TWICE THE SCREEN, TWICE THE CHARM

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Asus’s stunning new ZenBook Pro Duo takes multitasking to new dimensions

Anyone who has ever used a laptop for productivity purposes on the go – be it for something as prosaic as crunching figures in Microsoft Excel, or as complex as trying to work on a CAD model, or as delicate as editing a video – has inevitably run into the frustrating lack of visual real estate on the device. While high-resolution laptop screens, going as high as 4K, are quite prevalent nowadays, more often than not, they are limited by the size of the device, which prevents their high resolutions from being fully utilized. Because of the immense flexibility offered by desktop computers, it should come as no surprise that many power users still prefer using them, often equipped with multiple monitors, as their primary workstations, resorting to laptops only when forced to do so.

There have been numerous attempts at creating laptops with more than one display, with none too encouraging results. Swapping out the keyboard and touchpad with another full-sized display was the most obvious path, but any users who braved to pay the premium prices for such devices realized far too late that their lack of ‘serious’ input options made them less suited for work. As a result, these laptops never really made it to the mainstream. However, with their new ZenBook Pro Duo, Taiwanese technology titan Asus manages to successfully create a portable computer that opens up new horizons of input options and productivity without cutting back on the essentials.

While the idea of a second screen on a laptop may not seem particularly original, Asus’s implementation of it certainly is. Instead of going with a gimmicky and nearly useless mini-screen like the Touch Bar of post-2016 MacBook Pros, or replacing the entire lower deck of the laptop with a full-sized screen, Asus wisely moved the touchpad to the right of the keyboard, and used the freed-up space in front of the keyboard to place a secondary display – called the ScreenPad Plus – of the same width as that of the laptop’s main display, but having approximately half the height. While the usefulness of such a screen may seem dubious, the difference it makes in terms of productivity is nothing short of astounding, even more so because it did not come at the expense of the keyboard or the touchpad.

For starters, the ZenBook Pro Duo’s 15.6” main display is already stunning. Framed by thin bezels, not only does it have a staggering resolution of 4K, but it is also one of the few rare laptop displays to utilize OLED technology, something mostly seen only on certain mobile phones, typically higher-end ones. For non-techie users, this means that this display is capable of displaying the most vibrant colours and the purest of blacks while managing to showcase an astonishing range of contrast in the process. Any professional, particularly ones working in the fields of graphic design, motion graphics or video editing, would be blown away by the sheer fidelity of this display – to say nothing about enjoying 4K movies in glorious HDR colours. The ScreenPad Plus works seamlessly with the primary display, and it can be used both as a dedicated display or as a vertical extension of the primary one.

It must be mentioned here that both the displays support touch input, but it is the ScreenPad Plus on which this feature shines the most. Asus has worked closely with Microsoft to create a user experience that is truly unique. The ScreenPad Plus’s custom software allows for the quick pinning and tiling of groups of up to three preset program windows to it as per the user’s preferences, and even allows for quick switching of tiled app groups between the primary and secondary displays at the touch of a key when the app windows on the ScreenPad Plus require greater attention. Even mundanely prosaic tasks, such as moving between a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation windows when compiling reports, become immensely enjoyable activities by eliminating the need to switch between the programs constantly.

Asus has successfully walked the fine line between ease of use and customizability when designing the ScreenPad Plus and its associated software, and the amount of research that has gone into it is clearly evident from the results. The ScreenPad plus can be used in a variety of ways for different programs. For example, it can be used to display the virtual mixing console of an audio engineer while the main display shows the audio tracks, allowing the user to manipulate the knobs and sliders directly by touch, or it can be used to display colour panels and tool panels while running Photoshop. It can even be used as a dedicated panel of buttons that can playback recorded keyboard commands for individual programs.

What makes this device even more suitable for creative purposes is both its displays natively support pressure-sensitive stylus input using the bundled Asus Pen. Keeping user ergonomics in mind, Asus has thoughtfully taken care to include a separate palm rest for the ZenBook Pro Duo, since the laptop lacks a built-in one, making the keyboard much more comfortable for natural use. It is interesting to note that the touchpad also doubles as a numeric keypad for the keyboard, with the numbers coming alive in the illuminated form in a very science fiction-like fashion. The Harman Kardon speakers are outstanding, even more so when considering their minuscule size. The 71Whr battery, while formidable, is one of the less exciting aspects of the device, offering rather average battery life – however, given the ridiculous number of pixels which the device has to push every second, it’s quite a wonder that it holds out as well as it does.

While the screens of the ZenBook Pro Duo end up stealing most of the spotlight, the rest of it is nothing to sneeze at. Its beautiful space-age design pulses with the combined might of an almost obscenely powerful 9th-generation Intel Core i9 eight-core processor, a staggering 32GB of RAM, a blisteringly fast 1TB PCIe SSD and a powerful ray-tracing-capable GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, this laptop is ready to handle pretty much any challenge thrown at it, be it heavy-duty video editing or running the latest AAA game titles. It is also one of the first laptops to come with Wi-Fi 6, the latest generation of the connectivity standard. It even supports Thunderbolt 3 out of the box for providing 4K video output to external monitors or for connecting high-end peripherals that require the highest data transfer rates.

All in all, it is safe to say that while the ZenBook Pro Duo’s design may not become mainstream anytime soon, it offers an exciting glimpse into the future of laptop design as well as that of productivity on the go, proving once again that breakthroughs can often emerge in the most unexpected of forms in the world of technology.

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