Asus ZenBook Duo review: Two screens, four cores, and $1,500

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Asus ZenBook Duo

“The Asus ZenBook Duo's second screen is an awesome addition.”
  • Solid productivity performance
  • Good battery life
  • Secondary screen is useful
  • Attractive design
  • Cramped keyboard and touchpad
  • Chassis is a bit chunky
MSRP $1,500.00

Microsoft is on its steady push toward a dual-screen device future. But Asus began experimenting with its own dual-screen laptops in 2019. Whether it’s replacing the touchpad with a second screen or building in a second 4K screen right on the keyboard deck, Asus is leading the charge in dual-screen innovation you can buy today.

The ZenBook Duo is the latest attempt to bring this tech to the masses. It’s a more portable and affordable version of the ZenBook Pro Duo, using a 14-inch 1080p screen and a quad-core processor. At $1,500, however, it commands a premium.

Is the second screen a must-have feature? Let’s take a look.

ScreenPad 2.0

Clearly, the ZenBook Duo’s standout feature is its second screen, a 12.6-inch IPS panel that’s as wide as the primary display and about a third as tall. It’s what makes the ZenBook Duo special.

The ScreenPad 2.0, as it’s called, is touch- and pen-enabled. You can drag apps and app windows — say, the controls panel for a photo editing app — to the ScreenPad and treat it just as you would any “external” display.

It’s a convenience, letting you watch Netflix while working (as I found myself doing more than once), or open a second browser instance for multitasking. I kept a Firefox tab with this laptop’s specifications open on the ScreenPad 2.0, and it made double-checking facts and figures a cinch.

Asus has numerous proprietary utilities and functions that make the ScreenPad more useful. You can fire up a virtual numeric keypad to aid with entering data, and you can take advantage of the Launcher to access various apps on the ScreenPad. You can also extend your main display onto the ScreenPad, providing (oddly 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 Asus active pen, providing the same responsiveness and accuracy as with the main display. It’s a real boon to be able to tap and ink on both displays, seamlessly switching from one to the other as it fits your creative workflow. There’s even a workable Handwriting app that was fairly accurate at reading my scribbles. Having a second display to write on was an advantage.

Overall, I was impressed with the ScreenPad. It’s an unusual feature, outside of the ZenBook Pro Duo, and it’s far more useful than, say, Apple’s Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro. The extra display size makes the ScreenPad a truly beneficial addition to the ZenBook Duo, and it will be of particular interest to anyone who can benefit from accessing controls or additional apps while they work. If you’re a creative professional or someone who regularly multitasks, then you’ll likely find the ScreenPad to be a real advantage. It’s far more than just a party trick.

Design

The laptop’s aesthetic is obviously Asus, for better and for worse. It’s a refinement of the ZenBook design that’s both recognizable and stands out in the line. You’ll enjoy the usual ZenBook concentric swirls on the lid, which is perhaps the most iconic Asus design feature. Here, the swirls aren’t centered but rather asymmetrical, a noticeable change. There’s also a new Celestial Blue color that provides a touch of elegance.

Overall, the ZenBook Duo is an attractive laptop that manages to walk that fine line between outlandish and conservative, but I wouldn’t say it stands out.

Connectivity is just 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 has once again skipped Thunderbolt 3 support, just as it has with other recent ZenBooks. Frankly, that’s unforgivable for a $1,500 laptop. Thunderbolt 3 provides the best connectivity performance, including the ability to connect to an external GPU enclosure, which would be a boon for the creative types that might gravitate to the ZenBook Duo.

Keyboard and touchpad

The most noticeable sacrifice forced by the second display can be found just below it. While the keyboard sports snappy keys with a firm mechanism and plenty of travel, I found it too small for comfortable typing. The keys are small, and the keyboard layout felt cramped, making typing a challenge. It can’t compare to excellent keyboards on the latest Apple MacBooks and the HP Spectre x360 13. There’s also no wrist wrest, leaving your palms to hover just beyond. It’s a recipe for fatigue.

This Asus does have an ErgoLift hinge the props up the rear of the laptop at an angle. That helps with the lack of a wrist rest and improves airflow for better performance. On the other hand, it makes the laptop thicker when placed on your lap or a desk.

The touchpad is small, albeit responsive, and it’s to the right of the keyboard. It suffers from the same lack of a wrist rest as the keyboard, and it’s nearly impossible to use left-handed. You’ll want to carry along a mouse to use with the ZenBook Duo, because the touchpad becomes a real chore.

I liked the infrared camera that supports Windows 10 Hello password-less login. It worked flawlessly throughout my testing, and while I prefer having a fingerprint reader (either in addition to or instead of facial recognition), I appreciated its presence.

Display quality

The ScreenPad 2.0 stands out for its extra utility, the 14-inch Full HD main display remains important. While I prefer 4K displays, I also enjoy displays with wide and accurate colors, great brightness, and lots of contrast.

Unfortunately, Asus equipped the ZenBook Duo with a mediocre display. The color gamut isn’t wide at just 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 hits 251 nits, well under our preferred 300 nits, and contrast is low at 730:1 (we like to see laptops hit 1000:1 or more).

The display quality holds it back from being ideal for content creation.

Subjectively, this is a pleasant display for productivity work and watching Netflix videos. But creatives won’t like the narrow color gamut, especially when you can buy excellent displays on other laptops, including the HP Spectre x360 13 AMOLED panel that offers spectacular colors (100% of sRGB and 98% of AdobeRGB), brightness (405 nits), and contrast.

The ZenBook Pro Duo’s AMOLED display is equally great, making the ZenBook Duo’s primary screen a bit disappointing. I’d have much preferred to see a brighter display with better colors and contrast on a laptop that’s intended for creative types. Ultimately, the display quality holds it back from being ideal for content creation.

Performance

While the larger ZenBook Pro Duo has an eight-core H-series Core i9 for serious performance, the ZenBook Duo is middle-of-the-road. It uses a quad-core Comet Lake Core i7-10510U CPU that’s good enough for productivity tasks but won’t be particularly well-suited to demanding creative workflows. Overall, the ZenBook Duo is fast compared to other 14-inch laptops, but it won’t keep up with more powerful creative platforms.

In our real-world Handbrake test that converts a 420MB file to H.265, the ZenBook Duo took exactly three and a half minutes. That’s solid for a quad-core Intel Core i7. However, the ZenBook Pro Duo finished the same test in a minute and 16 seconds, while the Dell XPS 15 finished in a 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.

As for graphics performance, the ZenBook Duo is again well behind the larger ZenBook Pro Duo. The latter sports a very fast Nvidia GeForce GTX 2060, making it a powerful tool for creative apps that support the GPU. The ZenBook Duo is limited to the Nvidia GeForce MX250. That’s faster than integrated Intel graphics (and about as powerful as the new Intel Iris Plus graphics), but it won’t make a big difference when it comes to video renders.

You’ll also find the ZenBook Duo a little challenged when it comes to gaming. It will run Fortnite at just over 30 frames per second (fps) at 1080p and Epic settings, and will push towards 60 fps with the detail down. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to run more demanding titles at the same resolution and graphical detail.

The ZenBook Duo comes in just one configuration in the U.S., which includes 16GB of RAM, sufficient for the vast majority of productivity users. It also has an ample 1TB of SSD storage.

Portability and battery life

Portability is also sacrificed on the altar of the ScreenPad — the ZenBook Duo is rather chunky at 0.78 inches thick. It’s not overly large in width and depth thanks to relatively small display bezels, but it’s rather heavy at 3.3 pounds. You’ll find other 14-inch laptops to be smaller than this, including the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Asus’s own ZenBook 14.

Battery life is solid, though. With the ScreenPad turned on, the 70 watt-hours of battery capacity kept the ZenBook Duo going for what turned out to be a surprisingly long time considering that the batteries are powering two displays. It cleared nine hours on our web browsing test, which is good, albeit less than the Dell XPS 13’s 11.5 hours.

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 compared to the XPS 13 at 10 minutes less.

Our take

At $1,500, the ZenBook Duo is pricier than similar laptops. That hurts when you consider the less-than-great screen, chunkier design, and lack of Thunderbolt 3.

The ScreenPad 2.0 is this laptop’s saving grace. It goes beyond the cool-factor (though it has plenty of that too). Even with compromises to the keyboard and touchpad, extreme multi-taskers will love having access to another panel right on the device.

Are there are any alternatives?

You’ll find a host of 14-inch (and 13.3-inch) laptops that compete handily against the ZenBook Duo. None of them will offer the second display, but they’ll all be thinner and lighter. Some of them will provide better performance and longevity, and most of them will offer much better keyboards and touchpads.

One example is the Dell XPS 13, which boasts a 16:10 display aspect ratio that’s great for productivity and makes the display roughly as tall as the ZenBook Duo’s albeit not as wide. The XPS 13 is faster than the ZenBook Duo by a fair margin, even in the kind of video editing process that the ZenBook Duo is itself pretty quick at performing. You can spend less for the XPS 13 or a lot more depending on configuration, but it’s a good alternative for anyone not enamored with the ScreenPad 2.0.

Asus also makes several 14-inch models that deliver solid value. They lack the ScreenPad 2.0, which shaves hundreds from the price. That’s the obvious move if you don’t find ScreenPad appealing.

How long will it last?

The ZenBook Duo is well-built and promises years of productive performance thanks to its up-to-date components. You’ll miss Thunderbolt 3, though, and the ultimate usefulness of the ScreenPad 2.0 will come down to developer support. The one-year warranty is industry standard, and shorter than we’d like, but Asus does toss in a year of accident protection in case you drop your ZenBook Duo or spill a cup of coffee on its keyboard.

Should you buy it?

Yes. There’s not another laptop like the ZenBook Duo, except for the larger and more expensive ZenBook Pro Duo, making this a uniquely useful option.

Editors' Recommendations