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Functionality At Your Fingertips? ZenBook Pro 15 Hands-On Review

“UNLEASH YOUR CREATIVE POWER” – these were the first words that accompanied the announcement of the new release of ASUS’s top-of-the-line laptop line. The ZenBook Pro, of course, sounds quite like the MacBook Pro, and brings a few features to make sure it’s a strong contender in this demanding market. With its defining ScreenPad, it issues a direct challenge to the MacBook’s Touch Bar by placing a functional touch-sensitive screen at your fingertips.

Creators demand the most out of their machines. Top-tier absolute performance, portability, and ergonomic efficiency. At a MSRP of USD2,299, the ZenBook Pro is cheaper than the MacBook Pro (USD2,399).

The ScreenPad

The headline feature of the ZenBook Pro brings the convenience of the Razer’s Project Linda and the theoretical functionality of the MacBook Pro Touch Bar. Named the ScreenPad, it is the “world’s first smart touchpad”, serving as a multifunctional touch-sensitive secondary display. It is implemented as a 1920×1080 5.5-inch touch-sensitive matte display where the touchpad would normally reside.

The ScreenPad with the music player while running Microsoft Excel on the main display. Image: Ian Ling

Pressing the F6 key summons a menu that allows users to switch between four modes. The new ScreenPad functions just as a touchpad would if you don’t need any additional features. You can also quickly access useful applications like the calendar, calculator or music player, allowing you to check your schedule or make a calculation without exiting your current window or pulling out your smartphone.

The ScreenPad is also compatible with Microsoft Office and Chrome out of the box, with huge plans for expansion with the release of the SDK for developers. In Excel, you can access a number pad for easy data entry. In Powerpoint, design options and a plethora of other controls are available without having to navigate through extensive menus.

No dedicated numberpad? No worry. The ScreenPad of the ZenBook Pro is integrated with Microsoft Office applications like Excel. Image: Ian Ling

Compatibility through a Chrome plugin means that videos playing on Youtube automatically launches an interface on the ScreenPad, which allows users to accurately select frames currently playing.

If you’ve always desired having a secondary screen on the move, the ScreenPad provides that possibility too. Users are able to extend their monitor screen to the ScreenPad, allowing them to leave their messaging app open, or watch a video while in fullscreen mode for productivity.

Dragging and dropping a window from the main display to the ScreenPad of the ZenBook Pro. Image: Ian Ling

I found the ScreenPad to be more functional than the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro. With regard to ergonomics, we’re more used to manipulating touchscreens with our thumbs, and its location is conducive to muscle memory to access apps and other functions.

The 5.5-inch screen is also more adept at displaying important information, and doubling up as a useful secondary display in a pinch.

However, switching between functions with the F6 key isn’t as fast as it seems, with the on-screen prompt materialising for about half a second before the ScreenPad responds. It also lacks the immediacy we’re now accustomed to on our mobile phones.

The matte material is well appreciated by my greasy fingers – it does not streak easily. Though the ScreenPad faces vertically upwards, this matte finish also ensured that there is also almost no glare whatsoever, no matter the viewing angle or harshness of lighting.

With the release of the developer SDK kit, we’ve got some hopes for other applications apart from the open-source Chrome and Microsoft Office app gaining compatibility with this useful feature. ASUS suggests that Spotify will soon be supported, which is an enticing prospect.

However, for true usefulness, I would love to see compatibility with creative applications like Adobe Suite programmes – which would be a huge selling feature given the ZenBook Pro’s target audience. I’d personally wait out a while if third-party functionality on the ScreenPad is absolutely vital for your work.

Build

Improvements to the ZenBook Pro did not stop at the ScreenPad. Bezels have shrunk to a mere 5.2mm, meaning that the 15.6 screen resides in the body of a more conventional 14-inch laptop. The 14-inch laptop, too, has the chassis more similar to that of a 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The 5.2mm bezels on the ZenBook Pro are barely there. Image: Ian Ling

Made of aluminium, the 1.88kg machine is solid and feels rugged. I’m neutral about the shimmering concentric design on the lid, and I think most would be too.

With Harmon Kardon certification for the ASUS SonicMaster Premium audio system on board, the sound is impressive. The speakers were very, very loud with good clarity without any of the tinny noises we get when we crank other laptops to maximum volume. My compatriots found the speaker on the ASUS laptop to be markedly better than that on the MacBook Pro, but I was more divided.

On board, the 4K touchscreen is clearly angled at content creators, and melds perfectly with the touchscreen ScreenPad interface. The ZenBook Pro is also capable of handling up to three additional 4K displays, another feat that professionals would appreciate for their office set-ups.

Like on other laptops released at Computex 2018, the ZenBook Pro does without the more useful full-sized SD card slot, opting instead for a microSD card slot. There’s also two USB Type-A ports and USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C ones that support Thunderbolt 3. For video there’s a full-sized HDMI 1.4 port.

Performance

The ZenBook Pro 15 (UX580) comes with a choice of Intel i9-8950HK, Core i7-8750H, or Core i5-8300H CPUs. There is also a choice of 4K (3840×2160) or 1080p LCD displays with an added option for touch-sensitivity.

True to its promise to allow professionals to “unleash their creative power”, the display of the ZenBook Pro is as accurate as can be. Sporting a Pantone certification, the displays also offer 132% coverage of sRGB colour space, and 100% of Adobe RGB colour gamut.

For storage, users can also choose between a 1TB/512GB PCIe SSD or a 512GB/256GB SATA SSD.

The smaller 14-inch ZenBook Pro sports ASUS’s ErgoLift hinge, and is limited to only a Core i7 processor and GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q. Its USB-C ports also do not support Thunderbolt 3, and it uses an IR camera for Windows Hello login instead of the fingerprint sensor on the 15-inch model.

The 14-inch (left) and 15-inch (right) ZenBook Pro models. Both come in a single colour, Deep Dive Blue. Image: Ian Ling

Pricing and Availability

Units will start rolling out globally from July at an SRP of USD2,299. Local pricing and availability will be announced in due course

Ian Ling
http://uncommontragedy.com
Ian is the resident Tech Monkey and Head of Content at VR Zone. His training in Economics and Political Science is at the basis of his love for journalism and storytelling. A photographer by passion, and an audiophile by obsession, Ian is captivated by all forms of tech that makes enthusiasts tick.

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