Recently, we got our hands on two models from the new Asus ZenBook series, the ZenBook Pro Duo and the ZenBook 14. Even though they carry the ZenBook branding, these two laptops are aimed at two very different audiences. From ASUS’s perspective, the idea is to cater to the general masses as well as some of the more specialized use cases. So how does the new ZenBook series hold up for 2020? We dug deep to answer this very question.
Then there was a beast, they called it ZenBook Pro Duo
The new ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo isn’t your average laptop, both physically and functionally. On the surface, this packs dual 4K screens, an Intel i7-9750H processor, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB SSD storage, and a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM. So yes, monster specs compared to the average laptop.
On the outside, the chassis feels premium. The laptop comes with military-grade quality as Asus calls it, or specifically MIL-STD 810G standard. What this means is that if you drop this laptop, it’s not going to smash itself into tiny pieces. It will work just as well as it did previously. But don’t go around dropping these though.
The premium look and feel extends well beyond the build quality. We got our hands on the Celestial Blue option. But the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo also comes in [colour options] as well. One thing you will notice from the get-go is the laptop’s form factor. It’s a bit bulkier than most laptops out there. Chances are that this ZenBook Pro Duo will function more as a desktop computer than an actual laptop. Given how this edition is meant for specialized users like photographers, video editors, game streamers, etc. specs over mobility is possibly a smarter avenue to take.
Let’s talk about those dual screens
The one thing that sets this laptop apart is the dual screen setup. The main display is a 15.6” 4K OLED screen, along with the 4K secondary display, the ScreenPad Plus. For those of you wondering, that’s a 3840×2160 4K UHD display complemented by a 3840×1110 4K secondary screen.
The dual screens surprisingly serve their function well. Initially I was skeptical about how practical two screens in this format would be on a daily basis. But one must remember this laptop was designed with content creators in mind. Usually, content creators work with multiple screens. So, the idea is to minimize the extensive real estate on a typical desktop setting to a laptop.
Additionally, the high specs on the Pro Duo meant that I could seamlessly multitask between heavy duty applications such as Adobe products. For example, editing a library of photos with Lightroom and Photoshop on the two screens proved quite a pleasant user experience. The ScreenPad Plus also leaves a lot more room to work with when it comes to using applications like Premiere Pro. The extra screen space means working on video projects is far more convenient in a laptop environment.
It’s a little bit more than a secondary display
Mind you, the ScreenPad Plus isn’t just for the specialized use cases. I regularly use the secondary screen to play YouTube videos while doing all my other tasks on the main display. I’ve even used the secondary screen as a reading tablet while I’m waiting for loading screens to disappear in a game.
But the ScreenPad Plus is more than just a second screen. You can set up macros as “quick keys” on the mini app drawer. Additionally, it also includes several exclusive Microsoft Office specific add-on features that work on the ScreenPad Plus. Basically, these offer better ease of control for Office products such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
The hardware complements the user experience
The inclusion of a 9th generation i7 processor along with Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU with 6GB VRAM means this laptop can pull off some heavy workloads without compromising on speed or performance. Photo edits and videos get exported rather efficiently. Online gaming on high settings feel as smooth as butter. Of course, these resource-intensive tasks mean a lot of heat output. There are two fan outputs on either side of the laptop. Additionally, the laptop rests on a hinge that keeps the computer slanted. This not only helps with the heat situation, but also with the viewing experience for the second screen.
While we’re on the topic of hardware, how about some appreciation for the audio. The speakers are much better than we expected them to be. These retain most of the audio quality even at maximum volume. The speakers are located on either side of the laptop, which works better as opposed to having on the front panel. For instance, if you listen to Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, the left and right audio channels switch every now and then as part of the vocal and instrumental delivery of the song. Two speakers at the side allows this to be experienced better. Only complaint here is that the speakers themselves don’t get loud enough.
The only catch we found about the second screen is that once the computer goes into standby mode, everything on the second screen will move back to the main screen when the device wakes up. Sadly, you can’t always use the second screen when gaming either. If you try using the second screen while on a game, it will minimize. While gaming we accidentally touched the second screen a couple of times and the game immediately minimized. The second screen is only properly usable while gaming only if you use the scrolling function. So maybe some light reading while you wait for the next round of Apex Legends to load.
Also, having two screens and running high specs is bound to generate quite a bit of heat. The heat output from the fans are located on either side of the laptop. So make sure you don’t place your valuables on the side of the laptop while working on the ZenBook Pro Duo. Unless it’s your morning coffee. You can turn off that second screen off if you prefer. But that would be like driving a Lamborghini Aventador in everyday Colombo traffic. Sure, you can do it. But is that how you want to use it?
The ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo comes with a touch pen, one that’s useful for illustrators and photo editors for the most part. It would be perfect if there was a placeholder for the touch pen. Though we’re told that ASUS has already taken this into consideration for the next model.
Meet the Pro Duo’s younger brother, the ASUS ZenBook 14
Okay, the content creators have the ZenBook Pro Duo. What about the rest of us? Well, that’s where the latest edition of the ZenBook 14 comes into the picture. Right off the bat you can tell that mobility is of the highest priority for this one. This laptop is thin enough to fit inside an envelope style cover. The chassis itself is small. But interestingly, it doesn’t compromise on the screen space. With a 92% screen-to-body ratio, ASUS calls it a 14” display in a 13” chassis.
Our version of the ASUS ZenBook 14 packs a 10th gen Core i7, 512GB SSD storage, 8GB LPDDR3 RAM, 14” Full HD display and a Nvidia MX250 GPU. On the outside, this laptop includes one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, one USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port, MicroSD card reader and a HDMI port.
The ZenBook 14 also comes with military-grade quality build while maintaining the premium metal finish.
ScreenPad 2.0: A spacious trackpad and a secondary screen
The ZenBook 14 comes with a rather spacious trackpad which doubles as a secondary screen. From a practical standpoint, the 5.6” ScreenPad is enough to be a comfortable trackpad experience but leaves enough room for both palms to rest. But the real magic is when it functions as a second screen. Although significantly smaller than the ScreenPad Plus, the functionality is pretty much the same.
The productivity focused apps like Doc Xpert and Sheet Xpert feels a bit more natural in this setting as the laptop is geared towards these types of tasks. The ability to conveniently quick format while working on a document feels more like home on the ZenBook 14 than on the ZenBook Pro Duo. Sure, it still works smoothly on the Pro Duo as well. But you’re unlikely to spend time performing productivity tasks on that. The ZenBook 14 on the other hand, is tailor-made for this exact purpose.
As a secondary screen, the ZenBook 14 works well enough for some light multitasking. The screen space is ideal to watch your favourite YouTube video or just scroll through your Deezer playlist. Basically, think of the ScreenPad as your smartphone-screen-in-a-laptop. Our only complaint with the ScreenPad 2.0 is switching between a second screen and a touchpad can be annoying at times. Although, the F6 key aims to address this, we only wish it was a tad bit smoother.
How far does performance go?
The Nvidia MX250 and 8GB RAM means this laptop can handle a bit of gaming. Our own experience with running Apex Legends on Full HD wasn’t that great. But the likes of Overwatch and Apex Legends should run fine on low to medium settings. Do note that this isn’t a gaming laptop by any measure.
But what about other resource heavy tasks like Photoshop or even Premiere Pro? From a performance point of view, we wouldn’t recommend running programs like Premiere Pro on this one. Yes, the ZenBook 14 could help you get those quick edits done. But it isn’t powerful enough to pull such heavy-duty operations. Photo editing on the other hand should be fine. But the colour gamut on the laptop doesn’t offer enough for a professional editor. Alternatively, if you’re looking to do some easy quick retouches on images, this should work just fine.
Getting to the mobility part of the ZenBook 14, its battery life can vary significantly based on how you use it. Under normal usage with 50% brightness and the ScreenPad turned on, battery lasted in the 3 to 4 hours. Turn ScreenPad off and it could easily cross 7 hours of use.
Finally, the audio. The speakers are placed on either side of the laptop at the bottom. Sound quality feels better than the average laptop speaker. But its nothing profoundly jaw dropping. The only downside here is that just like the ZenBook Pro Duo, sounds don’t get too loud even at maximum level. But it still retains the same quality without any noticeable distortions. Then again, you’re not getting this to replace your audio system.
Is the ZenBook for you?
If you’re a content creator looking for a setup that won’t hog space or too many resources, the ZenBook Pro Duo might be in your alley. Of course, this comes with the added benefit of being a mobile option without compromising on any specs. On the other side of the spectrum, if you’re a student or a professional looking for a good notebook PC for 2020, the ZenBook 14 might be what you need. The productivity geared specs will appeal to anyone keen to get their hands on a reliable everyday laptop.
Of course, the Unique Selling Point for the ZenBook lineup is the ScreenPad. Dual screens aren’t a new phenomenon. But the application here is a sensible and a practical one. The ScreenPad Plus on the Pro Duo serves as a full blown second screen and it serves well. Content creators are bound to appreciate the extra real estate.
Even on the ZenBook 14, the ScreenPad can turn out to be quite useful for productivity. Particularly if you spend most of your time on Microsoft Office products.
Furthermore, the fact that both laptops are of MIL-STD 810G military quality adds an extra layer of protection for the user. This quality standard complimented with the build quality itself, wraps the product nicely in a premium package offering.
So, for those of you interested, the ZenBook Pro Duo 2020 is priced at LKR 514,200 and the Asus ZenBook 14 at LKR 189,900. The ZenBook lineup will be available at a number of outlets starting today. for more information, you can check here.