Hands On: The Asus Zenbook 14X OLED Space Edition Is a Cool, Cosmic Laptop Oddity – PCMag.com

Built to commemorate 25 years of Asus laptops in space, this unique ZenBook has a cosmic design theme and a beautiful, bright screen—plus a fun, funky secondary display on the lid.
Among the laptops announced by Asus at CES 2022 today is a true space oddity, of sorts: the Asus ZenBook 14X OLED Space Edition, released to mark 25 years of Asus laptops in space. (More about that milestone in a bit.) Its design elements are astro-themed, and it even complies with a rigorous US Space Systems Command standard for vibration resistance. Above all, it’s a powerful, attractive laptop with a bright screen that handles color and detail well. You won’t find another like it on the planet.
Asus loaned us an early preproduction sample of the Space Edition, so we could not formally bench-test it, just handle it, space-geek out with it, and give our impressions. The silver-gray Space Edition measures 0.6 by 12.2 by 8.7 inches and weighs 2.9 pounds. When the laptop is open, the back of the screen acts as a riser, tilting the back of the chassis up about a half inch, in what Asus dubs an “ErgoLift” hinge design.
The keyboard is backlit, though when used in a bright area, the letters on the keys were often hard to read when I sat a couple of feet away. In normal typing position, this wasn’t an issue. Amid a sea of gray keys, two keys are red, and highly visible: the power button and the “space” bar, the latter which is fittingly decorated, in a bit of fun intergalactic punnery, with the icon of a ringed planet.
The Space Edition features a 14-inch 16:10 OLED touch screen with a native 2,880 by 1,800 resolution for a 16:10 aspect ratio, and a claimed peak brightness up to a brilliant 550 nits. The display has a 90Hz refresh rate and a response time rated at 0.2ms. It also offers an ultrawide color gamut of 100% DCI-P3, is certified as VESA DisplayHDR 500 True Black, and is Pantone Validated. Images displayed on the screen, both still and moving, proved bright and beautiful, with realistic-looking colors and sharp detail.
The Space Edition comes loaded with up to a 12th Generation “Alder Lake” Intel Core i9 H-series processor and Intel Iris Xe graphics, 32GB RAM, a 1TB PCI Express 4.0 x4 NVMe SSD, and support for Wi-Fi 6E. On the laptop’s right side is an HDMI port and two Thunderbolt 4 ports, and on the left are a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (Type-A) port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The laptop’s Harman Kardon speakers proved punchy, and pumped out good sound quality for laptop speakers.
According to Asus, the Space Edition combines decorative elements from the Russian Mir space station with writing in Morse code, which, it happens, I can read. On the Space Edition’s lid is written, in Morse characters—dots and dashes—the Latin phrase AD ASTRA PER ASPERA. This phrase, often used by proponents of the space program, means to the stars, through hardships. Inside, P6300 MIR is spelled out in Morse to the right of the touchpad, and ASUS ZENBOOK to the touchpad’s left. Back in 1998, two Asus model 6300 laptops spent about 600 days aboard Mir, and are said to have performed flawlessly.
The wallpaper, whose central image is a black hole, also makes use of Morse to form the years 1998 and 2022. (Another fun aspect of the wallpaper is that it displays an exacting, though unidentified, position in latitude and longitude: 27 07 29.3N, 121 28 17.3E. Enter it into a web browser, and you’ll find yourself at the Asus corporate headquarters in Taipei.)
As an amateur radio operator, it so happens that I am a fan of Morse code (aka CW, or continuous wave). I was bemused yet pleased by its use all over the Space Edition’s chassis. I’ll be the first to admit that this 170-year-old technology (International Morse code was introduced in 1851) isn’t exactly cutting edge, and its use in telecommunications has largely been phased out. It’s still used primarily for aviation beacons and in ham radio, and the US Navy and Coast Guard still uses signal lamps to communicate via Morse code. In 2006, the FCC eliminated Morse code requirements for all amateur radio license classes, so although CW remains popular, that may not be as true a generation from now.
That said, unlike other codes, Morse’s dots and dashes (if not their meaning) are easily recognizable by the public, and even people who don’t know Morse can translate its characters using a table. The code has an indelible place in communications history, highlighted by the fact that one of the first uses of the SOS distress call was from the doomed RMS Titanic. And NASA did include grooves in the tire treads of its Curiosity Rover that spell out JPL in Morse to help in determining the exact position and motion of the rover.
Exclusive to the Space Edition is its ZenVision smart display, a 3.5-inch, 256-by-64 OLED companion display, rated at up to 150 nits of brightness, mounted externally on the lid. By default, when the lid is open, this screen depicts a row of three portal-like windows across which an astronaut is seen to repeatedly tumble, left to right, against a starry background through which streaks of light—meteors? Laser beams? Space junk?—occasionally zip. When you close the lid, the screen briefly alternates between a starburst and a display of the date and time before going black. The screen can be made to show customizable messages, themes, and animations, as well.
If you hope to fly on a commercial spaceflight, or simply need a laptop impervious to temperature extremes or being rattled about, the Space Edition has you covered—it complies with the US Space Systems Command Standard SMC-S-016A testing protocols, meaning that it is capable of withstanding extreme vibration, four times that of standard Military Grade durability. Furthermore, it is able to operate in extreme climates, above and beyond the Military Grade capabilities. The Space Edition can function in conditions from a frigid –24 degrees C (-11 degrees F) to a blistering-hot 61 degrees C (147 degrees F).
Asus says that due to its dual-fan cooling system, which incorporates two heat pipes, the Space Edition should remain consistently cool. If you’re on one of those all-too-brief suborbital flights, though, you’d best leave the laptop at home and look out the window instead.
Apart from the aforementioned ruggedization features, the space-themed design elements are purely for aesthetic/design purposes, and this laptop will primarily appeal to space enthusiasts. It’s a fine laptop that I enjoyed trying out. It has a bright and beautiful screen, and some powerful specs, plus the mini-OLED secondary screen and a good sound system.
The Space Edition is expected to go on sale in the second quarter of 2022, with pricing and specific configurations to come. It will be interesting to see how much of a premium you pay for its cosmic features.
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As Analyst for printers, scanners, and projectors, Tony Hoffman tests and reviews these products and provides news coverage for these categories. Tony has worked at PC Magazine since 2004, first as a Staff Editor, then as Reviews Editor, and more recently as Managing Editor for the printers, scanners, and projectors team. In addition to editing, Tony has written articles on digital photography and reviews of digital cameras, PCs, and iPhone apps Prior to joining the PCMag team, Tony worked for 17 years in magazine and journal production at Springer-Verlag New York. As a freelance writer, he’s written articles for Grolier’s Encylopedia, Health, Equities, and other publications. He won an award from the American Astronomical Society for an article he co-wrote for Sky & Telescope. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York and is a regular columnist for the club’s newsletter, Eyepiece. He is an active observer and astrophotographer, and a participant in online astronomy projects such as hunting for comets in images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Tony’s work as an amateur photographer has appeared on various Web sites. He specializes in landscapes (natural and manmade).
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