asus zenbook pro duo laptop review

Asus ZenBook Pro Duo review

Asus is arguably the most innovative of Taiwan’s flagship tech manufacturers in that it’s not afraid to make bonkers design concepts and show them off to the public at tradeshows like Computex. The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo is one of those rare innovations that’s not just subsequently made it to market but stayed there and evolved too. It won’t be for everyone, but what’s it like, who should want it and is it any good?

The UX582 has an odd layout.
The UX582 has a very unusual layout.

KEY SPECS OF THE ZenBook Pro Duo: UX582

15.6-inch, glossy, 60Hz, 3840 x 2160, touchscreen, OLED primary display; 14-inch, matte, 60Hz, 3840 x 1100, touchscreen, IPS, LCD secondary display; 2.4-5.3GHz Intel Core i9-10980HK CPU; 32GB RAM; 1TB NVMe HDD; Nvidia RTX 3070; 92Wh battery; 2.34KG. SKU: UX582LR-H2014R, Full specs here.

Design and Handling

The first thing you notice about an opened-up Asus ZenBook Pro Duo will depend on who you are. There’s a lot to take in. It might be the resplendent, 15.6-inch, OLED display but it’s not unique in this area. It may be the large, tilted, UHD, touchscreen ‘Screen Pad Plus’ secondary LCD that sits beneath the primary screen. It could be the lack of built-in palm rest and the small touchpad squeezed to the right of the keyboard. It could be the wedge-shaped, unattached palm rest that can sit in front of the laptop. It could be the updated ‘ErgoLift AAS Plus’ (Active Aerodynamic System) hinge design. It could be the collapsible stand at the base which tilts the whole laptop from the rear and enhances ventilation. Or, you could be looking at it from behind and are particularly impressed by the magnesium alloy ‘Celestial Blue,’ brushed metallic lid. Or something else.

The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo’s touchscreen OLED screen is as bright and vibrant as we’d hope and expect and both colour and monochromatic gradients are rendered smoothly without stepping and bands. The UHD, 3840 x 2160 resolution ensures that fine details are visible and the Delta-E <2 rating, 100% DCI-P3 (and 133% sRGB) colour gamut coverage, ensure very high colour accuracy. It also supports HDR which means that compatible games and media look sumptuous and immersive. The downside is that it tops out at 60Hz which hinders the motion smoothness we see in fast-moving games on gaming laptops, but… this is a Creator-designated laptop after all. Nonetheless, the screen isn’t slow and an inherent lack of ghosting means only the most fast-and-frantic gamers might be bothered by it.

After some time pondering the existential reasoning behind the second screen, it quickly became clear once we started using it. It really does act like any second monitor would and it can boost productivity in a number of ways. If you use it as a typical second screen for general office work, it’s great for things like email, messaging and spreadsheets without having to flit back and forth between windows on the main screen. However, Asus hasn’t (primarily) designed it for casual work benefits.

The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo has been designed in conjunction with what Asus calls its ‘ScreenPad Plus ScreenXpert 2’ software. This contains enhancements for Adobe apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere Pro and After Effects in the form of dedicated, touch-screen control panels while freeing up the primary display’s real estate for maximum image viewing. There are benefits for photographers, programmers, video editors, music makers, 3D animators and game streamers. If you don’t use Adobe apps, though, you’ll need to check with Asus whether your favourite app has enhancements.

We could go on for ages about the potential functionality boosts, but there comes a point where you should just see everything for yourself by looking at the official marketing material. Ultimately, if you’re a designer who could seriously benefit from using touchscreen controls (by stylus or finger) on a second screen, then this could be just what you’re looking for.

There’s also an Asus Control Panel application which offers controls for switching apps between screens, disabling the keyboard, adjusting brightness and operating battery saver functionality. It works particularly well at letting you drag and flick windows between screens. Both screens work with an included 2nd gen active stylus with 4096 pressure-sensitive levels.

Of course, the compromise of adding the second screen to a laptop is that the keyboard and trackpad have to be squished to the front. While the primary Scrabble-tile keys remain full-sized (and well weighted) all four arrow keys have been reduced to half height. The small trackpad now resides to the right of the keyboard and isn’t quite as ergonomic as a traditional unit. While this takes some getting used to, it does become more comfortable with practice. However, we ultimately found that interacting with the laptop was not an unqualified success: if you don’t use the supplied, substantial, separate, palm rest, typing and mouse movement feels rather awkward owing to the sizeable gap between the laptop and table top. The palm rest isn’t heavy but it’s bulky to lug around and feels a like an interim solution.   

The secondary screen acts as a second monitor or a dedicated, touch-screen control panel for design apps.

If you’re worried about the robustness of the laptop (especially with the second screen residing on a separate panel) know that it all still feels very solid. The lid protecting the screen barely flexes when a twisting force is applied. Its MIL-STD 810H rating also provides additional reassurance over the flappy bits. Indeed, the certification demonstrates its ability to operate in a variety of environments including high altitude, a wide temperature range, high humidity as well as being able to tolerate vibrations and drop shocks.

Above the screen is an HD webcam which is partnered by an infra-red camera which makes it Windows Hello compatible for logging-in via facial recognition.

Performance of the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo

Our variant of the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo (SKU: UX582) came with the hefty, octa-core 2.4-5.3GHz Intel Core i9-10980HK CPU. This, flanked by 32GB of DDR4-3200 RAM and a 1TB NVMe hard drive, scored a respectable 5966 in PCMark 10 which is just higher than the similar-CPU’d Gigabyte Aero 17 HDR YC but some way behind Intel’s newer 11th Gen variant which appeared in the latest MSI GE76 Raider (which scored 7175). The HyperThreaded octa-core CPU sped through Cinebench R15 scoring a decent 1738. It also scored 10,010 in Cinebench R23. There are faster processors for rendering but this is still decent.

In 3DMark Time Spy its beefy Nvidia RTX 3070 helped it score 8970 which is an average of 55fps. In FireStrike Extreme it managed 10,461 (average 49fps) while in the challenging Port Royal ray-tracing test it scored 5493 (average 25fps). Ultimately there will be very few cinematic games that you can’t play at full resolution with full detail settings on the 60Hz screen.

The cloth-covered, collapsible stand allows more airflow for cooling and more tilt for stylus-wielding designers.

Connectivity

On the left is an HDMI 2.1 port (rare for a laptop), a 3.5mm audio jack and a bunch of air vents which constantly fooled us into thinking they were USB ports.
On the right is a USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 port plus two USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3.

There’s no Ethernet port or media card reader which may annoy some people (especially designers) but there is still Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.

Other features

The dual Harman Kardon speakers are very impressive. They get loud, offer a well rounded punchy bass and distinct vocals. Ramping them up to maximum can see some distortion in treble-rich media, but that’s not uncommon when things get loud. Regardless, these are some of the best speakers in any laptop.

The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo comes with a carry pouch, stylus and a chunky palm rest.

Portability

The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo played back PCMark 10’s Modern Office test for a mediocre 6hrs 6mins. It’s very solidly built and will survive life on the road but at 2.34KG it’s not the lightest device. Still, considering the power and features on offer – it ain’t heavy either.

The underside and PSU.

Should you buy the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo?

At $4999 it’s not cheap. It’s also not the fastest high performance laptop nor the most comfortable to type upon for extended periods. We found it to be the most complicated laptop we’ve ever tested but the intricacies will suit many design workflows to a high degree. If you’re in that niche, then certainly check it out as it could seriously boost productivity and output. However, for people who just want a fast laptop – whether for Creators or Gaming – its limitations mean it’s probably worth looking elsewhere. Nonetheless, we appreciate its existence and it’s always good to see something different.

Rating

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