When it comes to new and exciting developments in the technology sector very few people think of laptops or notebooks. For a long time they have been pretty much the same, simply improving in terms of specs, screen quality and multitasking capabilities. The Asus Zenbook Pro Duo wants to change that, with a bold new design aimed at making your laptop experience as productive and exhilarating as possible.
The Asus Zenbook Pro Duo comes with two 4K touchscreens, with the second right above the keyboard. This second display acts like a connected external display would, but puts everything within eye shot in order to make a productive workspace as portable as possible. Let’s find out if this new setup works as well as advertised in our in-depth review.
Design and Build
When you first lay your eyes on the Zenbook Pro Duo you immediately know it’s not an ordinary laptop. It’s not trying to look or feel like anything else on the market, specifically thin notebooks. Opening up the laptop for the first time is an interesting experience. The main 15-inch panel has small bezels but looks fairly standard. Look to the bottom and you find the second display take up half of the chassis size, and below it is the keyboard and touchpad.
The keyboard needs to be offset to the side to make space for the touchpad (which also doubles as a numpad) to its right. This setup takes some time to get accustomed to, as you are hardwired to put your hands in the middle when looking at the display head-on.
The chassis of this Zenbook is uniquely designed as well. Its relatively thick due to the high-end hardware and needs proper cooling vents. It has chunky vents to suck in the cool air which takes up a lot of space, meaning the port selection isn’t exactly exemplary. You have a pair of USB 3.1 Type-A ports for everyday connectivity, with a single Thunderbolt USB-C port for power intensive peripherals such as 4K monitors, high speed storage or external graphics. There is no SD card reader, although you do get a 3.5mm headphone jack and HDMI 2.0 port.
The odd keyboard placement is a bit difficult to get used to, and if you take into consideration the cramped touchpad it is a whole new laptop experience. This touchpad won’t have you zipping around the two displays anytime soon after buying it, so keep that in mind.
A unique design decision that works a lot better though is the Zenbook’s lid, which has a lip on the back which raises the bottom of the laptop off the table. It makes the typing angle significantly more comfortable and also aids in the cooling efforts.
Speaking of typing, the keyboard has decent travel and the typing experience is enjoyable on the whole. Because of the placement of the keyboard, there is nowhere to rest your palms (although there is an accessory available to help), so get used to typing like your strict teacher demanded – palms in the air.
The build quality and external shell looks and feels very premium (as it should at this price), with the 2.5kg weight reminding you of that every time you pick it up. Even though the weight is unusually heavy, it lends an extra solid feel to the laptop.
As you can imagine, the ‘Duo’ in this laptop’s name comes from the two 4K displays of this Zenbook. As mentioned, the main display is a 15.6-inch screen. It is an OLED with a 16:9 ratio. The second is a 14-inch 4K display, this time an LCD with a 32:9 ratio.
Let’s start with that main display, because it is gorgeous. Everything is as sharp and crisp as you would expect of a 4K display. But because it is OLED, the colours and contrast are something to behold. The colours are also balanced extremely well, and with the variety of brightness controls available that is never lost. This makes the device perfect for image editing and adjusting colour grading in video editing.
It also has HDR for your viewing pleasure of compatible content. The advantages of an OLED panel of this size are many and varied, which brings us to the second display, which is an LCD.
Because of the lesser technology, the second display isn’t as bright or vibrant as you would want. This different in quality is just exaggerated by having the amazing OLED panel right above it, even though it is also 4K. The LCD’s viewing angles are good, as it needs to be at the angle it is mostly viewed at, but the colour gambit doesn’t match the main display due to the disparate technologies.
The second display has a matte finish, which lends it no favours in the colour arrangement, especially in bright conditions.
Luckily there are some nice software features included in that display that makes it more useful than you would imagine. It is very easy to have three equally sized apps open side by side, making it a perfect companion to house your multitasking apps while you use the main display for your main workspace.
The second display is called the ScreenPad+ and can be switched off when needed with the click of a button, like when watching media content where a second display would only be a distraction. Initially we thought the dual screen setup would feel relatively gimmicky, but is practice it works extremely well. It isn’t a necessity, but damn, it’s nice to have.
Regardless of which configuration you go for, your new Asus Zenbook Pro Duo will have plenty of oomph. Our review unit was the top of the line, with an Intel Core i9, 32GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 with 6GB of GDDR6 memory.
You can scale down to an i7 and 16GB of RAM, but if you are dishing out the cash on an impressive machine like this you might as well go all out. This power means there is almost nothing you can throw at this machine that will trip it up.
Of course, it won’t match PC workstations you spend similar money on, but that is what mobility costs us at this stage for the top-end. But for a 15-inch machine it is truly a powerhouse.
That doesn’t mean this laptop has everything you need, though. While it can handle gaming pretty well, true gamers will need to look elsewhere to laptops specifically built for gaming. The second display pulls a lot of processing and battery power that is better suited to working professionals, rather than professional gamers.
Our review model had 1TB of storage, which can be scaled down to 256GB. All sized are SSD’s though, which is nice to see for the smaller capacities.
Lastly, we come to battery life. Now, we don’t expect most people that use a machine of this ilk to need it away from a power source for any extended periods of time, but it needs to be addressed.
The battery life is simply awful. Using both displays at moderate brightness and multitasking as this machine was meant to do will get you 2.5 hours of battery life at most. In our review period we tried a lot of different settings and setups to try to extend the battery life, but nothing made a marked difference. The only thing that extended battery life to mediocre instead of dreadful was turning off the ScreenPad+, which defeats the whole purpose of this laptop.
Our review unit specification will set you back just short of R60,000. Of course, that is a lot of money for a laptop, but you do get a lot for your hard earned cash.
It is a truly top-end machine with the best hardware you can find, beautiful design of the highest quality, an immaculate main OLED display and importantly the secondary display making this a workhorse like we haven’t seen before in a laptop. You won’t get a similarly specified Macbook (ignoring the second display) at the same price.
This machine is meant for professionals, either creators or people that need that second display to make their workflow as seamless as possible. On that front there is nothing else that compares.
Sure, there are some compromises. It isn’t the most mobile laptop out there and the battery life is abysmal. But those won’t really be major considerations for people who will find real usage from such a device.
The Asus Zenbook Pro Duo is not for everyone, but is perfect for those that need such a machine. Even though it is a first-gen product, Asus have created a new segment of the market that will prove to have legs.