ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo UX 581 review: Are two displays better than one? (Updated!)
Introduction & design
Updated on 29 August 2019 with final conclusion and ratings after pricing has been revealed.
What is this?
The ZenBook Pro Duo was unveiled at Computex 2019 in Taipei, Taiwan, earlier this year. It is the flagship of ASUS’ ZenBook range of notebooks and it’s also what the brand calls the “laptop of tomorrow.” Essentially, it’s a powerful 15-inch notebook with an eight-core processor, discrete NVIDIA RTX graphics, loads of memory, and two displays.
It has two displays?!
Yes. I kid you not. Have you not read our hands-on?
Break it down for me.
Right, let’s begin with the displays. The main display measures 15.6 inches across and uses an OLED panel that supports 4K resolution (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) and 100% of the DCI-P3 colour space. The bezels are fairly slim too, just 5mm on the sides and 10mm at the top. This, according to ASUS, gives the ZenBook Pro Duo an 89% screen-to-body ratio. As my colleague mentioned in her hands-on (see, you should really read it), it’s an impressive and stunning display ― easily one of the best displays I have seen on any laptop. Unfortunately, its glossy finish means it’s highly prone to glare and reflections.
The second display, which is called the ScreenPad Plus, sits just under the main one and above the keyboard. It’s an IPS panel and it measures 14 inches across. Though it sounds large, it’s considerably smaller than the main one because of its 32:9 aspect ratio. Since it has a resolution of 3,840 x 1,100 pixels, you could say that it's about half a 4K display. This means you can drag windows from one display to the other without any odd resizing issues. It also has a matte finish, which ASUS says prevents it from reflecting content from the main display.
If there’s a second display, where does the keyboard go?
The keyboard in the ZenBook Pro Duo has been shifted to the edge of the keyboard. The trackpad, on the other hand, has been shifted to the side of the keyboard and it doubles up as a virtual number pad. It's not as crazy as it looks and sounds because if you're right-handed, you would have your mouse on the right of a regular keyboard. So the placement of the trackpad is logical enough to work with the design limitations that afford it a secondary screen. ASUS also supplies the ZenBook Pro Duo with a palm rest, which greatly improves typing comfort if you need more palm support at the edge of the notebook. The keyboard itself is fairly tactile and the layout is sensible, so once you overcome the initial discomfort of its orientation, you’ll find yourself typing at your regular rate.
The trackpad, though tiny at just 8.6cm by 6.2cm, is a Windows Precision Touchpad, so it’s accurate and responsive to use. Furthermore, the main display and ScreenPad Plus are both touchscreens so the tiny touchpad isn’t too much of a bother. The trackpad is also a virtual number pad and uses similar finger rejection technology in the ZenBook 13 and 14 so it can intelligently predict if you are trying to use the trackpad as a pointer or if you are trying to hit numbers. It doesn't work all the time, unfortunately, so I would definitely recommend turning off the virtual number pad if you have no use for it.
Back to the ScreenPad Plus, does it work or is it a gimmick?
To answer this question, we need to first understand what the ZenBook Pro Duo is and who it is designed for.
Ok, so what is it?
In a nutshell, it is a powerful 15-inch notebook with an additional highly customisable display.
No word yet on the configurations that might be on offer here but the one that we received for testing is a mighty one. Here are the highlights:
- Octa-core Intel Core i9-9980HK processor
- 32GB 2,666MHz DDR4 memory
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6
- 1TB PCIe 3.0 x 4 NVMe M.2 SSD
That’s not all. It is also one of the few new machines to support the new Wi-Fi 6 standard (802.11ax). With compatible Wi-Fi 6 routers, like ASUS’ own RT-AX88U, you should get wireless speeds that exceed 1Gbps. In fact, ASUS claims the ZenBook Pro Duo can support a maximum data transfer rate of 2.4Gbps.
What about ports?
The ZenBook Pro Duo comes with a single USB-C port that supports Thunderbolt 3 and two full-size USB-A ports that supports USB 3.1. It also has a single HDMI 2.0 port that supports up to 4K output at 60 Hz. Older HDMI 1.4 ports can only support 4K output at 30 Hz. For users with compatible 4K displays, you’ll get smoother visuals.
Unfortunately, there’s no memory card readers of any sort and charging is still done via a DC-in jack. The USB-C port, even if it supports Thunderbolt 3, can’t be used for charging. That’s a bit of a bummer because the bundled 230W adapter is burdensome.
Speaking of which, how large and heavy is it?
The ZenBook Pro Duo is actually quite compact considering it has two displays and its formidable specs. It weighs 2.5kg and is about 23mm thick. Admittedly, it isn’t the most portable 15-inch workhorse laptop around, but it’s a reasonable trade-off for its top tier specifications and feature set. Still, I would say that it is more transportable than portable.
Right, so who is it designed for?
This isn’t a notebook for folks who want to browse the web and answer emails at the cafe. It’s a transportable powerhouse for creative content creator types like video editors, photographers, and even gamers. It goes without saying that the powerful processor is perfect for video and photo-editing while the capable GeForce RTX 2060 GPU is great for gaming. Any powerful enough notebook can provide the same kind of experience, so what makes the ZenBook Pro Duo stand out for such applications is its built-in second display in the form of the ScreenPad Plus.
Of course, even if you don't intend to do any serious work, you can still bring it out to your favourite cafe, but be warned that you'll likely draw attention as a duo-screen notebook like the ZenBook Pro Duo, is one-of-a-kind for now. Find out what you can do with the ScreenPad Plus on the next page!