Laptops, unlike smartphones, have arguably plateaued in terms of innovation.
While the latest models boast ever thinner and lighter bodies, the last major transformation in the genre was probably the introduction of the laptop-tablet hybrid a few years ago.
But there is still room for novelty.
Asus, with its fair share of innovative flourishes over the years, has come up with a neat trick for its new ZenBook Pro laptop. Its touchpad can be used as a screen.
Dubbed the ScreenPad, this 5.5-inch touchpad boasts a full-HD resolution. It works like a normal, clickable touchpad, until you press F6 to enable its new ScreenPad functionality.
In ScreenPad mode, the touchpad becomes a display that can run specially built widgets, like a calculator and a calendar. It can also become a numeric keypad, which is handy since the keyboard lacks it.
The ScreenPad can work with compatible apps, such as Microsoft Office, to display additional commands and shortcuts, like the Touch Bar on the Apple MacBook Pro.
PROCESSOR: Intel Core i9-8950HK (2.9GHz)
GRAPHICS: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB GDDR5
MEMORY: 16GB DDR4
SCREEN SIZE: 15.6 inches, 3,840 x 2,160 pixels
CONNECTIVITY: 2 x USB 3.1 Type-C Thunderbolt 3, 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 2, HDMI, microSD card reader, audio jack
BATTERY: 71 watt-hour
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5
BATTERY LIFE: 2/5
You can even mirror your smartphone (via an Asus Sync app) on the ScreenPad so you can easily check phone notifications.
While Asus has opened up the ScreenPad to third-party developers, the handful of apps available for it, except for a Spotify app, seems to be from Asus.
The ScreenPad can be used as an extended display or a second screen. In this mode, you can drag windows from the primary display to the ScreenPad, like you would for an external monitor attached to the laptop.
The downside is that text, icons and images look tiny on the ScreenPad. Hence a mouse is required to navigate and click on icons on the ScreenPad.
Overall, I would not rule out the usefulness of the ScreenPad. But it is not helpful for me in its current state.
Its ScreenPad aside, the ZenBook Pro has very impressive hardware, such as a crisp 4K touchscreen display, a 1TB solid-state drive and two Thunderbolt 3 ports for speedy file transfers.
Its mid-range GTX 1050 Ti graphics chip will run the latest games, though you have to lower the laptop's default 4K screen resolution to get a decent performance.
More importantly, it sports Intel's latest and most powerful Core i9 mobile processor.
This hexa-core chip, similar to that found in the new Apple MacBook Pro, scored 5,088 points in the PCMark 10 benchmark test -much higher than the typical scores of ultrabooks (under 4,000 points). Its Digital Content Creation score (5,463) is significantly higher than that of mainstream notebooks.
It is also very well-built. The unibody aluminium chassis is sturdy, while the fine gold trim around its edges gives a premium feel. At around 1.9kg, it is relatively portable for a 15-inch laptop.
Battery life is predictably short for a laptop with such a bright and high-resolution display. It lasted three hours and 35 minutes in the video-loop battery test.
• Verdict: The second-screen feature on the ZenBook Pro has limited use now, though the laptop is excellent for graphics-intensive work.