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Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review

Asus makes laptops with two screens available to the masses with the ZenBook Duo (starting and rated at $1,499). The new laptop exchanges the “Pro” for a much lower price, but almost all have the same functionality as its more expensive family member. Instead of two 14-inch, 4K panels like the ZenBook Pro Duo, the ZenBook Duo features a 14-inch, 1080p display and a secondary 12.6-inch panel. This is our Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review.

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Last updated on August 10, 2020 12:04 pm

The Duo is a device you’ll be proud of, and when you do, people will be amazed by its beautiful color and second screen, also known as the ScreenPad Plus. The awe of the extra screen makes people at electronics stores reach for the Duo, but the ScreenPad is much more than a spectacle; it’s a useful tool for creative professionals and business users who need to get the most out of the screen.

Add high performance and long battery life to the mix, and the ZenBook Duo is a dream to use when cracking spreadsheets or editing videos. But to make such a unique device, Asus had to compromise the keyboard and touchpad, so you’ll have to think hard about whether the ZenBook Duo is the right device for your needs.

Specifications

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Specs
Price:$1,499
CPU:Intel Core i7-10510U
RAM:16GB
Storage:1TB SSD
Display:14-inch, 1080p + 12.6-inch
GPU:NVIDIA GeForce MX250
VRAM2GB
Battery life:9:44 (ScreenPad Plus on); 11:51 (ScreenPad Plus off)
Size: 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8-inches
Weight: 4-pounds

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review: Design

I keep shifting my eyes between the metallic dark blue aluminum and the extra pixels on the deck that comes towards me. It’s an eye-catching design that satisfies your creative side without making you aware of the use of anything overly ostentatious. In the case of the ZenBook Duo, it is something between navy, forest green, and teal (Asus calls it Sky Blue). When the light turns on just right, the laptop looks like a glittering jewel.

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review

On the lid of the Asus ZenBook Duo are the characteristic concentric circles of Asus and a stylish silver Asus logo. The back of the laptop has an extra lip that is held underneath the ZenBook Duo when the lid is open. This tilts the keyboard down for a more comfortable writing position, and the second screen is notched up for a better viewing angle.

I will elaborate on the displays, keyboard, and touchpad below, but their uniqueness affects the design; the second screen occupies the upper half of the Duo’s deck while the keyboard is at the front (closest to the user) and a vertical touchpad with discrete clickers on the right.

There is quite a selection of ports on the ZenBook Duo, but all premium laptops must now have a Thunderbolt 3 port for faster transfer speeds and to connect to multiple 4K monitors. On the right side of the Duo are a USB 3.1 Type-A port, a microSD card, and a headphone/mic connector. On the left side of the Zenbook Duo, there is an HDMI port, a USB 3.1 input, an HDMI port, and a Type-C USB input.

The ZenBook Duo is not the thinnest or lightest 14-inch laptop available. It’s quite coarse compared to other 15W laptops. Measuring at 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8-inches and 4 pounds, the Asus ZenBook Duo is thicker and heavier than the Samsung’s Galaxy Book Flex 15 (14 x 9 x 0.6-inches, 3.5 pounds) and Lenovo’s Yoga C940 (12.6 x 8.5 x 0.6-inches, 3 pounds).

Keyboard and TouchPad

I love this keyboard, but I hate it’s positioning. The same can be said of the touchpad, which I will complain about later. For now, I will focus my the wasted potential of the Duo’s keyboard. Instead of in the middle or at the back of the laptop’s deck, the ZenBook Duo’s keyboard is at the front of the deck. This causes a few problems. Firstly, there is no place to put your wrists. It’s not a big problem on a desk, but typing with the ZenBook Duo on my lap was frustrating because I had to keep my wrists in the air or drop them under my fingers so I could rest them on my thighs.

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review

The other big problem with a forward-facing keyboard is that the touchpad can’t stay where it belongs. The ZenBook Duo also rotates; on the right side of the deck is a vertical touchpad. The small size of the touchpad (2.1 x 2.7-inches) causes my fingers to overlap on the deck every time I squeeze to zoom or make three-finger taps. On the positive side, the touchpad clickers feel good, although they can be challenging to reach.

I can’t blame Asus for moving the keyboard to the ScreenPad Plus, but I can’t ignore the resulting compromises either. And that’s a pity because the keyboard of the ZenBook Duo is otherwise fantastic. The keys are snappy, jumpy, and have a sweet, audible click when operated. I also find some of the keyboard shortcuts Asus has added, like to turn off your webcam or open MyAsus with the tapping of a key.

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review: Display

We aim this section at the primary 14-inch, Full-HD (1080p) display. The colors are more saturated than usual of a matte panel, and the details are sharp. And while I would like Asus to use brighter screens, the ZenBook Duo’s touchscreen effectively reduces annoying reflections.

When I looked at a trailer for Proximity, I could see the lowercase letters on an old video cassette with kidnapping images, and the salt and pepper strands in Don Scribner’s beard were clearly defined. The colors popped off the screen more than I expected given the matte finish; The forest foliage was lush green while the dining chairs had that nostalgic retro pumpkin orange tint. I also appreciated the precise white color balance in a scene set in a white room with people wearing ivory robot-like space suits.

When we measured the color coverage using a colorimeter, the ZenBook Duo’s display captured 107% of the sRGB range. That’s a decent result, but it doesn’t quite match the average of the premium laptop (123%), and it’s not in the same class as the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex 15 (158%). The ZenBook Duo can simply edge out the Lenovo Yoga C940 (104%).

Asus continues to keep the brightness of their laptop displays – even those on high-end machines – relatively low. The same goes for the ZenBook Duo’s screen, which reached only 282 nits and was surpassed by the Flex 15 (381 nits or 565 nits with the outdoor mode enabled), the Lenovo Yoga C940 (339 nits) and the laptop category average (368 nits). The Asus ZenBook Duo makes up for it a bit with its matte finish, which improves visibility outdoors.

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review: ScreenPad Plus

The ZenBook Duo’s 12.6-inch ScreenPad Plus is an updated version of the secondary display we first saw on the ZenBook Pro Duo in 2018. Since that first attempt, Asus has made a lot of useful changes. There are some beautiful things you can do with the secondary panels, and some of the built-in features are useful. The interface and the stability of the custom interface of Asus have also come a long way. Still, I hope Asus will find a way to improve the angle of the panel because it can be hard to see if you don’t hang over it directly.

Opening the main menu is as easy as tapping an arrow on the left side of the screen pad. From the App Launcher menu, you can open an app called Quick Key, which allows you to cut, copy, paste, undo, and much more commonly used commands. Other Asus apps include a handwriting application for drawing or taking quick notes, a Number app that calls up a virtual Numpad, and an icon for quick access to MyAsus, AppDeal, and Spotify. You can use the Task Force icon to open up to 5 apps with a single tap (two on the main screen and three on the ScreenPad Plus). There are also use buttons for moving windows and changing the brightness of the second panel.

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review

Dropping an app from the primary screen to the 12.6-inch ScreenPad Plus is as easy as dragging the app to a floating icon that appears when you adjust the window. When you drag the title bar of an app, three options appear: Start on ScreenPad Plus, Pin on ScreenPad Plus Launcher, or Display on both screens. It’s a smart system that works flawlessly and instantly.

I had no problem dropping a specification sheet down to the ScreenPad Plus so I could read info while writing an embarrassing news article about a laptop. It was like having a second monitor, which saved me at least 15 minutes and made my work a lot easier. I also used the ScreenPad Plus to stream music so I could change songs and adjust the volume without having to search for Spotify among the dozens of Google Chrome tabs I had opened.

Other practical applications for the ScreenPad Plus include video and photo editing – the timeline or controls go on the bottom screen – and gaming, where you chat on the bottom screen and play on the main screen.

The secondary screen isn’t quite bright or vivid on paper, but it personally looks better than what our colorimeter has clocked. The screen pad covers 67% of the sRGB color gamut and touches 272 nits of brightness, the last of which was a problem when I used the laptop outside.

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review: Audio

I was disturbed by the funky beats of John Mayer’s “Assassin” and forgot that the sound came from a laptop, not a Bluetooth speaker. Drum hits had a chest-dropping heaviness, and the percussions were bright and clear. The midrange was the real highlight, with Mayer’s smooth vocals in the center. Although they’re not super loud, the double loudspeaker at the front of the Duo filled my little office with ease.

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review: Graphics

When it comes to graphics performance, the Nvidia’s GeForce MX250 GPU has been integrated into the ZenBook Duo as closely as possible. It showed in our benchmarks when the Asus ZenBook Duo raced around the Dirt 3 track at a buttery 106 fps, outperforming Galaxy Book Flex 15 (52 fps, GeForce MX250), Lenovo Yoga C940 (51 fps, Intel Iris Plus) and the laptop category average (64 fps). It did just as well in the 3DMark Fire Strike test, with a stroke of 2,769 compared to the Galaxy Book Flex 15’s 2,215 and the Yoga C940’s 2,138.

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review: Performance

It may use a 15W processor compared to the 45W chips on the ZenBook Pro Duo, but the Intel’s Core i7-10510U CPU with 16GB RAM in the ZenBook Duo did a great job keeping up with my demanding daily workflow. Dozens of open Google Chrome tabs and various apps, such as Play Music and Slack, didn’t slow the laptop down for a moment.

Even when I went to great lengths to find the breaking point by buffering four 1080p YouTube videos and a Twitch stream altogether, the ScreenPad Plus was also responsive; I didn’t notice a hint of delay when switching between screens or loading apps.

The ZenBook Duo scored a 16,719 on our Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test, which is too low for what the Galaxy Book Flex 15 (19,137, Core i7-1065G7) and Yoga C940 (18,672, Core i7-1065G7) scored. It also lands just below the average of the premium laptop (17,336). In the more demanding Geekbench 5 test, the ZenBook Duo scored 3,981, again unable to keep up with Galaxy Book Flex 15 (4,416), Yoga C940 (4,055) or the category average (4,208).

The ZenBook Duo has converted a 4K video to 1080p resolution in 19 minutes and 3 seconds (using the handbrake app), which is faster than the Galaxy Book Flex 15 (22:18) and Yoga C940 (19:32), but not to the average (18:37).

The 1TB SSD in our ZenBook Duo UX481 was super fast at duplicating about 5GB of multimedia files. It took only 5 seconds to complete the task, which equates to a transfer rate of 958.4 megabytes per second. Somehow even that fantastic result isn’t at the top of this list. The Flex 15 stole the prize with a speed of 1,379.2, while the Lenovo Yoga C940 (1,017.9 MBps) was also four digits at the top of the list. Each of these devices crushes the premium laptop category average (658.3 MBps).

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review: Battery Life

When I first saw the Asus ZenBook Duo, my first thought was how lousy battery life should be given the dual displays. I was wrong. With both displays enabled, the ZenBook Duo lasted 9 hours and 44 minutes in our battery test, constantly surfing the web over Wi-Fi. When we turned off the secondary display, the laptop went the distance, at 11 hours and 51 minutes. Those are some incredible results, although the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex 15 (15:44) and the Lenovo Yoga C940 (11:46) were up for the test. All three laptops survived the category average (9:07).

Heat

Cool like a cucumber after playing a 15 minute, 1080p video; the ZenBook Duo reached a maximum temperature of 97 degrees. If we don’t, that’s over our 95 degrees comfort threshold, but it’s not something to worry about, especially since the keyboard (82 degrees) and touchpad (83 degrees) felt cool.

Price and Configuration Options

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review

The ZenBook Duo is currently sold in a single configuration. For $1,499, you can buy the same unit we reviewed, which comes with a 14-inch, Full-HD (1080p) touchscreen (and secondary 12.6-inch display), a Core i7-10510U CPU, 16GB RAM, a 1TB SSD, and Nvidia’s GeForce MX250 graphics.

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 Review: Conclusion

The Asus ZenBook Duo is not as powerful as the ZenBook Pro Duo but delivers virtually the same functionality at a relatively lower price. This makes the Duo a better option for everyone except the most demanding power users. First, you have to decide if the ZenBook Duo is right for you, or if a more traditional laptop like the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex 15 or Lenovo Yoga C940 would be a better fit. If you spend your time editing videos or just want more screen space without buying an external monitor, the ZenBook Duo is an obvious choice.

For $1,500 (half the price of the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo), the ZenBook Duo offers fast performance, longer battery life, and a functional secondary display in a beautiful design. However, the ZenBook Duo is far from perfect. To be able to use the secondary screen, Asus has made compromises with the keyboard and touchpad. The Duo is also coarser and heavier than other 14-inch laptops, so it’s not the best portable laptop. However, if you work at a desk, or if you are stuck in remote work and can buy an external keyboard and wrist rest, it would be hard to find a better laptop than the Asus ZenBook Duo for the price.

8 Total Score
Our Verdict

The ZenBook Duo from Asus is an innovative laptop with strong performance and a secondary 12.6-inch display at a reasonable price.

PROS
  • The vivid 14-inch matte display
  • The functional second 12.6-inch screen
  • Strong performance
  • Long battery life
  • Stunning 'Celestial Blue' color
CONS
  • Thicker, heavier than rivals
  • Awkward keyboard positioning
  • Narrow trackpad
  • No Thunderbolt 3 ports
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