ASUS dropped their new ZenBook range last week at CES 2021. There’s two new models in the range with the ZenBook Duo 15 Pro and ZenBook Duo 14, both of which include the innovative ScreenPad Plus secondary display.
ASUS has updated the internals offering the 11th Gen Intel Core processors, faster 4266 MHz LPDDR4 RAM which can go up to 32GB now and options for the NVIDIA GeFORCE MX450 graphics.
ASUS dropped a ZenBook Duo 14 (UX482) off to me ahead of the CES launch, and after using it for a week (including covering CES) it’s time to lay out how ASUS’ new Zenbook goes.
Hardware and Design
The Zenbook Duo 14 UX482 which Asus have labelled the ‘thinnest 14″ laptop with a secondary display’, is a relatively compact unit with a thin profile. It treads the line between usability and portability weighing in at 1.6Kg, but still including a wide array of full-sized USB Type-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, a full-sized HDMI port on the left and a USB Type-A port, 3.5mm audio socket, and microSD card slot on the right.
It’s a good looking laptop with the familiar Asus concentric circle design embedded in the magnesium aluminum alloy lid, which connects to the lower deck. The lid can attract fingerprint marks, but the pattern mostly masks it.
There is a sleeve for the laptop included to help you protect your ZenBook as well, so that’s a pleasant bonus.
The hinge for the ZenBook Duo has also been redesigned with better ergonomics to tilt the display making it easier to see, while also allowing improved airflow to the internal components. To aid in ergonomics, a ‘Duo Stand’ attachment, sort of like an iPad Magic Cover, is included in the box which attaches to the bottom of your ZenBook Duo. The stand folds to let you further tilt your laptop up making it easier to see the display.
ASUS have included a lot of hardware on board the review model. This unit includes an 11th gen Intel Core i7 processor with integrated Intel Xe Graphics, 32GB RAM and a 1TB NVMe drive. You can configure the ZenBook Duo with Core i7 or i5 processors and optionally an NVIDIA GeForce MX450 if you want some improved gaming performance, although the Intel Xe Graphics does pretty well without being outstanding for most games.
There’s a 70 Wh 4-cell lithium-polymer battery inside the ZenBook Duo 14. The laptop has Intel EVO certification which means it definitely gets all-day battery life, and in my testing extends beyond a day, even with the ScreenPad Plus.
There’s also been improvements to charging with a fast charge function. The 65W charger can top you up from 0% to 60% in under 49 minutes. It’s fast, convenient, it works and I’m on board for this new fast charging laptop tech.
The ZenBook Duo 14 of course includes a 14” FHD resolution, PANTONE validated IPS main display. It’s a really nice, bright and colour accurate panel. It has a decent refresh rate for the limited games I tried, as well as working really well for Photoshop. While the main display is nice, of course it’s the 12.6-inch ScreenPad Plus secondary display which will get all the attention.
The ScreenPad Plus on the UX482 now automatically tilts up to a 7° angle as you open the laptop, this makes the second display easier to see as well as increasing airflow for internal components. The ASUS ErgoLift design sees a further tilt added when you open the laptop up, with the bottom of the display levering the end up off the desk which also aids in cooling underneath.
The ScreenPad Plus has been around for a while now, and ASUS threw a few new features in this generation starting with a brightness bump to 400nits. It’s still not as bright as I’d like, with the matte finish also somewhat dimming the view, but it’s responsive and very much usable. The darker contrast between the main display and Screenpad Plus does help to focus your attention, so there may be something in that.
What the inclusion of the ScreenPad Plus does to the design of the laptop is to dramatically re-arrange the real-estate of the lower deck of the laptop. The keyboard and touchpad are pushed right to the bottom, with the touchpad located directly to the right.
The setup takes a lot of getting used to. In your lap, there’s a bit of awkwardness due to the layout, and a week in I still prefer an external mouse while at a desk. I also found a wrist rest was essential if typing on a table/desk for long periods of time.
That said, the utility of the ScreenPad Plus is worth the inconvenience of training your muscle memory to use the new layout.
ASUS also updated the usability of the ScreenPad Plus on the 2021 models with ScreenXpert 2.0. A new Window Flick function lets you move windows from the main screen to ScreenPad Plus or back again with a quick flick of your finger. In practice this mis-fired all the time and when using the touchpad it seemed to automatically undock browser tabs and throw them down to the ScreenPad Plus, it got smoother the more I practiced, so expect a learning curve.
What I did find useful were some of the onboard utilities like the number pad and handwriting tool. You can re-position these utilities anywhere within the ScreenPad Plus display for convenience. I also enjoyed the QuickKey tool which puts favourites like Copy, Paste etc. as shortcuts at the base of the display.
Windows of any apps can be snapped to the side of the ScreenPad Plus and used alongside the Number Key app from ASUS.
I am still a litTask Group function of the ScreenPad Plus. In theory Task Groups can quickly setup your whole desktop launching and positioning apps on both the main display and ScreenPad Plus. In practice, I never managed to set this up, but I’d like to as it looks perfect for some workflows like photo or video editing.
I used the Link to MyAsus app – available for both iOS and Android – to connect my phone to the laptop, which lets you mirror the phone display and functions to the laptop. Making calls, texts etc. directly from the phone interface was a bit weird at first, but works, and works more so from the ScreenPad Plus display with it just sort of there, ready to go when you need it – especially handy when you realise your phone is in another room.
The ZenBook series comes with Windows 10, specifically Windows 10 Home on the review unit. There’s the usual bloatware from Microsoft with Skype and some Xbox tools pre-installed and there’s the ever-present Office trial presented during setup. You of course use Edge for your default browser, at least to down[load the browser of your choice.
Asus includes the usual McAfee Personal Security software with a 30-day trial, which is a personal choice as to whether you keep using it, or get your own anti-virus software.
Third-party software also includes apps for Spotify (or Groove Music for local audio), DTS setupCorel Multicam (Trial) software, which lets you screen record – a handy utility to have in this new world of video conferencing.
Asus themselves have limited their branded software to the MyAsus app, as well as the inclusions to make the ScreenPad Plus work. These types of apps transcend the usual ‘bloatware’ description by adding functionality to the laptop, so I’m pretty good with this.
Should you buy it?
There’s a lot to like about the ZenBook Duo 14 without even getting to the ScreenPad Plus. From a laptop perspective it’s decently light and portable, while also looking stylish in Celestial Blue.
The ScreenPad Plus though is a massive feature of the ZenBook Duo 14. It adds a lot of functionality to your workflow whether you’re used to dual-screen or not. It’s not quite as useful as a big external monitor, but when working from notes or in other workflows it’s surprising how essential it becomes even in a short amount of time.
My main concern is the learning curve it takes to master the new keyboard/touchpad layout and incorporate the ScreenPad Plus display into your workflow. If you’re not familiar with the positions, it can be a little confusing, and uncomfortable. That said, if you find the ScreenPad Plus attractive, you do get used to the layout the more you use it.
ASUS has still not announced Australian pricing for the 2021 model Zenbook Duo 14. The laptop is due to hit our shores in Q2, so we’ll find out more then.
As it stands, the utility of the second screen is the main benefit of the ZenBook Duo and if you can see yourself using it, this is a great laptop to check out when it launches.