The general form factor laptops stayed pretty much unchanged for decades. Increases in power, storage, battery life and overall weight reductions have all slowly improved over time, but the basic formula of a laptop being a keyboard, trackpad and hinged display felt as though it was set in stone for eternity. Then Microsoft shifted gear with the Surface Book and Apple with the introduction of the Touch Bar in the MacBook Pro.
Both these products moved the whole concept of laptops forward into a new era of laptop by introducing new complimentary touch haptics that took the old principles of standard laptop design moving them one step closer to how we interact with touch smartphone and tablet devices. These days it seems that laptop evolution has moved forward again at speed. Enter ASUS's ZenBook Pro with ScreenPad Plus.
On the face of it, the ZenBook is well-specified, competitively priced and fits a very cool secondary touch display between the keyboard and main display. This looks like it could be a bit of a MacBook Pro killer. Could this be the next darling of the audio production industry? ASUS says that this is “The laptop of tomorrow”, let's take a closer look at what the ZenBook with ScreenPad Plus has to offer to determine if this should be a serious consideration for demanding audio engineers who normally buy Apple.
Let’s start by talking about those beautiful dual-displays as these are the most eye-catching components here. These appear to have had a lot of thought put into how users would intend to use them. Multitasking is clearly the order of service here. Users can simply drag one window down from one to the other and navigate applications that require a lot of smaller windows to be open in a project. Think a DAW edit/project window open on the main display and a mixer window or plug-in on the bottom display.
Both the display are fully touch-enabled. If you don't play well with fully touch devices, fear not, there's also a trackpad in the bottom right of the laptop.
This also doubles as a Numpad which, as many audio engineers know, are very useful for DAW keyboard shortcuts.
Laptops are prone to getting hot quickly, especially when we demand a lot from them in busy creative applications. Over time, heat buildup in laptops typically radiates out of their chassis to the work surfaces they sit upon. This heat transfer often causes laptops fans to spin up. Audio engineers who routinely record and mix using laptops know that when laptop fans kick in unwanted noise usually enters a microphone, which is often a show stopper in any tracking session.
ASUS put some thought into how to reduce this effect by designing a clever hinge that lifts the flat laptop base up and off any worksurfaces it is placed upon. This simple hinge helps to reduce the surface area contact while also aiding airflow beneath the device. Will this hinge help to reduce the chances of the fans kicking in too soon in a recording session? We haven't had an opportunity to test one of these in the flesh, but the logic behind this design suggests it could help a lot with cooling.
You can configure this ZenBook model to meet the demands of your studio workflows. Both i7 and i9 processors in the ZenBook Pro Duo are comparable to what we find in Apple’s current MacBook Pro range. Prices are also remarkably similar. Find out more about the ZenBook’s technology on ASUS Tech Page.
Intel® Core™ i9-9980HK processor
2.4GHz octa-core with Turbo Boost (up to 5.0GHz) and 16MB cache
Intel® Core™ i7-9750H processor
2.6GHz hexa-core with Turbo Boost (up to 4.5GHz) and 12MB cache
NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 2060
Video memory: 6GB GDDR6 VRAM
15.6” OLED 4K (3840 x 2160) 16:9 touchscreen
5mm-thin bezel with 89% screen-to-body ratio
178° wide-view technology
8GB / 16GB / 32GB 2666MHz DDR4
256GB PCIe® x2
512GB PCIe® x2
1TB PCIe® x4
1 x Thunderbolt™ 3 USB-C™ (up to 40Gbps and DisplayPort)
2 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A (up to 10Gbps)
1 x Standard HDMI 2.0
1 x Audio combo jack
1 x DC-in
In terms of connectivity, the ZenBook beats the MacBook as the door is kept well and truly open for creatives who still use older USB Type-A peripherals.
Dimensions And Weight
For context, we’ve presented the ZenBook’s dimensions and weight against Apple’s 15” Mac Book Pro
ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo
Height: 2.4cm (0.94 inches)
Width: 35.9cm (14.13 inches)
Depth: 24.6cm (9.68 inches)
Weight: 2.5kg (5.51 pounds)
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
Height: 1.55 cm (0.61 inches)
Width: 34.93 cm (13.75 inches)
Depth: 24.07 cm (9.48 inches)
Weight: 1.83 kg (4.02 pounds)
We found a base model 15.6-inch ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo with an i7 9750H processor, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB PCIe storage for £2,499, which is only £100 more than a similarly specced Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch base model. The main difference in headline stats between these two entry-level laptops is in internal storage. The entry MacBook Pro 15-inch has a 256GB drive. If you opt to increase this to match the ZenBook’s 512GB entry storage you will end up paying £2,579.
Our Impression of The ZenBook Pro Duo
Apple has made a lot of noise about a new iPad side-car display feature in its latest macOS Catalina. While this sort of functionality is great, it’s not new. We’ve seen dual display tech before in third-party iOS apps such as Duet Display.
Many of us who already own an Apple computer and an iPad seem to not bother using this tech. Could this be because most people who have tried apps such as duet display usually position their second touch display off-centre to their main displays? Quite possibly. With the ZenBook integrated ScreenPad Plus we have the smaller touch display in our line of sight that we could easily use as a mini control surface with virtual faders, exactly where we want them to be. This second integrated display could also be used for soft synth control panels, again, right in front of us, under our fingertips exactly where we expect such control to lay in a real hardware studio setup.
I think ASUS has nailed it with this laptop for audio creatives. For the money, we get a lot of machine that doesn’t come across as being a poor person’s alternative to MacBooks. If you chose to buy the ZenBook Pro Duo over a MacBook Pro it wouldn’t be because you couldn’t afford a MacBook, it’s would be most likely because you decided to spend your money on a better computer.
In recent years, mainstream Windows machines have really come into their own within the creative industries. The Surface Book certainly gave Apple’s iPad a run for its money, could the ZenBook pull the same trick? Has The MacBook Pro finally met its match?