How do you critique functional art? Do you base your assessment on its capability or the resolution at which it solves a problem? Is it more important that it succeeds as art? Or is it the overall statement of purpose that matters, balance between form and function be damned?
Not questions I expected to grapple with while reviewing a hybrid tablet, well, ever to be honest. But here we are.
The design studio and clothing manufacturer Acronym has collaborated with Asus to produce another device in a co-branded line of computers. This one, the mouthfeel rich ROG FLOW Z13-ACRNM RMT02 is the second of its ‘reality modeling tool’ series. Asus has a history of eye-catching stunt machines, but the Acronym series (the last one was a straight laptop) is the most interesting to me, a student and collector of Acronym products.
Acronym makes functional garments in layers out from skin to shell. The catalog is largely made from german fabrics and materials like schoeller-dryskin, GORE-TEX and encapsulated nylon. Acronym founders Errolson Hugh and Michaela Sachenbacher have built a truly unique brand over the decades since 1994 – collaborating first with brands like Burton and then famously with Nike’s ACG sub-brand to create what the general public now thinks of as the modern technical sport aesthetic. The cut and shape of the clothes looks more akin to hiking or martial arts gear and the technical aspects are emphasized over anything else. Still, they’re stylish and unique – instantly recognizable.
One of my oldest pieces is a first generation J1A, one of the most iconic jackets in fashion design history. Twenty years after it was made it’s still incredibly functional and feels one hundred percent modern.
That brand thinking is clearly written on the face, back and keys of the RMT02. It’s brutalist, functional gear that blends the modernity of the 16:10 display’s black monolith with a machined metal back and frame. Iconography and typography courtesy of designer’s designer David Rudnick wraps the case in many different applications – printed, milled and embossed.
There’s a certain character that I absorbed from being, pretty much, present when personal computers came into the world. Something about participating in that revolution, followed quickly by the Internet while simultaneously drinking in books, movies and culture that was influenced by it. The feeling of computers as tools that you used to manipulate the bits and bauds of the internet, rather than as smoothly encapsulated portals that looked to disappear.
The computers of my youth were messy bits of plastic and metal and wire and dust and blinking cursors on black and green screens. They asked so much of you – building your own PC was a DPS check for patience and hunger. Hunger for access to the world that could only be reached through that demanding door.
Though this ASUS tablet thing is light years from that universe, I think it’s clear that Acronym feels some of that too and wanted to evoke it here. This makes some sense – Acronym’s clothing is itself designed to be an interface between the wearer and the world. Typically wearing technical clothing and wearing regular clothing are really two separate experiences. Acronym has managed to blend the aesthetic and functional worlds so aggressively that it has managed to push a hernia bubble of its own into the universe where dressing for the apocalypse also keeps you dry, makes your stuff easier for you to store and reach and integrates with each other garment layer you wear. Not easy. This machine lives in that same bubble.
I’m honestly not going to spend too much time on performance here – the battery life isn’t great but it’s a very capable machine that produces decent framerates for gaming and will handle ‘Internet stuff’ just fine. It’s got a GeForce RTX 4070 laptop GPU and a 13th Gen Intel Core i9 and the display is really, really nice with a solid 165Hz refresh rate. It has all of the other normal stuff a computer should have too.
I remain massively unconvinced that you’re going to buy this if you’re not a collector or in search of an interchange of vibes with a computing device so I’m not sure getting too detailed on performance is worth anything in the long run. I think the important thing to know is that if you go in search of one of these $2,500 hybrids, you’re not getting a hamstrung computer with it, it’s top tier for the form factor.
The exoskeleton of the RMT02 features four clip attachment points where a somewhat complex sling can be deployed. The sling allows you to carry it over your shoulder sans bag – and yes, it integrates with Acronym’s Interops jacket system that lets you slide it under the tail of your Gore-Tex to protect it from the rain. It also clips in at 4 points to let you compute while standing up. It all works, really well actually. I don’t know how many times you’d use something like that, or carry it outside of a bag, but it’s absolutely functional.
Wild, out there, kind of nuts, but ultimately functional. That’s the Acronym brand.
The milled aluminum enclosure is gorgeous, the kickstand is solid as hell and the keyboard… is inscrutable. You’d better know how to touch type. The cyrillic-ish alphabet designed for Acronym by Rudnick is all part of the theme – this is a computer from another dimension slightly off axis from yours – where people stand in the rain on the roof of a parking garage typing something into a terminal prompt.
Of note, the package comes with a strapped pocket made of X-Pac laminate (an anti-slashing/tearing material derived from competition sailcloth) that would probably set you back several hundred dollars from Acrony’s website. Fun!
The RMT02 is a tone-poem of a computer that sounds like a modem firing a handshake signal and feels like the turbo button of a PC tower. It wraps, clicks, straps, hangs and folds. It does stuff. Most computers work really well these days, all things considered. But most of them are pretty damn inert. They open and sit there. The RMT02 feels like it constantly wants to be other things, maybe things you need. I love that. It’s unique. It’s not for everyone.