Review: ASUS ZenBook Duo

There is no way that 8GB RAM and an i5 processor is going to cut it for video editing using Vegas Pro 17. I know this from experience as my own ASUS laptop has exactly these specifications. Oh yes, you can get away with it for smaller projects, but anything beyond a couple of tracks of video and one of audio with transitions, and the whole thing just slows to a crawl.

But it wasn’t the specs side of the new ASUS ZenBook Duo that arrived yesterday I was interested in. Instead, it was the very interesting design and form factor that caught my eye – and besides, you can get one fully spec’d up to a full i9 and 32GB RAM, complete with an SSD drive if that is what you want. For a price of course.

So what is so different about the ZenBook Duo you ask?

When you first open the lid, the difference is not immediately evident actually, well not to me it wasn’t. The keyboard setup is notably different as the trackpad is offset to the right rather than being in the centre which is different to say the least. Actually, I sort of preferred it there, being right-handed, but in the real world, I’d be adding a mouse poste haste as I notoriously detest track pads.

No, the main point of difference is the area between the top of the keyboard and the main screen as you see, this is a second screen built right into the body of the ZenBook Duo. That’s right, a notebook with two screens! And for video editing, two screens are a useful thing to have, as the amount of real estate video editing packages require is large.

It also I think aids in workflow; I have mine set with the source material on the left screen and the edited on the right for example.

But does it work in this ZenBook configuration?

The first thing to do was install Vegas Pro and this proved a little more difficult than I expected as, being a brand new machine, I first had to go through all of the hooh-hah new computers throw at you these days such as wanting, nay insisting, you install “My (insert-brand-name-here)”, and of course wading through the no-thank-you-please-skip for Macafee, Dropbox and any other nagware the manufacturer seems to think you simply must have.

Then Vegas itself didn’t behave. Every time I tried, the machine would go to sleep halfway though and when awoken, the installer had crashed. This was eventually solved by checking Windows updates, doing all the ones required and then manually installing Vegas as against the auto-installer

Right, Vegas finally got installed and ran. The next step is a habitual issue and not problematic of the ZenBook Duo directly, but again in the real world, I found to be a serious issue.

Ports, Perpherals and Things

To test Vegas of course, I’d need some footage, and all of my media is stored on an external Seagate 8TB HDD on my network. One bugbear of Windows I have never found a cure for is when trying to access another device on a network you can get asked for “Credentials”. None of the supposed cures I have found on the ‘net seem to work for me, so if anyone does know, I’d be ever so grateful!

Anyway, due to this popping its head up again, the ZenBook Duo in my opinion revealed a major flaw. Ordinarily, I’d just copy footage onto an SD card, or even just shoot some test footage and pop the card from the camera straight into the PC.

Except the ZenBook Duo has no SD card slot! And I cannot remember the last time I used a USB thumb drive. Eventually I downloaded some footage I had online, but it does strike me as strange that a PC touted as “being for creatives” has no SD card slot …

Actually, hang on a second here. I just fell for something and I also made the same mistake initially with my Microsoft Surface. I am right, there is no SD card slot, but there is a micro SD slot. So, you are OK if you are running GoPros, Sony RX0s or similar, but if you are shooting with dSLRs, mirrorless or heaven’s above, a PROPER Videocamera, you will have an issue here.

It’s also I think a little light on other options too. There are 2 x USB A slots and a single USB-C, an HDMI and a headphone jack/mic but that is it. With a dongle taking up one port of the aforementioned mouse, that leaves it a little light on for connectivity in my opinion. There is plenty of room in the chassis for a couple more ports, so maybe ASUS plan on this in later models?

I do like the keyboard though. It is nice and tactile with decent sized keys. There is no keypad of course, but there are two extra keys above the touchpad and these let you immediately switch an application to the second screen and disable the second screen respectively.

Oh by the way, this second screen does have a name. ASUS called it the ScreenPad and I guess this will draw immediate comparisons to Apple’s Touch Bar, but in my knowledge of the Touch Bar, which I admit is minimal, the ScreenPad is far more useful.

For example, I could drag Vegas’ Preview monitor onto it leaving the Trimmer on the main display, leaving plenty of room on the ScreenPad for other windows such as scopes, audio meters etc which on a “normal” laptop is just not possible.

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Another way of using it is to have one program – your main working app – on the main monitor and ancillary programs, say Twitter, Facebook or whatever, running on the ScreenPad so you can keep up to date with the world. Another mooted idea I liked was to have a YouTube tutorials running on the ScreenPad while following along on the main monitor with the actual application.

The one drawback is that the ScreenPad being flat is a little on the dim and dark side when viewing from what would be deemed a correct ergonomic seating position. I am no engineer, but perhaps there is a way that the ASUS boffins could put a slight tilt to it making it appear brighter?

One thing that did surprise me is that despite being “Stylus Ready”, the ZenBook Duo is not touch screen aware, nor is a stylus supplied. On the bright side though, pardon the pun, the main display is a cracker. You might even say it is “gorgeous”, but I couldn’t possibly to paraphrase Francis Urquhart. Lamborghinis and Ferraris are gorgeous, laptops are not. (Having said that, at one time I had a red Acer Ferrari laptop and ASUS countered this in the marketing stakes with a signature-yellow Lamborghini model complete with look alike tail lamps! My mate Ross Gibb, he of the genius motorsport and nature photography bought one and loved it).

Performance

Despite my opening statement, I must admit I was quite taken by the performance on such a limited spec machine, in terms of video editing anyway. The ZenBook Duo is certainly faster than my 18 month old vanilla ASUS laptop, and then by some. One suspects a fully spec’d beast would absolutely honk along!

I didn’t get a full session of editing in on the ASUS ZenBook Duo due to constraints, but the battery meter suggested a life of around 7 hours could be expected which is not bad.

Conclusion

The ASUS ZenBook Duo is certainly an interesting concept, and one I suspect will get better refined as time goes on.

The idea behind the ZenBook Duo certainly appeals to me and I suspect other companies will follow through with idea as well, and thus refine it. And no doubt ASUS themselves are taking heed of reviews such as this, and I find it interesting (and gratifying) that after writing this and reading a few others, most have the same thoughts as me.

For the $1699 you get an i5 processor and 8GB RAM as mentioned, an NVIDIA GeForce MX250 graphics card (2GB VDDR5 RAM), a 512GB HDD and the 14” main screen and 12”6” ScreenPad (32:9 aspect). The model as tested is not too badly priced, but as you spec up, the price climbs accordingly dizzying up towards the $5K level.

To do serious video therefore, with something like a 16GB minimum and a better video card, you will be spending serious money. Perhaps the extra screen real estate is a deal maker for you in this regard?

That’s your decision, but as I said, the concept does actually work, with the only caveat I can find being that second screen viewing angle issue.

Next, I am going to cut a proper video though as see what the real life operation is like… stay tuned…

For more information, see https://www.asus.com/au/Laptops/ZenBook-Duo-UX481FL/

 

 

 

 

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