For 36 years, the basic form factor of a laptop has remained the same — Screen, keyboard and trackpad. Until one company decided to change that. Asus has been making dual screen laptops for some time now, and we got our hands on the second generation 14-inch Zenbook Duo UX482 ahead of its official India launch for review. There are some significant improvements in the design that addresses the drawbacks in the first gen Zenbook Duo. I had the notebook for about a week, and work, like the way I knew it, changed with the dual screen experience.
The Zenbook Duo is unlike any 14-inch laptop out there. You get some that converts into a tablet, or some that are completely detachable. But neither of them truly tickles the fancies of the dual screen snob. If you are one, the Zenbook Duo will feel perfect. It’s basically your multi-monitor setup on wheels. The dual screen setup allows you to multitask, easily use the Windows Ink Workspace on a laptop and gives you more control over the popular editing apps.
Specs at a glance
The Zenbook Duo UX 482 sports a 14-inch Pantone-validated IPS LCD display with stylus and touch support along with another 12.65-inch FHD+ secondary panel, which also supports stylus and touch. It is this second screen that makes the Zenbook Duo so unique. Inside, you get an option of either a Core i5 or Core i7 from the Tiger Lake G7 series meant for ultrabooks. You can either live with the integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics or opt for a discrete Nvidia GTX MX450 GPU. Apart from that, you can choose either a 8GB or 16GB LPDDR4X memory variants, with max capacity of 32GB. Then there’s multiple storage options including PCIe 3.0 NVMe storage (up to 1TB) or a combo of PCIe SSD and Intel Optane memory. The very base variant with integrated Iris Xe graphics actually has the Intel EVO branding, meaning it passes Intel’s stringent Ultrabook specifications. There’s also the 15-inch Zenbook Pro Duo with two OLED displays, Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU and a Core i9 CPU for more intensive workloads. However, For most mainstream users, the 14-inch Zenbook Duo should work just fine.
As for us, we got the top-end variant of the Zenbook Duo UX482 with Core i7 1165G7 CPU and a Nvidia GTX MX450 GPU with 2GB GDDR6 memory, 16GB RAM and 1TB NVMe PCIe 3.0 storage. And here’s how it performs —
Design and Build
The 2021 Zenbook Duo makes a few interesting improvements to the dual screen design, that has a cascading effect in the way you enjoy using the laptop. Let me explain. The 12.65-inch second screen, earlier was laid flat on the chassis, which led to difficulty reaching the top end with your fingers. This time around, Asus borrowed the Zephyrus Duo’s raised ErgoLift hinge design to get around it, and in the process, improved the cooling with active air flow, as well as the audio quality from the bottom firing speakers. That’s three birds with one stone. It’s no surprise that this won the CES 2021 Innovation Award.
But I must warn you. There will be teething issues when you start using the laptop. The dual screen is included at the cost of precious the wrist rest. The keyboard is placed at the bottom edge of the chassis, and anyone who has been using a computer for long will find it difficult to adjust the first few days. The trackpad is much smaller and is shifted to the extreme right, which will feel intuitive coming from a desktop, not so much if you are upgrading from your old laptop. But once that initial rocky phase passes, I took to the keyboard layout like it was second nature. And a big reason for that is the raised chassis, and the tactile keys.
The Zenbook Duo stands out for the dual display form factor. The hinge lifts the second screen (which Asus calls ScreenPad Plus) from the chassis to a more ergonomic 7-degree angle. There’s also a dock at the bottom of the laptop to raise it even further. And it feels strong and sturdy enough to put pressure on your wrist and draw and write on the Screen Pad using a stylus. The second screen has its own Android-like UI, making multitasking a lot more efficient for mainstream users. More on the software bit, later. The second screen is perfect if you happen to use editing apps like Lightroom, After Effects or Premier Pro because the touchscreen can become an enlarged Touch Bar simulating knobs, bars and the likes to give you a more immersive toolkit for creative work. Sadly these controls don’t work outside of select Adobe apps as of now.
As for the primary 14-inch display, it’s gorgeous. While it’s not an OLED panel (that’s reserved for the Pro model), Asus got it Pantone certified which means the display is colour-accurate enough for video and photo editing. It also stretches almost all the way to the edges and also keeps space from for a Windows Hello setup. The primary display also support touch and stylus, but using the stylus on the primary display felt quite dangerous. I kept dreading the hinge would crack if I put a little more pressure on my wrist to draw something on it.
Keyboard, Trackpad and Stylus Performance
The second screen on the Zenbook Duo comes at the cost of a comfortable keyboard. The keyboard had to be dragged down to the edge of the chassis to make space for the 12.65-inch screen, but Asus has made some thoughtful tweaks to improve the typing experience. The laptop sports flat keys with three levels of backlighting, that are super tactile with quick travel and instant feedback. So while it takes time to get used to the new layout, typing is just as smooth once you adjust, if not better. If you can’t, there are third party wrist pads to rest your palms while typing.
The trackpad too had to be shifted from its traditional position to the right edge. It also extends vertically instead of horizontally, and has just enough space for precision gestures. There are dedicated keys at the bottom for left and right clicks and the entire surface isn’t clickable.
The Zenbook Duo also includes stylus support with 4096 pressure-levels, which can be used in the Windows Ink workspace. And the second screen doubles up as a Waccom pad to paint your digital masterpiece. There’s an option to disable the keyboard to rest your palm while drawing or scribbling, which is neat. But I didn’t dare use the stylus to draw or scribble on the main screen lest it snaps upon pressure from my wrist.
Ports and I/O
The Zenbook Duo’s positioning as a premium ultrabook becomes clear when you look at the choice of ports. With two Thunderbolt 4 ports which can be used to output to two 8K displays, 1 USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and 1 full size HDMI 1.4 port, this one’s ambition of catering to creative professionals becomes clear. There’s also a microSD card reader and surprisingly, no space for a Kensington lock.
The Asus Zenbook Duo will feel like a machine which can unlock the pandora’s box for you when it comes to editing videos or doing some Photoshop heavylifting, but testing both out put me to conclude that is very much a mainstream laptop meant for more vanilla workloads like keeping hundreds of tabs open, or juggling rapidly between Slack, Spotify and Firefox, while attending a Zoom call simultaneously and the likes. You know, the regular office or college stuff. Not I’m a YouTuber who makes complex explainer videos.
A 1:25 snippet of Ershad’s OnePlus 9 review video in 4K took 2m26s to render, and the project on timeline was not at all responsive while scrubbing. In comparison, a maxed out Alienware Area M51 R2 did it in 36s. I loaded the sequence up with more effects, and the render time jumped to 32m04s, whereas on the Alienware it was just 7m31s.
Photoshop performed well enough for my use case which mostly involved resizing, watermarking images with a line of text. But moment I piled up a few layers, the export time shot up significantly. So, if you are a creator thinking of buying this laptop for the efficiency the second screen will offer, I’ve got bad news.
The 11th Gen Intel Core i7 1165G7 can be maxed out to its 28W TDP but it’s not meant for heavy tasks like video editing. The Nvidia MX450 GPU isn’t meant for gaming either. So who is this meant for? Benchmark tests like 3DMark TimeSpy indicates that the laptop falls somewhere between a mainstream business laptop and an entry-level gaming laptop. It has the ambition to do all the fancy computing, but has to make do with regular multitasking.
The hinge on the Zenbook Duo serves more than one purpose. Apart from lifting the second screen up at an angle, it also opens up the interior to more airflow. The Zenbook Duo also has a redesigned interior with a larger heat pipe and denser fans, and this combination together manages to keep the laptop cool at all times. Even during my Premier Pro render test, the temperature around the G and H keys never climbed beyond 36 degrees, while the second screen was just about 40 degrees at its peak. That’s cooler than even some flagship smartphones.
The Zenbook Duo UX482 features bottom firing speakers tuned by Harman Kardon, and let’s just say the audio output is…loud. Here too, the hinge plays a major role in improving the acoustics by allowing the speakers more room to amplify the sound. I was able to watch my episodes perfectly with the fan running at full speed with the dialogues coming out crystal clear. Also, there are a few far field microphones on the ZenBook Duo and Asus has promptly enabled Amazon Alexa support to make the most of it.
Day to Day Usage
Using the Zenbook Duo as part of my daily driver did improve my efficiency significantly. There was a steep learning curve in the beginning, but once I got past it, the second screen became a space to track news and developments, keep a tab on Twitter and quickly skip a track on Spotify. This kept the main screen free of distractions and I was able to work on my reviews, or edit an article without losing focus on the other things.
The trackpad positioning too helped simulate a mouse-like efficiency, and if it felt too small, a three-finger swipe across the second screen converted it into a giant trackpad. Missing the number pad? A simple tap on the launcher opened a virtual num pad on the ScreenPad. You can cycle between groups of tasks in one go, use the second screen as a control panel for editing apps, or check messages on your phone using the MyAsus app. The second screen is the center of all action on the Zenbook Duo and for those still on the fence, it does make meaningful improvements to your daily usage.
With two screens running at all times, the battery life will be a concern. The 11th-Gen i7 G7 processor isn’t as power hungry as the performance-grade CPUs, and the 70Whr battery easily lasted a good 6 hours in my usage. That involved a lot of web activity, video streaming and music playback. The base variant of the ZenBook Duo that’s Intel EVO certified is the one to go for if you wish to maximise battery life. That promises a good 10 hour battery life, in adherence to the EVO standards. You get a bundled 65W charger with a USB-C port which tops up the battery to full capacity in around 1 hour 30 minutes. You can also charge the laptop using any USB PD certified fast charger.
All things combined, the ZenBook Duo UX482 feels like the premium ultrabook fit for the new normal. The laptop augments the work from home experience by putting two screens into play, with a high level of interoperability. With stylus support, this feels cut out for the creatives out there. But the hardware inside is limiting. There’s only so much a power efficient Core i7 CPU can handle, and that’s limited to primarily the mainstream tasks like intensive web browsing or cycling between Office apps. The more intensive workloads like video editing is reserved for the more powerful Zenbook Pro Duo. If that matches with your use case, the Zenbook Duo is perfect. The underlying hardware will be replicated by many in the next few months, but the feat of engineering which Asus achieved with the Zenbook Duo will be hard to beat.
Asus Zenbook Duo UX482Rs 1,34,990
Design and Build8.5/10
Keyboard and Trackpad7.0/10
Ports and I/O7.0/10
Day to Day Usage9.0/10
What Is Good?
- Colour accurate display
- ScreenPad Plus is super useful
- Solid battery life
- Runs cool at all times
- Loud audio
What Is Bad?
- Awkward keyboard layout
- Performance not optimal for creative professionals
- Tiny trackpad
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