Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD review: A dual-screen powerhouse

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Powerful CPU, GPU and RAM options
  • Bright, high-quality 15.6-inch touchscreen
  • Secondary ScreenPad has potential

Cons

  • Big and heavy
  • Poor battery life
  • ScreenPad concept needs refining

The Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD is a top-end 15.6-inch laptop with a premium price tag to match. At £2,199 (inc. VAT, or £1,832.50 ex. VAT) for the highest-spec model (reviewed here), you get a Core i9 processor, a discrete GPU and 16GB of RAM. But that's not what makes this laptop stand out from the crowd: that accolade goes to the ScreenPad, a touchpad that acts as a second full-colour screen. Gimmick or useful tool? Let's take a look.

It's worth noting at the outset that this is a hefty piece of kit. The 15.6-inch screen sits in a chassis measuring 365mm wide by 241mm deep by 18.9mm thick. This bulk, combined with 1.88kg of weight, means you won't be taking this laptop on your travels unless you absolutely have to.

Asus says the chassis is 'deep dive blue' in colour. It looks black until it catches the light, when the very deep blue colour that's used both outside and in becomes apparent, as does the Asus branding on the lid and slanted linear etching surrounding the keyboard and on the wrist rest. Much more noticeable is the gold rim around the upper edges of the base, which might prove too much for some business users.

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The ZenBook UX580GD is a powerful 15.6-inch laptop whose outstanding feature is the ScreenPad -- a touchpad that doubles as a secondary screen.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The ScreenPad is the scene-stealer, though. As well as catering for conventional touchpad functions (cursor movement, button presses and gesture controls), it works as a second touchscreen and viewer. The ScreenPad measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal, and has a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels.

When employed as a touchpad, the ScreenPad has colourful wallpaper rather than the more usual mono surface. But the real fun comes when it operates in its two other guises.

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The ScreenPad offers a range of functions, including an app launcher.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet
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The ScreenPad's settings menu includes access to an app store.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

One of these is ScreenPad mode. This presents a horizontal menu along the top of the pad offering a range of features, including a calculator, a calendar, an app launcher and a music player. The ScreenPad has its own control panel so you can set its brightness and wallpaper, and it can accommodate apps. Spotify is promised for download, and there's an app store accessible from the ScreenPad's settings menu to add more, such as ScreenPad Office. This lets you control common Microsoft Office functions, avoiding the need to reach for the mouse or remember keyboard shortcuts.

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The ScreenPad also has an Extender mode. Switch this on and the main screen can be swept into the ScreenPad, or sent there via a keyboard combination, so that it's mirrored. Or you can use the ScreenPad as a mini second display, moving around Windows and apps with taps and sweeps. It's small, but it does work.

Both these modes, Extender and ScreenPad, are accessed by pressing F6, which also allows you to work in traditional touchpad mode and disable the touchpad completely, toggling through the options with each F6 button press.

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Extender mode lets you use the ScreenPad as a mini second screen -- good luck with making menu selections though.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The ScreenPad is not without limitations. In both Extender and ScreenPad modes, cursor and button controls are disabled. The pad itself retains its touch-responsiveness, so you can move around in apps and in the extended Windows screen, but while the former is relatively straightforward because the apps are designed for the screen size, the latter is very fiddly. The tiny display requires real precision and dexterity. I wouldn't recommend trying to use menus in Extender mode, and while it's OK for scrolling through web pages, clicking links can be a challenge.

In practical terms, disabling cursor and button controls in these two modes makes working with the main screen fiddly. I resorted to prodding the touchscreen, and while using a mouse is also an option, it seems counter-intuitive to have to set one up just for times when the touchpad is otherwise engaged.

All this noted, the idea behind ScreenPad is intriguing -- but I can't help wondering if it's something of a solution looking for a problem.

The main 15.6-inch touchscreen sits in a relatively narrow bezel. My top-end review sample had a 3,840-by 2,160-pixel panel that, at 100 percent, was extremely bright. Viewing angles are very good, and video streamed beautifully. However, the screen is very reflective, which makes working in some conditions -- such as outdoors, in rooms with side-windows and on trains -- challenging at times.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)

Two speaker grilles sit on the underside of the chassis, and while they output good-quality audio, desktops and clothing can muffle and distort the sound. I'd much prefer the speakers to be top mounted.

The high screen resolution, plus the need to keep the powerful components and the ScreenPad going, have a definite effect on battery life. Asus says the ZenBook 15 UX580GD's 71Wh 8-cell lithium-polymer will keep it going for up to 9.5 hours, but my experience suggests that's optimistic. In my first battery test I left the screen brightness at its default 40 percent setting for battery-based work. I was on wi-fi the whole time, and did some writing into a web app and a fair bit of streaming and web browsing. The battery depleted to 25 percent in three hours.

In a second test with brightness at 25 percent (which was perfectly usable) and using the same work pattern, the battery depleted to 53 percent in three hours. Don't expect all-day battery life from this laptop unless screen brightness is turned right down and workloads are light.

The keyboard is comfortable to use. With a nice bounce-back and plenty of space between keys, there was nothing to stop me touch typing at full speed.

My top-end review sample ran on an Intel Core i9-8950HK processor with 16GB of RAM and discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics. It's a combination that makes for a powerhouse of a laptop. If your bedget doesn't stretch to £2,199 (inc. VAT), you can opt for a Core i7 with the same discrete graphics, and either 8GB (£1,699) or 16GB (£1,899) of RAM. All three of these models have a 512GB SSD and a UHD touchscreen, and run Windows 10 Home. I did notice quite a bit of noise from the fan at times, so take note if you work in a library-quiet office.

There are two USB 3 ports on the right side, along with a MicroSD card slot and a 3.5mm headset jack. The left side has an HDMI port and two USB Type-C connectors with Thunderbolt. If you need wired Ethernet, will have to use the provided dongle, which takes up one of the USB-3 ports.

The charge connector is a small round-pin unit, which means that both USB-C ports are free when you're charging the laptop. That's probably a good thing given that you're likely to need to recharge fairly regularly. The charging brick itself is one of the chunkiest I've seen in a while -- another reason this laptop is unlikely to be the mobile professional's first choice.

Security is catered for by a fingerprint scanner on the wrist rest and a webcam with Windows Hello support.

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Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Conclusions

The Asus ZenBook Pro UX580GD is big and heavy, as is its AC adapter, and battery life isn't great. All of which means that this 15.6-inch laptop will spend most of its time deskbound. On the plus side, the screen is superb, and there's plenty of CPU and GPU power on offer.

The oddity here is the ScreenPad. With its screen mirroring and independent functions it could be a winner, but Asus needs to think about how it handles touchpad functions when the ScreenPad is presenting a mini version of the main screen or its own functions, and also to put more effort into finding compelling uses for it.

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