ASUS made its next wave of dual-screen laptops more practical

Is this the year these machines break into the mainstream?


Dual-screen laptops have a tendency to feel more like novelties than proper workhorse machines, but ASUS was clearly proud of the approach it took with its original ZenBook Duo and Pro Duo. Frankly, it should be -- while neither machine was perfect out of the gate, they were competent enough to their share of early adopters. And this year, with its updated ZenBook Duo 14 and Pro Duo 15 OLED, ASUS has made its next-gen dual-screen laptops a lot more practical.

As usual, the ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED is the flagship of the bunch and can be configured with up to an Intel Core i9 processor, up to 32GB of RAM, up to 1TB of storage in the form of a PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD and one of NVIDIA's RTX 3070 mobile GPUs. No matter how you spec the Pro Duo, packs a 15.6-inch 4K OLED touchscreen, which certainly comes as good news for the gamers and creative professionals the Pro Duo is geared toward.

Rounding out the package are pair of Thunderbolt 3-compatible USB-C ports, a full-size USB 3.1 port, HDMI-out, WiFi 6, a 90Wh battery, and, of course, that second screen. This time, ASUS went with a larger 14-inch 4K panel to serve as the ScreenPad -- more on that in a bit. Of course, the sheer amount of stuff ASUS squeezed into this thing means it might be best suited to sitting in one place -- it weighs just a hair under 5.3 pounds.

For those looking for something a bit more portable, there's the ZenBook Duo 14 and its 14-inch, 1080p touchscreen. It isn't nearly as powerful as its bigger sibling, though you can configure it pretty nicely all the same -- it ships with Intel's Xe integrated graphics but you can opt for an NVIDIA GeForce MX450, and you get your choice of a Core i5-1135G7 or one of Intel's 11th-gen 17-1165G7 processors. The Duo 14 also comes with up to 32GB of LPDDR4x RAM, up to 1GB of storage, two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, one full-size USB 3.2 Gen 1 port, HDMI-out, and a microSD card slot.

ASUS packed all that plus a 70Wh battery into a body that weighs in at just over 3.5 pounds. That just might be worth it if you're a fan of the 12.6-inch ScreenPad Plus display sitting just above the keyboard.

Now, about those second screens. One of the big knocks against the original ZenBook Duo and Pro Duo's secondary screens were the way they were oriented -- they sat flush with the rest of the laptop's bodies, and even though the bottom of halves of those machines were angled upward slightly, it could still tough to see the ScreenPad Plus at a glance. Not so this time. In both new ZenBook Duo models, the ScreenPad itself swivels upward to sit a little more cleanly in your eye line -- think a 9.5-degree angle for the Pro Duo and a 7-degree angle for the smaller Duo.

If you make it a point to prop either model up on their included stands, ASUS says the ScreenPads should be in just the right place for use with styluses -- ASUS pens come free with both models and play nice with the company's note-taking and pen input tools. (It doesn't hurt that both secondary screens can register up to 4,096 levels of pressure.)

Perhaps more importantly, ASUS also fleshed out the second-screen software experience across new Duo models. You'll now be able to just "flick" apps and windows between the main screen and the ScreenPad Plus, and people who enjoyed running three small apps side-by-side on that smaller display will find they can more quickly access their most-used Task Groups. Best of all, ASUS is introducing what it calls Control Panels: specialized palettes of shortcuts and options for the ScreenPad Plus designed specifically to work with Adobe creative apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere, and more. Long story short, you won't need to reach for the trackpad anymore when you have to create a new layer or fiddle with a photo's color saturation.

Realistically, it'll be a while yet before dual-screen laptops truly break into the mainstream, but ASUS's work this year proves how serious it is about making that happen. If you're already mulling ditching your current notebook, you won't have long to wait before getting your hands on one of these machines: the ZenBook Duo 14 should start shipping this month, with the ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED to follow in April.

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