Asus ZenBook Duo 2021 (UX482) Review: 1 Laptop, 2 Screens



The Asus ZenBook Duo (UX482) is the latest twin-screened laptop from Taiwanese consumer electronics giant Asus. But is it worth splashing out on this unusual 2021 design?

Like a lot of high-end performance laptops, the Asus ZenBook Duo 14 ticks all of the usual boxes. A 14in Full HD touchscreen display with high colour gamut coverage, the option of dedicated graphics and Thunderbolt 4 ports. It also ups the ante by whacking a second screen in the middle of the deck, promising users more screen real estate in which to flex their creative muscle. 

This is the smallest entry in the ZenBook Duo line-up, both in terms of size and power. If you’re in the market for something a bit bigger and a bit more powerful, turn your attention towards the new Asus ZenBook Duo Pro 2021. 

With prices starting at £1,599.99 (US$1,499.99), the Asus ZenBook Duo 14 isn’t especially more costly than the likes of the Apple MacBook Pro 13in and Dell XPS 13, but it’s definitely in the more expensive echelon of laptops.

Design & Build

Taking it out of the box, you wouldn’t think that the Asus ZenBook Pro 14 came with two screens. It’s pretty light, weighing in at 1.57kg, or 1.62kg if you take one with dedicated graphics. That’s only a touch heavier than powerhouse laptops like the MacBook Pro 2020 (1.4kg) and other 14-in laptops like the HP Pavilion 14 2021 (1.4kg). 

The usual concentric ‘spun metal’ effect is present and correct here, with a big Asus logo sitting at the epicentre. 

Open up the ZenBook Pro 14, and you’ll see that ScreenPad rises up to meet you, literally. The secondary display is designed so that its back half is pushed up and away from the rest of the deck. Similarly, the main monitor’s casing features a prop which lifts the rest of the laptop up off of your desk’s surface, providing a bit of clearance space for improved airflow.

Of course, if you have this on your lap, or resting on your bed when watching a movie, this effect is negated somewhat. As well as a large single vent on the base, three other upward-pointing air vents are built into the hinge of the ZenBook Pro 14, so however you’re setup, heat can always rise and escape the chassis. 

The ScreenPad is attention-grabbing, much more so than Apple’s Touch Bar on certain MacBooks. It dominates the top half of the deck, with the keyboard pushed down to the bottom half, and the trackpad nudged over to the right-hand side.

This is not an arrangement that’s entirely good – there’s no wrist support, the keyboard feels a little hemmed in, and left-handers will likely be bemused by the bias towards dextral folks. 

Despite awkwardly occupying the bottom half of the deck, the keyboard is pleasant to type on. None of the keys exhibited any wobble, and the soft, springy keycaps were easy to hammer away at. The trackpad, too, is responsive, and despite the odd orientation, makes navigating everything less of a faff than you might think.

What is the Asus ScreenPad?

The ScreenPad on the Asus ZenBook Duo is a 12.65in stylus-supporting touchscreen display with a resolution of 1920 x 515. If you’ve not seen or used an Asus laptop with a ScreenPad before, it more or less operates as a second external monitor that sits underneath your laptop’s primary display, 

This serves the purpose of giving you a bit more room here for your folders and apps. You can have a Dropbox window open in one corner of the ScreenPad, letting you drag the files you want to upload straight from the relevant folders, all while you stream Line of Duty on iPlayer on the main screen. But there’s more to the ScreenPad than just extra pixels. 

Along the left-hand side of the ScreenPad Plus sits a strip of icons, allowing you to do basic things like adjust brightness, lock/unlock the keyboard, as well as more interesting things, like launch App Navigator. 

App Navigator is a bit like Task View on Windows, or Mission Control on Mac OS, as it lets you quickly jump between currently running processes, but also, it lets you move apps between the two displays of the ZenBook Duo. It’s this tool that you’ll likely get acquainted with first. 

Task Swap is a quick action tool that basically switches whatever you’ve got running on the ZenBook Duo 14’s primary display with whatever’s on the secondary display. 

Most of the time while working, I’d have Spotify relegated to the ScreenPad, so I could easily skip tracks if I wanted to, and then use to Task Swap to enlarge and make heavier edits to my impeccably curated playlists on the primary display. It works less well with other apps, like the Link to MyAsus dashboard, which became a muddled, irritating mess when shunted to the second display. 

Spotify is probably the app that most people will get the most mileage out of, mainly because it’s the one which feels like it’s best adapted to the ScreenPad, and also, chances are you’re already familiar with the desktop Spotify app experience. 

The best ScreenPad app for my money is the Handwriting app, which has appeared on previous Asus laptops with ScreenPad tech. 

This is a neat note-taking tool that supports several languages, including Russian and Chinese (simplified and traditional). It offers predictive text-style suggestions based on your scribbles, which you can then tap on – if you’ve got a Microsoft Word or Google Docs document open, the text will be pinged automatically to the page. This app could be useful for anyone learning to read and write in a new language. It’s the best implementation of the whole big screen-small screen approach of the ZenBook Duo. 

Quick Key, a feature seen on older Asus laptops like the ZenBook Pro 15 from 2018, also returns here. This is similar to Apple’s Touch Bar in terms of how it maps traditional keyboard shortcuts and functions to touchscreen controls. Instead of having to hold down Control, and then hit A, C, and V to select all, copy, and paste something, you can just use the Select All, Copy, and Paste buttons. 

Old habits die hard though, and in all honesty, I found that leaning on muscle memory was actually more of a time-saver than trying to get to grips with Quick Key, but maybe with time, I could learn to use this to my advantage. I’m sure that a lot of people who initially shunned the Apple Touch Bar felt the same way. 

Other features at your fingertips are Link to MyAsus, which lets you link iOS and Android phones to the laptop, so you can do things like make and take calls on the laptop, and use your phone as an ad hoc webcam. I set this up on my trusty Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and didn’t find it to be terribly useful as a webcam, and transferring files wasn’t any quicker than it would have been if I’d simply connected the phone to the laptop via USB and used the old drag and drop method. 

Note that connecting an external display means adding a third monitor, not a second. To illustrate my point, take a look at the screengrab below. This is what you’ll see in the Display page in the Settings:

For the most part, this is not a big deal. I didn’t encounter any issues like the one described here. I typically use an external monitor (an Iiyama ProLite X82283HS-B3) as a primary display for day-to-day work and was able to connect to Asus ZenBook Duo 14 just as you would a normal monitor.

Another thing to remember is that certain functions like App Launcher (see below) won’t work as you might expect if you make an external monitor your primary display. They’ll still work, but as you’re divorced from the usual ZenBook Duo vertically aligned dual display set-up, it can be disorientating. Other than that, you use external displays just as you would with any other laptop. 

Main Screen & Speakers

With all of the focus on that ScreenPad, what about the main display? It’s a 14in Full HD (1920 x 1080) LCD touchscreen.

While that’s a relatively low pixels per inch count (157ppi), when you look at the likes of the MacBook Pro and the Dell XPS 13, it’s also not an outlier as 14in Full HD laptops are fairly common these days. 

Pixel counts aside, the viewing angles here are good, nothing looks terribly odd or discoloured when viewed at acute horizontal or vertical angles, although some slight greying is noticeable at extreme angles, which is to be expected. Brightness, contrast, and colour space coverage – i.e. how many colours the display can accurately reproduce – is high. 

Using a SpyderPro X colorimeter, I recorded a maximum brightness of 347 nits. Not the best result by any means – the Dell XPS 13, for example, gave me 519 nits on full brightness – but anything north of 300 nits gives you about enough punch to let you to work outside on a sunny day. 

Contrast ratios at zero, 25%, 50%,75% and full brightness were also high (above 1000:1 at every point), and testing also saw display cover 100% of the sRGB (standard RGB) colour space.

Coverage of the wider Adobe RGB colour space was lower at 78%. This is something that’s mainly of concern to budding photography students or anyone who wants to print out their photos. Most laptops in this price range this days will give you around 80% Adobe RGB coverage, so this is only just shy of the batting average.

In real terms, this means you can still tinker with your holiday snaps before printing them out on glossy paper and they’ll look great, but students and professionals will want to calibrate the display, or more realistically, connect to a purpose-built monitor. 

DCI-P3, the colour space used by the movie and TV industry for video production is also high at 79%, but other laptops beat this. Again, for video editing, you’d likely want to connect to an external monitor that’s been calibrated for editing.

In laymen’s terms, this means that websites, games, streamed video content all look pretty good on the Asus ZenBook Duo 14.

The twin Harman Kardon-tuned speakers produce decent, clear audio that doesn’t suffer from any distortion that’s immediately noticeable even at 80% volume, but bass tones feel a bit compressed, and as the speakers are facing downward, a lot of that sonic goodness is absorbed by your desk, duvet, or your thighs, so the results are a bit of a mixed bag.

Specs & Performance

The Asus ZenBook Duo 14 2021 model I was sent for review came with an Intel Core i7-1165G7 quad-core processor (base clock of 2.8GHz, boosting up to 4.7GHz) and 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD (953GB of which is user-available). 

While you can pick up models with an Nvidia MX450 dedicated GPU, the model I was sent for testing didn’t come with this, so I was leaning on the i7-1165G7’s Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics. 

Integrated graphics processors are a lot better than they once were, but they’re no substitute for a discrete GPU, and so I had little joy with gaming here, although running Civ 6 on the Asus ZenBook Duo 14 was doable, even in the heavy-going latter stages of a single-player game. 

Running the usual series of performance benchmarks gave me scores very similar to the Honor MagicBook 14 (2021), which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it features the same CPU. 

The PC Mark 10 benchmark simulates a number of real-world PC applications, and gives you a headline score, which is broken down into three sub-scores for Essentials, Productivity, and Digital Content Creation. 

The Asus ZenBook Duo 14 scored highly overall (4879) and did well on the Essentials (9738) and Productivity tests (6595), which is a fancy way of suggesting that this is very well suited to basic PC office work, web use, and watching stuff on Netflix. 

The Digital Content Creation score of 4910 was lower, a result that’s attributable to the absence of a discrete GPU. 

Packing a Core i7 11th-gen Intel laptop chip means that the Asus ZenBook Duo breezes through basic computing tasks and an ample helping of memory means that you can have several tasks running at once. 

As with the Dell XPS 13 and Acer Swift 5, I was able to crack on with daily office duties with Spotify and YouTube chugging away. Editing photos in GIMP was similarly effortless, but this was with me doing very simple things like cropping and adjusting light levels, not intensive colour correction. 

Going out on a limb, an Asus ZenBook Duo with an Nvidia MX450 would undoubtedly give you a boost when you’re editing several photos at once, and you’d be able to comfortably cut and edit short video files too as well as handle some gaming like CS:GO and Overwatch.

But consider that the Asus ZenBook Duo Pro models released this year not only feature larger 4K OLED displays, but they also come with more powerful Nvidia RTX 3070 graphics processors too. In this context, it’s hard to recommend the Asus ZenBook Duo 14 for hardcore creative work when there’s a bigger, more powerful option sitting on the shelf – if you can afford one.

In terms of battery life, the Asus ZenBook Duo lasted a respectable 12 hours and 44 minutes when looping a 720p movie with the brightness locked at 120 nits. Most days, after eight hours working and listening to music, I’d have over 50% battery left. 

While I never had to worry about battery levels much, it was good to know that the supplied mains adapter will fill you up quickly. You’ll get 39% from empty after half an hour, and roughly 65% after an hour. Two hours on the pump will get the battery 90% full, while it takes around two hours and 45 minutes to fully recharge the Asus ZenBook Duo.

Connectivity & Ports

Given the uncommon form, you may expect that Asus would have had to made some sacrifices in terms of physical connectivity, but luckily, the ZenBook Duo is quite amply equipped. 

You get two Thunderbolt 4 ports which can connect to monitors and draw power from the mains adapter. There’s also a more traditional Type-A USB port here (3.2, Gen 1) and an HDMI port – sadly the older 1.4 spec instead of the more up to date 2.0.

Although that shouldn’t matter when you’ve got two Thunderbolt 4 ports, either of which will allow you to connect to either two 4K displays or a single 8K display, so this is hardly the worst thing in the world. 

Along with the standard 3.5mm combination headphone and mic audio jack, there’s also a microSD card reader.

Internally, there’s an Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 radio supporting 160MHz frequency bandwidth. When connected to a Netgear Orbi RBK750 router or satellite, I recorded link speeds between 649Mbps and 1081Mbps using Wi-Fi Analyzer when working in the same room.

Bluetooth 5.0 is present as well, should you want to use any wireless mice, keyboards, or stream music to Bluetooth headphones and speakers.

Price & Availability

The Asus ZenBook Duo UX482 is available to buy now.  The Asus UK site says that prices start at £1,599.99, but the ZenBook Duo 14 is currently unavailable to buy directly from the official store. 

At the time of writing, the only configuration of the Asus ZenBook Duo 14 UX482 which appears to be available from UK sellers is one with a 512GB SSD, 16GB of RAM with 32GB Intel Optane, and Nvidia MX450 dedicated graphics. 

Amazon and Ebuyer had the best deal at the time of writing, £1,354.98, down from the £1,567.31 usual price. Scan is also selling this ZenBook Duo for a little under the RRP, at £1,598.99. 

Argos, Currys PC World, and Tekzone are all currently selling the Asus ZenBook Duo UX482 for £1,599.

Buyers in the United States have it better – the same model as above, but with a 1TB SSD can be had from Amazon and Best Buy for US$1,499.99. If either of these places are out of stock Walmart has the same model for US$1,834.99. 

Australian buyers can pick up Asus ZenBook Duo 14 UX482’s with 16GB of RAM, 1TB SSDs and Nvidia MX450 GPUs from Harvey Norman and JB HiFi for US$2999, but the best deal currently is this one on Amazon, where you get the same model only with a 1TB SSD for less money – US$2,549.17.

Verdict

The new Asus ZenBook Duo is a powerful laptop with a curious selling point.

The second screen might be initially baffling, but already there are some good practical applications for this besides Spotify, and there’s a degree of customisation.

How much you get out of this depends greatly on your willingness to experiment with a new(ish) and interesting form. 

While you’ll be able to comfortably edit photos and video here (with the MX450 version), serious creatives will want to turn their attention to the larger, more powerful ZenBook Duo Pros.

Specs
Asus ZenBook Duo UX482 (2021): Specs

Windows 10 Home / Windows 10 Pro
14-inch Full HD (1920×1080) touchscreen
12.65-in (1920 x 515) ScreenPad Plus, Intel Core i7-1165G7 (4 cores, 2.8GHz, up to 4.7GHz)
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
16GB or 32GB LPDDR4X RAM, 512GB, 512GB with 32GB Intel Optane, or 1TB SSD
2x USB Type-C (Thunderbolt 4, DisplayPort, PD), 1x Type-A USB 3.2 (Gen 1), 1x HDMI 1.4, 1x 3.5mm headphone jack, micro SD card reader
2 x Harman Kardon-tuned speakers
720p HD camera with IR sensors and Windows Hello
802.11ax Wi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
324 x 222 x 16.9-17.3mm
1.57kg/1.62 kg



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