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ASUS ZenBook Duo review: are two screens better than one?

Smartphone brands have launched some outrageous phones like the Mi Mix Alpha with an all-display body, Samsung Galaxy Fold with a folding screen, Vivo Nex Dual with two displays, to name a few. On the other hand, laptops, especially those intended for professionals, seem to have missed the memo – at least until now. ASUS has taken the lead and launched the ZenBook Duo that brings something different to the table, with its dual-screens and a comfortable ErgoLift hinge design. I have been using the laptop exclusively for over a week, and it has been a mixed bag for me. Here’s what you need to know if you plan to pick up one for yourself.

Design and display

The ASUS ZenBook Duo is hands down the most professional-looking laptop I have come across recently. Available in a Celestial Blue colour featuring a brushed finish and a thickness of just 19.8mm, the laptop comes across as a svelte offering. It’s also on the lighter side, tipping the scales at just 1.5kg. The laptop looks pretty run-of-the-mill with the lid closed, however, things change drastically when you open it up. The hinge is pretty rigid and you will need both hands to be able to open the laptop.

The USP of the ASUS ZenBook Duo is its secondary display called ScreenPad Plus, which is located in the area generally reserved for the full-sized keyboard. The sheer size of the ScreenPad Plus took me by surprise, given that it’s literally a half and half situation, where the top portion is completely occupied by the secondary display and the bottom half houses the cramped yet full-sized keyboard with the touchpad on the right.

The ASUS ZenBook Duo’s main screen is a 14-inch unit with a screen resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. The NanoEdge screen features extremely slim bezels to achieve an impressive 90 percent screen-to-body ratio. Not only that, the company has marketed the display to be a Pantone-validated one, which is normally assumed to be more colour accurate. However, as is with the case with most Pantone-validated displays, ASUS has not revealed the grading for the Pantone certification. During my time with the laptop, I found the display to be plenty sharp and vivid. Props for the anti-reflective matte layer on the display as well as the ScreenPad Plus, making it easier to work on the laptop even in extremely well-lit conditions. The ScreenPad Plus is a touchscreen with a screen resolution of 3,840 x 1,100 pixels.

The ErgoLift Hinge design of the ZenBook Duo deserves a special mention here, as it made typing on the keyboard a lot easier. The hinge lifts the laptop’s mid-riff up a bit to provide a 5.5-degree slant for comfortable typing. Moreover, there is a flat mat style stand at the bottom, which can be rolled into a triangular formation to lift the laptop even higher for more slant while using the ScreenPad Plus for drawing or other purposes. This is a genius design element from the brand and I can vouch that the extra lift is very helpful while actively working on ScreenPad Plus as it ensures better visibility of the second screen.

On the connectivity front, ASUS ZenBook Duo offers every possible option that’s available. There’s a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C,  two USB  3.1 Gen 2 Type-A ports, an HDMI port, an audio combo jack, microSD card reader and a DC-in. Unfortunately, the Type-C port doesn’t charge the laptop, so you will have to make use of the proprietary 65W power adapter provided.

ASUS has not opted for a fingerprint scanner for the ZenBook Duo, instead, the laptop features an IR camera that works in tandem with Microsoft Hello for secure unlocking. I found the face unlock to be pretty accurate and fast, even in a dark environment.

Are two screens better than one?

ASUS has included its own software for the Screenpad Plus. There is an unobtrusive on-screen button that brings up a menu that lets you pin app shortcuts, tweak the Screenpad Plus’ settings and perform a few other nifty moves like Task Group. The Task Group lets you combine groups of software together with their positioning on either the main display or the ScreenPad Plus.

To illustrate, I had Chrome, WordPress and Slack combined under the ‘Work’ task group. All I had to do was click on the task group, and the laptop would open Chrome and WordPress on the main display in split-screen, with Slack open in the ScreenPad Plus. This allowed me to write more conveniently, while also keeping a tab on the work-related chats on Slack without having to sift through windows. The ability to jump from one screen to another, and drag the apps across is pretty smooth too.

On the flipside, since the keyboard is cramped, I often ended up touching the ScreenPad Plus by mistake, and that resulted in cursor moving to the second screen. This was a major annoyance for me, since this would abruptly cause the wrong window to initiate (in my case, Slack) and stop whatever I was working on, on the main display. The same was the case with the touchpad as well, which I kept inadvertently touching due to its odd placement. This is the main reason why I kept the ScreenPad Plus turned off (there is a dedicated button to do so, right above the touchpad) after the first few days.

However, I can see where the secondary ScreenPad Plus could be useful. I tried my hand at the Sketch app on Windows 10, and my questionable artistic skills aside, the secondary display was a breeze to draw on. The stylus provided with the notebook was very accurate and for the lack of better words, like a pen to paper. Therefore, if you are an architect or illustrator and likewise, the laptop will serve you well. In a nutshell, this is a niche product, and suited to a specific audience.

Keyboard, trackpad and audio

I have already pointed out that the keyboard on the ASUS ZenBook Duo is cramped and thus long typing sessions are a pain. Typing on the keyboard is especially troublesome when you try to do it on your lap, since there is no palm rest of any sort. And the fact that the touchpad is located on the right doesn’t help either. Also worth mentioning that the touchpad placement makes the ZenBook Duo is a definite no-no for left-handed users, unless you plan to use a mouse. The touchpad itself is accurate and precise. However, because it is so smooth, I often overshot the cursor and ending up touching in the secondary display.

ASUS provides a palm rest bar with the ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo, which can be placed on the edge of the keyboard and makes it extremely comfortable to work on it. I would have loved to see a similar accessory for the standard ZenBook Duo as well. Otherwise, the laptop requires a complete behaviour shift and unlearning/relearning the way you have been using laptops.

As for the actual keyboard, it’s a chiclet-style layout with a slight indent in the middle, which is actually pretty comfortable to type on. The individual keys have decent tactile feedback and a good travel distance, making for satisfying feedback as you type along.

In the audio department, the ASUS ZenBook Duo features ASUS SonicMaster stereo audio system with surround-sound and speakers tuned by Harmon Kardon. The audio is pretty good except that it’s slightly muted as the speakers are placed on the underside of the ErgoLift Hinge.

Performance and battery

The ZenBook Duo is being offered with the Intel Core i7-10510U or Intel Core i5-10210U processor. In the graphics department, there is the NVIDIA GeForce MX250 with 2GB of dedicated video RAM. The RAM and storage can be configured up to 16GB and 1TB, respectively. Out of the box, the laptop runs Microsoft Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Home. ASUS sent me the Core i5 variant with 8GB RAM, 512GB storage and Windows 10 Home for the purpose of this review.

As I have mentioned before, I have been using the laptop for an entire week for personal as well as office work. And I must say, the ZenBook Duo left me impressed with its abilities. Even though I have the base variant, I am still to witness a lag or hand on the laptop. My usage comprised of writing on Microsoft Word, browsing on Chrome, doing a bit of photo editing, and using WhatsApp Web and Slack for chats during work hours, and watching Netflix at home. I am yet to witness a lag, even though I have the base variant.

Let’s take a look at some benchmarks that I ran on the ZenBook Duo to get the basic idea of how the laptop performs. The ZenBook Duo managed to score 3,814 and 1,206 points in PCMark 10 and CineBench, respectively. Further, the ZenBook Duo scored a respectable 1,022 points on 3DMark graphics test. If the numbers are confusing you, let me assure you that these are very impressive scores for a machine that’s running on a Core i5 processor. The integrated storage also returned an impressive sequential read and write speed of 1,644.5MB/s and 829.8MB/s.

ASUS has equipped the ZenBook Duo with a 70Whr 4-cell lithium-polymer battery and claims that it can last up to 22 hours on a single charge. With three browser windows and multiple tabs open the whole time and heavy YouTube usage on the secondary display, I had to plug it in just short of the end of a workday, which is 8 hours. After turning off the ScreenPad+ I could squueeze out around 14 hours, which is impressive. In the battery eater test, the laptop yielded four and half hours before dying on me.

Verdict

The ASUS ZenBook Duo is not the first laptop to implement the dual screen arrangement (remember the HP Omen X 2s?), however, it is the first to do it well. The HP Omen X2s had a smaller 6-inch screen with wasted space on either side, and the user had to loom over the second screen to be able to see clearly. Not only has ASUS covered the entire area making it seamless with the main display, but it has also made it more accessible through a dedicated stand on the bottom as well as ErgoLift Hinge. Unfortunately, the secondary display results in a cramped keyboard and awkwardly placed touchpad, which takes a while getting used to. Add to that, since you can’t use this laptop on your lap, you will have to make a behavioural shift in order to get the best out of it. The ASUS ZenBook Duo starts in India from Rs 89,990, which is pretty steep. As I mentioned earlier, it’s targeted at a niche audience, so while it may not be a mainstream offering, it will definitely be one that will make heads turn.

Pricebaba’s rating: 7 / 10

What works:

  • Gorgeous design
  • All-day battery life
  • Good performance
  • Dual screen is useful for creative professionals

What doesn’t:

  • Slightly muted speakers
  • Keyboard is cramped
  • Odd touchpad placement
  • Can’t be used on the lap

Photos by Raj Rout

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