Zenbook Pro 15 first look: Asus’ ‘Screenpad’ has serious potential

Pros

Cons

Key Features

  • Up to 8th Gen Core i9
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or 1050 Ti graphics
  • Up to 1TB PCIe SSD
  • Up to 16GB RAM
  • Screenpad second display

Asus Zenbook Pro 15: An early look at Asus’ dual-screen flagship laptop

The Zenbook Pro has a track record for being a solid, albeit slight dull, top-end Ultrabook that for the last few years has fallen behind Dell’s XPS line.

Which is probably why Asus decided to come out all guns blazing at Computex 2018, launching its most interesting Zenbook Pro to date: a flagship Ultrabook with two screens. The laptop features leading edge specs, plus a secondary FHD “Screenpad” built into its touchpad.

Though this may sound like a gimmick, having had an opening play with both the 14-inch and 15-inch variants you can colour me impressed. From what I’ve seen, the Dell XPS 13 and XPS 15 2-in-1 may have some serious competition for best laptop at this year’s hallowed Trusted Reviews Awards.

Related: Best laptops

Asus Zenbook Pro 15 – Price

There’s no official word on either version of the Zenbook Pro’s price, though an Asus representative said: “I am expecting the 15-inch with an [Intel Core] i7, 16GB RAM and 512GB PCIe to come in under £1900 and the 15-inch with the i9 to be about £2200.”

Asus Zenbook Pro 15 – Release date

There’s also no word on either version’s release date, though the representative indicated the 15-inch will arrive around August or September. The 14-inch will arrive at an unspecified later date.

Asus Zenbook Pro 15 – Screenpad and design

The most interesting part of both laptops’ design is the new touchscreen Asus has embedded into the touchpad. The FHD, colour screen is an identical size on both laptops and works kind of like the Nintendo DS’ secondary display.

Core functionality includes a drag down, customisable shortcut menu for things like your calendar, photo gallery and music player, but you can also configured it to have application specific functions. In Powerpoint, for example, you can get it to show the next slide in your presentation or notes for your speech. It also has a drag down function that’ll let you manually move content, like YouTube videos, from the main screen to the secondary touchpad display.

This may sound a little gimmicky but I can definitely see it being of useful to people like creatives. How cool would it be to have seperate brush, layer or filter controls on a second screen when using Photoshop or Illustrator?

My only concern about the Screenpad setup is that the secondary display didn’t always feel that reactive. During my demo, it worked fine as a touchpad – which is no surprise as Asus has miraculously managed to make it Microsoft Precision Certified, despite the wealth of custom tech in it.

However, when I tried to use the on-screen controls for things like the music player, it could occasionally feel a little sluggish and there was definitely some lag when I scrolled between photos on it. An Asus rep told me this is because the touchpad screen’s software wasn’t finalised, so hopefully these bugs will be ironed out ahead of its release.

Outside of this, the laptop has the same premium feel of past Zenbooks. Both the 14-inch and 15-inch models have the same metallic finish, which feels every bit as high quality as past models. The only big difference visually is that the 14-incher has a slightly different hinge mechanism, which is highlighted with gold trimming.

The Nanoedge display has the same 83% screen-to-body ration as last year’s model, which in layman’s terms means the bezel is noticeably bigger than the Infinity Edge seen on Dell’s XPS line – though still smaller than that of the average laptop.

My main concern about the Zenbook Pro is the duo’s slightly old-school feeling keyboard. Both have basic backlit chiclet keyboards with membrane switches. A year or two this wouldn’t have bothered me, but having just finished testing the XPS 15 2-in-1’s Maglev keyboard, the Zenbook’s switches felt slightly less reactive than I’d have liked.

Related: Best Ultrabooks

Zenbook Pro 15 – Specs

The laptop’s internals have had a significant update. The Zenbook Pro 15 is by far the more interesting of the two, and looks set to be the best choice for creatives.

The main highlight is its upgraded 15.6-inch screen, which has some pretty amazing specs. For starters, it’ll have a super sharp 4K display, just like the XPS 15 2-in-1. What’s more impressive is that Asus is quoting it as having an insane 2.0 Delta E and covering 132% of the sRGB colour gamut – and 100% of the Adobe RGB favoured by artists.

I didn’t have a colorimeter to hand to verify these stats, but if the reality comes even close to what Asus is putting down on paper, this would be a great selling point for creatives working in physical media, where colour accuracy is key. To date, the only laptops I’ve tested to come close to matching these stats are the Macbook Pro and XPS 15 2-in-1.

Other highlights include the use of Intel’s shiny new 8th Gen Core i9 CPU. Past laptops we’ve tested with the chip have offered fantastic CPU performance and been excellent for intensive tasks like video editing. The use of an Nvidia GeFore 1050 Ti is another welcome addition that means it should be able to easily play games like Overwatch at 60fps. My only slight quibble is that Asus is offering it with a maximum of 16GB DDR4 RAM. Most competing 15-inch Ultrabooks, like the XPS 15 2-in-1 offer up to 32GB of RAM.

A final cherry on top differentiating the two is that the Zenbook Pro 15 features a built-in fingerprint scanner. The Zenbook 14 doesn’t and has slightly more modest specs all-around, maxing out at a Core i7 CPU, slimmed down GTX 1050 Max-Q GPU, and the same 16GB RAM. These specs aren’t as impressive as the 15’s, but should be more than good enough for most people. Unless something goes seriously wrong, the 14 should be more than powerful enough for photo editing and casual gaming.

You can seen the Zenbook Pro 15 and Zenbook Pro 14’s full specs list in the table below.

Zenbook Pro 15 (UX580) Zenbook Pro 14 (UX480
Colour Deep dive blue and rose gold Deep dive blue with rose gold
Display 15.6-inch 4K, touchscreen, 100% Adobe RGB, Delta E 2.0  14-inch FHD touch screen
CPU 8th Gen Core i9, hexa-core 8th Gen Core i7, quad-core
Graphics Nvidia GeForce 1050 Ti Nvidia GeForce 1050 Max-Q
Memory Up to 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 Up to 16GB 2400MHz DDR4
Storage Up to 1TB PCIe x4 SSD Up to 1TB PCIe x4 SSD
Connectivity USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C with Thunderbolt 3 support USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C with Thunderbolt 3 support
Windows Hello Fingerprint sensor IR camera
Dimensions 365 x 251 x 18.9mm 322 x 255 x 17.9
Weight 1.8kg 1.6kg

 

Opening Impressions

The Zenbook Pro’s dual-screen design may sound a little gimmicky, but from what I’ve seen it has a lot of potential, especially for power users and creatives. The second display not only looks great but is highly customisable, so if Asus can iron out the few performance niggles I experienced, I can see the second screen being a key selling point for both Zenbook Pro models.

Add to this to the Zenbook Pro 15’s top specced screen and powerful Core i9 CPU option and I can see it becoming a key rival to the XPS 15 2-in-1 and Macbook Pro when it launches later this year. The 14-inch model, while less potent than its big sibling in some areas, is still likely to be a compelling product for most laptop users.

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