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Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 hands-on review: A gaming laptop with its own light show

Asus came roaring into CES 2020 with a list of products so long, I still can’t remember more than half of them. Yet there was one laptop that absolutely stood out from the rest. The ROG Zephyrus G14.

I simply couldn’t miss it. No one could. The laptop’s “AniMe Matrix LED,” questionable name aside, is a jaw-dropping bonus feature that I absolutely didn’t expect to see.

A total of 1,215 white LEDs are embedded into half of the lid. They’re bright enough to be noticeable even in a well-lit room, but not so bright that they’re annoying. In a clever move, the LEDs aren’t simple dots of light. They’re instead arranged in a pattern that adds texture to the effect.

Better still, you can customize it. Software from Asus can be used to write messages, import images, or display animated GIFs. Customization gives you the chance to tune the laptop to your tastes, and you can always change it if you’re bored of what is displayed.

I know it’s a gimmick. But it’s one outstanding gimmick.

If you don’t like it, don’t worry. You can buy the G14 without the Anime Matrix LED. Those more reserved models are slightly thinner and lighter than those with the LEDs, though the difference is only a millimeter of thickness and less than 100 grams of heft.

Screaming fast hardware

The LEDs aren’t hiding an otherwise lackluster laptop. On the contrary, the ROG Zephyrus G14 would still be exciting without them. Why? Because it’s a thin 14-inch laptop that packs Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics inside.

But wait! There’s more! The G14 also has AMD’s new Ryzen 4800HS processor, an 8-core, 16-thread monster. I didn’t have chance to benchmark the G14 at CES 2020, but this is sure to be a killer combination, and a sign that Intel finally faces a legit challenge in the gaming laptop arena.

The ROG Zephyrus G14 rounds out its impressive specs with up to 32GB of RAM and up to 1TB of NVMe solid-state storage. While it’s designed for gaming, the G14’s hardware is sure to appeal to creators, as well.

Despite its powerful internals, Asus quotes battery life at 10 hours. I’m skeptical. The G14’s battery size hasn’t been confirmed, and 10 hours would be spectacular for a laptop with this much hardware even if the battery is massive. I’m eager to put Asus’ battery life figure to the test when the laptop is released.

Connectivity is another highlight. The G14 has one USB-C 3.2 with DisplayPort 1.4 and Power Delivery, one standard USB-C 3.2, two USB-A 3.2, HDMI 2.0, and a combo headphone and microphone jack. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 round out the options.

The USB-C with power delivery is an interesting option. It delivers up to 65 watts of power. That’s not enough to charge the laptop at load, but it will charge the laptop during less intense use. The laptop also has a power brick as its main source of juice.

Thin, for a gaming laptop

Asus’ ROG Zephyrus G14 is about 0.7 inches thick and weighs about 3.5 pounds. Those figures aren’t outstanding for a 14-inch laptop, but they’re excellent for a gaming laptop. For reference, the Razer Blade 15 is 0.78 inches thick and weighs 4.5 pounds. That’s a difference you’ll notice. If you don’t need a 15-inch screen, the G14 is a compelling alternative to thin-and-light 15-inch gaming laptops.

The G14’s keyboard is utterly conventional and rather boring. That’s for the best. As Apple can tell you, pulling fancy tricks with a keyboard can be risky. I thought the G14 pleasant to type on. It won’t threaten a ThinkPad anytime soon, but it has good travel and the layout felt spacious.

Asus warned me the touchpad was still in testing, so I expected it experience problems. I didn’t. The touchpad, like the keyboard, is nothing special. It’s reasonably large and felt reasonably responsive.

You can choose between two display options. One is a 1080p IPS panel with a 120Hz refresh rate, and the other is a 1440p IPS panel with a 60Hz refresh rate. Both cover 100% of the sRGB gamut, are Pantone validated, and support AMD FreeSync.

The G14 I tried had the 1440p display, and it looked sharp. A 14-inch display isn’t large, so 1440p resolution translates to pixel density that exceeds even 24-inch 4K monitor. Contrast was merely acceptable, but colors appeared accurate.

Asus’ ROG Zephrus G14 is cram-packed with the latest gaming hardware. That alone would make it remarkable, and Asus’ decision to add a crazy LED lid only sweetens the deal. For me, this is easily among the most impressive laptops at CES 2020.

The G14 is slated to launch in the first half of 2020. Pricing is not yet available.