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Asus ZenBook Pro 15 review: A second screen under your fingers

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The Good The experimental second screen in the touchpad actually works, as both a display and a touchpad. The Core i9 CPU, Nvidia 1050Ti GPU and 4K display all add up to a powerful machine.

The Bad The ScreenPad display is clever, but it's hard to see how it would actually make life easier or improve productivity. Battery life is short.

The Bottom Line The touchscreen touchpad in the Asus ZenBook Pro 15 is a fun party trick, but doesn't yet make the case that it's something you actually need.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 5

There's a lot going on in the new 15-inch ZenBook Pro from Asus. It's one of the first laptops to get a top-tier Intel Core i9 processor. Then there's the 15-inch 4K touchscreen. It even has a halfway-decent graphics card for gaming (the Nvidia GeForce 1050Ti). But there's got to be something else besides all that to justify a hefty $2,299, right?

The thing you really want to hear about is the second screen built into the touch pad. Asus calls it the ScreenPad, and it's a full-color 1,920 by 1,080 touchscreen built into the wrist rest of the laptop. Several different modes allow you to use it as a secondary display, a control panel for media or office apps, or just as a regular old touchpad.

Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GE
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This touchpad is a touchscreen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Seeing double

In practice it whips between straight up gimmick and occasionally useful tool, but is just as often frustrating in its seemingly arbitrary limitations. The ScreenPad is at its best when showing off the handful of built-in tools it ships with. Swipe down from the top of the pad and a small line of launch icons appear. There's a music player and calendar, both of which require external Windows software to run, a number pad and a calculator, which might actually be pretty handy, and a well-designed Spotify helper app. Other apps can be added from Asus' app store, and the core icons can be rearranged and changed in the settings menu.

That Spotify hook is the closest I've found to a killer app for the ScreenPad. To use it, you need to have the Spotify app installed and be signed into it. After that's all set up, the touchpad will display the name and cover art of whatever track is playing and provide basic transport controls. There's also a way to navigate to some other parts of Spotify, but I found that to be awkward at best. 

Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GE
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You can control Spotify's music right from the screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Asus ZenBook Pro 15

Price as reviewed $2,299
Display size/resolution 15.6-inch 3,840x2,160 touch display
CPU 2.9GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK
Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz
Graphics 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 5.0
Operating system Window 10 Pro (64-bit)

A handful of other apps are available, including controls for YouTube playback via the Chrome browser and for menu shortcuts in Microsoft Office. Both of those end up being more frustrating than anything else, but for different reasons.

The YouTube helper offers only basic playback controls on the touchpad screen, and doesn't display the video itself. If you're genuinely flummoxed about how to play, pause or mute a YouTube video from within the browser, well, then this may be the app for you. For everyone else, the added value is minimal, especially considering it takes the touchpad out of action for actual on-screen navigation while in use.

Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GE
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Sarah Tew/CNET

There actually is a way to play a video from YouTube or elsewhere on the ScreenPad, but it's a hassle. You have to switch the pad's function from ScreenPad mode to extended display mode, then you can manually move a YouTube or other video window down onto the second screen. Like most of the ScreenPad functions, this works better if you have a mouse hooked up.

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