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Asus Zenbook Duo UX481 review

Two isn't better than one.

(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Asus ZenBook Duo is an interesting spin on the classic laptop form factor, with two screens and respectable performance. Its downfall is that the ScreenPad Plus is still very much a novelty addition rather than a necessity, eating into precious keyboard and trackpad space.

For

  • Great build quality
  • Screenpad Plus does have some novel uses
  • Built-in Wi-Fi 6

Against

  • Cramped keyboard and trackpad
  • Second screen isn't as clear
Asus Zenbook Duo (UX481FL) configuration

CPU: Intel Core i7-10510U @ 1.80GHz
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce MX250 (2GB)
RAM: 16GB DDR3 (2,133MHz)
Storage: 1TB PCIe Samsung SSD
Screen: 14-inch, LCD Full HD (1920 x 1080), 12.6-inch Full HD (1920 x 515) touch display
Ports: 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 2 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1 x HDMI &1 x MicroSD reader
Connectivity: Intel Wi-Fi 6 with Gig+ performance (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.0
Camera: IR webcam with Windows Hello support
Weight: 1.5kg
Size: 32.3 x 22.3 x 1.99 cms

The Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 looks like a futuristic laptop, and that’s mainly due to the presence of a second display on the base, just above the keyboard and trackpad. With the ZenBook Duo, the company is catering to a different set of users who demand performance without compromising their creative aspects. This kind of form factor hasn’t been seen before in a laptop, and hence Asus tries to provide a balance between style and productivity.

The ScreenPad Plus, as Asus calls it, is essentially a supercharged Touch Bar if you’re familiar with Apple’s MacBook Pro range. The same concept has been taken ahead with a full-fledged second display that can be used to show apps, scribble something or just listen to music while working.

With the ZenBook Duo UX481, Asus wanted to offer users a smaller footprint laptop for more portability, while still offering decent performance for users on the go. The smaller size is appreciated, but it also means that there are certain compromises that have been made which affect the overall usability of this device. 

Price and availability

Asus ZenBook Duo (UX481) is priced at AED 5,999 and is available at all retailers in the UAE. 

Design

(Image credit: Future)

Taking the ZenBook Duo out of the box, we noticed that it has a considerable thickness and weight, unlike other ZenBook laptops, which we consider as thin and light. Even the price segment this laptop falls under is generally filled with ultra-portables; however, with its new design, the ZenBook Duo is more than certain to turn heads.

(Image credit: Future)

The new laptop sticks to its roots and features the iconic spun-metal concentric circle finish on the lid with tapered edges. Only this time, it isn’t centered and instead is asymmetric. It gives a spotlight-like effect to the Asus logo, which looks intriguing. 

(Image credit: Future)

ZenBook Duo is a bit on the heavier side of things as it weighs around 1.5 kgs and measures 32.3 x 22.3 x 1.99 centimeters. It’s not that slim either, presumably due to the addition of a secondary screen. It is unlike something we had hoped for from a ZenBook machine, which has a reputation of being one of the slimmest and lightweight Windows laptops. 

(Image credit: Future)

The ScreenPad Plus is an impressive addition to the laptop, and is probably the biggest talking point. It's meant to increase your productivity by allowing you to run secondary apps that you would normally run on the main screen, such as Spotify. It also extends your desktop space, you can extend certain apps to make for some rather interesting use scenarios.

(Image credit: Future)

The position of the trackpad can also take getting used to as it is usually placed below the keyboard. Asus thinks that most creative professionals would anyway use an external mouse, but for moments when you need to use the trackpad, it feels a bit awkward.  The trackpad is very cramped and often didn't register our taps, especially near the edges. The right-side positioning also makes it impossible for left-handed users to use comfortably.

Another miss is that the trackpad on the ZenBook Duo doesn’t double up as a numeric keypad, like it does on the Pro Duo range. Even if you attach an external mouse, the trackpad area remains of no use, so it would have been great if Asus had made this particular feature common across their ZenBook Duo lineup.

The ErgoLift hinge design provides a 5.5-degree tilt to the laptop, but it really only benefits when the laptop is on a flat surface. If you're using this on your lap while on the go, you'll struggle to keep things steady and face some rather uncomfortable typing. 

(Image credit: Future)

Overall, the design of the ZenBook Duo is pretty surprising and innovative, but users will have to make some compromises on how they use their laptops while performing day to day activities. Nevertheless, it’s a different form factor and a unique design for sure. The notebook has also received the MIL-STD-810G certificate, which is the military standard benchmark for durability and toughness.

Are two screens better than one?

(Image credit: Future)

ScreenPad Plus is the most noticeable feature of the ZenBook Duo and its USP as well. The primary screen is a gorgeous looking 14-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) LED panel with minimal bezels. Colors are vibrant, and the contrast is excellent. 

The screen can produce a 100% sRGB color gamut and is also Pantone validated. The top screen alone means this is a laptop that you should consider if you’re looking for a machine to edit photos and videos.

(Image credit: Future)

The 3.5mm thin bezels on either side give the ZenBook Duo a 90% screen-to-body ratio with a 178-degree field-of-view. It’s got a more modern feel (despite the thickness elsewhere) and ensures the upper screen remains the main focal point.

The Screenpad Plus measures 12.6-inches and looks a bit dull in comparison to the primary display, which has impressive vibrancy and brightness. We increased the default brightness of the screen in an attempt to match the top screen better, but it doesn’t help. Text readability was also a little bit difficult, with some text becoming slightly fuzzy, especially in apps like Spotify.

The readability is down to the quality of the panel used and also the angle at which you're viewing the Screenpad Plus. You have to move forward and look directly at it for the best readability, which can make for some awkward moving back and forth in your chair.

(Image credit: Future)

Windows 10 treats the Screenpad Plus as a second monitor, so when you drag the mouse cursor to the bottom of the top screen, it will then appear on the bottom screen – and the reverse happens when you move the mouse to the top of the second screen. It essentially breaks the seamless experience that Asus is trying to provide with the addition of a second screen.

However, using ScreenPad Plus, one can easily drag windows and apps to the other screen. While many apps might feel a little cramped, it works quite well. For example, you could drag a Chrome window with YouTube or Gmail to the bottom screen and listen to music or keep an eye on emails while working on the primary display. 

As the Screenpad Plus is a touchscreen, you can use your fingers to move or select open apps, or use a stylus to turn the Screenpad Plus into a drawing tablet. Oddly there's no stylus included with the Zenbook Duo, which is a bit of a missed opportunity. Still, we did manage to use the Screenpad Plus with a stylus, and while the sensitivity is acceptable for quick notes and signing pdfs, its usability again is quite awkward, as you often accidentally rest your palm on some of the keyboard keys.

(Image credit: Future)

Asus has also included its own software that can be used with the Screenpad Plus. By tapping on an unobtrusive on-screen button to the left, you can bring up a menu that lets you pin app shortcuts or tweak the Screenpad Plus’ settings.

It’s a nice addition that makes the Screenpad Plus more useful than just a second monitor. However, during our time with the ZenBook Duo, we weren’t entirely convinced that Screenpad Plus is an essential tool.

In some respects, it was nice to have, but it did get in the way some times as well. For example, when moving the mouse to the bottom of the top screen to click on the taskbar, it’s a bit too easy to overshoot and end up on the bottom screen. 

The problem is even worse when playing games or running apps in full screen because if you move the mouse cursor onto the second screen and accidentally click it, it minimizes the game or app. You can at least avoid this by pressing a button above the trackpad that disables the second screen. However, it means you can rule out using the second screen while playing games – for example, having a live streaming app running on the Screenpad Plus.

While the Screenpad Plus is an exciting addition, it didn’t prove itself to be essential by any stretch of the imagination, and in some cases, proved to be a bit of a hindrance. The fact that the top screen is so good means the Screenpad Plus seems a bit dull and lifeless by comparison. We feel it doesn’t quite justify the impact it has on the dimensions and overall usability of the Asus ZenBook Duo.