I remember, 20 something years ago, when laptops captured my imagination completely. We lived in an era of desktop machines, micro towers, sometimes full towers, sometimes flat pizza-box style machines, but laptops were… relatively uncommon. Yes, I’d had one through the later years of school (from about 1996 onwards) but it wasn’t all that common to see them around.
The laptop, though, was the sign of what computing was to become. There was no need to remain tethered to our desks anymore. We could take our laptops with us – to work, to school, to a friends place – and we could work pretty much anywhere. Yes, this was long before we had things like WiFi, affordable home broadband (or, indeed, really any broadband at all), USB accessories or much of what we take for granted today, but even still, laptops were desirable .. a status symbol, almost.
Fast forward 22 years and laptops are no longer that special. Desktop machines are almost exclusively the realm of gamers and corporate environments; I don’t know anyone personally with a “desktop” machine at home. Almost always, it’s a laptop with external monitors, a docking station, keyboard and mouse which does the FUNCTION of a desktop, but it isn’t one; you can still take the laptop with you.
So omnipresent is the humble laptop that it’s a bit hard to get excited about them these days. They’re a tool, predominantly used for work and – when you’re my age – work is something that you do because you have to, not necessarily because you want.
For this reason, I don’t pay much attention to laptops anymore, and while I review them from time to time, mostly I’m not sad to hand them back because it’s just another grey rectangular thing which does the same things as all the other grey rectangular things.
This is one of many reasons why I still use my Microsoft Surface Book 2; it’s old, relatively slow, and has more than a few war wounds, but it still works and it meets my particular needs.
I tell you this because … it might be time for it to retire. ASUS’ ExpertBook B5 Flip is such a wonderful little machine that I think I might just go buy one after this review unit goes back.
Not much. It weighs just 1.11kg and is 16.9mm thick, making it very light and easy to stash in an already-loaded backpack. For me this is great, because I hate carrying around a heavy bag and – while my job requires that I do – the less weight I can add to it, the better.
Inside that slender rectangle though is where the magic happens. The ExpertBook B5 includes:
- 11th generation Intel Core i7 processor. This one runs at 2.8 GHz, and can burst up to 4.7 GHz. There’s an i5 variant (2.4 GHz up to 4.2 GHz) and an i3 variant (3.0 GHz, up to 4.1 GHz, but only two cores) as well.
- 16GB DDR4 RAM on board, and you can expand it up to 48GB.
- 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD, with options from 256GB to 1TB (or multiple drives, if you need)
- Intel Iris Xe graphics (though Intel UHD is an option, too)
- 13.3-inch LCD display at FHD resolution (1920 x 1080) with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
- 1 x USB 3.2 Type A
- 2 x Thunderbolt 4 / USB-C
- 1 x Micro HDMI (used for RJ45 LAN adaptor)
- HDMI port
- Kensington lock slot
- 3.5mm combo audio jack
Other features include a built-in fingerprint reader (side mounted, on the power button) and a hardware volume control, a 720p HD web camera with privacy shutter, WiFi 6 support, a huge battery, and a supplied 65W USB-PD power adaptor.
How’s it go?
Some of this is laundry list stuff, but it’s the stuff that isn’t first and foremost on the spec sheet which has my attention. For one, the ExpertBook B5 Flip can fold fully back into a tablet form factor, or you can fold it halfway back and use it as a screen (particularly useful with external keyboard and mouse at home). This is brilliant as I can use it as a tablet when walking around diagnosing issues at work, a display on my desk at home, and a laptop when I’m out and about. The battery is such that it lasts just about all day, which I only found out because I forgot to pack the charger… woops.
The good news, though, is the speed at which this laptop charges. In fact, just 40 minutes on charge will get you back to 60% capacity and, when I charged the laptop for about an hour, it was pretty much full. That’s pretty impressive and really supports a day of work on the go – charge up while you’re having lunch, and you’ve seriously got an all day and into the night machine.
The power and speed of this laptop (and being greater than the sum of its parts) are also a step ahead of what I’m used to. It’s so effortlessly quick that I can see it well and truly taking over my daily duties, and while it came with Windows 10 out of the box, I was prompted immediately to update to Windows 11 – a couple of reboots later and we’re good to go.
The Kensington slot is also welcome; most laptops these days don’t seem to include them anymore, but they’re super useful if you need to leave your laptop somewhere and you want it to be there when you get back. For me, if I’m going to fix something that I don’t need my laptop for, I’m going to leave it behind and being able to securely attach it to my workstation (which others can access) is peace of mind.
The only downside I’ve found thus far is the fan noise. When this laptop gets going, it gets warm and quickly. Yes, the integrated cooling does a good job of keeping things cool inside, even when processing very hard, but it isn’t exactly quiet. It’s not that it matters – most of the time I work in environments so noisy that hearing protection is needed – but if you’re working somewhere quiet, it might be somewhat noticeable.
Another cool feature is the number pad built into the trackpad. Hit the corner, activate the number pad, and you can readily do some numeric data entry much faster than you would with a normal laptop keyboard. It’s not something I do a lot, but it is cool.
Did I mention it has a touchscreen, too? I mean, being a flip / convertible, you’d expect that it would, but it does and it’s handy. It’s not something I use much, but in tablet mode I do, and when it’s on my desk at home – as it is while I’m writing this – I do find myself using it occasionally (e.g. it’s quicker to tap on a window to get keyboard focus than to drag my mouse from the rightmost screen back to the laptop screen).
On the topic of the screen, the bezels on the left and right are pretty slim, and the top only slightly thicker to incorporate the front-facing camera. Where I find it a bit puzzling, though, is the bottom bezel which is close to an inch wide, incorporating nothing more than an ASUS ExpertBook logo.
In some ways it looks wasteful – there could be more display there, which would arguably be more useful, but it would distort the aspect ratio a bit. The flip-side, though, is that it moves the display up a little bit and when you’re using it as a laptop, not having to bend your neck quite so far down to look at the screen counts for something. It might only be an inch, but it does make a difference.
The touch-screen does support stylus use though which can be quite handy … but it’s not something I expect I’d use, even though the review unit came with a stylus in the box. Great if you’re marking up documents or doing some drawing but for everyone else maybe less a daily use thing.
Do you spend a bit of time on video calls? Well, if you do, there’s a good chance you’ve invested in a decent headset to make it more comfortable and to improve your audio quality. However, if you’re caught on the hop without your headphones (which, let’s face it, I never am) you can take advantage of the noise canceling tech built into ExpertBook B5. A two-way AI powered noise canceling function is built in, which filters noise around the speaker and from the other party, meaning that you can – if you must – have a meaningful video call even if you’ve forgotten your headset. Try that on any other laptop and prepare to be disappointed.
Other features which I’ve not been able to try, and so can’t really talk about extensively, include:
- Built to MIL-STD 810H standards, so theoretically at least the ExpertBook B5 can survive freezing temperatures, desert storms and high speed shocks and bumps. Dunno about that one, but that’s what ASUS says.
- With HDMI and 2 x Thunderbolt 4, you can drive 3 x 4K displays (in addition to the built-in laptop display) allowing you to run a professional video conferencing suite with this one machine. Pretty neat, but not something most people will probably use.
- There’s a busy indicator built into the lid – if you’re on a Skype or Teams call, it will illuminate so people can see at a distance that you’re busy. I guess they’d have to know to look, but if you train your colleagues right, it might work well!
Should you get one?
If it weren’t obvious by now, this is a laptop I can 100% recommend. It does everything I want, has some optional features I definitely can and do use, and it does it in a stylish design that slips easily into an already loaded work bag. For me, it’s a no brainer.
Probably the only thing we can’t tell you at this very moment is pricing. Having been announced only a month ago at CES 2022, Australian pricing isn’t exactly locked in just yet, but the I5/8GB/512GB model should go for around $1850, whereas the I7/16GB/512GB model should go around $2400 depending on your retailer.
Given what’s inside this machine, and it’s target market though, this is no entry level PC and it is priced accordingly. If you need a serious work laptop that will do everything you can throw at it and more, the price on ask for the ExpertBook B5 Flip is entirely reasonable, and one you’d not hesitate in spending.