We've seen some wild dual-screen concept laptops over the past few years, but ASUS deserves credit for actually bringing them to life. First there was the ScreenPad on the ZenBook Pro in 2018, which featured a touchpad that was also a 3.5-inch touchscreen. ASUS followed that up last year with the ZenBook Pro Duo, a powerful notebook with a wide (but not so tall) display right below its main screen.
Now there's the ZenBook Duo, an ultraportable spin on that design. It's yet another example of how useful secondary screens can be in a notebook -- but given its smaller size, ASUS had to make several compromises along the way.
- Dual screens look great and work well
- Fast performance
- Great battery life
- Keyboard and trackpad are small and uncomfortable
- Heavy and thick
- ScreenPad Plus’s short height limits usability
Gallery: ASUS ZenBook Duo | 13 Photos
Gallery: ASUS ZenBook Duo | 13 Photos
But let's start with the good: those two screens. Up top, there's a 14-inch 1080p display with very thin bezels. And just below that, there's the ScreenPad Plus, measuring in at 12.6-inches diagonally and 3-inches tall. The main screen looks fantastic, with bold colors and plenty of brightness for working outside. ASUS says it covers 100 percent of the SRGB gamut, and that it's also Pantone validated for quality at the factory. While the ScreenPad Plus looks a bit duller and dimmer, the difference isn’t as dramatic as it was on the Pro Duo, which had a hard time unifying its OLED screen and a secondary LCD.
The ScreenPad Plus, functions like a secondary display. You can drag apps down from the top manually and resize them as you see fit. While moving a window, three options appear above the title bar, allowing you to quickly throw something to the ScreenPad, add it to the secondary display launcher, or span it across both displays. The latter feature works well when you need a taller view for data-heavy apps like spreadsheets, or if you're juggling a ton of tracks in Audacity.
The main display’s touchscreen makes it easier to use natural finger controls across both screens. And, as a helpful touch, you can quickly swap all of your windows across both screens by hitting a single button on the keyboard. The ScreenPad Plus also has its own menu along its left side, letting you adjust its brightness and app shortcuts. You can also assign "task groups," or collections of app layouts across both screens. That's particularly useful for easily saving and recreating your favorite workflows.
The basic act of dragging apps between the screens is easy to grasp, especially if you've used a dual-monitor setup before. The ScreenPad Plus worked well for watching YouTube videos or keeping an eye on Slack while I worked on the main screen. Its short height means you can only do so much, though. And while it technically can fit three windows side-by-side, I generally found them too small to be usable. Realistically, it's a far better experience with one or two apps.
Just like last year, ASUS's custom software also feels bolted on, instead of being a core part of the operating system. It's a bit like adding a touchscreen infotainment system into an older car -- sure it works, but it won't be the same as getting a new vehicle built around modern features.
Perhaps Windows 10X, Microsoft's upcoming OS meant for dual screens and unique notebook concepts, could help to smooth out some of the rougher edges for ASUS. In particular, I'd love to see the ScreenPad Plus's touchscreen menu more directly integrated into Windows -- right now it looks like a low-rent Android app.
Unfortunately, the ZenBook Duo's other input devices suffer a bit to make room for two screens. The keyboard is right up front, with a cramped layout that doesn't really give your fingers room to breath. The vertical touchpad, which sits to the right of the keyboard, is too small to use for any serious work. Last year's ZenBook Pro Duo was able to fit in a full-sized keyboard and a larger touchpad, so it didn't feel nearly as restrictive. Trying to get anything done on the ZenBook Duo just felt like an exercise in frustration. While I got used to these compromises after a few days, they're annoying enough to be an instant deal breaker for many users.
Having two screens also means you'll also have to deal with having a laptop that's heavier and thicker than most ultrabooks. The ZenBook Duo clocks in at 3.3 pounds, while the XPS 13 and MacBook Air weigh 2.8 pounds. You'll definitely notice that extra heft, but it may be worth it if you actually need to use both displays regularly. Personally, though, I'd rather stick with a slimmer machine.