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Asus ZenBook Duo (UX481) review

The ZenBook Duo is a dual-screen laptop for the masses

Asus ZenBook Duo (UX481) review
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Laptop Mag)

Our Verdict

Asus's ZenBook Duo is an innovative laptop with strong performance and a secondary 12.6-inch display at a reasonable price.

For

  • Vivid 14-inch matte display
  • Functional second 12.6-inch screen
  • Strong performance
  • Long battery life
  • Stunning 'Celestial Blue' color

Against

  • Thicker, heavier than rivals
  • Keyboard position is uncomfortable
  • Narrow trackpad
  • No Thunderbolt 3 ports

Asus is making dual-screen laptops available to the masses with the ZenBook Duo (starting and reviewed at $1,499). The new laptop trades the "Pro" for a much lower price, but nearly all the same functionality as its pricier relative. Instead of having two 14-inch, 4K panels like the ZenBook Pro Duo, the ZenBook Duo has a 14-inch, 1080p screen and a secondary 12.6-inch panel. 

Asus ZenBook Duo (UX481) specs

Price: $1,499
CPU: Intel Core i7-10510U
GPU: Nvidia GeForce MX250
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 1TB
Display: 14-inch, 1080p  + 12.6-inch
Battery: 9:44 (ScreenPad Plus on); 11:51 (ScreenPad Plus off)
Size: 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches
Weight: 4 pounds

The Duo is the kind of device you'll feel proud showing off, and when you do, people will be amazed by its gorgeous color and second display, also known as the ScreenPad Plus. The shock and awe of the extra screen will get people reaching for the Duo at electronics stores, but the ScreenPad is much more than a spectacle; It's a useful tool for creative professionals and business users who need to maximize screen real estate. 

Add strong performance and long battery life to the mix, and the ZenBook Duo is a dream to use when you're crunching spreadsheets or editing videos. But to craft such a unique device, Asus had to make compromises to the keyboard and touchpad, so you'll want to think long and hard about whether the ZenBook Duo is the right device for your needs.

Asus ZenBook Duo price and configuration options

The ZenBook Duo currently sells in a single configuration. For $1,499, you can get the same unit we reviewed, which come with a 14-inch, 1080p touchscreen (and secondary 12.6-inch panel), a Core i7-10510U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics.

Asus ZenBook Duo design

Where do I start? Asus gave me a feast to gaze at. I keep shiting my eyes between the metallic dark teal aluminum and the extra pixels on the deck shining up at me. It's a striking design that will satisfy your creative side without making you self conscious about using something overly gaudy. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I had the pleasure of visiting Asus' design labs in Taiwan last year where I got to see how the company experiments with color. It helped me understand why the exact hue on Asus' ZenBook laptops is always so hard to pin down. In the case of the ZenBook Duo, it's something between navy, forest green and teal (Asus calls it Celestial Blue). When the light hits it just right, the laptop looks like a glistening jewel. Beautiful. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

On the lid of the ZenBook Duo are Asus' signature concentric circles and a stylish silver Chrome Asus logo. The back of the lid has an extra lip that hands underneath the ZenBook Duo when the lid is open. This angles the keyboard downward for a more comfortable typing position and brings the second screen up a notch for a better viewing angle. 

I'll go into more detail about the displays, keyboard and touchpad below but their uniqueness impacts the design; The second screen takes up the top half of the Duo's deck while the keyboard is on the front (nearest the user) and a vertical touchpad with discrete clickers is on the right side. 

The ZenBook Duo isn't the thinnest or lightest 14-inch laptop out there. Actually, it's pretty chunky compared with other 15W laptops. At 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches and 4 pounds, the Duo is thicker and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex 15 (14 x 9 x 0.6 inches, 3.5 pounds) and Lenovo Yoga C940 (12.6 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches, 3 pounds).  

Asus ZenBook Duo ports

There is a decent selection of ports on the ZenBook Duo, however, all premium laptops should now have a Thunderbolt 3 port for fast transfer speeds and for connecting to multiple 4K monitors

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

On the right side of the ZenBook Duo is a USB 3.1 Type-A port, a microSD card and a headphone/mic jack. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

On the left side of the laptop is an HDMI port, another USB 3.1 input, an HDMI port and a USB-C input. 

Asus ZenBook Duo display

We'll focus this section on the primary 14-inch, 1080p display. Don't worry, we'll get to the secondary 12.6-inch panel later on. As for the main screen, it's great. The colors are more saturated than usual from a matte panel and details are crisp. And while I wish Asus used brighter screens, the ZenBook Duo's touch panel effectively reduces annoying reflections. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

When I watched a trailer for Proximity, I could distinctly see the small writing on an old video cassette containing abduction footage, and the salt-and-pepper strands of hair in Don Scribner's beard were clearly defined. Colors popped off the screen more than I was expecting given the matte finish; Forest foliage was a lush green while diner chairs had that nostalgic retro pumpkin orange hue. I also appreciated the accurate white color balance in a scene set in a white room with people wearing ivory robotic spacesuits.  

When we measured color coverage using a colorimeter, the ZenBook Duo's display captured 107% of the sRGB gamut. That's a good result but it doesn't quite meet the premium laptop average (123%) and it's not in the same class as the Galaxy Book Flex 15 (158%). The ZenBook Duo just edges out the Yoga C940 (104%). 

Asus tends to keep the brightness of their laptop displays -- even those on high-end machines -- relatively low. The same is true of the screen on the ZenBook Duo, which reached only 282 nits and was outshone by the Galaxy Book Flex 15 (381 nits or 565 nits with outdoor mode enabled), the Yoga C940 (339 nits) and the category average (368 nits). The ZenBook Duo makes up for it a bit with its matte finish, which improves outdoor viewability.

Asus ZenBook Duo ScreenPad Plus

The Duo's 12.6-inch ScreenPad Plus is an updated version of the secondary screen we first saw on the ZenBook Pro Duo back in 2018. Since that first effort, Asus has made many beneficial changes. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

There are some fun things you can do with the secondary panels and some of the built-in features are genuinely useful. The interface and stability of Asus' custom interface has also come a long way. Still, I hope Asus finds a way to improve the angle of the panel because it can be difficult to view when you're not hunching directly over it.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Opening the main menu is as easy as tapping an arrow on the left side of the secondary touchscreen. From the App Launcher menu, you can open an app called Quick Key, which gives you oft-used commands, like cut, copy, paste, undo, and more. Other Asus apps include a handwriting app for drawing or taking quick notes, a Number app that pulls up a virtual numpad, and a quick-access icon to MyAsus, AppDeal and Spotify. You can use the Task Group icon to open up to 5 apps (two on the main screen and three on the ScreenPad Plus) with a single tap. There are also useful buttons for moving windows around and changing the brightness of the second panel.

Dropping an app from the 14-inch display to the 12.6-inch ScreenPad Plus is as easy as dragging it onto a floating icon that appears when you adjust the window. When you drag the title bar of an app, three options appear: launch on ScreenPad Plus, pin to ScreenPad Plus Launcher or View on both screens. It's a clever system that works flawlessly and instantaneously. 

I had no problems dropping a specs sheet down to the ScreenPad Plus so I could read info while writing an embargoed news post about a laptop. It was as if I had a second monitor, which saved at least 15 minutes and made my work a lot easier. I also used the ScreenPad Plus for streaming music so I could change songs and adjust volume without searching for Spotify among the dozens of Google Chrome tabs I had open. 

Other practical uses for the ScreenPad Plus include video and photo editing -- the timeline or controls go on the bottom screen --- and gaming, where you chat on the lower screen and play on the main one.

The secondary screen isn't very bright or vivid on paper but it looks better in person than what our colorimeter clocked. The touchscreen covers 67% of the sRGB color gamut and hits 272 nits of brightness, the latter of which was a problem when I used the laptop outside.

Asus ZenBook Duo keyboard and touchpad

I love this keyboard, but I hate where it's placed. The same can be said for the touchpad, which I'll complain about later. For now, I'll focus my energy on the wasted potential of the Duo's keyboard. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Instead of being located in the center or toward the back of the laptop, the keyboard on the ZenBook Duo is on the front of the deck. This causes a few problems. First, there is no place to put your wrists. It's not a huge issue on a desk, but typing with the ZenBook Duo on my lap was frustrating because it required me to hold my wrists up in the air or drop them below my fingers so I could rest them on my thighs. 

The other major problem with having a forward-positioned keyboard is that the touchpad can't stay where it belongs. On the ZenBook Duo, it also rotates; On the right side of the deck is a vertical touchpad. While responsive, the touchpad's narrow dimensions (2.1 x 2.7 inches) meant my fingers overlapped onto the deck every time I used pinch-to-zoom or three-finger tap gestures. On a positive note, the touchpad clickers feel great, although they can be awkward to reach.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I don't fault Asus for shifting the keyboard around to accommodate the ScreenPad Plus, but I also can't ignore the resulting compromises, either. And that's really a shame because the ZenBook Duo's keyboard is otherwise fantastic. The keys are snappy, bouncy and have a sweet audible click when actuated. I also like some of the shortcut buttons Asus added, like the option to turn off your webcam or open MyAsus with the tap of a key.

Asus ZenBook Duo audio

I jammed out to the funky beats of John Mayer's "Assassin" and totally forgot the sound was coming from a laptop, not a Bluetooth speaker. Drum hits had a chest-thumping heaviness and the percussions were crisp and clear. The midrange was the real highlight, with Mayer's smooth vocals taking center stage. While they're not super loud, the dual speaker on the front of the Duo filled my small office with ease.

Asus ZenBook Duo performance

It might use an 15W processor compared with the ZenBook Pro Duo's 45W chips, but the Intel Core i7-10510U CPU with 16GB of RAM in the ZenBook Duo did an excellent job keeping up with my demanding day-to-day workflow. Dozens of open Chrome tabs and various apps, like Play Music and Slack, didn't slow the laptop down one bit. 

It chugged right along even when I tried my darndest to find its breaking point by playing four 1080p YouTube videos and a Twitch stream simultaneously. The ScreenPad Plus was also pleasantly responsive -- I didn't notice a hint of lag when switching between displays or loading apps. 

The ZenBook Duo notched a 16,719 on our Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test, which is short of what the Galaxy Book Flex 15 (19,137, Core i7-1065G7) and Yoga C940 (18,672, Core i7-1065G7) scored. It also lands just below the premium laptop average (17,336). On the more demanding Geekbench 5 test, the ZenBook Duo hit 3,981, which, again, can't keep up with the Galaxy Book Flex 15 (4,416), Yoga C940 (4,055) or the category average (4,208). 

Rebounding from a rough start to our benchmarks, the ZenBook Duo converted a 4K video to 1080p resolution (using the Handbrake app) in 19 minutes and 3 second, which is faster than the Galaxy Book Flex 15 (22:18) and Yoga C940 (19:32) but not up to the average (18:37). 

The 1TB SSD inside our ZenBook Duo UX481 was super speedy when duplicating about 5GB of multimedia files. It took just 5 seconds to complete the task, which equates to a transfer speed of 958.4 megabytes per second. Somehow, even that awesome result doesn't top this list. The Book Flex 15 stole the prize with a speed of 1,379.2 while the Yoga C940 (1,017.9 MBps) also topped four digits. Each of these laptops crushes the premium laptop average (658.3 MBps). 

Asus ZenBook Duo graphics

When it comes to graphics performance, the Nvidia GeForce MX250 GPU inside the ZenBook Duo is as close to integrated as you can get. 

But hey, discrete is discrete and it showed in our benchmarks when the ZenBook Duo raced around the Dirt 3 track at a buttery 106 frames per second, outracing the Galaxy Book Flex 15 (52 fps, MX250), Yoga C940 (51 fps, Iris Plus) and the category average (64 fps). 

It did similarly well on the 3DMark Fire Strike test, hitting 2,769 compared with the Galaxy Book Flex 15's 2,215 and the Yoga C940's 2,138. 

Asus ZenBook Duo battery life

I owe Asus an apology. When I first saw the ZenBook Duo, my first thought was how poor the battery life must be given the dual displays. I was wrong -- very wrong. 

With both displays turned on, the ZenBook Duo lasted for 9 hours and 44 minutes in our battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. When we turned the secondary screen off, the laptop went the distance, at 11 hours and 51 minutes. Those are some stellar results, although the Galaxy Book Flex 15 (15:44) and Thinkpad Yoga C940 (11:46) were up for the test. All three of those laptops outlasted the category average (9:07). 

Asus ZenBook Duo webcam 

It's practicality over picture quality when it comes to the 720p webcam on the top bezel of the ZenBook Duo. Even under the sunlight of a rare pleasant day in Michigan, a selfie I snapped was fuzzy and my beard was a mushy blob of brown. The sky behind me was also blown out to the point where there wasn't any blue left in it. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

And yet, the camera is more useful than most because it teams with IR sensors for facial recognition login via Windows Hello. If you haven't used it before, facial recognition is one of those you'll-never-go-back features. 

Asus ZenBook Duo heat

Cool as a cucumber after playing a 15-minute, 1080p video, the ZenBook Duo reached a maximum temp of 97 degrees. If we're nitpicking, that's over our 95-degree comfort threshold, but it's not something to worry about, especially since the keyboard (82 degrees) and the touchpad (83 degrees) were chill to the touch. 

Asus ZenBook Duo software and warranty

Along with all the software Asus packages in for the ScreenPad Plus, the ZenBook Duo has a fair amount of first-and-third party apps, including a few surprises. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Asus strayed away from its heavy-handed tendencies, installing only the MyAsus app and AudioWizard (for EQ controls) on the ZenBook Duo. This useful program is where you can track the health of your laptop's battery, get the latest updates, change the fan profile, and even make adjustments to the color and white balance of the display. The user interface is fantastic and I appreciate that Asus bundled so many tools into a single app. 

I encountered a few third-party apps on the Duo. Already installed on the laptop out-of-the-box are the games Candy Crush Friends and Farm Heroes Saga. McAfee Security is also on here along with Microsoft's suite of Office apps. 

The ZenBook Duo comes with a one-year warranty. See how Asus did on our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst brands special reports. 

Bottom line

The ZenBook Duo isn't as powerful as the ZenBook Pro Duo, but it delivers nearly all the same functionality at a significantly lower price. As a result, the Duo is a better option for all but the most demanding power users. First, you need to decide if the ZenBook Duo is right for you, or if a more traditional laptop, like the Samsung Galaxy Flex 15 or Lenovo Yoga C940 would be a better fit. 

If you spend your days editing videos or just want more screen real estate without buying an extra monitor, the ZenBook Duo is an excellent choice. For $1,500 (half the price of the ZenBook Pro Duo), the Duo offers fast performance, long battery life and a functional second display in a gorgeous design. 

But the ZenBook Duo is far from perfect. To accommodate the secondary display, Asus made compromises to the keyboard and touchpad. The Duo is also chunkier and heavier than other 14-inch laptops, so it doesn't make for the best travel laptop. However, if your work is done at a desk, or you're stuck inside working remotely and can buy an external keyboard and wrist rest, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better laptop than the ZenBook Duo for the price.

Asus ZenBook Duo (UX481) Specs

Size12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches
Display14-inch, 1080p + 12.6-inch
CPUIntel Core i7-10510U
Price$1,499
GPUNvidia GeForce MX250
Battery9:44 (ScreenPad Plus on); 11:51 (ScreenPad Plus off)
Storage1TB
RAM16GB
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