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ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481 review: Can dual displays work in a smaller package?

By Kenny Yeo - 27 Nov 2019

Introduction

Dual displays on the go

The ASUS ZenBook Duo is an interesting proposition — dual displays in a fairly portable 14-inch form factor.

At Computex earlier this year, ASUS unveiled the ZenBook Pro Duo UX581 and the ZenBook Duo UX481. The former is a 15.6-inch notebook while the latter is a smaller more portable 14-inch notebook. Both stand out for having two displays, courtesy of a secondary display that ASUS calls ScreenPad Plus.

I reviewed the larger ZenBook Pro Duo and found it to be an interesting and promising notebook that could appeal to professionals and power users. It’s powerful and the dual display concept can really be useful. However, I also noted that its not the most portable of machines. At 2.5kg heavy, sure, you could move it around but it’s not something you want to be carrying around all day in your bag.

Fortunately, the more compact ZenBook Duo is now available. Despite being smaller, it still has dual displays and powerful hardware. On paper, this is a mighty promising machine but does it live up to expectations? Let me tell you.

 

The Specs

Despite the twin displays, the ZenBook Duo isn't overly thick. Here, you can see its HDMI port, USB-A USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, an USB-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 port.

The ZenBook Duo weighs just 1.5kg and it’s about 22mm thick. That may sound chunky, but trust me, it’s actually really handy and easy to carry around. It’s quite incredible how ASUS managed to pack two displays into a notebook of this size.

Naturally, the ZenBook Duo features the latest hardware but it does have one problem: it’s powered by a Comet Lake processor and not an Ice Lake one. Before I explain the difference, let’s go through the ZenBook Duo’s specifications. It has the following:

  • Intel Core i7-10510U processor
  • 16GB 2,133MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • 1TB PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD
  • NVIDIA GeForce MX250 2GB GDDR5

Now, although both Comet Lake and Ice Lake processors are marketed as 10th generation Core processors, only Ice Lake processors are manufactured using a 10nm process. Comet Lake is actually built using a process that is a refinement of Intel’s 14nm process that began in 2015 with Skylake. Higher-end Ice Lake processors also have the benefit of Intel’s more powerful Iris Plus graphics. It goes without saying that if I had to pick, I would prefer a notebook powered by Intel’s newer Ice Lake processor.

Processor aside, the rest of the ZenBook Duo’s specifications is very respectable. It has a good amount of memory and a generous amount of fast storage. It even has a discrete GPU. Granted, it’s “only” a GeForce MX250 but it beats having to rely on the integrated Intel UHD Graphics.

 

Ports and connectivity

On the right side of the ZenBook Duo is a microSD card reader, 3.5mm audio jack, and USB-A USB 3.1 Gen 1 port.

The ports on offer are quite excellent and my only gripe is that its USB-C port doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3 and power charging. To charge, you’ll have to use the DC-in jack and the provided charger. This also means you can’t use aftermarket USB-C chargers with the notebook.

The single USB-C port supports the USB 3.1 Gen 2 standards, which means data transfer rates of up to 10Gbps with compatible devices. The ZenBook Duo also has a full-size HDMI port, a USB-A USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, and another USB-A USB 3.1 Gen 1 port. There’s also a microSD card reader.

As for connectivity, readers will be happy to know that the ZenBook Duo supports the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard. For those still unfamiliar with Wi-Fi 6, I urge you to read our guides here and here. But to put it briefly, Wi-Fi 6 promises faster networking speeds and support for more connected devices by using technology borrowed from LTE.

8.0
  • Design 7.5
  • Features 8.5
  • Performance 8.5
  • Value 8.5
  • Mobility 7.5
The Good
Clever packaging
ScreenPad Plus genuinely useful
Great specs, good performance
Matte main display
Wi-Fi 6 support
Attractively priced
The Bad
Odd keyboard layout
Tiny trackpad
Main display doesn't support touch
ScreenPad Plus can be too dim
No Thunderbolt 3 support
USB-C port cannot be used for charging
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