ASUS Zenbook Pro Duo hands-on: Our first impressions of the laptop of tomorrow

Are two screens really better than one?

Credit: Fergus Halliday, IDG

Ahead of its launch into the Australian market, we had the chance to spend some hands-on time with ASUS’ Zenbook Duo. 

Billed as “the laptop of the future”, the Zenbook Pro Duo features a secondary rectangular display that fills the space between the keyboard and the main display. It’s an eye-catching evolution of the ScreenPad found in last year’s Zenbook Pro 15 and, here, it acts as a second screen that sits and fits below the main 15.6-inch 4K NanoEdge OLED HDR display. 

But, stepping back from the central feature that makes the Zenbook Pro Duo so unique for a moment, let’s talk about everything else it has going on. 

When it comes to specs, the Zenbook Pro Duo equipped with a 9th Gen Intel Core i7-9750H CPU, up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM, up to 1TB of SSD storage and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 graphics. In addition to the two displays, it also features an LED-lit keyboard, hybrid trackpad and a Harmon Kardon-certified ASUS SonicMaster stereo audio system with surround-sound and  “smart” amplifier.

In line with most of ASUS’ other Zenbooks, the Pro Duo is built around an ergolift-style hinge. This basically uses the upper half of the notebook to tilt the lower half upwards and provide a more stable foundation for using the keyboard. 

This makes typing on the ZenBook Duo’s keyboard a bit more satisfying than a flat keyboard might and it also allows for better thermal management. Again, ASUS’ ErgoLift tech is hardly new and it’s not nearly as attention-grabbing as the secondary display - but it’s still something that sets the Zenbook Pro Duo apart from plenty of other similar powerhouse laptops playing in the same price-range. 

Of course, the main event here is the screen. 

Are two screens better than one? I'm tempted to say yes. Unfortunately, it’s actually understanding how to get the value that the second screen adds that’s a challenge.

After a few days of messing with it, the notion I keep returning to is the idea that the ZenBook Duo asks you to think bigger. And, honestly,  I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of freedom.  

Credit: Fergus Halliday, IDG

Throughout my time with, the secondary display, I felt a constant pressure to find something - anything! - to do with that second rectangular screen. Left empty, it feels like a waste in potential and while there are lots of things you can do with the ZenBook Duo Pro’s ScreenPad 2.0, I struggled to find a place for it within my usual workflow. 

I mean, it was neat to run games on the main display and then take notes directly into Microsoft Word using the ScreenPad. Was it nifty or useful enough to justify the premium you’re paying here? I’m less convinced.

Likewise, I don’t know how many non-power users out there are going to want to rise to the occasion. 

Still, credit where it’s due, the software around SmartPad 2.0 feels a lot more mature and customisable than it was in last year’s ZenBook Pro 15. Rather than be restricted to a set of first and third-party apps, you’re also now able to either use the ZenBook Pro Duo’s second screen a seamless extension of the main display. 

Unfortunately, the difference in brightness between the two displays on the ZenBook Duo is pretty noticeable.
Even if the two displays act and behave like one continuous screen, you never really forget they aren’t.

What’s more, if you’re in an office-type environment, glare can be a serious issue. Even when I was using the ScreenPad to take notes or store extra windows on my desktop, it wasn’t always easy to look at and the difference between it and the main display was always pretty visible - even when I cranked the brightness all the way up to the maximum. 

Portability also feels like it’s going to be a big issue. If you’re using this is your main work PC on a desk somewhere, it’s not a going concern. But lugging this thing around with you on a day-to-day basis? That's gonna be more problematic. 

Even if the Zenbook Pro Duo is one of those best-in-class laptops that include high-end specs, cutting edge design and all the features that count for something, it’s deceptively hefty. Unless you’re monogamous when it comes your PCs or this is going to be the nucleus of your entire computing experience, that’s a bit of a problem. 

I suspect that the smaller non-Pro version of the Zenbook Duo might fare better on this front.

Credit: Fergus Halliday, IDG

The other concern I’ve got here is battery life. 

As mentioned, we only had a limited chance to mess with the Pro Duo - so we don’t want to judge it too hard. Still, we managed to wear out half of a full battery in about 40 minutes of heavy usage (multiple applications, downloads in the background, etc).

That’s not great - and it does suggest this machine, despite the implicit promise of portability, is probably going to be best housed in a semi-permanent configuration where it never strays far from its power supply. 

As for how powerful it is, we didn’t have a huge amount of time to spend with the ASUS Duo Pro but we did install a few things on it to see how it fared when it came to gaming.

Loading into the newly-released Remnant: From The Ashes, it chugged between 30 and 40 FPS on average during interior environments. Part of this performance was probably down to Remnant, which is uneven in terms of optimisation right now. However, given that there is an RTX 2060 inside this thing, I can’t say that I didn’t expect slightly more from it. 

We had a slightly more stable experience playing Total War: Three Kingdoms (review here) on this thing. Set to Ultra, it scored a respectable 50FPS across both the battle and campaign benchmarks.

Our First Impressions

I don’t know about being the laptop of tomorrow but the ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo is certainly a laptop that’s unlike any other I’ve used before. 

And, regardless of whether you’re looking for a portable workhorse or a dedicated gaming laptop, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that there are cheaper - and arguably better - options out there. If your demands are a little more mundane or if portability is important to you, I can see this being overkill.

For what it’s worth, it should be said that there are no other options that are quite like this one. And if you’re looking for one laptop to rule them all or one that stands out from the rest in a big way, the ZenBook Pro Duo might just be what you’re looking for. 

With that being said, our early impressions of the ZenBook Pro Duo have us thinking that there are few kinks to be resolved before the future that ASUS are selling today quite feels as good as it looks.

Look for our full review of the ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo in the near future.

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Fergus Halliday
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