It's hard to "reinvent" the laptop in 2019, but ASUS believes it has found a successful formula with the new ZenBook Pro Duo, a dual-screen laptop, which adds to last year's "ScreenPad" concept, which replaced the trackpad with a touch screen. The company proposes this model especially for productivity in the professional field, but the truth is that there is enough power under the casing to provide quite good performance in most video games. However, when you draw the line, this is not a computer that is really suitable for productivity, but for gaming. It is something new that could have a bright future if it is to be improved in the future.
ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo: a dual-touch laptop
ASUS has begun in the last few years to build a true identity for itself. brand around ZenBook devices. What initially started out as an imitation of Apple's MacBook devices, has evolved over time into its own design, with its own particularities. However, ZenBook Pro Duo throws this whole process of design evolution out the window, proposing something different: a slightly larger laptop, equipped with two screens and top-end hardware, comparable to what we generally find on gaming computers.  The exterior construction is still made of aluminum, but the bottom is significantly thicker than we've seen on other ZenBook models so far. But the reason is obvious: the company had to "thick" in addition to the top components and the cooling system and a whole display … or rather half a 4K screen. All the underside of the main screen is covered by the secondary one, instead of the keyboard, which has been moved down to the extreme edge. Because there was nowhere else to go, the trackpad was moved to the right.
We have seen similar keyboard and trackpad designs in the past. especially on the "ultraportable" gaming laptops of the last two years. However, ZenBook Pro Duo is neither ultraportable nor a computer built specifically for gaming. However, I have to admit, strictly from a design point of view, this computer looks great. It gives us a small glimpse into the future and made me excited again when I think of laptops, a category of products that has become quite "boring" in recent years, being based on successive iterations with new and more powerful components. minor design changes.
And ASUS seems to have done a very good job, when we look "on paper." We have an impressive 4K OLED screen, another 4K screen cut in half and positioned below it, a well-spaced keyboard and top specs. Of course, the specifications are not everything, and the use of this laptop is not exactly "suitable" for all users.
For better ventilation, ASUS has achieved this computer with a design that lifts the bottom from the ground when you open the screen, and because the keyboard and trackpad are so close to the bottom edge, there's a palm rest in the ZenBook Pro Duo's case. However, the latter is not magnetic. It is made in the form of the laptop, to be comfortable in use, being at the same level as the computer, but any movement of the laptop on the desk leaves the palmrest behind. For such a "premium" computer, the experience of using this accessory is disappointing.
There is also an infrared camera compatible with the Windows Hello authentication system above the main screen, which could save you from entering a password. The laptop also boasts of an advanced microphone system, compatible with Amazon's Alexa assistant, and also includes an "ASUS Pen" stylus, which can be used on both screens, as both have a touchscreen and benefit from support for Windows Ink. Other interesting features would be the possibility to turn the trackpad into a "virtual numpad", being illuminated with buttons all over the surface.
Given that the laptop Weighing 2.5 kg and enjoying a 230W socket adapter, the ZenBook Pro Duo will not be the most portable productivity laptop on the market, being closer to the ASUS ROG range computers than the previous ZenBook or ZenBook Pro models. .
ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo: what is under "bodywork"
- Model : ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo UX581
- Main Screen : 15.6 ", 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels), 60 Hz, OLED (glossy)
- Secondary screen : ScreenPad, 14", 4K (3,840 x 1,100 pixels), 60 Hz, IPS (anti-glare )
- CPU : Intel Core i7-9750H @ 2.6 GHz (boost up to 4.5 GHz, 6C / 12T)
- GPU : Intel UHD Graphics 630 + NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6 GB GDDR6
- RAM : 16 GB DDR4-2666
- SSD : SK Hynix 512 GB, M.2 NVMe
- Sound : stereo, SonicMaster ( harman / cardon certificate)
- Connectivity : 802.11ax Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, 2 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A, 1 x Type-C Thunderbolt 3, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x 3.5 jack mm combo
- Other features : illuminated keyboard (white)
- Power supply : 230 W
- Weight : 2.5 kg
- Operating system : Windows 10 Pro
ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo: how this laptop behaves when used
ASUS proposes to change the working mode on the ZenBook Pro laptop, but during the time I had this computer available, although I tried to use all its capabilities to the maximum, the truth is that an extra half screen, positioned above the keyboard is not really useful, nor is the execution of the company just fine tuned .
In order to be able to realize new functionalities that would benefit from the "ScreenPad" secondary screen, the company further developed the software it used on ZenBook devices in the past. Thus, the whole Windows experience is now modified to adapt most of the functions of resizing, moving and managing windows to "ScreenPad". At any time, you can move an application from the main screen to the secondary screen, you can create several "groups" of applications that run in parallel on it (maximum three at a time) and you can also close this screen at any time. However, this is the main reason why you would choose such a laptop over others, so you are less likely to want it.
The problem arises when ASUS software comes in. conflicting with how the Windows operating system manages windows and applications. Especially in "fullscreen" applications, your computer may get in the way, minimizing applications or forcing them to start in the window, moving from one screen to another or any combination of these symptoms. It's an unfinished, frustrating and difficult to understand experience on an expensive premium computer. ASUS was not satisfied with the functionality as an "extended" screen, but wanted to provide extra functionality, which it failed to develop enough.
This is especially evident in video games, which in turn they may have overlay on Windows, such as GeForce Share, Steam Overlay and Xbox Game Bar and other such "complications". When you take into account the management of the windows from ASUS, nothing responds to orders as you would expect. Some games, such as Red Dead Redemption 2, for example, can only run in the window, while others return to the desktop at startup, requiring an Alt + Tab to actually enter the game.
Of course, this is not a gaming computer, but its hardware strongly recommends it in this direction, and its secondary screen might be even more useful to gamers and streamers than to those who I want it for productivity. You can keep a Twitch chat at the bottom while you play, or you can keep a video stream, a music player, podcasts, or a guide on the screen below, to stop using a smartphone.
But why do I still say that the "productivity" mode with two screens is not good? Because anyone who works professionally with computers in an office already has one or two physical side screens, which are larger than a laptop and are already in front of them. What's more, the ZenBook Pro Duo is not just a "laptop", so you'll only be using it at an office anyway, so if you're already there, you probably already have side screens. To look at the ScreenPad screen, you need to take a look at what you are working on and look down at the keyboard, something that professionals in the creative environment do not usually do.
 In Premiere you could put the editing timeline at the bottom, but so you have a work process where you constantly look from the bottom up, something that gets very tiring very quickly, especially since the bottom screen is not as efficient as the main one.
While the main panel is a 4K OLED panel with HDR that displays everything flawlessly, being factory calibrated and validated by Pantone, the bottom one is an ordinary IPS panel, not necessarily calibrated. For work, this screen is extremely good, and for movies it will be difficult to find a suitable laptop. But for gaming, it's not exactly right. Being an OLED panel, and these panels being us on laptops, chances are that it will develop burn-in over time if you play too much of the same title. In fact, even items such as the taskbar or desktop icons could develop similar side effects.
Then we consider the fact that we have a 4K screen on a laptop. , so it will be difficult to run games at native resolution with the built-in hardware. One major disadvantage of this screen is that it is protected by glossy glass, light reflections being a real problem in the machines.
The ScreenPad does not suffer from these problems. Unfortunately, it has other problems as it does not integrate a panel as well. Thus, even the functionality of choosing colors from a palette, for example, to be used on the main screen, is not recommended.
Indeed, even ASUS recommends this screen only for a few "secondary" functions. You can have a virtual numpad there, or an area to write with your hand stylus to convert words into digital text, you can keep Spotify on, or even a browser window with a YouTube, or a to-do list . For such a thing, it really is of little use, but it is not something that is required or greatly enhances your workflow.
Probably for drawing this screen is most useful, since the main touch screen is usable only upright. . It cannot be rotated 360 degrees for use as a tablet, and drawing on a vertical surface is very tiring.
Then we have the writing experience, which is not optimal at all. If you want to write on this laptop in a "portable" way, you will have problems with your wrists after a few minutes, as there is no surface to rest your hands on. As I said, the palmrest is not magnetic, so it cannot be used portable. I also encountered an anomaly during the test, with the CTRL and ALT keys remaining locked in the software in "pressed" mode, even though they were not pressed. Several successive presses have "unlocked" them, but this does not provide security in key resistance over time. Is it a situation similar to the one on the Butterfly Keyboard MacBooks? Let's hope not. The trackpad is extremely small and almost impossible to use for productivity purposes, with a mouse being absolutely necessary.
And while talking about the trackpad, turning it into a numpad is a function that exists only to tick a point on box, as in use it is not comfortable to use. Anyone in need of a numpad uses it without constantly looking at it, relying on the answer of the physical keys. In this case, the numpad is just a touch surface.
However, it's hard not to recognize that ASUS has managed to create a powerful computer. The i7 processor, powerful SSD and modern graphics chip can deliver good performance in any use case, whether you're working with 4K video, high resolution photos or modern video games. The tests in the "performance" category provide a pretty clear picture of what this computer can do.
Some other important things about ZenBook Pro Duo as a "professional" computer. The harman / kardon speakers are quite weak compared to what we saw on other models, even from ASUS. The sound is quite flat, lacking low frequencies, and at high volumes, they can even distort the sound.
Then at the connectivity side, we have too few ports for a "work" computer. We do not have a card reader for downloading photos and videos, there are only two USB Type-A ports and one Thunderbolt port. The only other jacks on the ZenBook Pro Duo's case are an HDMI port and an audio combo jack.
As for autonomy, given the specifications, no-one would expect too good results. ASUS says it can reach 7 hours per battery, when the brightness is reduced by half, the ScreenPad screen stopped, and the results are obtained with Mobile Mark 2014 on the Productivity Office profile. In fact, in a typical use case, you probably won't exceed three hours.
Finally, the ZenBook Pro Duo behaved strangely when it come about Windows Hello, a function I have used in the past with other computers and that has worked well every time … until now. Very rarely did the IR camera recognize me from the first attempt, which resulted in the use of PIN authentication as opposed to automatic face recognition. When you integrate an expensive component into an already expensive computer, I would expect it to work.
ZenBook Pro Duo: Gaming Performance Productivity Laptop
While ZenBook Pro Duo Usage it is just pleasant in many of the cases proposed by the form and the way it was built, it is indisputable that we have to deal with a very efficient computer. We had to test the version with the Core i7 hexa-core processor of the new generation from Intel, but there is also a variant with i9, much more efficient, according to ASUS, which, in theory, should offer an additional 50% performance compared to a top-of-the-line MacBook, a rather expensive computer, which only comes with a "Touchbar" at the top, instead of the F1-F12 buttons, without a ScreenPad.
Because I do not have a "studio" test process, with productivity applications that attest to the performance in video, or photo editing, I used the same types of tests that I usually use: in-game tests and some synthetic ones like CineBench, PCMark and CristalDiskMark.
Moreover, the tests are suitable for the configuration provided, as we have to do with one of the most powerful processors for laptops, a GeForce RTX graphics chip. 2060 with ray-tracing and performance Good for gaming, as well as high speed SSD.
All games were run in 1080p with maximum detail, without antialiasing, as these are the settings that this graphics card is aimed at. With NVIDIA's "Studio" drivers, the video card could be "transformed" into one for productivity, with optimizations for most professional editing and modeling applications.
- Cinebench R20 : 2.605
- PCMark 8 Creative : 4.762
- CrystalDiskMark Seq Q32T1 : Read: 1,643 MB / s / Write: 807 MB / s
- CrystalDiskMark 4KiB8T8 : Read: 1,009 MB / s / Write: 734 MB / s
ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo, Conclusions : an impressive but awkward laptop at times
It is true that ZenBook Pro Duo offers something "different" in the laptop market, but it is not yet clear whether this "difference" is an improvement. At the moment, the secondary screen seems to only increase the price of the computer without giving concrete advantages in productivity, while leading to disadvantages on the keyboard and trackpad side as well as on the power consumption side.
On the other hand , it is undeniable that the 4K OLED screen on the ZenBook Pro Duo offers an excellent user experience, and the performance offered is at a very high level. There may not be too many users of this computer complaining about performance, especially when ASUS seems to have made great efforts to properly cool this computer. The noise level is low, even at full load, while the side vents efficiently release hot air from the housing.
Now that we have a first-generation computer of this type, I look forward to seeing what a product looks like. really finished with this kind, with better software and better hardware. However, the secondary screen does not seem to me to be an absolute necessity, and I hope that ASUS does not extend it to several models before rigorously testing the market and partnering with software manufacturers to provide dedicated functionality for it.
ZenBook The Pro Duo is an impressive laptop, but at the same time disappointing, because it doesn't really push laptops as far as it could. However, it shows that ASUS has the courage to try new things, at a time when most companies are stepping up, waiting for others to innovate in this space, to align with new trends. Thus, the Taiwanese manufacturer has assumed the lead role for these new directions, but the path to success is often paved with obstacles, and the ZenBook Pro Duo will have to cross over them in the future to establish itself in the market as the new " standard. "