PC

Solid ultrabook does not need second screen

Asus turned the touchpad into a second screen on last year's ZenBook Pro.

This so-called ScreenPad, about the size of a smartphone display, can be used to perform various tasks such as handwriting and numeric input. Helper apps created by Asus also let this screen show additional commands in compatible apps such as Microsoft Office.

An improved version, dubbed ScreenPad 2.0, is found in the latest Asus ZenBook 14 (UX434). The Taiwanese PC maker says the new version is more power efficient, despite the screen size increasing from 5.5 inches to 5.65 inches.

Navigating the ScreenPad and moving app windows between the ScreenPad and the ZenBook's main 14-inch screen are also easier now with its new Android-like user interface.

Despite the improvements, I do not see myself using the ScreenPad regularly.

Occasionally, I may use the second screen to watch a YouTube tutorial for an app or a game while following the instructions on the main screen. I can also place my Spotify app window in the ScreenPad to view my playlist at a glance.

But I can do these tasks with my smartphone. In short, there are no compelling reasons for me to deal with the ScreenPad's occasional bugs, its poor viewing angles and, more importantly, its negative impact on battery life.

In my testing, the ZenBook lasted six hours and 13 minutes in the usual video-loop battery test with the main screen at full brightness and the ScreenPad set at 50 per cent brightness. The laptop lasted almost eight hours in the same test with the ScreenPad switched off.

The good news is the ScreenPad can be disabled easily with a shortcut key. The laptop itself is very similar to the ZenBook 14 (UX433) model I tested in January this year.

  • FOR

    • Sturdy and well-made chassis

    • Thin screen bezel

    • Good performance

  • AGAINST

    • ScreenPad has limited usefulness and consumes power while in use

    • USB 2.0 port

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $2,098

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-8565U (1.8GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Nvidia GeForce MX250 2GB GDDR5

    RAM: 16GB DDR3

    SCREEN SIZE: 14 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 2, USB 3.1 Type-A Gen 2, USB 2.0, HDMI, microSD card reader, audio jack

    BATTERY: 50 watt-hour

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3.5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4.5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Its blue aluminium lid bears the distinctive look of the Asus ZenBook series - concentric circles reminiscent of water ripples. Because of its touchscreen, the newer UX434 model weighs 1.35kg compared with 1.1kg for the UX433 version.

But you probably would not be able to tell between the two by their heft. The new model is just as compact, thanks to a slim bezel design that reduces the laptop's footprint. Asus also managed to include an infrared facial-recognition camera above the screen in the bezel.

The keyboard offers decent key travel and does not feel as shallow as some thinner ultrabooks. There are three levels of brightness for the keyboard backlight.

The UX434 has the same mix of connectors as the older model. Useful ones include HDMI and a microSD card reader, though the inclusion of a slow USB 2.0 port is bewildering.

The similarities between the ZenBooks extend to the hardware specs. Both have Intel's Core i7-8565U processor with 16GB of system memory and a 1TB solid-state drive.

The UX434 does have a slightly updated MX250 graphics chip, though its performance in PCMark 10's digital content creation segment is only slightly better than the MX150 in the older UX433 laptop.

Despite the improvements, the ScreenPad still has more downsides than benefits for me. But that aside, the ZenBook is a solid ultrabook that offers performance and portability.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2019, with the headline 'Solid ultrabook does not need second screen'. Print Edition | Subscribe