"The second screen of the Asus ZenBook Duo is a great addition."
Solid productivity performance
Good battery life
Secondary screen is useful
Tight keyboard and touchpad
The chassis is a bit chunky
Microsoft is on its way to a future with two screens. Asus started experimenting with its own dual-screen laptops in 2019. Regardless of whether the touchpad is replaced by a second screen or a second 4K screen is installed directly on the keyboard deck, Asus is a leader in the innovation of dual screens that you can buy today.
The ZenBook Duo is the latest attempt to make this technology accessible to the masses. It is a more portable and affordable version of the ZenBook Pro Duo with a 14-inch 1080p screen and a quad-core processor. However, a premium is required at $ 1,500.
Is the second screen a must? Let's take a look.
The standout feature of the ZenBook Duo is clearly its second screen, a 12.6-inch IPS panel that is as wide as the primary display and about a third as high. That is what makes the ZenBook Duo so special.
The so-called ScreenPad 2.0 can be touched and touched. You can drag apps and app windows – such as the control panel for a photo editing app – onto the ScreenPad and treat them like any "external" display.
It's handy if you watch Netflix at work (as I've done more than once) or open a second browser instance for multitasking. I opened a Firefox tab with the specifications of this laptop on the ScreenPad 2.0 and made checking facts and figures child's play.
Asus has numerous proprietary utilities and features that make the ScreenPad more useful. You can launch a numeric keypad to make data entry easier, and you can use the launcher to access various apps on the ScreenPad. You can also expand your main display to the ScreenPad, giving you (strangely angled) access to more information in a productivity app.
The ScreenPad is far more useful than the touch bar on the MacBook.
The ScreenPad supports the active Asus pen and offers the same responsiveness and accuracy as the main display. It's a blessing to be able to tap and ink on both displays and switch seamlessly from one to the other depending on how it fits your creative workflow. There's even a working handwriting app that reads my sketches pretty closely. A second display for writing was an advantage.
Overall, I was impressed with the ScreenPad. It's an unusual feature outside of the ZenBook Pro Duo and far more useful than Apple's Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro, for example. The additional screen size makes the ScreenPad a really useful addition to the ZenBook Duo and is of particular interest to anyone who can benefit from access to controls or additional apps while working. If you are a creative professional or do multiple tasks regularly, the ScreenPad is probably a real asset. It is much more than just a party trick.
The aesthetics of the laptop is obviously Asus, for better and for worse. It's a refinement of ZenBook design that's both recognizable and striking in the line. You'll enjoy the ZenBook's usual concentric swirls on the lid, which is perhaps the most iconic Asus design feature. Here the eddies are not centered, but asymmetrical, a noticeable change. There is also a new Celestial Blue color that offers a touch of elegance.
Overall, the ZenBook Duo is an attractive laptop that manages to cross the line between fancy and conservative, but I wouldn't say it stands out.
Connectivity is okay, with a USB-C 3.1 port, two USB-A 3.1 ports (one Gen 1 and one Gen 2), a full-size HDMI port, and a microSD card reader. Unfortunately Asus skipped Thunderbolt 3 support again, just like with other current ZenBooks. To be honest, that's unforgivable for a $ 1,500 laptop. Thunderbolt 3 offers the best connectivity performance, including the ability to connect to an external GPU chassis. This would be a blessing for the creative types who might be interested in the ZenBook Duo.
Keyboard and touchpad
The most noticeable victim forced by the second ad is right below. While the keyboard has snappy keys with a fixed mechanism and a lot of travel, I found it too small for comfortable typing. The keys are small and the keyboard layout felt tight, which made typing a challenge. It cannot be compared to the excellent keyboards of the latest Apple MacBooks and the HP Specter x360 13. There's also no wrist, so your palms hover just behind it. It is a recipe for fatigue.
This Asus has an ErgoLift hinge with which the props are attached at an angle to the back of the laptop. This helps in the absence of a palm rest and improves airflow for better performance. On the other hand, the laptop gets thicker when placed on your lap or desk.
The touchpad is small, but it responds, and it's on the right of the keyboard. It has the same lack of a palm rest as the keyboard, and it's almost impossible to use left-handed. You want to take a mouse with you for use with the ZenBook Duo because the touchpad becomes a real task.
I liked the infrared camera that Windows 10 Hello supports without a password. It worked fine during my tests, and although I prefer to have a fingerprint reader (either in addition to or instead of face recognition), I appreciated its presence.
The ScreenPad 2.0 is characterized by its additional utility. The 14-inch full HD main display remains important. I prefer 4K displays, but I also like displays with wide and precise colors, great brightness and a lot of contrast.
Unfortunately Asus has equipped the ZenBook Duo with a mediocre display. The color gamut is not wide at only 70% of AdobeRGB and 94% of sRGB, although its color accuracy is reasonable at an average DeltaE of 1.45 (less than 1.0 is considered excellent). The display only reaches 251 nits, far below our preferred 300 nits, and the contrast is low at 730: 1 (we want laptops to reach 1000: 1 or more).
The display quality prevents it from being ideal for content creation.
Subjectively, this is a pleasant indicator of productivity work and watching Netflix videos. However, creatives won't like the narrow range of colors, especially if you can buy great displays on other laptops, including the HP Specter x360 13 AMOLED panel, which has spectacular colors (100% of sRGB and 98% of AdobeRGB) and brightness (405 nits) offers) and contrast.
The ZenBook Pro Duo’s AMOLED display is just as great, which makes the ZenBook Duo’s main screen a little disappointing. I would have preferred to see a brighter display with better colors and contrast on a laptop designed for creative types. Ultimately, the display quality prevents it from being ideal for content creation.
While the larger ZenBook Pro Duo has an eight-core Core i9 H series for serious performance, the ZenBook Duo is in the middle of the road. It uses a quad-core Comet Lake Core i7-10510U CPU that is good enough for productivity tasks, but not particularly suitable for demanding creative workflows. Overall, the ZenBook Duo is fast compared to other 14-inch laptops, but cannot compete with more powerful creative platforms.
In our real handbrake test, which converts a 420 MB file to H.265, the ZenBook Duo lasted exactly three and a half minutes. This is solid for a quad-core Intel Core i7. However, the ZenBook Pro Duo completed the same test in one minute and 16 seconds, while the Dell XPS 15 finished in one minute and 42 seconds – but still significantly faster than the ZenBook Duo. The Dell XPS 13 completed the test in three minutes and 13 seconds.
In terms of graphics performance, the ZenBook Duo is again far behind the larger ZenBook Pro Duo. The latter has a very fast Nvidia GeForce GTX 2060, which makes it a powerful tool for creative apps that support the GPU. The ZenBook Duo is limited to the Nvidia GeForce MX250. It's faster than built-in Intel graphics (and about as powerful as the new Intel Iris Plus graphics), but doesn't make much of a difference when rendering videos.
You will also find that the ZenBook Duo is a bit challenging to play with. Fortnite runs at just over 30 frames per second (fps) at 1080p and Epic settings and shifts down towards 60 fps with details. However, it is difficult for you to run more demanding titles with the same resolution and graphic details.
The ZenBook Duo is only available in the United States in a configuration that includes 16 GB of RAM and is sufficient for the vast majority of productivity users. It also has plenty of 1 TB of SSD storage.
Portability and battery life
Portability is also compromised on the Altar of the ScreenPad – the ZenBook Duo is pretty bulky at 0.78 inches thick. Thanks to the relatively small display bezels, it's not too big in width and depth, but at 3.3 pounds it's pretty heavy. Other 14-inch laptops are smaller than this, including the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the ZenBook 14 from Asus.
However, the battery life is solid. With the ScreenPad turned on, the battery capacity of 70 watt-hours kept the ZenBook Duo for a surprisingly long time, considering that the batteries power two displays. In our web browser test, nine hours passed, which is good, if less than the 11.5 hours of the Dell XPS 13.
The ZenBook Duo looped our test video for almost 12 hours, again a good score, but less than the XPS 13 at 14.5 hours. And in our demanding Basemark test, the Asus managed almost five hours less than the XPS 13 with 10 minutes less.
At $ 1,500, the ZenBook Duo is more expensive than comparable laptops. That hurts when you look at the less-than-great screen, the chunkier design, and the lack of Thunderbolt 3.
The ScreenPad 2.0 is the salvation of this laptop. It goes beyond the cool factor (although it also has a lot of it). Even with compromises on the keyboard and touchpad, extreme multitaskers will be happy to access another panel directly on the device.
Are there alternatives?
You will find a variety of 14-inch (and 13.3-inch) laptops that can easily compete with the ZenBook Duo. None of them offer the second display, but all are thinner and lighter. Some of them offer better performance and durability, and most offer much better keyboards and touchpads.
One example is the Dell XPS 13 with an aspect ratio of 16:10, which has a positive impact on productivity and makes the display about as tall as the ZenBook Duo, if not as wide. The XPS 13 is significantly faster than the ZenBook Duo, even in terms of video editing, where the ZenBook Duo itself works fairly quickly. Depending on the configuration, you can spend less on the XPS 13 or a lot more, but it is a good alternative for anyone who is not interested in the ScreenPad 2.0.
Asus also makes several 14-inch models that deliver solid value. They lack the ScreenPad 2.0, which cuts hundreds off the price. This is the obvious step if you don't find ScreenPad attractive.
How long it will take?
The ZenBook Duo is well built and promises years of productive performance thanks to its modern components. You'll miss Thunderbolt 3, however, and the ultimate usefulness of the ScreenPad 2.0 depends on developer support. The one-year warranty is industry standard and is shorter than desired. However, Asus offers one year of accident protection if you drop your ZenBook Duo or spill a cup of coffee on the keyboard.
Should you buy it
Yes. There is no other laptop like the ZenBook Duo except the larger and more expensive ZenBook Pro Duo, which makes this a uniquely useful option.