[Review] Powerful Multitasking with a Gorgeous Display: The ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED
ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED
It seems like just yesterday that I reviewed the last ZenBook, but in fact it has been nearly 2 months (time flies when you're stuck at home). Anyway, today I'll be taking a look at the ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED, which is a beefed-up variant of the ZenBook family that features an OLED screen.
Unlike the ZenBook Duo 14 that I last reviewed, the ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED packs significantly more power under the hood, with a 10th gen Intel Core i7-10870H CPU and an RTX 3070 laptop GPU.
Otherwise, there are many similarities between this model and the ZenBook Duo 14, so I will be skimming over some parts for the sake of brevity.
A familiar exterior
The lid is your typical ZenBook fare, with concentric circles surrounding the ASUS logo and a rather fingerprint-y texture. The magnesium aluminium alloy chassis is thicker and heavier (21.5 mm, 2.4 kg) than the ZenBook Duo 14, most likely to accommodate the more powerful internals. It's still portable, but the extra heft makes it something you'll want to use in a semi-permanent setting and only bring it around for travelling or meetings.
Opening it up, you'll see the familiar Ergolift AAS hinge which props up the laptop for better ergonomics and cooling. The secondary screen lifts up 9.5° (more than the ZenBook Duo's 7°) for better viewing angles.
Although it's definitely a step up from having it flat against the keyboard deck, you'll still need to crane your neck over it to see the finer details. However, this is pretty much as high as it can go without obscuring the main screen, so I wouldn't say it's ASUS' fault. ASUS has even included a foldable stand that you can stick to the bottom of the laptop to lift it to a more comfortable viewing angle.
The beauty of OLED
Another key feature to complement the powerful specs is the OLED screen, making the ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED the perfect tool for creative work. The quality of the screen is unmistakable - upon turning it on, the first thing that struck me was how dang vibrant it is. The colours are rich, the blacks are deep, and thanks to the latter, it has amazing contrast ratio which makes it perfect for watching dark and gritty movies too.
It's also extremely bright - using it any higher than 70% brightness indoors is pretty overkill in my opinion. That means it will definitely hold its own outdoors, though the reflective screen will definitely produce some glare.
There are some downsides to using an OLED panel, the first of which is the risk of OLED burn-in. However, ASUS has taken steps to prevent this from happening with normal use, including shipping the laptop with dark mode as default, as well as automatic screen dimming and a screensaver that ensures pixels are not static for an extended period of time.
The other downside is that the ScreenPad Plus literally pales in comparison, with its matte texture creating a grainy effect, and the IPS-level screen simply unable to compete with the OLED main display. However, it's understandable that ASUS chose not to use OLED panels for both displays, as that would probably have increased the cost - especially to produce one with such a niche aspect ratio.
Otherwise, the OLED display is remarkable. The Pantone-validated 15.6" screen boasts a 3840 x 2150 UHD resolution that covers 100% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, and supports 4,096 levels of pressure as well. ASUS has even included the ASUS Pen in the package for easy note-taking and illustrations too.
Keyboard and ScreenPad Plus
Due to the presence of the ScreenPad Plus, the keyboard has been pushed down to the bottom of the chassis, creating some awkward ergonomics due to its positioning. ASUS has including a separate wrist rest in the package, which helps alleviate the problem while working on a table top, though I wish it was at least magnetic to help keep it in place.
However, having the keyboard so close to the edge makes it nearly impossible to use the ZenBook Pro Duo on your lap unless you're a masochist who desires severe neck and back strain. The fact that the lid can only open to a pretty limited extent severely hampers visibility from your lap as well.
Otherwise, ASUS has delivered a great typing experience once again, with nice tactile keys that are well-spaced and have a decent travel distance. You get a full row of function keys at the top, and an independent (albeit narrow) arrow key cluster, as well as a few additional shortcut buttons located above the touch pad.
Speaking of the touch pad, I did get used to the unusual position after using it for some time, as it mimics where I'd put my hand if I were using a mouse. It also doubles up as a number pad, which can be switched on and off via the icon in the top right corner. However, I still have the same complaint - it is way too narrow to be practical, so you'll find yourself lifting your hand and swiping very often just to get around the screen.
In any case, one must note that the peculiar keyboard and touch pad locations are only due to the fact that ASUS had to make space for its more important asset - the ScreenPad Plus. If you're used to working on a dual-screen setup, this is the perfect feature to help you multi-task. While you likely won't be using the secondary screen as your main workspace, it provides invaluable real estate to put all your reference material, as well as secondary apps such as the calculator and Spotify, and to accept handwritten input using the ASUS Pen.
It also comes with the ScreenXpert 2 software, which makes navigation super intuitive, AND it can also serve as a control panel that is compatible with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, Premiere Pro and AfterEffects. You can bind your most used functions to Dial, Button, Slider, and Scroll controls, allowing you to optimize your workflow in an extremely intuitive manner.
You can read more about the ScreenPad Plus' functions here.
Underwhelming port selection
As for the ports, you have the charging port, an HDMI 2.1 port, and an audio jack on the left side. On the right, you'll get one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port along with two Thunderbolt 3 ports. While I appreciate the presence of the HDMI 2.1 port, having just one USB-A port and no card reader doesn't make much sense considering the target audience of this laptop. Once you plug in a mouse or tablet for creative work, that's pretty much it.
The lack of Thunderbolt 4 can't be helped due to the 10th gen Intel chip, but I do wish there was a way to integrate at least a card reader and 1 more USB-A port, since we're still in the midst of transitioning to USB-C peripherals. The two USB-C ports are also located where your mouse hand would be, so it isn't exactly ideal either.
An excellent user experience
As expected with such beefy specs, the performance was nothing less than impressive. It handles both general tasks and creative work effortlessly, and although the fan noise can get pretty loud under heavy loads, it does its job keeping the laptop cool. The keyboard area remains at a comfortable temperature, and the hot-spots are mainly located under the secondary screen and the vents on the sides, well away from where your hands would be.
Like with most laptops, I'd recommend using a pair of headphones anyway for the best audio experience. The ZenBook Pro Duo's speakers are adequate, but are not very loud and do lack a little bit of bass.
When it comes to battery life, the 92 Wh battery also puts up a good showing, though it varies based on how bright your screen is, whether the ScreenPad Plus is turned on, and how bright or dark the media displayed on screen is. OLED screens tend to consume more battery than the usual displays, and due to its individually-lit pixels, battery life fluctuates a lot depending how many black pixels are on screen at any given time.
With the ScreenPad Plus on and main display brightness set to 40%, we got around 3 hours of runtime, which isn't shabby at all. Mileage may vary according to your usage scenarios, so do take these results with a pinch of salt. For more standard numbers, we've run the usual benchmarks at native UHD resolution with the profile set to Performance. Here are the results:
Buy or no buy?
To answer this question, you must first consider what you'll be using the laptop for. If you're looking for great power under the hood and peerless multi-tasking capabilities in this form factor, the ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED is an excellent product that balances power, functionality and battery life extremely well.
However, if you're on the move extremely often, you'll have to take into consideration the heft of this machine, which will definitely put a strain on your back as you carry it around. The price tag of RM12,999 is nothing to scoff at either, so if you're looking for a less beefy model and don't need an OLED panel, I'd recommend the lighter and more affordable ASUS ZenBook Duo 14 instead.
If you have too much money and want a step up in performance, there's the option of an Intel Core i9-10980HK processor as well, though that will set you back a whopping extra RM3,000.
For more information, you can check out the official product page here.