As far as laptops are concerned, I think ASUS is daring enough to drastically change how a traditional keyboard looks and works. The latest ZenBook Duo UX481F is a testament to that – and I have spent a lot of time with this laptop. Here is our full review of this laptop.
I think we should first mention that the new ZenBook Duo UX481F now has ScreenPad Plus instead of having a screen on the touchpad like last year’s ZenBook Pro UX580G, which we reviewed here.
The ZenBook Duo UX481F is the 14-inch version, whereas the ZenBook Pro Duo UX581G is the 15-inch version. They both have quite a lot of differences, so we sat down with Tech Critter and shared our user experience with the new ZenBooks with ScreenPad Plus.
Opening up the box here, we can see that the packaging design is overall just simple and plain. The 14-inch version comes in this box that is covered with soft-touch material and opened by lifting up the lid.
Inside the box, we get a few things:
- ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481F
- Power brick
- ASUS Active Stylus SA200H
- Carrying sleeve
I find the exclusion of replacement pen tips of the Active Stylus to be really weird here because the pen’s tip will surely wear off over time – especially since the ScreenPad Plus has an aggressive matte finish. Perhaps ASUS will sell them as replacements instead?
ASUS also included a sleeve to carry the laptop around with, and it’s nothing new in terms of design and quality. The only thing new here is the pearl white color scheme.
The overall aesthetic of the ZenBook Duo UX481F is really clean. It is only available in the Celestial Blue color – which essentially is dark blue, and retains the iconic ZenBook concentric circle design on the lid itself. The entire laptop is made out of metal, by the way.
While some might say the laptop is thicc, I say the laptop is quite okay in terms of thickness because I understand it in terms of engineering. The ScreenPad Plus requires a certain thickness to be fitted in, and yet the motherboard and cooling systems will still need to be placed underneath the ScreenPad Plus. No qualms here – yet.
The ZenBook Duo UX481F comes with quite a good selection of ports here.
- Power jack
- USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A (10Gb/s)
- USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C (10Gb/s)
- Power indicator LED
- Battery indicator LED
- MicroSD card reader
- Combo audio jack
- USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A (5Gb/s)
I’m personally okay with the list of ports here, though having a Thunderbolt 3 port here would have sweetened the deal here. That microSD card slot is a great touch, by the way. Maybe include a full-sized SD card reader in the future?
Screen(s), trackpad, keyboard
I feel like for the ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481F, these 3 things go hand-in-hand. Once I opened up the lid of this laptop, I realized that the engineers need to make sure that these 3 things are able to fit together, alongside the ScreenPad Plus.
The ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481F here comes with a 14-inch 1080p screen without touch capability. It’s a really nice screen too, by the way. I immediately noticed the bright, beautiful colors on the main display when I started up Chrome and browsed around my frequently-visited websites. While the specs just say 72% NTSC coverage, I think the color accuracy here is pretty good.
As for the ScreenPad Plus, ASUS also opted in for a touch-sensitive 12.6-inch screen with the resolution of 1920×515. The ScreenPad Plus itself also has a great display with good colors, but ASUS opted for a rough matte finish instead of a finer matte finish on the main display.
As a prosumer, I presume that ASUS did this to further minimize glare and reflections because of how the display is positioned. The matte finish on the ScreenPad Plus also makes it feel more like paper while using the ASUS Active Stylus SA200H to write on it. Though, the matte finish does make smaller texts a little fuzzy.
This screen is useful for a number of things – I’ve tried using it in these scenarios, and they all work great.
- Spotify as a touch-screen jukebox on the laptop itself.
- Other documents for referencing.
- YouTube while working on other things on the main screen.
- Drawing on the ScreenPad Plus. It works, but a bit awkward.
- Messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc).
- Using Premiere Pro with the timeline on the ScreenPad Plus.
I can also mix and match between any of the two scenarios by splitting the ScreenPad Plus into two halves – so I can have Spotify on the left side and have other documents on the right side.
Funny enough, I think some apps like Synthesia can utilize the ScreenPad Plus by having the notes displayed on the main screen while the ScreenPad Plus is where I can touch the piano.
The ScreenPad Plus does have its own software here called ScreenXpert. It has a few built-in apps like handwriting, number pad, and also acts as a companion to fling apps and windows between the main display and the ScreenPad Plus.
Cramped to the far right side of the ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481F, the trackpad is obviously tiny. However, that does not hinder the performance of the trackpad. I find it to be quite okay to be used as its glass surface with a very fine matte finish makes my finger glide on it with buttery smoothness. Since it is using Windows Precision Touchpad driver, I can still use all of the Windows gestures – albeit a little difficult due to its size.
I find myself using the trackpad as if I am using an ergonomic right-handed only mouse because of its location and elevation.
The clickers are decent enough though a little squishy for my liking, but perfectly fine since the trackpad and its clickers are positions in such a manner. That squishiness actually makes it easy to be clicked at such awkward angles.
I honestly have the most issues with the keyboard here. Let me explain part by part.
ASUS opted for a netbook keyboard instead of a more standard-sized laptop keyboard. I understand that they’re doing this because of the limited space, too. And ASUS got a few things right here – the arrow keys are not cramped to half-height, and the necessary shortcuts are here.
Each and every key here feels real good to type on. The travel distance, bounce back, and actuation force made the keyboard feel great to type on. But those are the only good things I have to say about the keyboard.
A netbook-styled keyboard means each individual keys are smaller in size, and the layout of the keys have to be further modified. My biggest issue with the keyboard is the location of the right shift key – because I use that key while typing. Now, I keep hitting the arrow up key.
Also, why are there two screenshot buttons? There’s the usual print screen key, and then the F11 key’s function is Windows’ native snipping feature. Why do we need both when Windows 10 has the option to change
Using the ScreenPad Plus on the ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481F
I honestly think that ASUS is really daring to do such a design on a laptop. Last year, we have the ScreenPad. This year, we have the ScreenPad Plus – an additional strip of screen on the keyboard area.
However, I personally think ASUS could have done better for the ScreenPad Plus. There are a few glaring issues here, and I need to list it out:
- The ScreenPad Plus behaves as though the display has been unplugged from the laptop when I close the lid of this laptop.
- The brightness resets itself to about 50% each time the laptop is plugged/unplugged from the power source.
- The ScreenXpert Launcher button is clickable via mouse. That gets in the way of other clickable elements on the screen. ASUS should have made it touch-only.
Especially for issues number 1 and 2, they shouldn’t happen on a laptop. Each time the ScreenPad Plus turns off, all of the arranged windows are messed up. That’s very frustrating to use!
And then comes the biggest problem that I have with this ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481F – the ergonomics, or lack thereof.
For someone like me who is rather tall, I find the ZenBook Duo UX481F is just way too scrunched up. If I sit ergonomically and use the laptop, then the ScreenPad Plus will suffer from total internal reflection. Setting the ScreenPad Plus to 100% brightness does not help with this issue at all, by the way.
Then, if I want to look at the ScreenPad Plus, I will have to move my body forward and to look down straight onto the ScreenPad Plus itself. While I was typing this review on the ZenBook Duo UX481F itself, I needed to look at the second display here for notes – and I find it really annoying to constantly move my body back and forth and for me to look downwards.
After using it for just an hour, my neck hurts. The ergonomics just aren’t done properly here. Let’s not forget that the keyboard is off-center and cramped. The lack of a wrist rest means my fingers are floating in the air while typing on the keyboard. Currently, my solution is to prop up the laptop even further with a phone box. That makes both the keyboard and wrist rest unusable, but both the main display and ScreenPad Plus is at a very nice angle.
However, here’s my proposal to how ASUS can fix all of these issues, firstly: make the ScreenPad Plus tiltable upwards. This will fix the body-moving and neck-twisting issues. By tilting the ScreenPad Plus upwards at about 30°, I can sit back and use the laptop ergonomically without hurting my neck.
Secondly, remove the trackpad entirely, then make both screens touch-capable and also include a wireless mouse in the box together with the laptop itself. I think since ASUS is already dwelling in such uncharted territories, might as well remove the trackpad and center the keyboard, and use conventional 14-inch laptop keyboards. I mean, ASUS already showed off their Project Precog at Computex 2018, so I think they already have the intention of removing the trackpad.
Performance, battery life
Let’s first take a look at the specs of the ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481F that we have here:
- Intel Core i7-10510U
- 16GB DDR4-2133 (soldered)
- NVIDIA GeForce MX250 with 2GB VRAM
- 512GB NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x2)
In terms of performance, I think the ZenBook Duo UX481F handles its tasks pretty well. I can edit 1080p 60fps videos on Premiere Pro on this laptop.
Have a look at these benchmarks here.
However, I do notice that the fans (yes, plural) of the ZenBook Duo UX481F are whiny and we all thought that there was something wrong with the laptop. But that’s because ASUS is using two tiny fans inside the laptop to cool the components. They’re situated around the middle of the laptop, placed side by side.
The temperature on this laptop is kept very well under control as the CPU is at most 85°C and the GPU never reaches 65°C.
The SSD in this laptop is pretty good in performance as well. It is using SK Hynix HFM512GDJTNG-8310A NVMe SSD which runs off of PCIe Gen 3 x2, and the speeds are pretty much as expected. It’s rare to use up all of its speeds, honestly.
The battery life on the ZenBook Duo UX481F is just fantastic. I was using this laptop for the whole day – and the battery drops really, really slowly. ASUS included a 70Wh battery here, by the way.
Since this laptop has a secondary display built-in, I configured the ScreenPad Plus to be at 100% brightness and with a YouTube video running for the entire time alongside a reference webpage on the side. On the main display at 50% brightness, I just have this text editor as I am typing out the review for this particular laptop.
With the use case established, this amazing ZenBook Duo UX481F can easily last for about 7-8 hours of usage on battery. And that’s just mindblowing considering the amount of work that could have been done while on the go – if the ergonomic issues do not exist.
As for charging, we left the laptop alone for it to charge and it takes about 2 hours to reach 100%. That’s pretty fast considering that we can get extremely long usage times out of a single charge.
Maintenance and upgradability
The ZenBook Duo UX481F is actually pretty easy to maintain. There is an array of holes at the back for air to get to the two fans inside the laptop, and that is the one part that will clog up over time.
To clean the fans, all you need to do is take out ten T5 Torx screws that are around the perimeter of the backplate. 6 of the 10 screws are placed underneath the rubber plugs which I don’t see any advantages of them being there other than for aesthetics. After removing all the screws, the backplate can be easily popped off.
Inside the laptop, we can see the two whiny fans and also the entire cooling system that is inside this laptop. It’s great to see ASUS including a total of three(!!!) different heatpipes in this laptop – one medium-sized for the GPU, one wide-sized for the CPU, and the slimmest one for the CPU VRM. All heatpipes are separated from each other and conduct heat to the heatsink where the two whiny fans blow wind through.
In terms of upgradability, the only part that can be swapped out are the M.2 SSD, the battery, the fans, and speakers. Everything else is soldered onto the board itself – even the WLAN chip. This is obviously not ideal, but considering the laptop still needs to be relatively thin while a portion of it is occupied by another screen, I can understand why it is made as such.
Wrapping up the ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481F review
I just have to say – I love the entire idea of a strip of screen like the ScreenPad Plus. It’s functional and applicable for a variety of different use case scenarios. It’s great to have companies creating a product like this – it’s different, but not too different.
The whole idea of the ScreenPad Plus is a huge undertaking by ASUS. No one else has made such a thing, and Windows does not have any software developed specifically for this screen. ASUS have to develop a brand new engine to bridge Windows and the ScreenPad Plus functionality together.
However, the ScreenPad Plus in the ZenBook Duo UX481F is obviously a first-gen product. The lack of polish in the final product is glaringly obvious as it is physically painful to use this laptop because of the ergonomics.
I still think that ASUS could have fixed many of the glaring issues by making the ScreenPad Plus tiltable upwards. Maybe remove the trackpad entirely in favor of a bigger keyboard?
I am interested to see what ASUS can do in the next generation of the ZenBook Duo. Ergonomics aside, I am already having a fantastic time as a writer, video editor, and researcher while working on the ZenBook Duo UX481F.