Review: Asus Zenbook Pro Duo – Ushering in a new era of laptops?

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When I first saw the videos for the Zenbook Pro Duo about 4 months ago, I was quite intrigued by what Asus had done. On the surface, it looked like the best implementation of a second screen on a laptop. We have seen devices like the HP Omen X 2S with the mini screen above the keyboard but turned out to be more of a gimmick than an actual feature. But, with the Zenbook Pro Duo, things get quite interesting as we start to move from the “gimmick” territory to the “actually helpful feature” territory.

Let’s first get the obvious out of the way. The Pro Duo is in no way a perfect laptop and it is not designed for gaming, though you can game on it. But, it has the potential to change the future of laptops, especially for creative professionals. So let’s take a look at what you get with this dual-screen beast and what you have to sacrifice.

As usual, I like to segregate the review into different parts or “pillars” as MKBHD calls them.

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Specs for my review unit:

CPU: Core i9-9980HK
RAM: 32GB
GPU: RTX 2060
Storage: 1TB PCIe Gen3 SSD
Battery: 71Wh
Screen: 15.6 inch 4K
Windows 10

The unboxing experience

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When you buy a Zenbook Pro Duo, you get a classy looking box which holds the laptop, along with the charging brick, a stylus and a wrist rest. I love how Asus makes the laptop rise up a little when you open the box.

Build, Design and Connectivity

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When you look at the Zenbook Pro Duo you see a well-built sharp looking device that you’d love to carry around and use in front of people but as soon as you pick it up, you realize how heavy it is. The unboxing experience also takes a hit as the laptop is supposed to rise up a little as you open the lid of the box but as soon as you let go of the lid it closes back down because of how heavy the machine is. So, it’s not the easiest 15.6-inch laptop to carry in your bag.

The design is simple, you get only one colour – Celestial Blue, and it catches fingerprints like a flame catches moths. When you open the lid, the mechanism of the lid raises the keyboard a little, to a more typing friendly position. Asus calls this the ErgoLift hinge design. But, this mechanism comes with its issues because it’s the slim and sharp screen lid that elevates the laptop, which means you can’t use the laptop on your lap as the base of the lid will dig into your thighs, and like I said, it’s not a light laptop. On the back is a kickstand that adds a little more elevation if you so desire.

To accommodate that second screen, which Asus calls ScreenPad Plus, the keyboard has been moved down and to accommodate the keyboard, the touchpad has been moved to the right. The keyboard is well laid out, doesn’t seem cramped and the touchpad is also decently large. You can use the touchpad as a number pad as well by holding the button on the touchpad itself, for a second. Because this arrangement pushes the keyboard to the bottom edge of the laptop, typing becomes a little uncomfortable, but fear not, you can use the wrist rest for a better experience. And, getting used to this new layout will take a short while if you’ve always used the standard layout as I have.

There’s a small sort of hidden light bar on the front edge of the chassis that acts as a charging indicator. And, the wrist rest also comes with a see-through area so you can see the light even when the wrist rest is blocking it. I love the attention to detail!

You don’t get a lot when it comes to connectivity but it’s still far better than other “Pro” devices *Apple* that are out there. On the left, you get a DC-in, a standard HDMI 2.0 and a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port. On the right there’s another USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port, an audio combo jack and a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port.

You also get Intel Wi-Fi 6 with Gig+ performance (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.0.

Something I noticed here is that when you close the lid, it kind of slams shut after a certain angle. Just something to keep in mind.

Screen and Display

The primary screen on the Zenbook Pro Duo is a glossy 15.6” OLED 4K HDR touchscreen with 100% DCI-P3 coverage. The bezels are just 5mm thick and boy does it look good! Watching 4K content on this screen is an absolute treat! It gets bright enough even for outside use. There’s an IR webcam with Windows Hello support on top of the screen, where it should be. You do get a disable camera button on the keyboard but then you cant login using Windows Hello, so there’s that.

Using this laptop has made me realize that all laptops should have touchscreens period.

Now, the USP of this laptop, the second screen or the ScreenPad Plus. It is a matte 14” 4K (3840 x 1100) IPS touch display and for me, it was a game-changer when it comes to working on a laptop. The matte surface has a smooth and inviting feel which makes you keep fidgeting with it even when you don’t actually need to do anything on it. You can do a lot of things on the second screen besides having one or two or three windows simultaneously running on it. Asus has also implemented some software tweaks that help you in using this second screen more efficiently, more on that later.

anandtech.com

Audio

There are two bottom-mounted Harman Kardon certified speakers that get sufficiently loud if you’re in a quiet space. They sound clear with no distortion on max volume. Music is loud and well balanced but don’t expect to be blown away by it, they’re laptop speakers after all.

Battery Life

Battery life on the Pro Duo is nothing to write home about. During casual use, it lasted about 4 hours which is not bad for something that has two 4K displays. The 71Wh battery isn’t the largest but I guess that’s the biggest they could fit in this chassis. It’s decent for binge-watching sessions and general media consumption, but for anything intensive, connect it to the charging brick.

Performance, Temps and Noise

For the sake of convenience, I’m further splitting the Performance review into raw performance and usability.

The octa-core Core i9-9980HK is clocked at 2.4GHz and can boost up to 5.0GHz but, don’t expect the Zenbook Pro Duo to sustain such a high core clock. While benchmarking, I found that multiple cores would reach their thermal limit and throttle down. I saw temps reaching 99 degrees in most benchmarks with the Package temps reaching 100 degrees! I know stress tests and benchmarks don’t cover general use cases but, the CPU did throttle after I played games for about 30 minutes. But, when you take a look at the performance numbers, you’ll see that gaming is definitely possible on the Zenbook Pro Duo. You’ll have to sacrifice on some visual fidelity though. To give you an idea of the kind of performance you can expect from this machine, I ran the usual set of benchmarks even though they’re not a 100% indicative of the real-world performance.

Cinebench R20

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Metro Exodus

Far Cry 5

Ghost Recon Breakpoint

Notebookcheck also did a slew of benchmarks which you can check out here.

But, as I said before, this is not a gaming laptop so let’s not discredit its performance. When it comes to creative work, be it photo and video editing, rendering or creating art, the Zenbook Pro Duo adds a new dimension to it all. Video editors can have their various tool windows and timelines on the second screen while they preview their projects on the main screen. Artists can mirror the two screens and use the second one as a drawing pad with the included Pen. There are a lot of possibilities and customizability here that you wouldn’t get with any regular laptop. When I was benchmarking this machine, I had the game or the app running on the main screen with HWinfo and task manager open on the second screen which let me monitor temps and CPU usage. And everything was right there! I didn’t have to Alt+Tab out of the game and check the numbers and that’s great! I use a dual monitor setup at my desk and I can definitely appreciate the second screen for all its uses.

With the fans on Turbo mode and running on max speed, the Zenbook Pro Duo does get loud but that’s nothing to worry about. During regular use, the fans stay dead silent. Asus has configured that fans to quickly ramp up and also ramp down depending on the temperatures.

Usability

I feel like only performance numbers don’t do justice to the Zenbook Pro Duo. Its usability is what stands out the most. The ease of use that it offers with its two large touch screens is on another level entirely. Both of them are sharp and responsive to the touch. To make navigating the two screens even more user-friendly, Asus has added software features like the action bar that pops up every time you drag a window. The first option is the “App Switcher” which lets you send that particular window to the second screen if it’s on the first and vice versa. The second option is the “Add” button that lets you add the window to the ScreenPad Plus launcher, which you can access by touching the small icon that is always present on the bottom screen. The third is the “ViewMax” option which spreads the window across both the screens.

When you drag a window from the main screen to the bottom screen, you see three glowing lights on top of the bottom screen. These lights show how you can organize the windows for better productivity. There is also a Task Swap key on the keyboard that swaps whatever is open on both the screens. You can do a lot of things with the help of these, and many other software features that come bundled with the Zenbook Pro Duo.

Typing on the laptop feels good with decent key travel and proper spacing of the keys. I got used to the keyboard layout pretty quickly which is always a plus.

But, and there’s always a but, it’s not perfect. There are some, let’s call it ‘peculiar quirks’, that come with the software. There are some window resizing issues that I faced during my use like when I opened a window on the main screen and had to move it to the second screen for some reason, it doesn’t revert to its original size when it comes back to the main screen. When I set a wallpaper to ‘Span’ across both screens through the Windows Personalize settings, it defaults to ‘Fill’ after I wake the laptop from sleep or run a game on the main screen.

Since the two screens have different specifications, one being a glossy OLED and the other being an IPS matte panel, there is a visible colour temperature difference between the two. Using the Pen on the second screen feels smooth but only at certain angles. At particular angles, the Pen feels coarse which pulls you out of your creative mindset at times. But, for the most part, it is an enjoyable experience. There is some amount of lag when using the Pen but that’s to be expected. This isn’t a drawing pad, it just offers you that additional functionality.  

Price

Now, this is what can make or break the deal for you. The price. The spec that I reviewed, which is the ‘Baller’ model of the Zenbook lineup, comes in at a whopping Rs.2,47,970 (Amazon – at the time of writing this review). It’s younger brother, the 14 inch Zenbook Duo starts at around Rs.89,500. Is it worth the cost? Being the only laptop in the world offering such functionality, Asus can pretty much slap any price tag on it. So, if you have really deep pockets and are in the market for a creator-focused laptop, the Zenbook Pro Duo or even the Zenbook Duo are amazing machines.

Final thoughts

After using the Zenbook Pro Duo for two weeks as my day to day laptop, I’m totally on board with this new direction that Asus has taken with their portable computers. Using it makes me feel excited in more ways than one because it makes me look forward to other versions of a dual-screen laptop by other manufacturers. I feel that this concept can be the gateway to a new era of laptops, and I for one, am eagerly waiting for it.

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Vineet Washington
Gamer and tech enthusiast. Video games are like oxygen and technology is like water. Can't live without them.

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