The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581 is a laptop like no other. Currently, it is available to pre-order for Dh13,999 at GITEX 2019 but we got a chance to take it for a swing a few weeks prior.
Design and chassis
The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo does not necessarily make the biggest style statement but there’s more to it than just that. It has quite a minimal looking and simple exterior and that is something I like. The lid of the laptop is hard to keep smudge free but I think once you start using it, you will barely notice this. When placed on a flat surface, the Pro Duo has a natural incline. This is a variation of Asus’ ErgoLift designs we see on many of its laptops and subsequently, this helps with airflow and the typing experience. This design choice also has to do with the decked out interior of the laptop but more on that later.
While this brings good use, there is a drawback. We normally tend to drag our laptops on tables a fair bit and if you are not careful, doing the same with the ZenBook Pro Duo may damage the surface of your table. At least when using it on your lap, there is no part of the laptop that pricks your legs or is uncomfortable, despite the machines 2.5kg weight.
Processing power and I/O
Under the hood, the ZenBook Pro Duo is truly a decked out machine. We are looking at an Intel Core i9 processor clocked at 2.4GHz and up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM. You also get NVIDIA’s RTX 2060 graphics card with 6GB of dedicated DDR6 VRAM. In terms of storage, there are options for a 256GB, 512GB or 1TB PCIe SSD storage variant.
But as for the port selection, Asus seems to have skimped out. There are USB Type-A ports on either side with an extra USB Type-C port and a headphone jack on the right. Being aimed at hardcore creatives, you will need to use a dongle adaptor with this laptop that gets you access to an SD-card reader and maybe even an Ethernet port. While the laptop does come with WiFi 6 capabilities, it struggles when the connection is weak like in my room so for that, I prefer the wired internet option.
The most special feature about the ZenBook Pro Duo is that it packs two displays. The primary 15.6-inch OLED touchscreen display has a 4K 3840 x 2160 resolution. What this means is that you will enjoy consuming multimedia on it thanks to its sharp and relatively bezel-less panel. Furthermore, the audio experience is also good thanks to Harman Kardon tuned speakers. The only drawback to the panel is that it is a bit reflective which makes it difficult to use in harsh light conditions or when you are out and about.
The other 4K (3840 x 1100) display is a secondary 14-inch panel and resides where you would usually find the keyboard of any other laptop. Imagine Asus’ VivoBook S14. Its trackpad doubles as a secondary display where you can do a whole lot of neat things. But with the ZenBook Pro Duo, that experience is elevated. Its main goal is to enhance users’ productivity as well as use Asus’ ScreenPad 2.0 features. Personally, I enjoyed using this as a secondary display whether it was for video editing or creative writing.
Keyboard and trackpad
Because of the secondary display, there is a learning curve to using the ZenBook Pro Duo’s keyboard. Its keys are shifted downward whereas the trackpad is off to the right. For my use case, the trackpad positioning is passable but for someone who is accustomed to using a trackpad or mouse with their left hand, this is not the ideal solution. I also think it is a bit cramped in terms of space, but the responsiveness of clicks is pleasantly surprising. In addition to this, there is a special number pad mode that you can toggle, giving you the option of having numbers on the right.
The keyboard itself is a joy to use. I found myself making less mistakes and typing faster. It is excellent once you get used to it, with dedicated function keys right above the trackpad for things like turning off the secondary display or instantly moving content from one display to another. Furthermore, it also supports up to three levels of backlighting but no RGB colours.
Getting right into a few use case scenarios, I primarily tested the laptop using the Adobe Premiere Pro editing software. By pinning my timeline to the ZenBook Pro Duo’s secondary display, I was able to completely switch my workflow around, and for the better. Editing was seamless and so was dragging and dropping items from one screen to another. It felt like I had the flexibility of a dual-screen setup in a single, portable machine. Having touchscreen support on both displays was also helpful for navigating my video timelines. This included things like pinch-to-zoom or selecting appropriate tools to use. When there was the editing of text involved, touchscreen support came in handy to allowing me to quickly select what I needed to.
But it was not all well and good. At times, I would encounter crashes and at other times, the secondary display would stop working. The laptop we received was a pre-production model so naturally, some hiccups are to be expected and the fix was a simple BIOS update for the laptop, resulting in no loss of data.
Another use case for the dual-screen functionality is with editing. I tend to work with a lot of written material and having it all up at once is extremely useful. I would have all my references on the secondary screen with the bulk of my work being done on the primary display. The little incline to the laptop I talked about before goes a long way to accommodate that although at times, I felt I needed the secondary display to be raised up even further. I found myself leaning in too much and this is not a good habit to develop.
Lastly, I want to touch on the included pen that Asus bundles with the laptop. The pen comes in handy as a tool to operate on the touchscreen but I never found myself doing much more with it. Editing using the pen gets a bit awkward because you find difficulty resting your hand without triggering the keyboard. I think a much better implementation would be to have it so that the machine’s keyboard is detachable. With this, creators would truly be able to use the pen without having to worry about where to rest their hand. But this is just food for thought, and maybe a next-generation ZenBook Pro Duo could implement something like this.
Gaming and battery-life
While I reviewed this laptop from a creator’s perspective, there is nothing about the laptop that makes it unsuitable for gaming. It has got the internals and arguably, an extremely good display panel. Over the course of the review, I was only able to test the new Gears 5 game which performed well, with no trouble for me.
Make no mistake though, the laptop cannot game in full 4K resolution. At Full HD, I was able to toggle all my settings to the maximum and still retain a smooth frame rate of about 90. Bumping the game up to 4K resolution, I had my frames drop to 6 just on the menu screen. This should give you a good indication about the laptop’s gaming capabilities. What is most impressive is that even under intense load from gaming or video editing, the machine is able to maintain a cool temperature with not that much fan noise.
As I alluded to before, the ZenBook Pro Duo’s internals and overall body make it heavy. But even so, the design makes the laptop quite a carry-able one especially in a backpack. Naturally, battery life is not the most efficient on the machine but it is capable of getting you through some on the go mixed intensive usage for about 2-3 hours. This includes having editing software open in the background, browsing the web, watching a few videos and some document editing. I’d also recommend turning the secondary display off in situations like these because that seems to save you some more power. But it is a good call to just carry the laptop charger on you if you feel like video editing in a coffee shop.
The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo hits a very specific market segment. If you are someone like me who is constantly doing video editing work, the machine will serve as a great investment, priced at Dh13,999. At the same time, it packs capable hardware for gaming too, giving you all-rounded performance. With the added value of Asus’ display and design technology, it is an extremely good choice. It may have a bit of software ironing left to do but aside from that, the machine works like a charm. Currently, you can get it at GITEX Shopper 2019 and a deal on it is definitely one you do not want to miss.