There's a lot going on in the new 15-inch ZenBook Pro from Asus. It's one of the first laptops to get a top-tier Intel Core i9 processor. Then there's the 15-inch 4K touchscreen. It even has a halfway-decent graphics card for gaming (the Nvidia GeForce 1050Ti). But there's got to be something else besides all that to justify a hefty $2,299, right?
The thing you really want to hear about is the second screen built into the touch pad. Asus calls it the ScreenPad, and it's a full-color 1,920 by 1,080 touchscreen built into the wrist rest of the laptop. Several different modes allow you to use it as a secondary display, a control panel for media or office apps, or just as a regular old touchpad.
In practice it whips between straight up gimmick and occasionally useful tool, but is just as often frustrating in its seemingly arbitrary limitations. The ScreenPad is at its best when showing off the handful of built-in tools it ships with. Swipe down from the top of the pad and a small line of launch icons appear. There's a music player and calendar, both of which require external Windows software to run, a number pad and a calculator, which might actually be pretty handy, and a well-designed Spotify helper app. Other apps can be added from Asus' app store, and the core icons can be rearranged and changed in the settings menu.
That Spotify hook is the closest I've found to a killer app for the ScreenPad. To use it, you need to have the Spotify app installed and be signed into it. After that's all set up, the touchpad will display the name and cover art of whatever track is playing and provide basic transport controls. There's also a way to navigate to some other parts of Spotify, but I found that to be awkward at best.
Asus ZenBook Pro 15
|Price as reviewed||$2,299|
|Display size/resolution||15.6-inch 3,840x2,160 touch display|
|CPU||2.9GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK|
|Memory||16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz|
|Graphics||4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 5.0|
|Operating system||Window 10 Pro (64-bit)|
A handful of other apps are available, including controls for YouTube playback via the Chrome browser and for menu shortcuts in Microsoft Office. Both of those end up being more frustrating than anything else, but for different reasons.
The YouTube helper offers only basic playback controls on the touchpad screen, and doesn't display the video itself. If you're genuinely flummoxed about how to play, pause or mute a YouTube video from within the browser, well, then this may be the app for you. For everyone else, the added value is minimal, especially considering it takes the touchpad out of action for actual on-screen navigation while in use.
There actually is a way to play a video from YouTube or elsewhere on the ScreenPad, but it's a hassle. You have to switch the pad's function from ScreenPad mode to extended display mode, then you can manually move a YouTube or other video window down onto the second screen. Like most of the ScreenPad functions, this works better if you have a mouse hooked up.
Microsoft Office also has ScreenPad functions, and in this case, it works much the same as. While working on a Word doc, for example, you can use the menu shortcuts on the touchpad to make text bold or italicized, play around with font colors and even save files. The nice part here is that the bottom two-thirds of the touchpad still work as a, you know, touchpad, so an external mouse isn't a must-have.