ZenBook Duo UX481F Review
This midrange variant of the Zenbook Duo UX481F ultraportable is ahead of its time with an innovative secondary ScreenPad Plus setup that takes multitasking to the next level. It’s an interesting proposition but ergonomics issues befuddle its execution. If you can live with its hefty price tag and quirks, this represents a unique gamechanger.
As one of the world’s largest notebook vendors, Asus isn’t shy on taking bold steps forward with their designs and at Computex 2019 they showcased some seriously innovative showstoppers like the ZenBook Duo UX481F. Now, it’s finally arrived in Malaysia.
Intended to resolve the age-old conundrum of mobile workers and creatives needing more screen real estate, the ZenBook Duo UX481F achieves this by integrating what Asus calls a ScreenPad Plus touchscreen that works as both a secondary display and a larger touchscreen panel to interact with content or apps.
Prior to this, most button pushers are usually relegated to tabbing in and out of adds or plugging in an external secondary display. That’s often not an option though, more so if you’re a road warrior on the move.
Delving into the Design of the ZenBook Duo UX481F
The UX481F itself is ensconced within its own packaging that also comes with a digital stylus for use with the secondary ScreenPad Plus. There’s also the obligatory charging cable as well as a free plush faux leatherette folio that you can slip the notebook into during transport but that’s about the extent of available kit with the ZenBook Duo UX481F.
As a notebook, the ZenBook Duo UX481F boasts of a surprisingly understated design and it’s provenance isn’t apparent until you actually open the top lid. Externally, it looks somewhat like a chunky mid-2000’s series notebook but that’s on account of the extra hardware needed to accommodate the secondary display and the huge 70Whr battery.
Flip it open and the ZenBook Duo’s true nature becomes apparent as it’s one of the first notebooks in Malaysia to have a secondary ScreenPad Plus touchscreen display perched just above the keyboard and below the main 14-inch Full HD display. A larger, better specced variant with a 4K display and 4K ScreenPad Plus called the ZenBook Pro Duo also exists with a princely five-digit price tag.
Externally, the notebook is done up in a shade of what Asus calls Celestial Blue. Bar it’s somewhat chunky girth, the ZenBook Duo UX481F has excellent build quality with most of the chassis hewn of a light magnesium-aluminium alloy including the entirety of the top lid and bottom as well as parts of the sides.
A few sections, namely the side panels where the ports are located are still made of plastic, though it’s not apparent unless you really look up close. The top lid itself is also very sturdy and has no flex or wobbling either even if you’re hammering the keyboard buttons at full tilt. Unfortunately, the notebook is somewhat on the chunky side and and it’s rather heavy for an ultraportable at 1.5kg.
The top lid has Asus’ signature ‘concentric circle’ brushed metal finish but is otherwise unadorned save for the Asus logo emblazoned off-centre of the middle . An incidental benefit of the finish that Asus has chosen to use here is that it repels fingerprints in a wonderful fashion.
The base of the notebook has a pair of faux leather friction pads that run all across its length to ensure that it doesn’t slip off a table into oblivion.
The right side of the ZenBook Duo UX481F comes with a microSD card reader, a 3.5mm audio jack and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 port while the left comes with a jack for the obligatory power from the mains, a full sized HDMI port, a USB 3.1 Gen2 port and a single USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port. Flanking either side of the notebook are a series of tiny holes for the side-firing Harman Kardon tuned stereo speakers.
Like other Asus notebooks of recent vintage, the ZenBook Duo UX481F integrates what they call an Ergolift hinge which consists of an angled notch on the base of the top lid assembly that lifts the notebook up in order to offer ventilation and a better typing angle. It’s a subtle but helpful design feature that is seeing service in most, if not all, Asus notebooks and which is of particular benefit for the ZenBook Duo UX481F.
Flip the lid open and you are greeted by the ZenBook Pro Duo’s UX481F’s raison d’etre. Set beneath the 14-inch Full HD display and just above the keyboard is a 12.6-inch ScreenPad Plus touch screen with Full HD resolution. You’re also able to use the bundled stylus with it, which makes the notebook a viable proposition for artists.
The key draw here is that the ScreenPad Plus maximises your available screen real estate while also doubling as a secondary touchpad of sorts, allowing you to multitask with more windows and applications or get a better view of multi-menu apps like Adobe Premiere Pro.
The primary 14-inch Full HD display is non-touch capable with super slim 3.5mm wide bezels that give it a 90% screen-to-body ratio. Of note is that it’s also Pantone validated for colour accuracy and is capable of delivering a full 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, which optimises it even more for creatives.
Perched just beneath the titular ScreenPad Plus is a rather quaint keyboard layout. Seeing as the ScreenPad Plus panel takes up most of the upper section of the notebook base, there’s no space left for palm rests and Asus has crammed the keyboard into the base of the notebook with the touchpad and two physical buttons stuffed into the right corner as an afterthought.
The keyboard itself is fairly standard with the power button inset in the upper right corner along with two dedicated ScreenPad Plus shortcut keys that let you swap whatever is displayed on the primary monitor and ScreenPad Plus back and forth as well as turning it off to save on battery life.
Seeing as this is a ZenBook series notebook, Asus hasn’t spared the horses when it comes to build quality and bar the rather quaint but understandable keyboard ergonomics issues on account of the ScreenPad Plus, the notebook is otherwise an excellent example of engineering with sturdy build quality all around.
Asus ZenBook Duo UX481F performance
Powering the Asus ZenBook Duo UX481F is a 10th generation Intel Core i5-10210U processor paired with an NVIDIA GeForce MX250 card designed for mid-range notebooks, 8GB DDR3 RAM and a 512GB PCIe 3.0 x 2 solid state drive. A variant that is otherwise similar but with a higher end Intel Core i7-10510U processor and double the RAM also exists for RM5,699.
The Intel Core i5-10210U processor has 4 cores and 8 threads with a base frequency of 1.6GHz and a single-core boost frequency of 4.2GHz. On paper, the processor is somewhat akin to the older Whiskey Lake series processors albeit with support for higher RAM speeds at up to 2,666MHz DDR4 RAM though oddly enough, the ZenBook Duo UX481F packs DDR3 2,133Mhz RAM, presumably for cost reasons. The RAM is soldered in so there’s no aftermarket upgrading on the cards.
The provided NVIDIA GeForce MX250 graphics card gives it a bit of bite for basic retro gaming within the last few years and, interestingly enough, is the lower voltage 10W variant of the MX250, as indicated by its product ID 10De 1D52.
Theoretically, this should offer a 30% lower difference in performance compared to the higher end NVIDIA GeForce MX250 card with a higher 25W voltage like the one seen in the VivoBook S15 S531F that we tested a while back but it’s a bit hard to draw direct comparisons as it’s not a direct apples to apples scenario on account of differing hardware specifications. It’s somewhat difficult to speculate on why they’ve included the low voltage version here but it’s also presumably for either cost or for heat and power efficiency concerns.
On paper, this version of the ZenBook Duo is intended for light creators and has the hardware capable of fulfilling the job. It handled the usual array of productivity tasks without lagging or keeling over with the secondary ScreenPad Plus displaying YouTube, a calculator and a Chrome browser while the primary display had a fairly resource heavy spreadsheet.
It was also able to tackle some modest video editing at up 1080P on Magix without undue trouble. The provision of the GeForce MX250 also gives it some ability to handle last-gen gaming and it managed to run Deus Ex: Human Revolution as well as the at moderate settings and PUBG and CS:GO at low settings without too much trouble.
When subjected to the usual benchmarks, the ZenBook Duo UX481F acquitted itself in a very satisfactory fashion. In PCMark10, it got a score of 2,684 points. In 3DMark’s standard Time Spy benchmark, it got a score of 1,019 points and was unable to run it at Extreme settings.
In Cinebench R20, the notebook got a middling score of 485 points. In the Unigine Superposition benchmark, it only managed 479 points when subjected to the 1080P extreme benchmark and a more respectable 2,174 points in the 1080P medium benchmark. The 512GB PCIE SSD offered excellent speeds with 1635.40 MB/s read speeds and 838.83 MB/s write speeds.
Clarity and colour rendition on the primary 14-inch display was excellent even under sunlight. The ScreenPad Plus however has a matte finish and colour rendition and brightness on the ScreenPad Plus is serviceable if dim under direct sunlight. I’s a fair compromise seeing as it is designed for use with the provided stylus; a glossy screen would scratch.
Another interesting problem is that the angle of the ScreenPad Plus where it’s slightly elevated from a flat surface means that you still can’t get a decent view of. A steeper angle or a kickstand is needed for better visibility which leads to another related issue – the keyboard.
The ZenBook Duo UX481F is clearly not intended for use on your lap or on the go and seems purely intended as a desktop replacement as it lacks palm rests.
If you’re using this on the go, you’ll likely be holding your hands like a pianist and having to precariously move it several inches forward halfway beyond your knees which increases the chances of it falling off by accident. Fortunately this ergonomics issue is resolved if you plonk it on a desk.
Ergonomics aside, Asus has put serious thought on the software front for the ScreenPad Plus. On top of being a secondary display, it has custom firmware so that you can use it to record macros to launch several apps with one command.
For selected apps like Adobe Premiere Pro, you’re able to lock additional menu bars on the ScreenPad Plus so that you have the entirety of the main display to work with; this feature isn’t universal and only works with a select few apps but you’re able to stretch a window so that it covers both the main display and the ScreenPad if needed. The provided stylus also allows for users with the provided skills to sketch, doodle and create artistic masterpieces. We did manage to get some stick men artfully sketched though.
ZenBook Duo UX481F Battery Life, Price and Conclusion
The ZenBook Duo UX481F comes with one of the highest capacity batteries crammed into a notebook at 70Whr. On paper, it’s rated to offer 22 hours of battery life with the ScreenPad Plus off and about 15 hours or so if you’re using both that and the display.
After field testing it, the results are close to the official stated figures as we kept it running with brightness set to middle settings, WiFi on, a combination of video on the main display and the ScreenPad Plus and use of Facebook, Instagram and Google Docs all day long. In effect, this offers the better part of a day and a half of effective use.
As it stands, the ZenBook Duo UX481F is a notebook ahead of its time. There’s real potential for its ScreenPad Plus display but being so far ahead of the curve, it’s ergonomics and functionality are a bit behind. The ScreenPad Plus is hard to see under daylight and the nature of its design means that you need to prop it up at a fairly jaunty angle to see it beyond what the Ergolift hinge can achieve.
hat aside, there’s no denying it’s exceptional battery life, one of the best we’ve had on test and innovative design. If you’re a heavy multitasker looking for a distinctive looking desktop replacement and can live with its ergonomic foibles and hefty price tag, the ZenBook Duo UX481F is right up your alley. If you’re after something beefier, check out their higher end ZenBook Pro Duo.
What we liked Excellent battery life, generous array of ports, innovative ScreenPad display
What we didn’t Chunky and heavy build, not cheap for what you pay for, cramped keyboard and touchpad, significant learning curve to master ScreenPad Plus features
We say This midrange variant of the Zenbook Duo UX481F ultraportable is ahead of its time with an innovative secondary ScreenPad Plus setup that takes multitasking to the next level. It’s an interesting proposition but ergonomics issues befuddle its execution. If you can live with its hefty price tag and quirks, this represents a unique gamechanger.
Display 14-inch LCD, 1,920 x 1080 pixels, 100% sRGB Pantone validated + 12.6-inch Full HD ScreenPad Plus display
Processor Intel Core i5-10210U 1.6GHz
Memory 8GB DDR3 2,133MHz RAM / 512GB PCIe SSD
Graphics card NVIDIA GeForce MX250 (10W)
Battery 70Whr lithium-polymer battery
Size/Weight 323 x 223 x 19.9mm / 1.5kg
Review unit courtesy of Asus Malaysia. Visit their official page here.