REVIEW: Asus' new laptop packs oomph, but 'ScreenPad' has its quirks

Art Fuentes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 24 2018 08:52 AM

MANILA - Taiwan's Asus made a splash at this year’s Computex when it unveiled the Zenbook Pro, its premium business laptop featuring a trackpad that also doubles as a secondary touchscreen.

Tech journalists got to briefly try out the new Zenbook Pro models in Taipei last month, and many were impressed with the ScreenPad. 

But a brief 30 minute encounter wasn’t enough to gauge the capabilities of this machine. Thankfully, Asus lent us a unit of the Zenbook Pro last week for a more thorough review. 

DESIGN AND SPECS

Like previous Zenbooks, this laptop is a gorgeous machine. Our review unit came in a color called “Deep Dive Blue” with a gold trim and Asus’ trademark brushed aluminum concentric rings on the lid and a swept brushed finish inside. It looked sleek and easy on the eyes. 

It’s also a very solid machine. The case gives no noticeable yield. Hold it in your hands and you’ll know that this laptop was built to shrug off rough handling. For enhanced security, it also features a fingerprint scanner on the keyboard. 

The 15.6 inch 4K screen is also a pleasure to look at. Thanks to its thin bezels, it has a small footprint that’s comparable to that of common 14-inch notebooks. It’s also a touchscreen that supports multi-touch gestures, as well as the Asus pen for graphics artists who want precise sketching and annotating.

Asus said the Zenbook Pro was made for creative types who handle photos, video and graphics, and this shows in the quality of the 4K screen. By supporting 100 percent of the Adobe RGB and 132 percent sRGB color spaces, Asus said the Zenbook Pro’s screen has an unmatched color reproduction as well as accuracy. 

Creative types also require a lot of power, and in this regard the Zenbook Pro delivers the goods. With a top-of-the line Intel Core i9 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB solid state drive, this thing can blast through the most demanding tasks. 

While the Zenbook Pro isn’t meant to be a gaming machine, the addition of a Nvidia 1050 graphics card also means that this laptop can handle games as deftly as most gaming laptops out there.

In terms of connectivity, this machine also doesn’t scrimp on the essentials of a pro-level workhorse. It’s got an integrated dual-band gigabit Wi-Fi, 2 USB 3 ports, 2 USB Type C Thunderbolt ports, an HDMI port, a micro SD card slot and a combo audio jack. 

Asus has also prided itself for the audio quality of its laptops, and the Zenbook Pro doesn’t disappoint. I own a 2012 Macbook Pro, which has pretty decent audio quality. But the Zenbook Pro sounded better, even when the volume was cranked up to eleven. 

‘SCREENPAD’

What sets the Zenbook Pro apart from other premium laptops is the ScreenPad, a 5.5 inch trackpad that also happens to be full HD touchscreen. 

Some tech journalists have even compared the Zenbook Pro’s ScreenPad to the Macbook Pro’s Touchbar. But Asus wasn’t really the first to come up with the idea of using a touchscreen as a trackpad. Acer demonstrated the concept in 2010, while Razer also did something similar with its Blade gaming laptop in 2012, which featured a touchscreen trackpad that was specially designed for gaming. 

Still, the ScreenPad is unique as it’s the first iteration of this concept that aims for the mainstream. Asus even demoed it with Microsoft Office. 

You can access the most common tasks on Word, such as text formatting, on the Screenpad. The menus also change depending on the Office app you are using. Switch to Excel and you get a menu of the most common spreadsheet tasks. Switch to Powerpoint and you get slideshow menus. 

When you think about it, it actually makes more sense to make the menus of some apps accessible on the trackpad. It beats having to move the cursor around the screen to format text or input some numbers.

Besides accessing Office menus, the Screenpad also features an app launcher, a music player, a calculator, numeric keypad, calendar and can even be used to play Youtube videos. 

The ScreenPad can also control your Spotify app, but only if you're a premium subscriber.

You can drag shortcuts of your favorite apps into the ScreenPad Launcher then you can simply tap its icon to launch it. You can also add and remove apps from the ScreenPad Launcher. 

I also found the calculator and calendar apps particularly useful. Tapping on the ScreenPad beats having to use a cursor to add, subtract or select dates. Same goes for the music and video player, as well as YouTube.

You can also use the ScreenPad as a secondary screen by dragging the window of an app to the ScreenPad. This way, you can have, technically, 2 screens to work from. 

But the ScreenPad still has its quirks. 

Since I use File Explorer a lot, I dragged its shortcut to the Launcher for convenience’s sake. But when I first launched Explorer from the ScreenPad, the app semmed to freeze and no amount of swiping on the touchpad would make the cursor appear on the main screen. I had to tap the main screen to "unfreeze" the app. 

There was no such issue the second time I launched Explorer. This was also the case with the Office apps, and all the other apps I put in the Launcher. The first launch freezes the main screen, but there was no such issue afterwards.

While watching videos on the smaller screen was OK, the ScreenPad wasn't really very useful as a second screen for desktop apps. 

I dragged a window of Chrome into the ScreenPad and I could barely make out what was displayed on it. 

Instead of adapting the contents of the browser window to the smaller screen, like what happens on a mobile device, ScreenPad displayed the window in full desktop mode. This meant tiny unreadable text and graphics. 

When you use it as a second screen, the ScreenPad also ceases to act like a touchscreen. You can’t tap or swipe on the screen to get the menus of the app you dragged into it. Instead, it becomes a regular touchpad, and a cursor appears which you need to move around to get any work done. Not exactly the kind of functionality you would expect from a touchscreen. 

Despite these quirks, the ScreenPad is a welcome innovation. I could see lots of uses for it in apps like Adobe Photoshop which need to display a lot of menu windows. 

You can toggle between the different modes of the ScreenPad by hitting the F6 key. You can even switch it off completely or just turn it into a regular touchpad when you want to.

Asus doesn’t have a local launch date for the Zenbook Pro. But the top of the line 15-inch model with a 1TB solid state drive will retail for P119,995. If you’re a professional video editor or photographer who needs a lot of power, this machine could fit your needs.