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Zenbook Duo review: are two laptop screens better than one?

<span>The Zenbook Duo has two OLED touchscreens hinged in the middle.</span><span>Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian</span>
The Zenbook Duo has two OLED touchscreens hinged in the middle.Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Portable computers with multiple touchscreens have long been a feature of sci-fi films. But while several manufacturers in the real world have tried to make dual-screen laptops, none of them have really worked out.

Typically this is because they have tried to do too much with too many compromises. Now Asus thinks it has cracked it with a new dual-screen machine that also has a full-size detachable physical keyboard.

In theory, this means the 2024 edition of the Zenbook Duo can be the best of both worlds – a regular laptop with standard keyboard and trackpad, and also a futuristic machine with two touchscreens.

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But such advances always come with heavy price tags. The new machine is available in various different configurations and prices depending on your region, but starts at £1,799 in the UK and costs £2,000 for the Core Ultra 9 version as tested.

With two full 14in touchscreen OLED displays hinged in the middle like a book, it has one in the lid and one where the keyboard would be on a regular laptop. The full-size laptop keyboard and trackpad magnetically attaches to pins on the bottom screen to fully cover it, fitting and working so well you might not even realise there’s a display underneath. When you want to use it as a regular laptop you can without many compromises, but the keyboard can also be used detached from the laptop via Bluetooth, which is very handy.

Unclip the keyboard and you have two screens. The bottom display can have a full-size touchscreen keyboard with simulated trackpad, which only works well enough for quick things such as a search query or AI prompt. The included stylus can be used on either screen for drawing or writing. How well it works depends on the app you’re attempting to use – Microsoft’s handwriting recognition is decent, Asus’s system less so.

The kickstand on the back of the machine allows you to prop the Duo up in multiple configurations beyond a standard laptop L-shape. You can stand the Duo up so the screens are above each other, which works well for two-screen usage on a desk providing a major productivity boon. You an also prop it up like an open book so the two screens are side-by-side, which is good for documents.

The 3K 120Hz OLED screens on the Core Ultra 9 version look great, pin sharp with inky blacks and vibrant colours. But they aren’t that bright, struggling to overcome glare and reflections from direct light which required a bit of finessing of screen angles to overcome in bright environments.

Specifications

  • Screen: Dual 14in FHD OLED (60Hz) or Dual 14in 3K OLED (120Hz)

  • Processor: Intel Core Ultra 7 (155H) or 9 (185H)

  • Ram: 16 or 32GB

  • Storage: 1 or 2TB

  • Graphics: Intel Arc

  • Operating system: Windows 11

  • Camera: 1080P front-facing, Windows Hello

  • Connectivity: wifi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, 2x Thunderbolt 4, 1x USB-A, 1x HDMI 2.1, headphones

  • Dimensions: 313.5 x 217.9 x 19.9mm

  • Weight: 1,650g

Performance and battery life

The Zenbook Duo comes with Intel’s new Core Ultra chips topping out with the Ultra 9 185H as tested, which performed well for a thin and light laptop. It handled day to day tasks with aplomb, including advanced photo manipulation and driving three screens at once: the two 3K laptop displays screens and an external 4K monitor.

Benchmarking puts its performance on par with similar 14in PC laptops from Dell, Lenovo and others, as well as Apple’s M1 Pro chips in the 14in MacBook Pro. The Zenbook does get fairly hot, however, with the top quarter of the lower half of the machine getting noticeably warm even under light loads.

The battery life varies quite a lot depending on how many of the screens you are using. It lasts longest when used as a standard laptop with the keyboard attached and the screen set to about 70% brightness, managing just over seven hours of light work using Chrome, Evernote, a light text editor and various messaging apps. When using both screens at the same time that figure is halved to less than four hours under similar conditions. Of course, the battery runs down much faster when performing more demanding tasks.

Windows 11 + some stuff

The Duo runs Windows 11 out of the box, which has solid support for using computers with more than one screen. It will remember the positions of apps on the two screens, adjusts the orientation of the displays automatically when you rotate them and allows you to easily move windows between them.

Asus also bundles some software to help with taking advantage of the dual-screen setup, including a utility that pops up quick controls to turn the lower screen on and off, invoke the virtual keyboard, swap windows around and other bits.

The Asus Dial and Control app allows you to create a custom set of virtual dials, buttons and tools on the bottom screen, such as one for changing your brush thickness in a painting app or a volume knob for Spotify. I generally found it better to use the second screen as a full monitor, though, rather than cover it in touchscreen controls.

It is worth noting, however, that the Zenbook Duo will not gain access to Microsoft’s new Copilot+ AI tools as part of Windows 11 updates, which are limited to certain newer chips.

Sustainability

Asus rates the battery to maintain at least 80% of its original capacity for at least 1,200 full charge cycles. It also has care tools to extend its lifespan by limiting charging to 80%. The device is generally repairable in the UK and the SSD can be upgraded. The body contains recycled magnesium-aluminium alloy and Asus offers free recycling of machines.

Price

The Asus Zenbook Duo (2024) costs from £1,799 (€1,899.99/$1,499.99) with an Intel Ultra 7 chip and FHD displays or from £1,999.99 (€2,499.99/$1,699.99/A$3,999) with Intel Ultra 9 and 3K displays.

For comparison, the Lenovo Yoga Book 9i Gen 9 dual-screen laptop costs £2,011.50, the Microsoft Surface Laptop starts at £1,049 and the Apple MacBook Air M3 starts at £1,099.

Verdict

The Zenbook Duo is one of the most successful attempts to make a dual-screen laptop work in the real world. When you want to use it as a regular laptop you can with the excellent keyboard and trackpad. But when you get to your desk, setting it up with two screens takes seconds and genuinely helps with productivity, also preventing some of the back and neck pain being hunched over a laptop can inflict.

The halfway house of the touchscreen keyboard or widget-filled controls are less compelling, though those with artistic skills may appreciate being able to draw with the included stylus.

There are four main compromises: it runs hotter than the equivalent standard laptop, the battery life is a bit short, it is heavier and thicker, and it costs much more. Despite being a brand new machine, the Duo runs on an Intel chip which won’t be able to run the new Copilot+ features Microsoft is currently adding to Windows. Whether these compromises are deal breakers remains to be seen.

It isn’t a laptop I would recommend to everyone, but if you need a dual-screen setup you can pack up and take with you, the Zenbook Duo works great.

Pros: two great OLED screens in one machine, kickstand, multiple laptop and desktop modes, good performance, good keyboard, included stylus, Windows Hello, compact charger.

Cons: very expensive, screens aren’t that bright and wobble when typing fast in laptop mode, heavy, thick, runs hot, short battery life, no Copilot+ support, software features are hit and miss.