Dual-screen notebooks are only getting bigger. Last year Asus put a 5.5-inch screen in the touchpad of its ZenBook Pro, while HP dropped a six-inch second screen on its Omen X 2S gaming laptop. And this week Microsoft announced the 2020 Surface Neo, with two 9-inch screens joined by a hinge.
In the here and now, Asus has released its own dual-screen laptop in the ZenBook Pro Duo, pairing a 15.6-inch 4K OLED primary touch display with a second screen that’s half the height but just as wide and sharp. The $5000 machine is stunning to look at and, while the experience of using it isn’t perfect, it’s easy to see why this is the direction the industry is headed.
Despite weighing in at a hefty 2.5kg, the ZenBook Pro Duo is an elegant-looking laptop that packs some serious punch under the hood. With a 45W eight-core Intel i9-9980HK processor, 32GB RAM and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 discrete graphics, this is a performance laptop in every sense of the word.
Compromises had to be made to accommodate the secondary display; the keyboard is shifted down with no place to rest your palms, the trackpad has been crammed into the right side, and you’ll only get 3.5 hours of battery life on the go. It’s clearly designed for the desk, where you can snap on the included wrist rest for a more comfortable typing position and plug into the mains for power. However you’ll need quite a bit of desk space as the laptop and wrist rest together are about 33 centimetres deep.
The secondary display functions as though you have an external monitor attached, so you can easily drag down apps and arrange them as you’d like or hit a button to instantly swap open apps between displays. Up to three apps can be snapped into place on the secondary screen, though I found that to be too cramped for most applications. Two is fine.
Once you have applications arranged the way you like, you can save the configuration to a shortcut and launch them at the press of a button. You’ll use this shortcut a lot, because the second screen clears whenever you open the laptop or resume from sleep.
During my time with the Pro Duo I was impressed with how the laptop performed. Windows 10 felt spritely, apps opened quickly and there’s no lag when you drag open apps and windows between screens. For content creators, the wide secondary screen is useful for spreading out toolbars and timelines in media editing apps while making finer adjustments with the included stylus. However the visual disparity between the main OLED display and the secondary matte LCD display makes it hard to match colours, which might annoy artists.
The ZenBook Pro Duo is a capable gaming machine as well, with the ability to run a game on the main display while monitoring a Twitch stream or watching a walkthrough on YouTube on the bottom. But it’s worth noting that any time you interact with the second screen during a gaming session, the game will automatically pause.
The Surface Duo on display at Microsoft’s reveal event in New York.
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For work I would use the bottom display for monitoring email snapped alongside YouTube Music while running my work related applications fullscreen on the main top display. The dual-screen setup was also particularly useful in planning for an upcoming family holiday where I could dedicate the bottom display to things like a calendar alongside a Google Map of the destination, freeing up the main display for looking up flights and hotel recommendations.
I found that the secondary screen works best when you’re using it as a reference, with the size and angle making any close work like typing or reading difficult. Attempting to respond to a message on Discord on the bottom display, for instance, will have you hunched over most of the time.
Next generation dual-screen laptops should fix this issue with a built-in stand mechanism that raises the secondary display at an upright angle, as we previewed at Computex earlier this year.
Despite the compromises there’s no denying the utility of having a fully functional second monitor right on your laptop, and the ZenBook Pro Duo represents the most polished execution of that vision. For content creators and power users with deep pockets, it is a compelling proposition, and those who are keen but not $5000 keen could look at the smaller and less powerful Zenbook Duo (without the Pro) for a bit less. Everyone else should wait it out until next year where we will likely see more variations of the dual-screen notebook, at hopefully more affordable price points.