Asus is on a quest for total supremacy over the professional market, and there’s no stopping them. Just recently, it announced its ProArt line of professional laptops and displays, which deliver professional-grade performance (think Apple’s Pro Display XDR) to a wider audience.
Then there is the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo.
There’s plenty to be said about this powerhouse of a product. I’ll mention a few. Firstly: it’s been a long time coming. With the launch of the Asus ZenBook Pro last year (also at Computex Taipei), the Taiwanese tech giant showed off its ScreenPad technology which turns your touchpad into – you guessed it – a screen.
Then, it also announced Project Precog, which, aside from its AI-soaked pedigree, showed off the company’s vision of a dual-screened future for its family of laptops.
Secondly: the product itself is a behemoth. The Pro Duo itself is a whopping 2.5 kilograms (5.51 lbs) and is a technological unicorn with its unique dual 4K displays and top-shelf components. It’s also a monster in terms of its price. We’re talking SGD 4,998, so hang on for the ride.
Thirdly: comparing specifications and software performance of the ZenBook Pro Duo and other laptops can prove to be quite futile. Benchmarks only tell part of the story, and we will also focus on the key differentiating factor of the Pro Duo – its unique form factor.
It’s a big laptop, and it comes in a big package. Along with the laptop, you get a huge power brick, a palm rest for the keyboard and a stylus.
Opening the lid, the lower half of the clamshell remains rooted to the desk – a huge pain point I have with many laptops, but that’s not a surprise given the heft, mostly concentrated on the base of the 2.5kg Pro Duo. For comparison, the 15-inch MacBook Pro weighs around 1.8kg, and is 2/3 the thickness.
The display props the laptop up at an angle, which makes it that bit easier to type on, and also allows for more effective cooling – which, trust me – is very much needed.
It’s not the most refined design in the market, but I appreciated the clean lines, chamfered edges and otherwise thoughtful layout of the laptop in general.
The main display of the ZenBook Pro Duo is a 15.6-inch 4K OLED display with a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. With slim 5mm-thick bezels and good colour and contrast, the display of the ZenBook Pro Duo is perfect for video editors, photographers and content creators.
Maintaining the horizontal resolution, the 14-inch diagonal second display is a 3,840 x 1,100 IPS LCD panel. Both displays have similar pixel densities at 282ppi and 285ppi respectively. This means that the ZenBook Pro Duo escapes the Windows curse of text scaling between displays of different resolutions.
However, in contrast (pun intended), the ScreenPad Plus secondary screen trades the sharp, glossy surface of the main display for a matte surface that looks a fair bit more dull, especially when viewed at an angle.
Unlike the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro, the ScreenPad Plus is a full-fledged secondary display, and your cursor will appear down below when you bring it across the bottom edge of the top screen. If locating the cursor is a hassle, both displays are touch-sensitive, and also work with the included stylus.
Like any other secondary display, the ScreenPad Plus can be used to mirror or extend the existing display for a bewildering experience with content spilling down over the hinge onto the area above the keyboard. At a 32:9 aspect ratio, it was best used for containing apps like Spotify and Telegram for quick recreational asides while accomplishing more productive tasks on the main display.
To this end, Asus’ ScreenXpert tool accessed from a discrete icon the left helps users better access apps and functions like secondary screen brightness, which is controlled separately from the main one.
Though it can be slightly dim owing to the matte surface, the tilting design of the laptop largely avoids overhead lights reflecting directly into my eyes during my usage.
Owing to its large footprint, you might be forgiven to expect the ZenBook Pro Duo to offer a plethora of I/O options. It’s not MacBook-level, but it could definitely do better. On the left, there’s the round DC charging connector, along with a full-sized HDMI and USB-A 3.1 port. On the right, you’ll find another USB-A 3.1, Thunderbolt 3 USB-C, and 3.5mm audio port.
For a device the company markets as “Pro”, the ZenBook Pro Duo lacks some vital I/O chops. Many would consider and SD card slot and Ethernet port to be vital, and some might find the single Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port limiting.
However, the closest competitor, the MacBook Pro, simply offers four Thunderbolt USB Type-C ports, which makes virtually every wired interaction, save charging, dependent on dongles.
The inclusion of a large half-sized second display on the bottom deck requires a rearrangement of key laptop features. The keyboard is moved down all the way toward the user, and the touchpad is rotated to a vertical orientation.
I found it sufficiently comfortable, and also quite a similar experience to tall, bulky mechanical keyboards from yesteryear – of course, without most of the tactile and aural feedback, but they still feel sturdy in the hand.
For those who don’t fully enjoy the ergonomics, Asus includes a palm rest in the box that should alleviate any discomfort, especially if limited to home or office use.
The same goes for the trackpad. Its location on the right side of the keyboard might be an issue for those who prefer the use of their left hand for navigating the cursor.
Even so, it’s still rather small and poses a challenge for navigating around the humungous displays. That, of course, is a small issue that could easily be resolved with a hardware mouse.
But fair warning – your mouse-hand will most definitely heat up with prolonged use as the ZenBook Pro Duo vents heat sideways. As I enjoyed a game of War Thunder, I had to endure the scalding output washing over my right hand.
In all, the ZenBook Pro Duo isn’t a laptop that I’d use on my lap top. The hinge design digs onto my knees, and the location of the keyboard would press my wrists against my body. The trackpad isn’t shaped regularly and can feel a little small, which leads me to favour a hardware mouse.
Built to deal with the most demanding of professional tasks, the ZenBook Pro Duo sports the top-notch Intel Core i9-9980HK. With eight Hyper-Threaded cores, a base clock of 2.4GHz boostable to 5GHz, Asus provides an impressive 32GB of RAM to go along with it.
We didn’t get the chance to parse 4K video or do any 3D renders, but gaming at full-specs went along without a hitch.
For a pro machine, the 1TB NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD provides ample and fast storage space for projects. During testing, this hit 2,248MB/s and 2,403MB/s read and write speeds, and allowed for blazing-fast launch times even for demanding applications.
Asus’ implementation of the Core i9 9980HK delivers above-average performance, with a Geekbench score of 5,445 and 27,745 in single- and multi-core tests.
It also shines in terms of GPU performance with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060. Apart from limitations when it comes to 4K gaming, there are very few other drawbacks that even demanding users might notice.
Wi-Fi 6 is also a welcome feature that will ensure the laptop will retain compatibility with the top-tier in wireless networking in time to come.
Even with powerhouse components, the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo runs quietly with barely a whisper. However, the ports do throw heat directly on to your mouse-bearing hand.
With its top-shelf components and dual displays, the ZenBook Pro Duo draws deep on its 71Wh battery. I consistently got around four hours of use, which was barely enough to last my café work runs.
With the display turned up, and running more demanding applications like Photoshop, the ZenBook Pro Duo’s paltry battery life can only go southward. I mostly worked with Google Chrome, Microsoft Word and Spotify open, but still struggled with prolonging battery life.
The ZenBook Pro Duo allows users to turn off the ScreenPad Plus, and although that adds more than an hour to battery longevity – but why would anyone spend all that money just to not use that headline feature?
At SGD 4,998, the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo isn’t a trivial purchase. However, no matter how much money you throw at the highest end of gadgetry, there will always be drawbacks.
It’s large and heavy, understandably – but its lack of SD card reader is perplexing. There’s also no Ethernet port, which is a pain for those who demand the highest possible networking speeds. The battery life is just simply insufficient for mobile professionals who require a mobile laptop for its mobility.
But against the grain is a beautiful display, an ingenious secondary display, and a very high-grade fitted and finished product. It contains most of Asus’ developments, all implemented rather thoughtfully.
It’s a tall order and a difficult question – would you fork out close to five thousand dollars for top-notch components and the convenience of a built-in secondary display?
Major credit is due for Asus’ brave implementation of a dual-screen on the ZenBook Pro Duo. But technology has its limitations, and also its rivals.
MacOS Catalina is due to arrive in October with an interesting Sidecar feature that turns your iPad into a secondary display (with pro-level Pencil support) wirelessly.
But if you’re tied to Windows, need to move around a lot, and happen to find plenty of power outlets to the places you move to, the ZenBook Pro Duo might just be a worthwhile consideration.