Asus ZenBook Pro Duo Review: An Actual Dual Display Laptop… Kind of?
Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Let’s talk about the new Asus ZenBook Pro Duo, which we’ve had for a couple weeks to test. The first thing that will stand out to you the moment you open up this device, is the display.
You get a 15.6”, 4K, 60Hz, OLED panel in a 16:9 aspect ratio. It has 100% DCI-P3 coverage, HDR support, up to 400 nits in brightness, and is also touch-enabled.
This display is really nice, and it’s not unexpected. After all, it is an OLED panel, so you get rich and vibrant colors with true deep blacks. If you really want to enjoy watching your content, this display is a joy to look at, especially if you’re not used to OLED panels in general. HDR is still a little wonky on Windows, but if you do get it working with the supported apps or games, it looks great.
You also do get the webcam up top, with support for Windows Hello. Now if you look down, you might notice something a little different, and that is where the Zenbook Pro Duo, gets the “Duo” in its name.
There’s actually a second display located right below the primary display that I’ve just talked about, and Asus calls this the ScreenPad Plus. This second display has an aspect ratio of 32:9, a resolution of 3,840 x 1,100, and is also at 60Hz. However, unlike the primary display, it’s IPS, and it has a matte finish instead of glass. It is also touch-enabled.
When we first saw this at Computex at Taipei, the initial thought was of the Macbook Pro with the Touch Bar, and the way Asus promoted it is kind of similar to how Apple did it with their Macbook Pro. But the implementation of it is way different.
Unlike the Touch Bar, this is an actual second display, so right off the bat, you can use it like plugging in an external monitor. Basic things such as snapping, moving applications and running programs all work as you would expect with a second display. It’s just thinner and integrated into the laptop.
Now, Asus did implement a few tricks to help with the experience of the dual monitors in the ZenBook Pro Duo.
From the left of the display, you can actually see an arrow. Asus calls this the Launcher. If you tap on that, you gain access to a few functions and you will be greeted with something that looks kind of like a list of apps on your smartphone.
You can drag and drop apps to this Launcher, like an app. You can set up to 4 Task Groups, where you can open up to 5 applications with one tap of a button, 2 on top and 3 on the bottom. You can quickly swap the position of your applications from top display to bottom with a tap of a button. Lastly, it’s general settings for the second display.
Other than that, whenever you drag an application across either display, an Action Menu pops up, giving you the option to switch the app location between the two displays, pin it to the Launcher, or expand to full view, covering both displays. The ZenBook Pro Duo even comes with a pen, to maximise your creativity.
So, these are some of the things you can do with the ZenBook Pro Duo, with that second display. Asus is currently working with software providers such as Microsoft to provide more versatility to the second display, like toolkits, but it is all still in the works.
There is however, a catch, but let’s first move on and talk about performance.
Our model comes equipped with an Intel Core i9 9980HK, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, 32GB of DDR4 RAM and a 1TB NVMe SSD. As you can tell from the specs, this laptop is quite powerful.
I did run a few synthetic benchmarks, but do note that these do not reflect actual real world performance.
Running Prime95, the CPU quickly hit a top boost of 3.9GHz and 85C within the first couple of minutes, before slowly settling down at 73C at 2.6GHz. In Furmark, the GPU sustained at 78C, which is actually pretty respectable, but it did so at 1050MHz.
In Cinebench R20, the CPU scored a Multi Thread performance of 3218, with the CPU topping out at 3.2GHz while Single Thread performance was 440, with the CPU topping out a 4.2GHz. And in CrystalDisk, the 1TB NVMe SSD scored sequential read speeds of 2.7GB/s while write speeds was just over 2.3GB/s.
But for more real world tests, we have DaVinci Resolve, which we use here at Tech360. Rendering a 10 minute 1080P edit, took 8 minutes and 3 seconds while a 15 minute 4K edit, took 17 mins and 20 seconds. Both edits are filled with a couple layers of video, a few graphics here and there, a LUT applied and of course, music.
But enough about the synthetic stuff and the creative side of things. What about gaming? After all, this has an RTX 2060 inside. Now all frame rates that I mention below are average frame rates.
For eSports titles like CS:GO, you can comfortably play at full 4K on the highest setting, netting you an average of 107 frames per second, or go all out at 1080P, which will give you more than 220 frames per second.
Games like PUBG will strain the system a little more, with 4K ultra giving you an average of 32 frames per second, while 1080P Ultra will hover just shy of 100 frames.
Triple A titles like Final Fantasy XV at 4K High preset will get you around 30 frames per second, while dropping it down to 1080P Highest preset will be much more enjoyable at 67 frames per second.
And of course, since we have an RTX 2060, we have Battlefield V to test Ray Tracing. At 4K Ultra with Ray Tracing On, you’ll get a mere 18 frames per second while dropping down to 1080P will net you a more playable 40 frames per second.
But if you turn off Ray Tracing however, you’ll get 30 frames per second at 4K Ultra while dropping that down to 1080P will give you 90 frames per second. This is the mode that I highly believe most people will stick to.
Temperatures however, are a little mixed. While rendering in applications such as Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve, the max temperatures you will see is roughly 80C, which is actually pretty good.
But while gaming, CPU temps can reach as high as 95C while GPU temps hover around 80C. And these are the temperatures even with this hinge design, which lifts the laptop up a significant distance away from the table, providing much more airflow.
Our guess is that because of the additional display, Asus was unable to fully dissipate all that heat, as part of the space that could have been used for cooling had to be given up.
With that said however, you will only see such high temperatures while gaming. Anything other than that, the cooling solution here is more than adequate.
Now if you open up the laptop, you’ll find a 71 watt hour battery, which will last you roughly 3 and a half hours of normal usage, or about an hour if you’re gaming. You also get access to the NVMe SSD, and the new WiFI 6 chip. The RAM is unfortunately soldered on, so if you want to upgrade your RAM, you have to do so right before you purchase it. Here, you’ll also be able to see the speakers, which are side firing. They are decent, having a little bit of low end bass and vocals are clear, but they don’t get that loud.
So thus far, it’s been quite positive, you get great performance in a pretty stunning chassis, and two displays. But I will say this, it’s a jack of all trades, master of none. Let’s talk about some of the downsides.
Starting with the 4K OLED panel display, it’s a gorgeous panel, without a doubt. But it’s only 15.6”. By default, the scaling in Windows comes in at 250%, which doesn’t make sense. I highly suggest dropping it down to at least 200%. But then again, what does that get you?
At 200% scaling, you’re essentially looking at the same amount of information a 1080P display offers, just nicer and crispier. But if you were to scale down further, say 150%, or 125%, you will be able to get more out of the display, but then again text may become too small, since the display is just 15.6”.
Now this issue is not the fault of Asus, or any other manufacturer for the matter. This is an issue with Windows and scaling. But it is something to think about.
Now we move on to the second display, the ScreenPad Plus. I like the idea of the second display, right on my laptop, and I do hope to see more implementations of such designs in the future. But as it is right now, it still has its flaws.
Firstly, the angle. Sitting normally at a desk and using the laptop, I still have to physically tilt my head down to look at the information. I just don’t find it intuitive for creative applications such as Photoshop or DaVinci Resolve. Yes, you can put your Tools or your Timeline down below, but if it’s something that you’re using often, you’ll find yourself looking up and down very frequently.
Now the pen is also a mixed bag experience. You can draw, but don’t expect Wacom or Apple Pencil quality. The pen is decent at best. But the pen itself is not the problem, but rather, the awkward positioning of your arm to actually draw or write on the bottom display.
One, it’s not comfortable. Two, you will almost always rub against the keyboard and three, the display is just not big enough. Once again, yes, you can disable the keyboard, but then you won’t be able to use your shortcuts in Photoshop or any other application.
The other thing about the second display is that, you can’t close the laptop with your applications open, and expect it to be right where it was where you left it. Due to the way the displays are integrated, the laptop switches on one display, before switching on the other. So what happens?
If you leave any of your applications down on the bottom display, and close the lid then open the lid right back up after a couple of seconds, you’ll find your applications have shifted back to the main display. It will get annoying over time.
This issue however, is also because of how Windows manage multiple monitors. But in the end, it all adds up to the experience… and it’s just not as great as it’s supposed to be.
Next is the keyboard and trackpad itself. A wrist rest does come included with the ZenBook Pro Duo. If you’re using the laptop as a desktop replacement, I highly suggest using it. It makes the typing experience so much better. But if you’re constantly on the go? Typing on this keyboard, without the wrist rest is definitely doable, but not ideal. Your wrists will get tired after a while.
The other thing to take note is that you need more space on whichever table you’re using it on, since you can’t exactly place the laptop right at the edge and type with it. I mean you could, but why?
As for the trackpad, it’s decent, but as before, due to the design, it’s a small trackpad and it’s longer vertically than horizontally. It does however support a virtual numpad, so if you’re one of those people who likes a numpad, you do have the option.
Next, the ports. For a 15.6” laptop, that weighs 2.5 kilograms, and is by no means thin, you only get a couple of USB 3.1 ports, Thunderbolt 3 via USB-C, HDMI 2.0 output and a headphone jack. Now it’s not too bad, but it is a little disappointing given its size. Had they included an SD card reader, it would’ve been much better, especially since creatives are one of their target audience.
Lastly, price. This laptop is not cheap; it retails at S$4998 here in Singapore. It definitely is unique, but like we said, not cheap.
But with every laptop, there are pros and cons, so ultimately, who is this laptop for?
If you’re purely a gamer, look somewhere else. In fact, just look right across at what ROG has to offer. Unless, you really want a second display to show your stream chat or discord, look somewhere else.
If you’re purely a content creator, same thing, look somewhere else. There are better options out there which will provide you that same 4K OLED display, along with a graphics card to boost your creative applications, with more ports, and perhaps weigh even lighter too.
But, if you’re looking for something unique, with the horsepower to run all your creative applications or games. Basically a laptop that can do a little of everything, you can take a look at the ZenBook Pro Duo. Just ignore all the fluff that Asus is marketing about how this second display can be useful and treat it as a second display like you would an external monitor, and you’ll be fine. And of course, that’s only if you’re willing to fork out the price.
More information can be found about the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo here.