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Zenbook Duo review: Are two laptop screens better than one?

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Zenbook Duo review: Are two laptop screens better than one?

PLaptops with multiple touch screens have long been a feature of science fiction movies. But while several real-world manufacturers have tried to make dual-screen laptops, none of them have really worked.

This is usually because they have tried to do too much with too many compromises. Now Asus thinks it’s done it with a new dual-screen machine that also has a full-size detachable physical keyboard.

In theory, this means that the 2024 edition of the Zenbook Duo could be the best of both worlds: a regular laptop with a standard keyboard and trackpad, and also a futuristic machine with two touchscreens.

But these advances always come with high prices. The new machine is available in a number of different configurations and prices depending on your region, but starts at £1,799 in the UK and costs £2,000 for the Core Ultra 9 version tested.

Windows Hello logs in to the laptop by recognizing your face while the keyboard and trackpad work very well with a solid typing experience. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Featuring two 14-inch full touch OLED displays hinged in the middle like a book, you have one on the lid and one where the keyboard would be on a regular laptop. The full-size laptop’s keyboard and trackpad magnetically attach to the pins on the bottom screen to completely cover it, and they fit and work so well that you might not even realize there’s a screen underneath. When you want to use it as a normal laptop, you can do so without much compromise, but the keyboard can also be used disconnected from the laptop via Bluetooth, which is very useful.

Let go of the keyboard and you will have two screens. The bottom screen may have a full-size touch keyboard with simulated trackpad, which only works well enough for quick things like a search query or an AI message. The included stylus can be used on any screen to draw or write. How well it works depends on the app you’re trying to use: Microsoft’s handwriting recognition is decent, Asus’s system is less so.

The kickstand and detachable keyboard allow the Zenbook Duo to be used in multiple configurations. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The stand on the back of the machine allows you to hold the Duo in multiple configurations beyond a standard L-shaped laptop. You can stand the Duo upright so the screens are on top of each other, which works Good for using two screens on one desktop and provides a huge improvement in productivity. You can also prop it up like an open book so the two screens are side by side, which is good for documents.

The Core Ultra 9 version’s 3K 120Hz OLED displays look great, sharp with deep blacks and vibrant colors. But they’re not as bright and struggle to overcome glare and reflections from direct light, which required some fine-tuning of screen angles to overcome in bright environments.

Specifications

  • Screen: 14-inch FHD dual OLED (60Hz) or 14-inch 3K dual OLED (120Hz)

  • Processor: Intel Core Ultra 7 (155H) or 9 (185H)

  • RAM: 16 or 32GB

  • Storage: 1 or 2TB

  • Graphics: Intel Arch

  • OS: windows 11

  • Camera: Front 1080P, Windows Hello

  • Connectivity: wifi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, 2x Thunderbolt 4, 1x USB-A, 1x HDMI 2.1, headphones

  • Dimensions: 313.5 x 217.9 x 19.9mm

  • Weight: 1,650 grams

Performance and battery life

The kickstand feels quite sturdy and can hold the laptop at multiple angles on a desk. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Zenbook Duo comes with Intel’s new Core Ultra chips, outperforming the Ultra 9 185H as tested, which performed well for a thin and light laptop. It handled day-to-day tasks with aplomb, including advanced photo manipulation and operating three displays at once: the laptop’s two 3K display screens and an external 4K monitor.

The benchmark puts its performance on par with similar 14-inch laptops from Dell, Lenovo and others, as well as Apple’s M1 Pro chips in the 14-inch MacBook Pro. The Zenbook does get quite warm, however, with the top quarter of the bottom half of the machine getting noticeably hot even under light loads.

Battery life varies quite a bit depending on how many screens you are using. Lasts longest when used as a standard laptop with the keyboard attached and the screen set to about 70% brightness, achieving just over seven hours of light work using Chrome, Evernote, a lightweight text editor, and several messaging apps . When both screens are used at the same time, that figure is cut in half, to less than four hours under similar conditions. Of course, the battery drains much faster when performing more demanding tasks.

Windows 11 + some things

The touchscreen keyboard and trackpad are similar in size to the real thing. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Duo runs Windows 11 out of the box, which has solid support for using computers with more than one screen. It will remember the positions of apps on both screens, adjust the orientation of the screens automatically when you rotate them, and let you easily move windows between them.

Asus also includes software to help take advantage of the dual-screen setup, including a utility that displays quick controls for turning the bottom screen on and off, invoking the virtual keyboard, swapping windows, and other parts.

The Asus Dial and Control app lets you create a custom set of virtual dials, buttons, and tools on the bottom screen, such as one to change brush thickness in a paint app or a volume knob for Spotify. However, I generally found it better to use the second screen as a full monitor, rather than covering it with touchscreen controls.

However, it is worth noting that the Zenbook Duo will not have access to Microsoft’s new Copilot+ AI tools as part of Windows 11 updates, which are limited to certain newer chips.

Sustainability

The Zenbook Duo is a little thicker than a standard laptop and the speakers aren’t the best. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Asus rates the battery to maintain at least 80% of its original capacity for at least 1200 full charge cycles. It also has care tools to extend its useful life by limiting the charge to 80%. The device can usually be repaired in the UK and the SSD can be upgraded. The body contains a recycled magnesium-aluminum alloy and Asus offers free recycling of machines.

Price

The Asus Zenbook Duo (2024) costs from £1,799 (€1,899.99/$1,499.99) with an Intel Ultra 7 chip and FHD displays or from £1,999.99 (€2,499.99/$1,699.99/A$3,999) with Intel Ultra 9 and 3K displays.

For comparison, the Lenovo Yoga Book 9i Gen 9 dual-screen laptop costs £2,011.50, the Microsoft Surface Laptop starts at £1,049 and the Apple MacBook Air M3 starts at £1,099.

Verdict

The Zenbook Duo is one of the most successful attempts to make a dual-screen laptop work in the real world. When you want to use it like a regular laptop, you can do so with the excellent keyboard and trackpad. But when you get to your desk, setting it up with two screens takes a few seconds and really helps with productivity, as well as preventing some of the back and neck pain that being hunched over a laptop can cause.

The touchscreen keyboard’s halfway house or widget-filled controls are less appealing, although those with artistic skills may appreciate being able to draw with the included stylus.

There are four main trade-offs: it runs hotter than the equivalent standard laptop, the battery life is a little short, it’s heavier and thicker, and it costs a lot more. Despite being a new machine, the Duo is powered by an Intel chip that won’t be able to run the new Copilot+ features Microsoft is currently adding to Windows. It remains to be seen whether these commitments break the agreement.

It’s not a laptop I would recommend to everyone, but if you need a dual-screen setup that you can pack up and take with you, the Zenbook Duo works great.

Advantages: two great OLED displays in one machine, stand, multiple laptop and desktop modes, good performance, good keyboard, stylus included, Windows Hello, compact charger.

Cons: very expensive, screens are not as bright and wobble when typing fast in laptop mode, heavy, thick, gets hot, short battery life, not compatible with Copilot+, software features are hit and miss.

The recycled aluminum magnesium alloy body has a subtle pattern on the lid that shines in direct sunlight. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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