It’s no secret that media consumption is at an all-time high across a plethora of digital platforms around the globe. Since supply and demand go hand in hand, there’s been a rampant rise of creator-focussed laptops that can churn out high-quality content on the fly. Now, of all the laptops geared towards creators, ASUS took the road less travelled and recently introduced the successors to its ZenBook Duo series from last year. Dubbed the ZenBook Duo 14 and the ZenBook Pro Duo 15, the laptops ship with not one, but two displays that in theory, should help creators get the most out of their machines. I managed to get my hands on the ZenBook Duo 14 and in this review, let’s see if that’s the case or not.
Design and Displays
On the surface, the ASUS ZenBook Duo 14 looks the part of most modern-day laptops and comes toting a classy, understated design that will blend well within most workspaces. That said, the company hasn’t altered the finish on the laptop all that much from last year and you’ll still find the brand’s characteristic etching on the lid that comprises a series of concentric circles. Correspondingly, with the lid closed, it can be tricky to tell one model from the other, at least from a distance. Thankfully, ASUS hit the nail on the head with the aesthetics of its debutant ZenBook Duo and correspondingly, I have no qualms with the company recycling the same chassis this year too.
Coming to the unit’s dimensions, the ZenBook Duo 14 is noticeably chunkier than most competing models and tips the scales at around 1.6 kilos. Thankfully, the laptop is quite sturdy and despite housing two displays and a slurry of mechanical components, the unit ships with MIL-STD 810H certification, ensuring the laptop will stand the test of time.
Moving on, upon opening the lid, the ZenBook Duo 14 will greet you with not one, but two fantastic, touch-screen displays. Spec-wise, the laptop ships with a 14-inch, Full HD main display, which works alongside a 12.65-inch panel (placed above the keyboard) with a resolution of 1,920 x 515 pixels. Both the panels cover 100-percent of the sRGB colour gamut and offer a peak brightness of 400 nits, making them plenty bright for indoor as well as outdoor usage. I’d also like to add that the screens come with a matte coating, thereby keeping unnecessary glare and reflections to a minimum. While all that’s good and dandy, unlike last year’s model, the secondary display (dubbed ScreenPad+) on the newer ZenBook Duo 14 articulates slightly upwards (up to seven degrees) this time around, ensuring users can consume the content on the screen much more efficiently. What’s more, the articulating screen also allows the laptop to draw in more air, thereby bettering the unit’s thermals.
So then, why would you need a laptop with two displays? Well, I’m glad you asked. You see, the ZenBook Duo 14’s secondary display isn’t just a run-of-the-mill touchscreen panel and instead, comes loaded with a ton of utilities that will undoubtedly benefit content creators. For one, the sheer size of the secondary display allows users to run an app across the two screens, thereby greatly increasing the viewing area. You can also choose to reserve the main display for your important apps and deploy other apps on the secondary screen. As an example, when reviewing the POCO X3 Pro, I had the handset’s core specs outlined on a Chrome tab on the secondary screen, with Microsoft Word taking up space on the main display. Consequently, I didn’t have to jump between apps and was able to cross-check the specs as I was writing the article.
You can also drag and drop apps from the main screen to the secondary display and vice-versa. There’s also a dedicated button above the trackpad which switches apps between the main screen and the ScreenPad Plus in a seamless fashion. And, since we’re on the subject of shortcuts, ASUS has also bundled a nifty Quick Key utility with the device that allows users to automate their most-frequented commands on a single macro. For instance, if your workflow requires you to copy files from one location to another, then you can program the copy and paste commands on the Quick Key tab, thereby saving you a couple of steps down the line. Similarly, Task Groups – yet another feature of the ScreenPad+ – allows users to group a handful of apps and have them all open up instantaneously at the touch of a button.
Of course, seeing how the ZenBook Duo 14 is geared for creators, ASUS has tied up with Adobe to bring about some meaningful widgets for the ScreenPad+ too. To that note, you can have the secondary screen display intuitive tools to increase or decrease the brush size in apps like Photoshop, etc. All good stuff, really.
Clearly, the ZenBook 14 Duo’s ScreenPad+ is no gimmick and it will undoubtedly elevate a user’s computing experience. Unfortunately, as was the case with last year’s model, the ZenBook Duo 14’s design comes with its fair share of compromises too. In order to accommodate a secondary screen, ASUS had to reposition the laptop’s keyboard deck and trackpad. Consequently, even with the laptop’s ErgoLift hinge (which tilts the keyboard deck at an angle), typing on the ZenBook Duo 14 is – for the lack of a better word – mind-numbing, to say the least. For one, the company doesn’t bundle a wrist rest with the 14-inch model and even if you buy one from a third-party retailer, you will still need to position the laptop on a desk or a flat surface to use it at all times. Ergo, you can all but forget about using the machine from the comfort of your bed, or a couch.
I’d like to add that the keyboard deck in itself isn’t all that bad and the individual keys offer satisfactory tactile feedback too. However, from where I stand, ASUS really needs to work on delivering a quality typing experience for the ZenBook Duo’s next iteration. What’s more, the laptop’s trackpad has been positioned rather awkwardly too and I couldn’t acclimate myself to using it during my stint with the machine. Be it highlighting text, or dragging items from one folder to another, the trackpad will leave you wanting for more, every step of the way. Moreover, users in India will find it difficult to keep dust particulates away from the laptop’s articulating hinge too.
I/O, Audio, and Biometrics
Thankfully, the ASUS ZenBook Duo 14 ships with a treasure trove of ports and offers two Thunderbolt 4 enabled USB Type-C ports, an HDMI 1.4 connector, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microSD card reader, and a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port. I was also quite satisfied with the unit’s biometrics and while the laptop doesn’t ship with a fingerprint reader, it does come with support for Windows Hello by means of IR-backed facial recognition, which worked well during my testing. Audio-wise, the ZenBook Duo 14 ships with a pair of downward-firing speakers tuned by Harman Kardon.
Interestingly, thanks to the laptop’s ErgoLift hinge, the sound output from the ZenBook Duo 14 was noticeably richer compared to competing products with downward-firing speakers. That said, the unit’s audio output still falls shy of the acoustics delivered by, say, MacBook Air or the Dell XPS 13. So, if you’re planning to binge a lot of Netflix on the unit, you might want to take this into account.
Performance and Battery Life
Spec-wise, my review unit of the ASUS ZenBook Duo 14 ships with Intel’s Core i7-1165G7 processor, which is among the more popular Tiger Lake offerings from the silicon giant. The laptop comes equipped with 32GB of DDR4 memory too, though buyers opting for the unit in India will have to make do with 16GB of onboard RAM from the get-go. As for graphics, my review unit is backed by Intel’s Iris XE graphics but you can cop a model with Nvidia’s MX450 GPU if you want.
Now, the lack of a dedicated GPU entails you can’t play games on the machine with the graphics maxed out. However, the laptop can net you 60fps (or more) in esports titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Fortnite with the visuals dialed way down. As for the battery life, the ZenBook Duo 14’s 70WHrs cell powered through an entire workday, which is great. In general, I was netting close to seven hours of use and that’s with the ScreenPad+ enabled and the brightness set to 65 percent.
The ZenBook Duo 14 starts at Rs 99,990 for the Core i5 model, but the i7 variant with MX450 GPU will set interested folks back by Rs 1,34,990. It goes without saying that ASUS’ ZenBook Duo lineup comprises the most innovative laptops launched in recent years and content creators will undoubtedly benefit from the ScreenPad+’ added functionality. That being said, the laptop’s design leaves much to be desired and the ZenBook Duo 14 isn’t the most ergonomic machine out there. Consequently, provided you can live with the unit’s awkwardly positioned keyboard and trackpad, the ZenBook Duo 14 will not disappoint you. Else, there are plenty of power-packed options in the segment with conventional designs that will perform just as good, if not better.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Unique, dual-screen design
- ScreenPad+ offers useful features
- Fantastic battery backup
- Good performance
- Quite beefy for a 14-inch laptop
- No wrist rest bundled with the laptop
- Typing experience leaves much to be desired
- Trackpad is unusable for most scenarios