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Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021) Review: The cost of dual display

Productivity – it is something that everyone with a job strives for and what every new piece of consumer technology on the market claims to offer. While some devices are indeed better enablers of productivity than others, an all-in-one machine is often hard to come by. Laying claim to being a perfect device for productivity-focused creatives is the Asus ZenBook Duo 14.

This dual-display sporting notebook is now a few iterations deep, with a new 2021 model landing on our review desk for the past couple of weeks.

Given that remote working has quickly become the standard by which most employees are getting their jobs done at the moment, the ZenBook Duo 14 arrives at an opportune time.

Is this latest edition of the ZenBook Duo the perfect device for remote working or simply a case two-screened experimentation? We answer those questions below in our review of the 2021 model.

Needs must

Before we delve into the different elements of the ZenBook Duo 14, let’s look at who this dual-display notebook is aimed at.

Asus is billing the ZenBook Duo 14 as the “laptop of tomorrow.” While that could be easily interpreted as marketing spin, there is some merit to the tagline. This as productivity while working from home often requires more screen real estate. We can attest to this in our own office setup, when most work done at home achieved on either a dedicated desktop PC or notebook hooked up to a larger monitor.

As such, to be as productive as possible, more screen is needed and the ZenBook Duo tries to deliver this by adding a secondary screen below the main 14″ FullHD (1920×1080) one. The Taiwanese manufacturer calls this the ScreenPad Plus, which measures 12.65″ diagonally and serving up a 1920×515 resolution.

Where two displays, either a notebook plus smaller monitor or two monitors connected to a desktop PC, are becoming more prevalent, is embedded the second screen into a notebook a viable alternative?

Filled to the gills

To properly assess this we need to look at what the ZenBook Duo 14 is sporting.

We’ve touched on the specifications of the displays, so let’s look at the other elements. This new 2021 model is powered by Intel’s latest 11th Gen processors, with our review model specifically housing the i7-1165G7 silicon. Added to this is an Nvidia GeForce MX450 GPU, 16GB LPDDR4X RAM and a 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0 SSD, meaning all in all, it is very well appointed when it comes to modern notebook standards.

This mix of components yielded a satisfyingly fast computing experience, with quick launch times, rapid multitasking and brilliantly vivid display.

Our benchmarking yielded similar result, with an average score of 3 459 and 74.2 on V-Ray and V-Ray GPU respectively. While we’re not graphic designers or video editors by trade, if that is your intended use for the ZenBook Duo 14, it appears well suited to the task from a performance perspective.

Now that we’ve touched on performance, let’s look at some of the design aspects.

If you’re wanting a thin and light notebook, the ZenBook Duo 14 is not it. It tips the scales at a hefty 1.62kg, with it measuring 1.73cm at its thickest part. While the 70WHrs-rated battery proves capable of yielding an impressive 10 hours of battery life (on average during our review), this notebook is not exactly designed with portability in mind.

As such, even if you were able to do so at the moment, the ZenBook Duo is not exactly suited to setting up camp at your local coffee shop like most ultrabooks or thin notebooks are.

Looking at the rest of the device, Asus has ensured that it is well appointed, with a single USB Type-A port, two Thunderbolt slots that support power and display functionality, an HDMI port, 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card reader.

Fine tuning

Now for the most crucial element – the ScreenPad Plus. For the 2020 model, Asus has fiddled with its orientation slightly, as it now offers seven degrees of tilt as you open up the notebook. You can adjust this slightly depending on your desired angle of the secondary display, but there is not much in terms of freedom of moment.

All in all the system feels handy, with the second screen lending itself well to multitasking, but it is very much on a project by project basis. When crafting stories for our website for example, using the main screen to write and secondary one to edit images in Photoscape or referencing a press release from our inbox works well.

As such we can certainly see it being helpful in video editing, with tracks sitting on the secondary while visuals reside on the main one.

Where a feature like this on the MacBook Pro felt gimmicky and not very user friendly, the ZenBook Duo’s second screen has plenty of real estate and could certainly serve as an alternative to standalone monitor for example.

These capabilities come at a price, however, with the second screen not leaving a lot of room for the keyboard and trackpad. The positioning of the keyboard lower down may take a little time to get use to, especially when it comes to resting your wrists and forearms on your desk. As for the trackpad, it is quite small, which means cursor travel is less than ideal, meaning you’ll likely have to purchase a mouse to pair with the ZenBook Duo 14.

You’ll probably need to use a mouse while multitasking too. Both screens are touch enabled, but a mouse or stylus is better suited for fine graphic design or editing work.

Final verdict

At R32 999 (RRP), the ZenBook Duo 14 (2021) does not come cheap at all. That said, it is easy to see where your money goes, with the ScreenPad Plus, 11th Gen CPU, great battery life and vivid primary screen all costing a premium.

As for whether the dual-screened notebook is well designed for remote working, the answer is yes, depending specifically on what type of work it is you’re doing. If it’s pouring over spreadsheets, then Asus has some other less expensive options on offer, but for those doing creative work, the second display and multitasking functionality has its benefits.

That functionality comes at a price, however, as the ZenBook Duo’s advantages in some areas has its drawbacks in others – namely portability and an impacted touch/type experience. Add to that the price and the ZenBook Duo 14 has to be a carefully considered purchase as its value is very much use case dependent.

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

8 Score

The ZenBook Duo 14 (2021) is expensive, but that's the price you pay for a dual-screen notebook that is as powerfully specced as this is. Most important, however, is whether or not the multitasking capabilities of the notebook are a good fit for the work you plan to do. If not, look at some of the Asus' single displayed Zen-branded notebooks.

Review Breakdown

  • Task master 8
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