All-in-One PCs has been on the rise since 2012 when Microsoft launched its Windows 8 OS to better support touch screen devices and the likes. Many of these touchscreen devices were designed as hybrids (laptop and tablet), which were marketed for their portability. While these devices are good in their own right, they didn’t quite match the expectations for power users, who prefer performance over efficiency and mobility.
Many new devices were launched last year with the release of Windows 10. Asus, too, announced its own line of All-in-One units, which were then released at the turn of 2016. The Asus Zen AiO S Z240IC All-in-One PC is a device that packs quite a punch into its thin, glass and metal design. Not only does is have the looks, what lies under the hood makes for pretty impressive stats. So let’s take a closer look at what it has to offer, and whether or not it’s a worthwhile purchase at the end of the day.
Build and Design
Often when one purchases a new device, it seems almost necessary to it off to a few friends highlighting its performances and looks. And the Zen is one you wouldn’t to keep to yourself. It has a brushed aluminium finish (known as Icicle Gold), which could easily appear as an ornament in your living room. The brushed look isn’t as simple as machine plaining, however, as Asus has stated that the concentric circles form part of the Zen philosophy. The aluminium is complimented by the almost solid glass front, which is only broken by the sound bar the runs across the bottom. The screen has a bevel that measures less than 6mm at the edges, and 190mm in the centre, to cater for all its internals.
While it could be argued that many all-in-one devices have a similar design, the Zen looks very similar to that of the Apple iMac. While the iMac is noticeably thinner, the Zen doesn’t have the same bulky bezel below the display. Still, the L-shaped stand could have been the differentiating factor between the two, but that isn’t the case either. That said, its mostly resemblance, and comparing the two side by side reveals a good amount of design finishes that make the Zen stand out on its own. As a whole, the unit measures 585x434x52~190mm in dimension, while weighing just over 7KG (7.3 to be more precise). The weight may not seem like much, but isn’t overly ideal to be moving from room to room in order to use for different situations.
In terms of the ports that are fitted to the rear of the Zen, there are quite a number of useful additions. For starters, the unit has the recently launched USB Type-C port, allowing for faster connectivity between the two devices. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test the speeds of the Type-C port to make a proper deduction. Alongside this, there are 5 other USB ports; 4 USB 3.0 and 1 USB 2.0 ports. There are two HDMI ports, a 2-in-1 card reader, Ethernet port, and a headphone and microphone 3.5mm jack. Having all the ports fitted to the rear is a lot neater, but isn’t always functional and accessible when wanting to quickly connect your flash drive for a quick file transfer.
The Zen is a masterpiece to look at. But that’s only one aspects in a slew of important features.
The Zen AiO has a 23.8” screen that seems reasonably standard at first glance, with nothing really special to note. That’s until you power the unit to reveal a lot more than meets the eye. The unit has a display with a 3840x2160px resolution. Typically, it is assumed that a 4K display has a horizontal pixel count of more than 4000 (hence the term 4K), but, according to UHD-1 standards, the 3840x2160px resolution (which is 4 times the pixels over 1080p, x2 horizontal x2 vertical) is also seen as 4K, a standard which many have adopted, including YouTube. All technicalities out of the way, the 4K screen is brilliant. While content still remains elusive for the most part, the trailers and shorts watched in 4K were brilliant. The extra detail looked sharp. Sometimes it may have been a little too sharp, especially when spotting a few blemishes on actors or out of place pixels on CGI scenes.
While the level of detail is there to behold, there are a few niggles with the screen and display that didn’t quite meet the high levels set with the Zen. Firstly, the screen has a glossy finish. True this is common amongst all-in-ones and tablets, but doesn’t help when working on image editing in the middle of the day; often times which I had to draw the curtains for better viewing. And if you’re one to make frequent use of the 10-point touchscreen, then you’re bound to pick up a few fingerprints during use. But these are manageable criticisms, which can be easily overlooked. One issue, however, that remains is the slight lack of brightness of the display. I compared the display alongside my 3-year old monitor at the highest brightness, and the Zen came out second best. According to the brightness tests, the Zen scores 255 nits on the light meter, whereas the iMac has a much more impressive 424 nits. Compared against many of its other competitors, the Zen compares a lot better overall, but still not in the top tier in this respect.
While these aspects may dampen the overall result of the display, there are other decided factors, such as the colour representation and the touchscreen capabilities many other all-in-ones don’t have. The unit scores an impressive 99% sRGB colour gamut with an accuracy of 0.21. Compared to the iMac and MSI 24GE, which scored 109%/2.9 and 128%/0.29, respectively, the Zen is an outright winner in terms of colour reproduction.
What lies under the hood of the Zen AiO is impressive to say the least. For starters, the Zen has a 6th-gen Intel Core i7-6700T with 2.8GHz Quad-Core Processor. The chipset was only released Q3 of 2015, and features some of Intel’s latest developments, although isn’t the frontline in raw power output. Accompanying the i7 CPU is 32GB of RAM (DDR4 at 2133MHz), and a 512GB SSD. Boot up time took a matter of seconds to complete, and even opening certain software applications would load in roughly one second. At first I thought this may have been a fluke with the software pre-loaded into memory previously, but I did a few comparisons of running different applications immediately after a restart to find the same results. Having conducted many reviews of PCs over the years, the benchmarks tests and visible performance were amongst the best I’ve encountered. The combination of its internals makes for a truly prompt response with each click of your mouse.
The Intel chipset includes an onboard graphics capability, which is useful on its own, but not when compared the graphics card Asus has fitted inside the Zen. The graphics cards is an NVIDIA® GeForce GTX960M with 4GB video memory. Given the extra sleek design of the Zen, fitting a graphics card is an already impressive feat, which ultimately turns an already high performance unit into an accomplished gaming rig. Using the default setup for most games (typically lowered graphics at 1080p), the Zen breezed through each and every one of them without breaking a sweat. Switching into higher gear with a high graphics setting at 1080p continued to impress, although there was a marked decrease in frame rate recorded, but ultimately didn’t spoil the gaming experience in the least. Testing the 4K settings, however, yielded mixed results across the different games, given the amount of intricacies in the settings and objects required to render. On the lower graphics setting, I could often play most games at a decent frame rate, but going any higher dropped the frame rate below 30fps on 4K, and even below 10fps when all the settings were turned to the max. Compared to the non-mobile version of the NVIDIA® GeForce GTX960, the 960M does lag a little behind, but I was still impressed overall.
In all honesty, testing the audio on the Zen was something of an afterthought, something I had overlooked in the two-week review period. That said, this isn’t to say that there’s anything negative about the speakers and quality, but rather a testimony to how well it performed. So much so that I was unfazed by the sound reproduction, watching movies, listen to music and even playing games without having to tweak any settings. Cranking up the volume revealed a good amount of bass, with clear sound, and no distortion. It didn’t even sound tinny, as is often the case with all-in-ones and laptops, a pet peeve of mine. Asus’ SonicMaster Premium sound setup has 4x2W speakers alongside 2x4W woofers, which produced good quality sound.
The unit I reviewed had a 2MP Intel RealSense Camera. The RealSense technology is used to take 3D photos, which also assists in creating superimposed scenes without the need for a green screen. The unit supports a variety of features included 3D scanning and motion tracking, which integrate well with many applications on Windows 10. There are even a few games available on the Windows Store that allow you to interact with the environment simply by moving your head left and right.
The Zen AiO isn’t without its faults, though. There were a few issues that annoyed me over the two weeks, but, that said, they weren’t at all crippling, or anything that would deter me from purchasing the unit. On the first day of testing, one the first points I noted was a missing display button. There is a large power button on the bottom left of the unit (bottom right when viewed from the front), which shuts down the unit when pressed. Typically, while I’m leaving the room while using my PC, I like to switch off the monitor while leaving the PC running in the background. The Zen doesn’t have a separate button to turn off the display, which seemed strange. I circumvented this by reducing the monitor power off to 10 minutes of inactivity, while still putting the unit to sleep between long periods when not in use. While playing around with this, I did discover a rather interesting fact that the unit consumed a lot less power than my own PC, even with a power supply less than 10 months old I had swapped out for better efficiency.
The included mouse and keyboard are usable, but don’t meet the standard set by the Zen. In fact, the combo feels more like cheap plastic than anything remotely premium. The mouse itself is a standard 3-button mouse; right and left click with a wheel. This is definitely not something I’d expect from a unit as premium as the Zen AiO, despite what the price may be.
As already mentioned, the lack of an easily accessible USB port on the front or sides of the unit makes for a few annoyances every so often when you’ll have to bend over the top to connect your USB-powered device.
Apart from many of my flagship smartphone review units, there aren’t many devices I switch to for primary use during a review cycle. The Zen AiO S Z240IC All-in-One PC is an exception to the rule, as after a few days of normal use and tinkering, I made the permanent switch to for all my daily activities, including movies, series, editing, and gaming. Given the fact that it consumed less power as well was an added bonus.
The Zen was introduced into a market where it has many competitors, especially within the last year. While it doesn’t do much to divert from the bunch in terms of overall looks, although the finishes are quality, its internals and features that becomes the deciding factor. And with that in mind, the Zen easily differentiates itself with other 24” units, outperform on almost fronts; from the CPU performance, graphics capability, and 4K touchscreen. All of this power and the units still operates at a noise level whereby it’s easier to hear the crickets in the distance than the unit’s fans.
The Zen AiO S Z240IC will be available from May 2016, alongside a number of variants. The above-mentioned unit has an RRP of R24,000. Yes, it may seem pricey, but after having ticked most of the checkboxes, it isn’t unreasonable. The different units are available in variants with different CPUs, GPUs, RAM, and storage options, which reduce the price to less than R20,000, while still doing enough to outperform many of its competitors. I loved the Zen, and will definitely be sad to part ways with it, but has changed my mind in terms of the capabilities and longevity of owning an all-in-one unit, especially as an avid gamer.