Forget the monotonous laptop designs you still have, the Zenbook duo puts a full stop on the age-old laptop design, and does it brilliantly.
When we tried our hands on another Asus Zenbook with the touchpad turned into a second screen not long ago, we were nothing short of amazed. The brilliant implementation, called ScreenPad 2.0 by the company changed the way we looked at laptops. Going back to a regular touchpad laptop naturally felt like a big downgrade. “How could a laptop better this design?” we asked ourselves
But then came the Zenbook Duo series, and this time we didn’t just have a thin and light laptop with multiple screens, we had one that also featured a completely new design. We have the Zenbook Duo, priced at Rs 89,990, the younger brother of the more powerful Zenbook Pro Duo which costs Rs 2,10,000.
However, as always in the world of technology, with newer designs come the doubts of practical usability. Is the new design just a fancy fad or a revolutionary move towards the laptop of tomorrow? We reviewed the Zenbook UX481 to find out, and we weren’t disappointed. Here’s our full review.
The Zenbook UX481 is evidently a compact laptop before you even open it. The laptop features Asus’ NanoEdge Bezels, which make the chassis of the machine appear very small, even for a 14-inch laptop. You’d expect a small screen before lifting the lid, but when you do, you get a big 14-inch screen with tiny bezels.
Instead of the keyboard, the bottom end of the primary screen meets the top edge of the secondary screen, giving a flowing effect to the two otherwise disconnected displays. This however only takes up half of the real estate and the rest of the bottom is occupied with the keyboard and a small touchpad on the right.
There is a charging slot, an HDMI port, a USB port and a USB-C port on the left side of the laptop and a second USB port, 3.5mm jack, a MicroSD card reader and a couple of LEDs on the right. The build quality of the laptop is supreme as everything from the hinge to the keys and the two displays feel solid to the touch. It also makes sense that the laptop comes with Military Grade MIL-STD-810G certification, which ensures the laptop doesn’t crumble in extreme conditions.
The laptop also features Asus’ ErgoLift Hinge that tilts and raises the keyboard, secondary screen and the touchpad towards the user whenever the laptop is opened. This also helps with the machine’s acoustics and heat dissipation, thanks to the air vent created at an angle below the keyboard. And while we’re talking angles, there is also a three-part magnetic foldable stand below the laptop that is able to give you a higher, more tilted angle when you want.
Aesthetically, the laptop has a sleek premium look to it from every angle. The lid itself features an off-centre circular pattern that gives the design a unique touch. We have the Celestial Blue colour variant and its matte finish maintains its colour seamlessly throughout the design, from the lid to the individual keys and the touchpad. The UX481 is a winner in looks.
The Asus Zenbook UX481F’s display can be broken down into two parts, the main screen and the Screenpad+.
The primary display is a 14-inch screen that acts as the main display output of the device. This is a 1080p panel and while not the highlight of the laptop, remains the more used one of the two displays. The screen, however, looks a lot ‘fuller’ thanks to the thin NanoEdge Bezels we talked about earlier. The colours here look vivid and text looks crisp. Viewing angles are also great and the screen can get pretty bright as well.
Now, this is what sets the Zenbook Duo series apart. The laptop features a 2K secondary display that sits above the keyboard, which is now shifted entirely to the bottom. This moves the small touchpad of the device adjacent to the keyboard on the right.
The screenpad itself is a 2K resolution panel that supports multi-touch input and brings a lot of creative ways to make the most of your programs. The laptop itself is targeted at artists and those who spend a lot of time with creative software. This works hand-in-hand with the primary screen in four ways which you can switch with the F8 button. The first and last ones are ‘Main screen only’ and ‘Second screen only’ modes, which are pretty self-explanatory. You can either ‘Extend’ the screenpad to show a continued extension of whatever is on the main screen, or ‘Duplicate’ so that the screenpad duplicates whatever is on the first screen, except now you can operate the primary one by the touchpad and the screenpad one by touch.
However, the ‘Extend’ mode is the real deal. In easy words, it simply extends your screen into the screenpad. You can now use the screenpad independently, by keeping separate windows open there while running something else on the main screen which is great for multitasking. You can now snap up to three windows side-by-side on the screenpad, along with the two windows you can snap on the primary screen. This allows you to multitask quickly with up to five windows at the same time.
Alternatively, you could stretch a single window throughout both screens to extend your chrome browser window or say, your workspace on Adobe Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Illustrator, or any program you can think of. Extending your workspace allows you to bring frequently used elements to the touch-enabled screenpad, which offers faster access through touch, which is even more accurate with the provided stylus. So your Premiere Pro timelines, your Illustrator layers and colour palettes can be shifted to the screenpad while you have the main screen cleaned up for only the project you’re working on.
Apart from this, the screenpad+ still offers the quick shortcuts, the ability to pin apps, and handwriting detection, which are features also found on the Screenpad 2.0 tech. It even has its own battery saver mode, brightness controls and you can slap on a different wallpaper down there too.
Now unlike the more expensive Zenbook Pro Duo, the main screen of the Zenbook Duo UX481 doesn’t register touch inputs and the only way you will be accessing the screen is through the touchpad next to the keyboard, or an external mouse. While we certainly cannot complain the lack of the main screen also being a touch-enabled display since the difference in price between the two models is massive, we still miss the seamlessness offered by the Zenbook Pro Duo.
We say this because despite the efficiency offered by the Screenpad+, users will be using the primary screen the most, and while switching between the two screens is easy when you’re using a mouse, using touch is a different story. Using the stylus on the screenpad, we often also found ourselves taking the stylus to click on something on the primary screen, only to realise that touch input isn’t supported and you have to resort to the touchpad. This break in continuity is justified by the much lower price tag compared to the superior Zenbook Duo, but regardless, it’s there.
The viewing angle of the secondary Screenpad+ is sometimes a little troublesome, especially at times when you are sitting directly below a source of light. The reflections if strong, often nullify the second screen’s visibility even at max brightness. This is taken care of a bit by the ErgoLift Hinge, and things get a lot better with the magnetic stand down under when it is engaged. However, it still isn’t perfect when outdoors, for instance. This shouldn’t however be much of an issue when indoors.
The keyboard half of the Zenbook UX481F is partially compromised with the Screenpad+, confining you to a compact keyboard layout. There is practically no real estate wasted here since all the keys are fit in without making the keys too small and hampering the experience in any way. There is even a small touchpad on the right, with two distinct left and right-click buttons below. The compact structure almost reminds you of a Tetris game at max difficulty.
Regardless, the keyboard looks and feels great. The brushed metallic finish and colours are maintained on each of the keys and they all feel solid to the touch. The keys are backlit and the brightness of it can be switched between three levels or turned off entirely. Key travel is great so fast typing is a blaze once you get familiar with the compact layout.
The evolved shortcut keys allow you to set the F1 to F12 keys to their secondary functions by default. These offer quick access to features like turning the camera on or off, taking a screenshot and switching between the various screenpad modes, apart from the usual volume and brightness toggles. If you still use the regular Fn key functions more often, you can always switch to the legacy mode by pressing Fn+Esc. We found this very useful in day-to-day usage.
The touchpad, on the other hand, does its job but the small size does restrict you from using Windows 10’s three-finger gestures comfortably, but they are possible. With a secondary touchscreen, we doubt you’d be using the touchpad a lot anyway.
While not targeted at heavy performance, the laptop can hold its own in this department as well. The Zenbook duo UX481F comes with an Intel Core i5 10th Gen processor, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD Storage, a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce MX250 graphics chip, IR Face unlocking, Alexa support and audio tuned by Harman Kardon. If you think that’s a lot for a laptop that’s focussing only on the Screenpad+ tech, you’re not wrong, but there’s a reason why.
The laptop isn’t exactly a performance beast, scoring average for the price on benchmarks like Cinebench and PCMark. So users looking for raw performance for say, gaming, might as well look elsewhere. But then you lose out on what this laptop has to offer instead. If you need the Screenpad+ tech with killer performance, your closest best bet is to up your budget to over twice the cost of the Zenbook Duo, and get the 15.6-inch Pro variant which has all the screenpad goodness while being a performance beast.
Sound quality is fantastic on the machine thanks to the custom tuning. We also found the 3D face unlock to be very fast and accurate, but we suggest registering your face at least three to four times with different lighting conditions, facial hair or glasses to make the experience even better.
The Zenbook Duo UX481F excels at battery life thanks to a good battery, made better by a smaller screen and a more juice-efficient processor under the hood. The laptop gets you around 8 hours of use on a single charge with moderate usage, which can further be bettered with Windows’ battery saving options.
The Asus Zenbook Duo UX481F is a phenomenal device, and also one that you have to experience in person to completely contemplate. It brings a more affordable version of the Screenpad+ technology to users, and while it does cut down on some features to achieve this, the end-user experience is not affected too much for us to call it bad, it is not perfect either.
The Zenbook Duo also reminds you time and again, that there is a higher-priced, better version out there too. Regardless, the machine is still light-years ahead of any other in the segment in terms of creativity, and efficiency and an intuitive user experience, thanks to its multitasking abilities and split-screen use-cases. It is easily one of our favourite laptops under the Rs 1 lakh mark.