
Yes, the entire setup is monstrous, Asus has gone hard covering every base and more with this thing and the only possible shortcoming is likely the price, which we don’t know yet, or, if indeed it will come to Australia, though we expect many enterprising gamers to somehow acquire this, and soon.
For those who care not for handheld gaming there was a new ROG desktop PC. The ROG Huracan (Asus really is on top of the fearsome-sounding naming game), which has a funky magnetically attached folding side panel for when your GPU wants to suck air like a Veyron. A pair of new gaming laptops debuted, too, both almost identical in spec, featuring the same i7-8750 CPU and 144Hz screen. The Scar II is primarily for FPS players and has an Nvidia 1070 inside and keyboard optimised for WASDing, while the general purpose gaming Hero II sports a more standard keyboard and Nvidia 1060 GPU.
But getting back on track to absolute extremes, there’s the ROG Rapture GT-AX1000 router. Besides being bigger and more imposing than any other hyper-router seen so far, it’s also a 10 gigabit machine – the world’s first – and naturally supports the emerging 802.11ax standard. Being an ROG product it’s optimised for gaming, and for that it has a dedicated 2.5GBase-T port which gets priority when used, with up to (claimed) 2.5 times normal speed. Just in case you doubt this beast is actually prioritising gaming when in use, it has a Game Boost button on the top that makes sure game traffic really is given maximum throughput. On top of that there’s a thing called Gamers Private Network which, it’s claimed, finds the shortest possible route between the game server you’re on and your home.
The star of the show was undoubtedly the super-specced One With Everything PG27UQ. Nick’s review starts on page 50 so I shan’t dwell on that, here.
Elsewhere, ROG has four new monitors, from the large 35in curved 100Hz 3440x1440 XG35VQ and 32in 144Hz 2560x1440 XG32VQ, to a pair of 24in and 25in screens (XG258Q and XG248Q) that run at an extreme 240Hz @ Full HD resolution.
Asus also showed a tricky clear plastic device that disguises the bezel when using triple screens. They promised a release this year. MSI had an identical product last year that never made it to retail, as far as we know.
Remember Philip Ambilight? The TVs that cast colours onto the wall behind to create a larger ‘colourscape’? Asus has a new thing like that for monitors, with a control box running up to three 90cm strips of LEDs.
It was hard to defocus after seeing all the ROG goodies, but once again Asus delivered some very cool regular-person gear – which happens to include my personal standout thing of the whole show. Let’s get to that first, then.
Zen Book is Asus’s top-end premium laptop brand, and this year we saw the newest Zen Book Pro 15 – and it’s a beauty. Inside is a hexa-core i9, GTX 1050 Ti in Max-Q configuration (rare for an ‘executive’ laptop to pack an actually useable discrete GPU!), a full terabyte of fast PCIE SSD and a proper serving of 16GB RAM. Gigabit Wi-Fi and Thunderbolt 3, too. There’s a 4k screen with 100% Adobe RGB coverage as well as Pantone certification to cap off the specs which are, clearly the best available (GPU excepted). All very good there.
There’s a slightly smaller Zen Book 14, with an i7 CPU and also 1050 graphics, just not the Ti variety.
I SEE THE LIGHT
But the stunning bit is the totally new touchpad. Each Zen Book Pro has a ‘smart touchpad’, in which the entire 5.5in area is a secondary display with unique app and Windows controls. When in boring use as a regular touchpad it does its job perfectly, but drag down the tiny white line at the top and you have instant access to genuinely useful tools as the touchpad transforms into a second screen. It takes but the merest moment to bring it up, then dismiss it again. The implementation really is slick and dare I say, flawless. As mundane as they are as tools, the calendar, calculator and media player make perfect sense as killer apps on this magic little window. A host of Windows settings are also available. App support for Word and Excel was there too, with quick access to important things, and Asus will be putting out a SDK for developers to create their own apps, or app extensions.
The idea is that you access it briefly, see or do what’s needed, then rapidly go back to regular touchpad use. App devs may create tools that sit there more or less constantly, or at least while you’re using their main-screen app.
Had you told me of such a thing before seeing it in action my inclination would have been to consider it gimmicky. But Asus has unveiled a totally mature new technology that will be transformative. All I can say is “hey Apple! Your mostly useless Touch Bar? THIS is how it SHOULD be done!”.
While the smart touchpad is so far limited to the top range Zen Book Pro machines, the new Zen Book S was impressive for offering a slick portable machine. Also with a 4k screen, it has a funky hinge that sets the keyboard at a nice typing angle. Inside is an i7 and 1TB PCIE SSD, and outside is a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports. It looked very cool and comes in a range of arty colours.
Also colourful, and likely much cheaper, is the simpler Vivo Book range, being 14 and 15in variants. These are slim and light and appear to be destined as workhorse machines with a bit of style.
Asus had a smartwatch that tracks
your blood pressure – the only one of its kind, in fact. The Vivo Watch BP can take a measurement in 15 seconds and also has ECG and PPG sensors, along with the expected sleep pattern tracking, distance walked etc. It’s a very handy little product for the health conscious, but also and specifically for those that do need to keep track of blood pressure. Plus, despite have a decent full colour screen and all the health magic, has a battery that’s good for 28 days.
The happy little robot pal Zenbo was back. Asus showed off three identical Zenbos, which means there are at least three in existence. This year’s pitch has Zenbo positioned as a business services partner (robot receptionist?) and retail shop assistant. I guess the kids don’t want Zenbo reading them bedtime stories anymore.
The Asus ROG Phone is a super high-spec mobile gaming powerhouse The Asus Rapture GT-AX1000 router is utterly enormous
The ROG Phone has an optional cooling unit for your sweaty hands
The triangle panel on the ROG Huracan folded up for better airflow
Hide your bezels with ROG’s bezel hider
The LEDs shine light based on what’s on-screen
Top-end Asus ZenBooks have this fantastic display touchpad