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Asus ZenBook Duo 14 Review 2021

Two-screen laptops are quickly becoming a minor trend, with several manufacturers jumping in on the concept. Asus has invested the most in the idea, delivering several models of dual-screen laptops under the “Duo” name. The latest, hot out of all-virtual CES 2021, is an update to the ZenBook Duo 14 (starts at $999.99), the smallest entry in the lineup. We were able to get our hands on a unit prior to the show to bring you our impressions, and while there are still some compromises involved in getting two screens into a compact chassis, it’s an impressive feat nonetheless. This system is even trimmer than the original (closer to an ultraportable, though still not entirely there, at 3.53 pounds), and it packs new components and features. Read on for our impressions.

The Duo Difference: All About the Second Screen

Asus’ dual-screen design, whether in the form of the ZenBook Pro Duo, the ROG Zephyrus Duo 15, or here in the 14-inch ZenBook Duo, is inarguably a head turner. Other manufacturers have dabbled with two screen designs, but Asus’ take is an all-in approach that, if nothing else, is very visually compelling.

The ZenBook Duo 14 simply takes the concept and shrinks it down. Both of the other Duo laptops use 15.6-inch main screens, but as the name implies, this version bears a smaller 14-inch screen. The second display, named the ScreenPad Plus, is also smaller at 12.6 inches. The main screen is full HD (1,920 by 1,080 pixels), while the ScreenPad Plus has an unusual 1,920-by-515 pixel resolution due to its unique oblong shape. 

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

Both displays are touch-enabled and have a maximum of 400 nits of brightness, up from the original to make the displays (particularly the smaller one) easier to see. The ScreenPad Plus also rises off the keyboard deck at an angle as you open the laptop from clamshell position, tilting toward you for a better viewing angle…

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

This also opens up airflow for fans located beneath the screen, which helps the laptop stay cool. These fans have more blades than the fans on the original laptop for improved cooling, if you’re starting to see a trend here. A similar design is used in the laptop itself, raising up off the desk as you open the main display with its so-called “ErgoLift” hinge to improve airflow and give you a more comfortable typing angle.

If you’re unfamiliar with the dual-screen concept in general, the bottom screen serves as a small second display, like an additional monitor would. You can pull any application or window down to the ScreenPad Plus from the main display to be used as a reference or for a quick tap, depending what you have there. 

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

The screen isn’t tall, so this isn’t ideal for all use cases, but it’s useful to keep your files and folders accessible, have Spotify open at all times, and other similar scenarios. In addition to keeping my music open there, I enjoy using it as a place to put my references I’d use while working—any documentation for the review I’m writing, like specifications info or a spreadsheet, is easier to see at a glance rather than tabbing in and out of other windows. This makes for a much more desktop-like setup, even if the ScreenPad Plus is much smaller than a second monitor would be.

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

None of these examples is an essential usage case, of course, as laptops have functioned well for many years with one screen. But once you try one, you can’t deny that it’s pretty handy, not to mention that it just feels cool. You’re living in the future.

The ScreenPad Plus also has some smart software options, chiefly its Launcher, that make it easier to use. With a small screen, tapping with your finger to select files or move windows can be a bit imprecise, so there are some shortcuts to launch apps and snap windows to size. There are shortcut buttons to make hotkeys, use the ScreenPad Plus as a calculator, adjust brightness, instantly task-swap between screens, and more. You can make a quick bar persistent on the main screen for these features, and customize it how you like. It also offers a customizable control panel for the Adobe suite, though I don’t work much day-to-day in Adobe software and can’t speak to whether or not it would help my workflow.

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

Many of these features were not around for the original ZenBook Pro Duo’s ScreenPad, but made their way into subsequent Duo machines, and this is the most advanced version of the ScreenPad offerings. For a more extensive idea of what the second screen can do, check out the other Duo system reviews referenced earlier.

Double the Displays, But Still Portable

Being a 14-inch laptop has implications beyond the screens themselves, or course. On a larger scale, I think the smaller size leaves a good first impression. It looks neat and compact, and fitting two screens into a chassis this size is impressive. It’s certainly a portable laptop no matter how you slice it, measuring 0.66 by 12.7 by 8.7 inches (HWD) and 3.53 pounds. That’s noticeably slimmer, and about half a pound lighter, than the original ZenBook Duo 14.

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

The chassis is made of magnesium alloy, which manages to maintain the relatively light weight, while looking good and feeling high quality. The lid is embellished with a brushed radial design centered around the Asus logo, bringing some flair to the otherwise plain expanse. Our unit is a nice steel-blue color, making for a handsome system overall.

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

The size, in addition to a few other features, qualifies the ZenBook Duo 14 as an Intel Evo system. Evo is the replacement for Intel’s Project Athena, and qualifying for Evo status means meeting a list of requirements for thin-and-light laptops that ensure portability and peak usability with the new generation of Intel processors. As a result, it bears an Evo sticker on the keyboard deck. (Read more about the promises and requirements of Intel Evo here.)

Some Shrinking Pains

The size is not all upside in my experience, however. Even on the larger Duo laptops, the keyboard is forced down alongside the touchpad, since its usual spot is taken up by the display. This leaves very little room for the touchpad, which Asus solved by making it a skinny, taller pad. This feels a little cramped, and that is only exacerbated on this 14-inch system. The touchpad doesn’t give you much room to pan, and it has you lifting your fingers often or butting up against the edge of the pad. It’s still functional, but as a core component of the laptop, it’s not ideal. 

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

The keyboard is somewhat cramped, as well, though I wouldn’t say it’s as bad. The absence of the usual empty keyboard deck to rest your wrists on is noticeable, and may tire you out during a long typing session. Neither of these is a deal breaker, but rather they are compromises for fitting in the second screen. 

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

One facet that doesn’t suffer due to the size is the port selection. You get plenty on board for a 14-inch laptop, including a USB 3.1 port, two USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support, an HDMI connection, a microSD card reader, and an audio jack. The previous ZenBook Duo 14 lacked Thunderbolt support, so that’s another plus in this year’s update. The laptop also supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth.

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

Component Check

The star of the show for this laptop is clearly the design, but we should look under the hood, too. This is a 14-inch unit with a lot going on, so it’s limited to a degree by its thermal restrictions, but the performance ceiling is still quite good. You can get the ZenBook Duo 14 with either an Intel Core i5-1135G7 or a Core i7-1165G7 processor, up to 32GB of memory, and up to 1TB of SSD storage. 

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

On the graphics side, you can opt for Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, or an Nvidia GeForce MX450 GPU. Iris Xe offers a boost compared to integrated graphics of the past, but it is still short of a discrete GPU. The MX450 is the starting tier of dedicated graphics, short of Nvidia’s powerful RTX (and even the lower GTX) gaming GPUs, but it’s still noticeably better than integrated options.

The base model starts at $999.99, which nets you the Core i5 chip, 8GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, and Intel Iris Xe graphics. The configuration we were sent, priced at $1,299.99, includes the Core i7 chip option, but is otherwise the same as the base model. Since this is only a preview, we haven’t had time to run our full suite of benchmark tests on the unit we have on hand. When we write a full review of this laptop, we’ll put these components to the test.

Plenty of Portable, Dual-Screen Promise

For the full review, we’ll want to spend more time with the ZenBook Duo 14, its uncommon design, and how the second screen complements your work day-to-day (or not). Most laptops function largely the same, but the dual-screen design is one of those things you don’t find out more about until you live with it for a longer period. The 14-inch build represents some challenges, but they are, potentially, outweighed by the opportunities of two screens in such a portable form factor. 

What is clear without spending more time is that the build feels high quality, comes off as highly advanced, and has the features I’d want from this type of laptop. The jury is out on performance (though it should be solid based on the components) and battery life for now, but we’ll have those for you in the full review. What’s here is very promising, so check back soon.

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021) Specs

Laptop Class Ultraportable
Processor Intel Core i7-1165G7
Processor Speed 2.8 GHz
RAM (as Tested) 8 GB
Boot Drive Type SSD
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested) 512 GB
Screen Size 14 inches
Native Display Resolution 1,920 by 1,080
Touch Screen Yes
Panel Technology IPS
Variable Refresh Support None
Screen Refresh Rate 60 Hz
Graphics Processor Intel Iris Xe
Weight 3.53 lbs
Operating System Windows 10

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