The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581GV-XB74T is a great professional laptop in most respects. With 9th generation Intel Core i7 and RTX 2060 on the inside and the innovative ScreenPad Plus propped by a 4K main display, it can’t get any better.
- Gorgeous OLED primary screen
- ScreenPad Plus is an interesting innovation
- Solid overall performance
- Great build quality
- Very expensive
- Not very portable
- ScreenPad Plus isn’t very essential
- Middling battery life
In a time when we thought laptop designs are becoming a bit boring, the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581GV-XB74T drops a bombshell with a unique design, with Asus attempting to deliver one of the most exciting and innovative laptops around today. It’s a professional laptop whose biggest selling point is the second 4K display, known as the Screenpad Plus.
Essentially, the Screenpad Plus is a retina-searing Touch Bar – like the Apple MacBook’s slim screen (which was introduced just above the keyboard) and only limited to shortcuts and icons, but the much bigger Screenpad Plus manages to display full applications.
Sure, having a second 4K screen is stylish, but it has big ramifications elsewhere for the laptop. For instance, the keyboard has been shoved to the front to create space for the ScreenPad Plus, and the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581GV is a lot thicker and heavier than other ZenBooks. Then, it costs a lot more as well.
Asus is hoping to appeal to professional and creative users with the extra screen, but I’m not entirely sure if the ZenBook Pro is actually a good machine. In fact, the Screenpad Plus needs to genuinely prove its usefulness, rather than a major marketing gimmick. Never before have we reviewed a laptop whose success or failure entirely depends so much on a single design feature.
Laptop designs have remained pretty static for years now, except for some minimalist tweaks and variations, especially gaming laptops that have become thin and light with more power. With that in mind, we’re excited to see a laptop that tries something different – and, with the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581 – the design is a notable design feat.
While other ZenBooks in the market are applauded for being thin and light, the Pro Duo is completely opposite – thick and heavy, measuring 0.94 inches thick and weighs 5.51 pounds. The ZenBook S is one of our favorite ultraportables, measuring 0.5 inches and weighing 2.3 pounds, for that we hope its successor justifies the weighty and bulky build.
Asus can’t use the excuse of powerful components in the ZenBook Pro Duo, as we have professional laptops like the MacBook Pro that pack lots of power, but have still demonstrated you can have a powerful pro laptop that’s thin and light. That means the extra weights and thickness narrows down to the second screen, and it’ll have to demonstrate that it’s a useful addition rather than a compromise.
For starters, the second screen is the reason why, as you open the laptop, it feels like a futuristic machine, even with the bulky size and weight. Don’t confuse it with the slim Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro, the ScreenPad Plus is an impressive addition. It is a 14-inch screen with a 3,840 x 1,100 resolution, placed directly below the main screen.
It lets you move seamlessly between the upper main screen and lower screen, the new design results in the keyboard being pushed further down, to occupy the bottom half of the laptop. In fact, it is the same layout you have on the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX531GS-AH76 gaming laptop, so we’re sort of used to the design, but the addition of a screen on that space makes it a bit unique.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The ScreenPad’s positioning near the hinges, the only place to have the keyboard is on the front edge, and the trackpad has been pushed to the right-hand edge. It’s not the first time Asus are doing this – some of its Zephyrus gaming laptops sport this design, though, they don’t have a second screen on the keyboard deck.
The keyboard is sturdy and comfortable to use. Individual buttons have enough travel, and the quality level is great. Like most ultraportables, the keys strike good balance between soft, comfortable and snappy for extended typing sessions. It also gets some handy extras, including function rows packed with shortcuts, and dedicated buttons to control the fans as well as open specific apps and enable/disable the ScreenPad. The trackpad on the right-hand side is smooth and responsive, with full gesture support backed by built-in buttons that are fast and snappy.
However, the keyboard and trackpad’s positioning isn’t ideal, it brings about problems that you’d not find in more conventional laptops. The most immediate issue is the lack of palm rest for your wrists since the keyboard has been pitched forward.
Asus includes a wrist-rest that slides up against the base, while it does help a little, it isn’t the best solution especially if you’ll be travelling with this machine. Also, the trackpad can be used as a numberpad, too, if you’re using a USB mouse. But, the awkward positioning means you don’t get any travel on the buttons.
The main highlight on the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581 has to be the two screens. Both panels have solid headline specs. The main 15.6-inch touchscreen touts huge brightness and contrast thanks to OLED panel technology, and its 4K resolution makes it an even exciting offering. It strikes as a perfect display with excellent sharpness and detail – the kind of quality you need for all kinds of professional creative work.
The you have the ScreenPad Plus, this is where Asus’ real innovational and tech disruption can be found. It’s a 14-inch In-plane Switching (IPS) touchscreen with a 32:9 aspects ratio, meaning its wide enough to fit into the top half of the base. It tops out with a high resolution of 3,840 x 1,100 resolution.
Notably, the second screen is just an extension of the main 4K panel, but you’ll find the dual-screen setup useful in a few different situations. You can run an app like Spotify on the second screen, while you concentrate on a project on the main panel. Again., the bottom panel can be used to run two or three apps side-by-side, though some Windows apps like Evernote have their own modules. Still, there is the option of grouping apps together and launch them simultaneously with one button.
Multi-tasking is very intuitive, since the screen automatically divides software equally across the 3,840-pixel width. To that, add the second screen’s tough sensitivity and you’re off to a good start. The main screen’s touch is sensitive and precise as well. However, touch functionality may not be as useful as it used to be, but it’s a handy extra.
Asus includes a stylus with the Pro Duo which, though not precise enough for graphics professionals, who would still need some hardware, is a much welcome extra for note-taking. Particularly, you’ll find it useful for quick navigation and drawing on the ScreenPad. The ScreenPad is controlled by Asus’ ScreenXpert software, which can access using a little icon on the left-hand side of the panel. Navigation is seamless, and responds to commands swiftly.
Notably, both screen have similar density levels – with the main screen boasting 282ppi, while the ScreenPad Plus lights up at 285ppi. That’s crisp enough for image processing, and makes switching between the screen vibrant without text and graphics scaling.
Are two screens any better?
The fact that the primary screen is so good make the ScreenPad screen a bit dull – especially when you compare it based on brightness and vibrancy. It is possible to increase the brightness levels to better match the top screen, but it still can’t match the clarity of the main display.
Windows 10 detests the ScreenPad Plus as a second monitor, so when you drag the mouse cursor to the bottom of the main screen, it snaps to the bottom screen, and the reverse happens, just like you’d do with an extended display. That means you can drag and drop windows and apps between the two screens, though some apps will feel a little cramped on the 3,840 x 1,100 resolution, but they easily resize themselves down from the 3,840 x 2,160 screen.
Basically, while the ScreenPad Plus is a welcome addition, it really doesn’t prove itself to be essential by any milestone, and in some cases, it proves to be a hindrance. For instance, it gets in the way when moving the mouse to the bottom of the top screen or click on the taskbar, as its now very easy to overshoot the cursor movement to the bottom screen. Sometimes, it can be quite annoying.
The issue is even worse when playing games or running apps in full screen, since once you move the mouse cursor onto the second screen and accidentally click it, the game or app is minimized. There’s a way out though. Simply press a button above the trackpad to disable the second screen. Basically, that means you sacrifice using the second screen while playing games – thus, you can have a live streaming app running on the ScreenPad Plus.
Going by the fact that the top screen is good makes the ScreenPad Plus a lesser addition, that is dull and lifeless when the two are compared. To some creatives, the additional feature of a ScreenPad Plus provides a platform for multitasking, but we feel it doesn’t quite justify the impact it has on the price and dimensions of our favorite Asus ZenBook design.
If you really like the idea of extra screen real estate, its economical and convenient to get an affordable laptop with the same specs, maybe an Asus ZenBook 3 or Dell XPS 15 and plug in a portable USB monitor to get a similar experience. In fact, Asus even has its own ZenScreen range that perfectly complements its ZenBook ultraportable laptops.
The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo can be used by pretty anyone, but the main target are professionals who will appreciate its decent specs lists. Our review unit comes with a quad-core Intel Core i7-9750H processor, but you have the choice of a hexa-core Intel Core i7-9750H or octa-core Intel Core i9-9980HK processor; an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card and up to 32GB of RAM. Our review unit packs 16GB RAM and a 1TB PCIe SSD.
This specs sheet points to a pretty speed laptop that can handle most professionals tasks. It’s actually a good candidate for gaming as well – though you’ll do so at lower resolutions, away from the screen’s native 4K resolution to something more manageable – as the RTX 2060 just can’t handle gaming at 4K.
The 9th Generation Intel Core i7-9750H processor is the real joy here, as it can handle multitasking making the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo a joy to use, compounded with the second screen that encourages you to run multiple apps at once. You’ll be impressed by how Windows 10 loads on this laptop, snappy open and closing of windows and smooth drag and drop of apps between screens.
Perhaps the only slowdown you’ll experience is when loading up a game which would have set itself to 4K, and even switching between menus will not be smooth. Once you lower the resolution, everything settles in well once the resolution is lowered. So, while the ZenBook Pro Duo meets the threshold of a decent gaming laptop, we’d not really vouch for it, therefore advise against buying it for the sole purpose of playing triple-A games.
For use as a workstation, though, the Asus UX581GV-XB74T is an excellent machine, with some very solid and future-proof hardware driving the whole system.
We’re not surprised that the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo with its two screens and massive internal power lacks the battery life to last an entire day. With both screens set to half brightness, the ZenBook Pro lasts 3 hours 51 minutes – and expect the figure to drop by an hour with both screens at full brightness.
Competitors like the MacBook Pro will last almost three hours more, that makes for a whole day away from the mains. That’s impossible with the Asus UX581GV-XB74T Pro Duo laptop.
The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581GV is a great professional laptop in most respects. With 9th generation Intel Core i7 and RTX 2060 on the inside and the innovative ScreenPad Plus propped by a 4K main display, it can’t get any better. However, the additional screen doesn’t really justify the price (and weight) it adds to the laptop.
Still, there are a few likeable features on the ZenBook Pro that come with the second 4K screen, and with slight tweaking, many professionals may set it up to work in a way that enhances productivity. For example, having an additional app open in the ScreenPad Plus can be really useful as it frees space for multi-tasking on the main screen.
But, is that really useful? We’d bet not. After all, the laptop gets short battery life as a consequence of the added screen, so you’ll need to be plugged most of the time, or sit on your desk – which is the same as plugging an external monitor with the same experience, and you’ll save money while at it.
Is there a better alternative?
For less than the price Asus is asking for the professional-centric Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581GV, you could buy an equally powerful laptop that’s more svelte and portable, then hook it up with a portable USB monitor. So, it all trickles down to if you’re willing to makes compromises for the ScreenPad Plus. Most people likely won’t.
If a 4K Touch screen is a must have, the Dell XPS 15 7590 is a great alternative, with a powerful Intel Core i7-9750H processor, but offers a more vivid display, solid overall performance and longer battery. However, its GTX 1650 GPU isn’t a match for the ZenBook’s RTX 2060 GPU, and you definitely miss on that sweet second display.
If you need an additional screen, you can snag a portable USB monitor like the ASUS ZenScreen MB16AMT Touch that is easy to carry and connects to the laptop’s USB port through which it draws power as well.
Should you buy it?
If you’re going to make frequent use of two screens and work near a power outlet, then the ZenBook UX581GV-XB74T is an excellent choice.
However, if you’ll need something portable and long-lasting, a more conventional laptop would be better – something like the Dell XPS 15 or the new Apple MacBook Pro 14 that doesn’t have the ScreenPad Plus, but gets similar processing power in a slimmer, lighter and more premium design with better battery life. Its way cheaper than the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX581GV-XB74T or any of its other configurations.