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Laptops

Asus ZenBook Pro Duo dazzles with double 4K displays

Are single-screen laptops a thing of the past? Asus hopes so.

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The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It seems 2019 is turning into the year of the dual screen. But while companies like HP with its Omen X 2S are just coming around, Asus has already marched on to its second generation. Its new flagship ZenBook Pro Duo pairs a 15-inch 4K OLED display with a second full-width IPS touch screen above the keyboard, which Asus dubs "ScreenPad Plus."

Technically, the laptop has three screens if you count the virtual number pad-slash-touchpad, but let's not get carried away.

Asus has also updated the smaller ScreenPads in its standard ZenBook and VivoBook models with the ScreenPad 2. If you missed it, Asus first introduced the ScreenPad in last year's ZenBook Pro 15; just imagine a laptop with a touchpad that doubles as a phone screen and you have a good idea of what Asus is going for.

The ScreenPad 2 featured on new VivoBook S and ZenBook computers has minimally larger panels -- about half an inch along the diagonal -- but they consume a lot less power, don't dim when you're unplugged and have software that's a little more intuitive to use.

The ZenBook Pro Duo's ScreenPad Plus is definitely the flashier one. It has the same horizontal resolution and width as the main screen (4K) but roughly half the depth, which makes the diagonal length really long. Thus Asus refers to it as a "14-inch" screen even though it's not what we typically think of as a 14-inch display. 

And it functions just like a second attached screen would, with the ability to tile windows on it or vertically span a single window. Both screens have touch capability, so you can move windows from one to another with your finger or with the onscreen cursor. It comes loaded with Asus apps, though you can also add third-party apps like Netflix, Spotify, Facebook and so on.

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Impressively, you can have up to three windows on the second screen at once. You can also extend a window in the main screen to the secondary one, so for instance your Facebook feed will scroll down from one screen to the next. Asus touts the Duo as the ultimate laptop for creatives, which means it'll likely have support for Adobe programs and those of a similar ilk. 

To accommodate for the dual screens, Asus pushed the touchpad to the right of the keyboard. This is reminiscent of its ROG Zephyrus gaming laptops, where the touchpad placement has been conspicuous to say the least.

The Pro Duo incorporates Asus' steepest ergolift hinge to date, 7 degrees. That puts the second screen at a more useful angle than lying flat. Plus, since the the new specs go up to an Intel 9th-gen i9 processor and GeForce RTX 2060, it probably needs the extra airflow to keep cool. It does have a hotkey to switch among the various power profiles.

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Having two screens means the touchpad, which doubles as a number pad, gets shifted to the right of the keyboard.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Asus also announced a cheaper version of the laptop, the Asus ZenBook Duo (no Pro). It has a 14-inch main display and a 12.6-inch secondary screen, both of which are a Full HD 1,920 by 1,080 (versus the 4K 15.6-inch and 14-inch displays of the Pro). Rather than a RTX 2060, it comes with a less powerful GeForce MX250 GPU and maxes out at an Intel Core i7 CPU.

Though the Duos look sleek, those displays add quite a bit of weight -- the Pro Duo is about 5.5 pounds. Based on our brief time with the Pro Duo at Computex, the second display works well and is a dazzlingly sharp as well as daring attempt to meaningfully evolve the age-old laptop design. The sacrifices to achieve that include the elimination of palm rests, a slightly crammed keyboard and the touchpad being shifted to the right. 

You can get used to a tight keyboard, but it may be harder to forgive an ill-placed touchpad. We'll find out for sure when we eventually review this promising laptop. Asus says the Duo laptops will be available in the third quarter of this year.

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