Anirudh RegidiDec 14, 2021 14:18:32 IST
It’s hard to overstate just how stunning the StudioBook 16’s 10-bit, 500-nit, 4K OLED display is. Colours are rich and vibrant, with deep blacks and a nearly perfect tonal balance. I believe I spent more time ogling content on this gorgeous display than I did testing the machine and putting it through its paces.
This is the kind of display that sticks with you to the end of your days, souring you on other displays, and its absence making life that little bit less meaningful.
And no, I’m not exaggerating. Seeing that display for the first time is like trying a pair of electrostatic headphones, or eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The experience is memorable; it sticks with you, perhaps changes you.
We’ve all used OLED displays in the past, and Apple’s and Samsung’s smartphone displays are indeed better, but they’re also tiny and the experience of viewing content on a 16-inch screen a mere foot or two from your face is something you’ll appreciate only when you try it.
As for the rest, I’m happy to report that it matches up to the awesomeness of the display. Made from aluminium alloy, the ProArt StudioBook 16 feels like the premium machine it is. The buttons and dial (more on that later) feel well-built, and the muted aesthetic oozes quality.
The speakers are easily the best I’ve heard on a Windows machine, the qualifier being ‘Windows’ because my 16-inch MacBook Pro from 2019 still sounds better, and the mics (four of them) are decent. They’re not studio-quality mics, but they’re good enough.
Internally, my review unit is packing an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU (eight cores, 16 threads), an RTX 3070 GPU rated at a maximum TGP of 110 W (limited to 85 W under a full system load), dual 500 GB SSDs in RAID 0, and 32 GB of DDR4 RAM clocked at 3,200 MHz. This is an incredibly powerful system, but as the more intrepid among you would have noted, there are gaming laptops out there that can extract more from this GPU.
On speaking to ASUS about that, I was told that since the StudioBook 16 is a Pro laptop first, the 3070 was chosen not just for its performance, but for the 8 GB of VRAM it offers. The GPU may not hit the peak performance levels it can when not thermally limited, but for productivity workloads involving 3D rendering and video editing, it has more than enough power.
Additionally, while some AMD GPUs do offer more performance, Nvidia’s RTX cores, and CUDA and OPTIX support are more beneficial to certain workloads.
This is something we need to keep in mind when looking at the performance characteristics of this machine. Remember, this is NOT a gaming machine, the display’s 60 Hz refresh rate alone should attest to that.
For the rest of the specs, you get an IR webcam with a privacy shield that supports Windows Hello Face Unlock, and a plethora of fast ports that will make some long-time Apple users weep with joy. You get a total of four 10 Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports – 2x USB-A and 2x USB-C – with support for 100 W PD. The included HDMI 2.1 port supports 8K displays, the SD card slot is an SD Express 7.0 slot that can read and write at nearly 1 Gbps, and you get a full-size gigabit ethernet port.
System performance: Great for productivity, and still excellent for gaming
The laptop comes with an app called ASUS Creator Hub pre-installed. Like Armory Crate for ASUS’s gaming laptops, Creator Hub is essentially a control centre for managing the laptop’s performance profiles – including fan speed, power allocation, etc. – and other aspects such as colour management and dial configuration, among others.
For performance testing, I ran the laptop in ‘Full Speed Mode’, which ramps up the fans to full and allows both the CPU and GPU to stretch their legs. I ran a few tests in the default ‘Standard Mode’ and found that overall performance had dropped by about 20 percent on average. This mode is nearly silent, however, and is the mode I preferred using. For general use, and even some editing work in Photoshop and DaVinci Resolve, standard mode was more than enough, and the system felt snappy throughout.
I’ll let these charts speak for themselves, suffice it to say that the StudioBook holds up very well against gaming powerhouses like the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro. While synthetic benchmarks clearly give the Legion 5 Pro the edge – it can feed its GPU a lot more power – real-world tests show the StudioBook taking a significant lead. In video encoding especially, the StudioBook 16 is nearly twice as fast as its competition.
Its performance on battery power is especially good, and enough of a reason to pick up this laptop over a seemingly more powerful gaming focused one.
Gaming benchmarks present a different picture. In most games, the StudioBook is a few fps slower than the similarly specced Lenovo Legion 5, but not so much slower as to be a problem. Expect 50-60 fps at max settings at 1080p in demanding titles such as Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition and Red Dead Redemption 2, and 150+ in lighter titles such as CS: GO and Valorant. Gaming at the laptop’s native 4K 3840×2400 is possible, but only if you dial settings down to med and take advantage of AI upscalers like DLSS.
That said, the StudioBook 16 does not handle long gaming sessions very well. The laptop arrived around the time Halo Infinite launched, and obviously, the first thing I did was fire it up to see how it looked on that OLED. Sadly, while the game looked stunning, and I managed a steady 40-50 fps at 4K, performance dipped dramatically within 30 minutes, leading to severe stuttering and frame lock-ups as the hardware struggled to stay cool.
Again, you’re buying this for ‘pro’ workloads and not gaming, but I am certainly disappointed that I can’t game well on this machine.
Display performance: Get your act together, Microsoft!
I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited, and simultaneously as frustrated, by a display as I was with this StudioBook 16’s OLED.
I made it clear at the start that this display is stunning, and it is, but it’s also hooked up to a laptop running Windows 11. And that’s a problem.
For whatever reason, Microsoft doesn’t let laptops switch to HDR mode on DC power. Apple is powering 1600-nit miniLED displays, and 500-nit LCDs on 13-inch laptops with 58 WHr batteries. Why a Windows-based laptop with a 90 WHr battery can’t handle a lower power 500-nit OLED is beyond me. And just to confirm, this is 100 percent a Microsoft problem. ASUS and MSI and Dell and every other laptop maker have their hands tied.
You cannot view HDR content in bed, on a plane, or anywhere else without plugging in the laptop. HDR support is also broken, with some formats not being fully supported, leading to weird colours and artefacts.
The support for wide-gamut colour spaces is also more complicated in Windows than it is on macOS. The wider DCI-P3 colour space supported by the StudioBook’s OLED is great, but by default, Windows will render colours in sRGB, and only supported apps will take advantage of the wide-gamut profile.
More often than not, this breaks, and you’ll find Photoshop and the Windows Photos app introducing a strong yellow cast, or colours in Windows ending up over-saturated with highlights blown out. You also need to spend time calibrating HDR vs SDR brightness and contrast if you want to use it right. The problem gets even worse if, like me, you prefer to manually calibrate your displays for consistency when using multiple devices.
Speaking of calibration, ASUS claims the StudioBook’s OLED is PANTONE validated with a deltaE of less than 2. In plain English, they’re saying this display is certified to be colour-accurate, and that any error in rendering is so insignificant as to be invisible to the naked eye.
I don’t know if this is a problem with my unit specifically or with the line in general, but I found the display to have that signature OLED tint (green) with the default ASUS colour profile. Using an i1 Display Pro Plus colorimeter (which was specifically designed to calibrate OLED displays), I measured an average deltaE of 2.1 and an unacceptable max deltaE of 13.93, mostly a result of that noticeable green cast affecting blacks. The white point was also set to 6400K rather than the expected 6500K.
Thankfully, 20 minutes spent calibrating the unit brought the max deltaE down to an impressive 0.7. This is by far the best result I’ve seen from any display, and is testament to the quality of the panel used by ASUS.
If you’re a professional that relies on colour, I’d strongly suggest you ignore ASUS’ word and get your display calibrated before you start using it.
There is a dial, but the trackpad is more interesting
I honestly thought the dial would be the most exciting feature of this laptop, but I was mistaken. After 10 days spent twiddling it, I think I can safely say that I don’t care much for it either way.
The dial, which is about 2 cm in diameter and positioned at the top-left corner of the trackpad, is well designed. It feels solid and responds instantly when you tap or twirl it. Tapping it throws up a circular menu on your screen, and ASUS has designed the menu to adapt to recognise and adapt to open apps. It’s also calibrated well with detents that give feedback as to what you’re doing.
On the Windows desktop, the dial will only display volume and brightness controls, for example, but in Photoshop, you get the option to control brush sizes, zoom in and out of the canvas, etc. This menu can also be fully customised in the Creator Hub app, allowing you to design the perfect, dial-based workflow for your needs.
Does it work, though? For the most part, it does, but I didn’t really find it much more useful than the secondary scroll wheel on my MxMaster mouse, or the keyboard shortcuts and scroll-wheel combos that have become second-nature to me.
The problem with the dial, for my use, is that using it is an either-or scenario. I can either use keyboard shortcuts, or I can use the dial. For quick edits, this can be convenient, but it’s two different control schemes that I must choose between, and I just tend to prefer muscle memory over adapting to a new interface.
Plus, using the dial involves too many extra steps, to wit, tapping to bring up the context menu, scrolling to the setting of your choice, tapping again to go deeper into the menu, twirling to make adjustments, tapping to go back up one level, twirling to go back to another control, repeat.
This is far more complicated than I anticipated, and it just wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the dial per se, I just couldn’t make it work for the way I work.
More impressive, though, is that trackpad. It’s quite large, and more importantly, supports styluses (styli?) and 1024 pressure levels. Basically, it’s more digital notepad than tablet! ASUS doesn’t include a stylus with the laptop so I couldn’t put it to the test, but I can easily imagine myself tapping and doodling away on that pad while I’m making edits in Photoshop and Lightroom.
Verdict: I just want that display
The ASUS ProArt StudioBook 16 H500 is an impressive machine with one of the best displays I’ve ever used. Its specs and performance are well suited to professional workflows (whether Windows is suitable is a matter of debate), and at Rs 2,19,990, it’s also priced competitively.
That said, if you don’t need (or want) that OLED display (What’s wrong with you?), you can easily save Rs 60,000 by opting for something like the Lenovo Legion 5, which offers 80-90 percent of the productivity performance and better gaming performance, not to mention a 2K 165 Hz LCD in the same 16:10 aspect ratio.