ASUS ExpertBook B9

The lineage of ASUS ZenBooks first started off as a thin and light laptop with adequate performance encased in a beautiful body for day to day use, while still maintaining extensive battery life for a day’s use. Earlier this year at Computex 2018, we saw the first generation of a new series within the ZenBook family – and that’s the ZenBook Pro.

The one we have here in particular is the ZenBook Pro 15, model number UX580GD. It’s an interesting laptop that took Apple’s Touch Bar design and spin it on its head by having a secondary display on the trackpad instead.

Acer Nitro 5

Take a look at this video to get a brief look at what the ScreenPad can do.

With such a groundbreakingly new design, what does the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD truly has to offer? Let’s take a look at it right here.

Unboxing

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

For a laptop with the “pro” moniker, one would think that the laptop’s box will be grand – but that’s not really the case here. It’s elegant – yes, and does show one of my favorite feature of the ScreenPad on the box itself.

Opening up the box reveals the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD directly. This packaging design is actually more or less the same as the other ZenBooks that we reviewed before.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

Beside the laptop is where the power adapter is found. Pretty basic packaging design, if you ask me. There are more things underneath the laptop – like the user manual, an included velcro cable tie, and a USB to Ethernet dongle.

To be honest, I though the “Pro” moniker will at least have some fancier packaging design. To be disappointment, it’s actually pretty basic. Could’ve gotten some inspiration from the Zephyrus M’s packaging design.

[nextpage title=”Connectivity, ports, screen”]

Connectivity and ports

During the grand launch of the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD, ASUS touted one thing in particular – multiple monitors. Not with just one extra monitor – but multiple monitors. Take a look at these ports and you’ll know why.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

On the left side of the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD is where the power jack, full-sized HDMI port, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports are found.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

At the right side, there are two more USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A ports, a microSD card reader, and a 3.5mm combo jack.

I do think that the two Thunderbolt 3 ports are fantastic. You can just get a MacBook Pro dock and connect it to the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD and it’ll work instantly. We tried with the Pioneer dock that we reviewed here just to make sure. It’s a good idea since Thunderbolt 3 is really versatile – and this laptop has two of those ports.

However, the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD falls short in ports. I’m not sure why ASUS decided to include a microSD card reader instead of a full-sized SD card. Photographers and videographers bring it out during the shooting session to offload pictures and video footages to the laptop for viewing – and what type of card they use? Probably full-sized SD card. If it’s indeed a microsD card slot, then we can get an adapter instead.

In terms of connectivity, the ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD comes with dual-band 802.11ac WiFi. Of course, the fastest and most reliable connection is still with an Ethernet cable – hence the dongle that ASUS bundled together.

Screen

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

Coming to the screen, this is something that ASUS is most proud of. It comes with a beautiful 15.6-inch LED-backlit touchscreen display with 4K UHD resolution, together with an impressive color calibration of Delta E<2 and covers 100% Adobe RGB color gamut. Also, it is validated by PANTONE.

Through my eyes, I can honestly say that the screen color is a little bit too vivid for me. It did take some time to get used to.

While on the subject of the screen, ASUS also included the NanoEdge display technology here. With NanoEdge display and the slimmer bezels, it enabled the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD to be housed in a 14-inch laptop body.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

The bezels are slim and tiny on the sides. The top bezel is a little thicker because they maintained the webcam at the top. The webcam is only in VGA resolution, though.

By the way, don’t expect this laptop to be anything “gamery” with super-fast response time and whatnot. You’ll know why later in this review.

[nextpage title=”Touchscreen, trackpad, and keyboard”]

Being a “pro” laptop, I do expect great trackpad and keyboard since content creators – writers, picture/video editors, and graphic designers – are going to stare at their laptops for hours. The trackpad and keyboard are the main avenues of communicating with the device, and the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD does have another touchscreen.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

Touchscreen

Remember that we mentioned the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD actually has a touchscreen? Only the ZenBook Pro 15 with a 4K screen has touchscreen, though.

With a display this reflective, it sort of feels like I’m touching a phone’s screen. It’s responsive and works as intended – obviously, but navigating on Windows is still in its early stages. It’s something nice to have but in my opinion, it’s not necessary.

The ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD does support the ASUS Pen that we first tried on the ASUS ZenBook Flip S here, by the way.

Trackpad

The trackpad itself… is the unique part of this laptop. The one big difference that the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD has is the ScreenPad. Remember that? It’s literally a smartphone screen replacing the trackpad.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

First off, the trackpad on the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD has a matte finish, but still feels rather smooth. It’s a high quality matte surface. For this use case scenario, I think using a matte finish is a great choice. Otherwise, the ScreenPad will reflect light directly into your eyes and blind you.

The trackpad here uses Windows precision drivers hence you do get the gestures which work flawlessly. It’s still close to what Apple has in terms of tracking, but not quite there yet. The biggest issue with the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD is that the palm rejection is just unreliable. I have no idea how many times I’ve triggered random songs to be added to my playlist in Spotify because of the poor palm rejection.

Using the ScreenPad as a secondary screen, the palm rejection is actually even worse. More on this later.

Keyboard

Let’s be honest, keyboard on laptops aren’t something that’s typist-friendly these days. The ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD does have a fairly spacious keyboard but there are some weird design choices here as well.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

Firstly, the key presses themselves have a good travel distance, but the collapse and bottoming out on each key feels rather aggressive. It’s a little too stiff for my taste as well – but your mileage may vary as I use a lubed Cherry MX Red and Gateron Red keyboards as my daily drivers.

While the keyboard’s layout is decent enough, it’s a pain to type on this keyboard quickly without hitting the power button while trying to reach for the delete key. Then, the whole cluster of navigational keys is laid vertically below the power button – and that once again causes some unfamiliarity to the typing experience.

Also, please don’t squish the arrow keys.

[nextpage title=”ScreenPad”]

What about the ScreenPad?

This by itself is going to be the longest section of this review. The ScreenPad on the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD is obviously a direct jab on Apple’s Touch Bar – and I have a MacBook Pro to make a side-by-side comparison.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

Right off the bat, I can tell you that the ScreenPad is much more useful than horizontally scrolling through a list of emojis. Both the Apple Touch Bar and ASUS ScreenPad have a different approach to the same goal – digitalizing some part of the hardware for a more immersive user experience.

In technical details, the ScreenPad need a few services to be running at all times. These services provide an interface for the ScreenPad apps to talk to Windows OS and some other apps. Hence, you’ll need to download plugins from the Microsoft Store. Yes – all ScreenPad apps are only available in the Microsoft Store, which is the first time I actually see anyone using it.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 live update

For updated ScreenPad functionality, make sure you head on over to ASUS’s Live Update utility and download everything. For me, I also would go and update the BIOS for better stability and whatever bugs that are fixed.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 bios

However, you’ll need to restart ScreenPad sometimes if some weird software bug appears. Instead of restarting the entire laptop, you can actually just open up task manager and end this task – the ScreenPadServer.exe.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 restart screenpad
Kill this application to restart ScreenPad

To start using ScreenPad, press F6 and a menu will prompt out.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

On ASUS’s product page for the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD, the ScreenPad is listed to be working with these applications. They forgot Spotify – which works with ScreenPad right away but was apparently removed from the Microsoft Store as of the time of this review’s publishing date.

  • ScreenPad Toolbar
  • ScreenPad Launcher
  • ScreenPad Music Player
  • ScreenPad Calendar
  • ScreenPad NumKey
  • ScreenPad Calculator
  • ScreenPad for Office
  • ScreenPad Online Video Player
  • ASUS Sync
  • ASUS Battery Health Charging
  • ASUS GIFTBOX
  • ASUS Splendid
  • ASUS Eye Care
  • ASUS Tru2life Video
  • ScreenPad Spotify

We’re only going to focus on a few applications on the ScreenPad which I find particularly useful, which are the Music Player, Calendar, Online Video Player, and Spotify,.

There are some weird behaviors and design choices when it comes to the interface and overall UI design. Let me first talk about the Music Player.

ScreenPad Music Player

Upon launching the application for the first time, it didn’t work. No music was found – and there was no “settings” button. Then I realized that the Music Player only reads from the Music folder that shows up on your My Computer (now known as This PC).

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 folder for music
You’ll need to copy the files into that Music folder.

Before copying music into that folder, do take note that the ScreenPad Music Player can only support mp3 files. It does not support FLAC audio or m3u/m3u8 playlists, which is a real bummer.

Once my mp3 music files are copied into the folder, I hit refresh and my songs showed up and start playing music. This music player does offer the commonly-found features like shuffle, repeat, volume control, and track selection.

Funny thing is, the ScreenPad Music Player is independent of the laptop. The ScreenPad merely reads music from your Windows Music folder but that’s it. Multimedia keys on your external keyboard or software does not work with the ScreenPad. As for volume, the ScreenPad Music Player has its own volume control as well.

Calendar

It syncs with the Calendar app that’s built into Windows 10. On the ScreenPad itself, everything can be seen in calendar view, with the full details of every single calendar entry. Works perfectly as intended.

Online Video Player

Remember ASUS said that the ScreenPad can be used to control online video players? Actually, it works with YouTube on Chrome browsers only – for now at least. You’ll have to install the Chrome plugin here, and then it’ll work automatically.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 online video player plugin

Play a YouTube video and the ScreenPad automatically changes to the online video player controller.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

For YouTube alone, the functionality is fantastic as well. You can view the title of the video alongside with some basic controls like play/pause and volume, and even options to toggle captions and fullscreen mode.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

There are two unique things about the ScreenPad’s control on YouTube videos – firstly is the video scrubbing where a strip of thumbnails are shown so you can skip to the desired time. Secondly, it even has a button to skip ad!

ASUS has once again did a great job for this particular application.

Spotify

The Spotify app is actually surprisingly good. It offers a slew of options to control the music, including saving tracks to certain playlists, discover new music, and even control my entire playlist of songs right on the ScreenPad itself.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

Honestly, I like this implementation as it offers a lot more than what Apple’s Touch Bar can do. Words can’t describe how well they’ve done it, so have a look at these images.

ScreenPad Settings

Surprisingly there is an entire menu within ScreenPad that allows you to change some of the things on ScreenPad itself. The menu doesn’t actually offer much other than the basics like customizing the toolbar and tuning the brightness. There’s another option to enable or disable the wallpaper, but not changing the wallpaper to something more personal.

Using the ScreenPad as another display

The ScreenPAd itself is actually a 5.5-inch 1080p display. Think of it like a smartphone screen slapped on the trackpad – which is pretty much what ScreenPad essentially is.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

Because of the difference in resolution – 4K on the 15.6-inch screen and 1080p on the 5.5-inch screen, Windows can’t handle scaling properly and that did cause some issues for us in terms of user experience.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

ScreenPad itself has a few extra buttons to enhance the user experience. See that little white circle thing at the left side? A menu will pop out when pressed, presenting you 3 different options.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

You can switch between Cursor mode and Touch mode, whereby Cursor mode means “trackpad mode”, and Touch mode means the secondary display also functions as a touchscreen.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15
ScreenPad in Touch mode

Lastly, you can adjust your brightness which is self-explanatory.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

Few weird design tropes

Switching from ScreenPad to become a secondary screen doesn’t actually turn off ScreenPad. It’s just placed at the background. While we can’t say for sure how much resources the ScreenPad actually takes and affects performance, we find it rather weird.

Second weird design trope is the lack of a scroll bar to scroll through a big list. For example, imagine scrolling through a big list of tracks on the Music Player and Spotify apps. There is no scroll bar on the side to quickly jump to wherever you want to land.

Thirdly, every app on ScreenPad will take up some CPU power. Less than 5% from what I can see, except for the buggy Spotify app that can take up to around 23%. Yes, it’s buggy as heck and we’ve already notified ASUS on this issue.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

I can honestly see the immense potential that the ScreenPad has. It shook the world of how laptops work by putting a phone’s screen to become the trackpad. Though, I think that ASUS needs to clean and polish the UI a lot more for an even more immersive experience.

Here’s a gallery of pictures I’ve taken about the ScreenPad.

There is another security problem as well where users can still use ScreenPad while Windows itself is locked out and requires login. We’ve highlighted this issue to ASUS and we’re awaiting further updates.

[nextpage title=”Performance”]

Weirdly enough, ASUS has packed these hardware into the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD:

  • 15.6-inch 4K UHD display with touchscreen with Delta E<2 and 100% Adobe RGB color gamut
  • Intel Core i7-8750H
  • 16GB DDR4 RAM at 2400MHz
  • NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti with 4GB VRAM

First, let’s run some benchmarks. We’re only running these benchmarks in 1080p as the GPU can’t handle anything higher.

Running benchmarks on the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD proves that this is indeed a capable machine – for 1080p gaming at around medium settings, not 4K UHD. The GTX 1050Ti struggles to keep up with 1080p 60FPS on Overwatch at Epic settings.

I actually understand why ASUS put in a GTX 1050Ti instead. The ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD is meant to be for creators – and surprise, surprise – most tasks are CPU bounded. Even while rendering videos, the software won’t use the GPU that much, but consumes insane amount of VRAM.

The SSD used on the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD is truly high performance, as it can reach these speeds. With such read/write speeds, you can expect smooth video scrubbing while working with Premiere Pro on the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD.

Also, the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD runs into serious thermal issues. While I am just working around with Adobe Lightroom after my photo session, I run into temperatures around 60~92°C while editing. Once I started exporting the pictures, the temperature was fluctuating between 88~99°C while the core frequency was fluctuating from 2.6GHz to 3.3GHz as well.

Overwatch is actually running at 80°C for CPU and 80°C for GPU at the same time, and it can’t even maintain a smooth 60FPS throughout a single game.

To ASUS’s credit, the entire laptop’s keyboard and ScreenPad area remain comfortable to touch.

[nextpage title=”Maintenance, upgradability, battery”]

Maintenance & upgradability

Being a “pro” laptop, I am quite disappointed to find out that first, the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD uses Torx screws, and secondly – there aren’t anything worth upgrading in the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD itself.

It’s actually fairly easy to open the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD if you have the right tools. Just remove all the screws and pop it open. Then, you’ll see all of the soldered components inside.

Maintenance

The entire cooling system on the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD is exposed right away after opening the laptop. Here, we can see the heatpipes are not symmetrical. There are two pipes leading to the left but only one to the right side.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

The fan can easily be taken apart for cleaning. If you’re thinking of reapplying thermal paste, then you’ll need to remove more cables and screws before taking the cooling system apart.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15
Why does the second heatpipe only leads to one fin stack?

Upgradability

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

The only things that can be upgraded here is the WiFi card and the M.2 NVMe SSD – which are already fantastic in performance. The RAM on this laptop is soldered so you can’t upgrade them either.

Battery

Equipped with a 71Wh 8-cell battery, one might think that the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD can last for a really long time before anything pops out to tell you to charge. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

I used the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD with an external mouse and have the ScreenPad to work as a secondary display. Then, I tuned it to about 20% brightness only, and started working. I was typing this review while chatting with friends on Facebook Messenger, and after about a 1.5 hours, the dreaded “low battery” alarm starts popping out.

I mean, I’m not really using the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD that intensely and yet the battery died so quickly.

[nextpage title=”Wrapping up the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD review”]

Let’s first begin by talking about the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD itself. It’s not the thinnest or the lightest, but it beautiful yet unique when it comes to functionality. Our variant of the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD comes with a beautiful 4K display that is touch-enabled, has a decent keyboard but with weird layout, and ScreenPad.

The ScreenPad is something truly unique and ASUS got a great starting point there. Honestly, even though I connect the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD to an external display all the time, I am always using the ScreenPad’s Music Player app. Perhaps next time ASUS can develop an app where I can record my own macro and place virtual buttons on it. Then it can become my own MIDI Fighter perhaps?

ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD

ScreenPad’s functionality is great, but still lacks polish as bugs, weird UI and design plagues the user experience. Let’s not forget the abysmal palm rejection on the ScreenPad as well. When ASUS fixes these issues, the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD will be even better than it already is.

This laptop is not meant to be a gaming laptop, so don’t expect super fantastic frame rates on a laptop of this caliber.


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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Packaging
7
Design
9
Connectivity and ports
9
Screen
10
Touchscreen, trackpad & keyboard
9
Performance
8
Maintenance and upgradability
6
Battery
5
Value
7
The enthusiastic nanoelectronic engineer who found his way into simplifying the world of tech for everyone. Introverted, but noisy. Nice to meet you!
review-asus-zenbook-pro-15-ux580gdBeing the first ever laptop to ever use the innovative ScreenPad, the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD is a truly unique device that offers another dimension into how we interact with our laptops. ASUS will need to do a lot of polishing to the UI and squash bugs so that the ScreenPad will be even better.

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