The first time I laid eyes on the
ASUS ZenBook Duo 14
, with its distinctive dual-screen display, was the closest I've felt to being in an episode of
in a long time.
With a totally sweet angular look and a keyboard that, along with the smaller second screen, automatically tilts upward for maximum comfort, the ZenBook Duo 14 could be a prop from any sci-fi property from the last 20 years.
The good news is that ASUS' dual-screen laptop doesn't simply look cool. It's very cool to use, too.
The ZenBook Duo 14's relative novelty also means it doesn't come cheap: It has a starting price of $999. But its nifty and genuinely useful second screen certainly feels more like the future of laptops than
any foldable device
has up to this point.
Futuristic and fresh
Doesn't look that odd from this angle.
Credit: alex perry / mashable
First, it should be noted that the new ZenBook Duo 14 isn't the first of its kind from ASUS. A version called the
kicked things off back in 2019, but that model was meant more for serious professionals with its bigger 4K screen, high-end graphics hardware, and better processors.
That said, ASUS offers the ZenBook Duo 14 in many different configurations that naturally cost more the more you upgrade the internal specs. You can get up to the
if you're not careful. Here's how its specs shake out:
14-inch 1920 x 1080 main touch display with 60Hz refresh rate
1920 x 515 secondary ScreenPad Plus touch display
Up to 11th gen Intel Core i7 processor
Up to Nvidia GeForce MX450 GPU
Up to 32GB RAM
Up to 1TB SSD storage
The model I tested sat somewhere in the middle of all that, with an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM, and 512GB of storage. The high-end spec upgrades are mostly going to be beneficial for artists, musicians, and video editors who need to run somewhat intensive software to do their jobs, but for many, the lower-tier options will be just fine. And in case it wasn't clear, this really isn't a gaming machine. Look elsewhere if you want to
play PC games portably
What's inside the ZenBook Duo 14 isn't nearly as interesting as what's on the outside. It might look like a regular laptop from behind, with a shiny "celestial blue" color scheme on the outer case, but looking at it from the side or the front tells a different story. ASUS managed to fit a fully equipped keyboard, touchpad, and a long, horizontal touch display all in the same area where a typical laptop would just have placed its keyboard. Instead of significantly increasing the size of the laptop's lower half, ASUS opted to shrink the keyboard to accommodate the second screen, which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds.
The bottom side of the main display acts as a sort of kickstand for the smaller display and the keyboard, naturally tilting them upward as you open up the laptop. It's a clever mechanical touch that never makes the ZenBook Duo 14 feel any less portable or sturdy. Watching it open up and get into position feels oddly futuristic, which is only bolstered by the attractive deep space color and the hard angles on some of the edges. The device measures in at 12.76 inches x 8.74 inches x 0.67 inches and about 3.5 pounds, so size and weight are not issues here. It's fully portable.
The main display props up the keyboard and supplemental display.
Credit: alex perry / mashable
Even in the age of 4K, the 1080p main display is more than sharp enough considering its 14-inch size. It's bright and vibrant, especially when plugged into a power source, so visual artists could likely create work on the ZenBook Duo 14 without losing too much of their original vision to display compromises. The horizontal pixel count is identical on the lower display, so even though it's a smaller screen, it's just as sharp. My only complaint is that 60Hz
are now starting to feel old. Bumping that up to 120Hz or so would make a huge difference in terms of smoothness, but I can understand wanting to keep the display specs simple and affordable on a machine with two screens.
Both of the ZenBook Duo 14's displays are touch-sensitive, both to fingers and the included stylus accessory. I normally shy away from using laptop touch screens (I grew up in a time where we did everything with buttons and mice) but the touch screen's responsiveness incentivized me to use it more here. It's naturally easier to interact with apps on the lower screen that way, and I actually found myself idly scrolling through web pages on the top screen using the included stylus. Since this is a Windows 10 machine, however, it should always be stated that Windows is not entirely fit for touch controls. Thankfully, that's far from the only option in this case.
Despite its size, the keyboard is fairly usable even for someone like me with beefy hands. With 1.4mm of key travel, key presses feel substantial without being overly noisy or mushy. Props to ASUS for including the full conventional QWERTY keyboard layout, too, unlike the similarly size-challenged
Lenovo X1 Fold
keyboard. It's good for what it is, though I won't lie to you: I'm ready to get back to a full-sized keyboard as soon as I'm done with this review.
It's a little thicker than some laptops, but the ZenBook Duo 14 is still plenty portable.
Credit: alex perry / mashable
Unlike other laptops, the touchpad sits to the right of the keyboard instead of below it. It's also oriented vertically, equal to roughly the vertical length of the keyboard, with left and right mouse buttons on the bottom. I personally dig this arrangement because it means I can rest a couple of fingers on the touchpad while doing keyboard things with my left hand as I idly browse the web, and all without my hands ever coming near each other. I also understand that this is going to be deeply weird and awkward for folks who have become accustomed to traditional touchpad layouts. Luckily, you can always connect a USB mouse to make that problem go away.
I'd give the ZenBook Duo 14 a solid B+ or A- in the ports department. To the keyboard's left, you have two USB-C ports with
capabilities and an HMDI port for all your display needs. To the right, is a USB 3.2 Type-A port alongside a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD card reader. I could make the case for ASUS including another Type-A port on the left side, given how many PC accessories still connect that way and also out of respect for all my southpaws out there. But as is, it's an eminently useful and versatile port lineup.
"Eminently useful" is also a great way to describe how the second display fits into the ZenBook Duo 14's functionality.
I didn't expect to be quite as moved by the presence of the second screen as I was, but it quickly proves its worth when using the ZenBook Duo 14 as a primary work machine.
Known officially as the ScreenPad Plus, it effectively adds some extra screen real estate to the bottom of the main display, complete with the ability to move the mouse cursor, and drag and drop apps between the two. That means you can put anything you want down there. Trying to get some work done while the game is on? Place a stream in a resized window and drag it down there so you can glance at the score without abandoning your main task. Artists can put reference material down there; business-minded users can do the same with Excel spreadsheets, and so on. You're mostly limited by your imagination.
This all works because of a seamless and intuitive UI. Windows are automatically resized and snap to a grid when dragged down onto the second screen, though you can manually resize and rearrange them if you like. A vertical control panel on the left side comes with a bevy of options, including a brightness slider, an "App Navigator" that straightforwardly displays everything you have open across both screens while letting you rearrange them, and even the ability to create dual-screen macros. With the press of a button, I can make the ZenBook Duo 14 open a web browser on the main display with Slack and Spotify arranged neatly side-by-side on the bottom display.
That's basically everything I use in a regular work day. The ZenBook Duo 14 essentially removed the need to ever Alt+Tab between windows. That's usability, folks.
The second screen is a revelation.
Credit: alex perry / mashable
I've personally been frustrated by the recent foldable display trend because it feels like a gimmicky and not especially useful solution to the problem of wanting to do more with screens without just making them bigger. Those who purchase
need to rely on expensive, experimental hardware that's not as game-changing as it should be when it works and is
prone to failure
By simply adding a second conventional touch screen (in an unconventional size), ASUS solved the problem. On something like the Lenovo X1 Fold, having two windows open and separated by the crease in the display means you'll have less total screen real estate to work with on each side. It's even worse if you want to use the X1 Fold's keyboard, which erases half the display on its own. A full-sized display that's physically separated from a smaller companion screen like the ZenBook Duo 14's can more easily fit a full workflow like my browser/Slack/Spotify setup without making me squint too hard at the screen.
Of course, performance and battery life go hand-in-hand with all of the above. A convenient workflow means nothing if apps lag or the laptop dies within two hours. I'm pleased to report that neither of those were problems in my time with the ZenBook Duo 14. The Intel Core i7 processor and 8GB RAM in this particular model were enough to power my daily routine without any noticeable slowdown, whether during basic web browsing, or work tasks, or even during video calls. If you plan on cutting together and rendering high-res artwork or videos, more RAM probably wouldn't hurt, but for my needs, I have no real complaints.
Battery life is the last big highlight of the ZenBook Duo 14 experience. ASUS rates it for 70WHr (or watt hours) on the
, but in practical terms, you'll get somewhere between nine and 12 hours on a single charge. That's pretty excellent, especially for a device that needs to power two displays at once. You can actually turn the second screen off using a key next to the power button on the upper right corner of the keyboard to save a bit of battery, though the ZenBook Duo 14 becomes a lot less awesome without that extra screen.
The coolness of the second screen, and the usability enhancements that come with it, are ultimately what make the ZenBook Duo 14 worthy of praise.
A way forward
I don't know what the future looks like for laptops. It's totally possible that experiments like bending screens eventually become reliable and successful enough to take over and create a laptop/tablet hybrid singularity. Until and unless that comes to pass, I'll take the ZenBook Duo 14's more measured dual-screen innovation instead.
A laptop with a smaller second screen isn't going to stretch the bounds of what's possible, but it does make existing workflows much easier to manage while all but eliminating the need to cycle between multiple windows. I'd really love to see other laptop manufacturers experiment with this idea, given how effective it is on the ZenBook Duo 14. What I'd love even more is for the technology required to make it happen to become more affordable so people don't need to spend thousands of dollars to have access to it.
But if you've got the cash lying around and you feel your needs would be met by the ZenBook Duo 14's supplemental screen, intuitive UI, and excellent battery life, you should consider taking a step into a possible future for portable PCs.