There may be one — and just one — cause to purchase the Asus ZenBook Duo. Should you’ve seen an image, you already know what that cause is: there are two screens.
Particularly, there’s the first show, a 14-inch 1080p matte display screen. There’s additionally one other show, a 12.6-inch IPS panel referred to as the ScreenPad 2.0, constructed into the highest half of the decrease deck. Each are touch-enabled, and each help Asus’ energetic stylus. It’s form of exhausting to clarify what this seems like; you’ll get it when you see it.
The $1,499 ZenBook Duo isn’t fairly the one laptop computer like this — final 12 months’s ZenBook Pro Duo (of which it is a pared-down, moveable model) provides the two-screen setup in a $2,500 workstation kind, and a few related ideas, equivalent to Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold, are slated for launch later this 12 months. For the second, although, the ZenBook Duo is the most effective laptop computer for many customers who need a couple of show.
Simply be certain you really need the additional display screen as a result of the trade-offs it’s a must to make are vital.
In contrast to the MacBook Professional’s Contact Bar, or earlier ZenBooks just like the Pro 15 that have experimented with touchscreen trackpads, the ScreenPad has quite a few apparent use instances, and so they work in addition to they need to.
I largely stored distractions like Slack, Twitter, and Spotify on the underside display screen in order that they have been out of my approach whereas I did my main work on the highest, however I additionally typically stored notes or different data down there for reference. You possibly can simply message a good friend whereas watching Netflix, edit video with the timeline on the underside, or stream a YouTube tutorial on the underside whereas working a recreation up prime. I’m positive you’ll be able to see your personal makes use of for this; it’s like having a miniature, built-in monitor. Word, although, that the ScreenPad is small and has a really slim side ratio, making it finest suited to working streams within the background or stealing a look at Twitter right here and there; studying in depth or doing any precise work on it’s fairly cramped.
In Asus’ Launcher menu, which you open by tapping the left facet of the ScreenPad, you’ll be able to entry a handful of nifty options that make the most of the Duo’s kind issue (in addition to alter the ScreenPad’s brightness and lock and unlock the keyboard). There are a pair apps, together with Fast Key (the place you’ll be able to entry shortcuts to instructions like minimize, copy, and paste), Quantity Key (which pulls up a digital numpad), and Handwriting (the place you’ll be able to scribble with the stylus and the textual content will present up wherever your cursor is — it’s fairly correct). You possibly can create “task groups” of as much as 5 apps or tabs (two on the primary display screen and three on the ScreenPad), which you’ll then open up later with a single click on. And you may add no matter apps you wish to the Launcher’s major menu, so it may perform as a secondary dock.
Transferring apps from one display screen to the opposite is as straightforward as transferring them to an exterior monitor. However there are some neat tips, too. Everytime you click on and drag a window, a small menu pops up with choices to ship it to the other show, pin it to the Launcher, or lengthen it to occupy each screens. There’s additionally a useful button above the touchpad that instantly swaps the contents of your prime and backside display screen and robotically resizes them to suit.
The one ScreenPad characteristic I ended up utilizing ceaselessly was process teams — I made a gaggle of “work” tabs to open within the morning and a gaggle of “leisure” tabs to open at night time. However every part else did work as marketed. The principle takeaway right here is that Asus has achieved the work. The ScreenPad isn’t a gimmick; it’s helpful.
That mentioned, there are issues.
For one, the keyboard deck is an uncomfortable location for a display screen. You need to crane your head downward to learn something on the ScreenPad — the again of my neck was sore after a full day of utilizing the Duo.
Then, there are trade-offs it’s a must to make to realize this way issue. For one, I by no means realized how good wrist rests are till I had to make use of this laptop computer, which doesn’t have any. I felt like a T. rex utilizing this on my sofa, with my arms crunched towards my abdomen. There’s additionally the ErgoLift hinge which props the ScreenPad off the bottom at an angle. I don’t often have an issue holding fold-under hinges on my lap, however this one is kind of sharp. It was so uncomfortable that whereas I labored on the sofa, I ended up holding the Duo between my knees. You actually wish to persist with utilizing this laptop computer on a desk or desk, not your precise lap.
After which there’s the touchpad which, because of the ScreenPad, has been crammed into the underside proper nook of the keyboard deck. It’s ineffective. It’s too small (2.1 x 2.7 inches) to realistically use for precision gestures or to scroll with out rapidly hitting the chassis. (Additionally, good luck in case you’re left-handed). I don’t like to make use of third-party peripherals in my evaluation course of, but when I’d simply bought the Duo, I might have instantly plugged in a mouse and by no means seemed again. I ended up utilizing Asus’ stylus (which is easy and fairly responsive) for a lot of my each day work and virtually all of my scrolling. I ponder if it’s even value having a touchpad on this machine; I severely can’t think about anybody utilizing this one frequently.
When it comes to normal “laptop stuff,” the Duo is a succesful laptop, however there’s nothing that may blow you out of the water — once more, the ScreenPad is the explanation to purchase it.
I’ve the one presently accessible configuration, which is $1,499 and comes with Intel’s quad-core Core i7-10510U processor, 16GB of RAM, and a Nvidia GeForce MX250 GPU. The system was simply high quality for my each day load of Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming, Slack, YouTube, and different duties. The midrange Comet Lake CPU isn’t your best option for encoding movies or different demanding artistic duties, nevertheless — most energy customers will probably be higher suited to the ZenBook Professional Duo, which comes with an eight-core Core i9-9980HK and a extra highly effective graphics card. The Duo’s battery life was surprisingly good, provided that it has to juice two screens. I acquired simply over 10 hours of net looking on the Battery Saver profile with each panels at medium brightness. And the machine stored itself decently cool all through testing (simply the underside acquired often toasty). The followers solely fired up throughout gaming, and you may activate a Silent profile in Asus’ management heart in the event that they hassle you.
Ports get a passing grade: there’s a USB 3.1 Kind-A port, a microSD card slot, and an audio jack on the fitting, in addition to an HDMI, one other USB 3.1 Kind-A, an influence port, and a USB-C. No Thunderbolt 3, although, which is a evident omission on a $1,499 laptop computer, ScreenPad or no ScreenPad.
Lastly, the Duo is much from a gaming machine. As GPUs go, the MX250 is near the underside of the barrel. Built-in graphics on many fashionable processors (together with Intel’s Iris Plus that comes with the Ice Lake technology, and the brand new Vega graphics within the AMD’s Ryzen 4000 cell collection) carry out comparably — so shopping for laptops with underpowered graphics playing cards is making much less and fewer sense.
That was mirrored in my testing. The Duo solely managed a median of 26fps on Civilization VI’s highest settings. (I acquired 40fps bumping it all the way down to medium). These are higher body charges than you would possibly get with built-in graphics, however they’re actually nothing to put in writing residence about. The MX250 seems like a little bit of a half measure to me — both you desire a GPU otherwise you don’t. Should you don’t desire a GPU, you then don’t want an MX250; in case you do desire a GPU, I doubt you’ll be proud of these outcomes.
The ScreenPad is useful for gaming, significantly if you wish to preserve a reference information open or run a YouTube video when you play. Word, although, that once you click on on the underside show you’re primarily tabbing out of the sport — audio stops, and it’s a must to click on again in to renew taking part in — so utilizing the ScreenPad for operations like Discord chats or live-tweeting is a little bit of a ache.
If you wish to recreation on two screens, you would possibly wish to watch for Asus’ ROG Zephyrus Duo 15, a gaming-specific Duo that’s supposed to come back out later this 12 months and could be configured with as much as an RTX 2080 Tremendous. Asus says it’s working with builders to create particular interfaces and controls suited to the dual-screen setup.
The reality is: I can’t see myself shopping for this laptop. The cramped touchpad, the sharp hinge, and the shortage of wrist rests simply made it too uncomfortable to make use of. And the MX250’s incremental enchancment over built-in graphics isn’t sufficient to tip the scales in its favor.
However in case you’re wanting particularly for a two-screen machine, this one works. It’s greater than a celebration trick; it’s helpful and there are cool issues you are able to do. However I feel the shape issue is healthier suited to a workstation (just like the ZenBook Professional Duo) which is prone to spend most of its life at a desk with peripherals plugged in. I’m unsure if there’s a technique to make a Duo that’s additionally good at being a transportable laptop computer. If there’s, Asus hasn’t fairly discovered it.