Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 16 review: When two screens are better than one

Whenever I’m away from my desk and dual monitors, it feels like an out-of-body experience. I’m constantly yearning for just a little more screen space. But when you’re traveling, what are you supposed to do? Sure, you can get a portable monitor, but thats kind of bulky and largely’ redundant when you’re at home. Instead, consider the ROG Zephyrous Duo 16, because after a couple generations of refinement, it feels like Asus is starting to hit its stride with its funky dual-screened clamshells.

You get a big 16-inch main display with high refresh rates, top-notch gaming components and a 14-inch secondary screen for all your multitasking needs. And while I certainly wouldn’t call it petite, the Zephyrus Duo 16 isn’t that Much bigger than a traditional 16-inch thin and light, despite packing desktop-level performance. Really, the main factor preventing it from being a great mobile gaming battle station is its price. That’s Because With a starting price of $2,500 (or closer to $4,000 for our loaded review unit), the Duo 16 definitely ain’t cheap.

Pro

  • Bonus 14-inch secondary display
  • Strong performance
  • Good port selection
  • Unique design
  • Potent speakers

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Weak battery life
  • High-pitched fans
  • Somewhat awkward touchpad
  • Relatively bulky

Design

As part of ASUS’ ROG family of gaming notebooks, the Duo 16 has aggressive styling, though most of the fireworks are only visible once you open the lid. ASUS’ dual-panel setup is a bold move at reducing anxiety caused by limited screen real estate. However, it does come with some drawbacks. Because the ScreenPad Plus dominates the upper half of the laptop’s deck, ASUS had to shove the touchpad in the bottom right corner. And measuring barely more than two inches wide, things can definitely feel cramped. Then you factor in half-sized arrow keys, shortcuts and media controls, and there’s a lot going in not a lot of space.

That said, Asus does its best to make the most of those areas, with the touchpad pulling double duty as a number pad. All you have to do is tap the shadowy icon in the top left for a second, and voila.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Still, there’s no hiding the Duo 16’s somewhat bulky chassis, which weighs over 5.5 pounds and measures 0.8-inches thick. These dimensions are right on the edge of being able to fit into a typical laptop sleeve, so anyone planning on buying a Duo 16 will want to make sure their bag of choice has plenty of room.

On the bright side, Asus has plenty of room for a healthy amount of ports, including two USB-A, two USB-C, HDMI 2.1, a microSD card reader and even a full-size Ethernet jack. My only complaint is that because of the ScreenPad’s complicated hinge, the location of the proprietary power plug on its left side can be a bit awkward. I really wish they had found room for that somewhere around back.

Display(s)

It might look like overkill, but having a second display for social media or streaming video while gaming is a great use of ASUS' ScreenPad Plus.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

OK, let’s move on to the Duo 16’s displays, which provide a really compelling one-two punch. The main 16-inch display features a speedy three-millisecond response time. On higher-end models like our $4,000 review unit, you even get a mini LED panel that puts out an impressive 700 nits of brightness. And that’s coming from a screen with a matte finish, which typically lowers light output a touch. Meanwhile, thanks to a color gamut that Asus claims covers 100 percent of the DCI-P3 spectrum, the Duo 16’s primary display is just as good at pumping out vivid colors in games as it is replicating accurate ones in Photoshop.

However, the laptop’s real party trick is its 14-inch ScreenPad Plus, which supports touch and offers a 1950 x 550 resolution on the base model, or 3840 x 1100 pixels on upgraded configs. Our review unit’s ScreenPad registered 300 nits on our lightmeter, which isn’t nearly as bright as the main screen, but it’s good enough.

In addition to a number of handy features, the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 16's ScreenPad Plus is configured in Windows as a generic display, which makes it easy to use shortcuts to move or snap apps to its secondary panel.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

To get the most use out of its secondary display, ASUS packed the ScreenPad Plus with a ton of nifty features including shortcuts to performance and lighting settings, customizable window layouts, and the ability to mirror your phone’s screen, though that last one can be a little janky. Heck, there’s even a secondary numpad tool, in case the one built into the touchpad isn’t enough. And on the Duo 16, Asus upgraded the ScreenPad’s hinge so that it rests at a steeper angle when open, which improves both ergonomics and cooling.

Now all that’s nice, but for me, the best use of the ScreenPad Plus is simply providing extra room for social media, streaming video services, or anything else you want to keep in sight, keeping my most important apps up top. When I’m gaming, the main screen is where the action is at, while having Discord and YouTube open down below are great for chatting with friends and staying entertained during loading screens. And if I’m working, the ScreenPad is perfect for stuff like Slack that doesn’t require constant attention.

Because of its design, the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 16's touchpad is rather cramped.  But ASUS tries to make up for that with a feature that transforms the touchpad into a number pad with a single touch.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Also, because the ScreenPad Plus is configured in Windows as a generic display, that means you can use keyboard shortcuts to quickly move apps from your main display to the secondary screen or snap them to the side as needed. Is it as good as having a full second monitor? No, but it’s enough to make things a lot more comfortable.

Webcam and sound

The Duo 16 makes it easy to log in using facial recognition with its 720 webcam and Windows Hello support. Unfortunately, image quality is mediocre at best, and as I’ve said before, 1080p should be the baseline for all modern laptops — especially one this expensive.

Thankfully, the Duo 16 boasts a powerful six-speaker setup with support for Dolby Atmos, so you get a performance mode in games that focuses on delivering accurate directional sound, along with a bunch of intelligent and preset EQs for movies and music. You even have the ability to create custom audio profiles, though, I wish the Duo 16 offered just a bit more low-end thump.

Performance

The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 16 features a wealth of ports including two USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, HDMI 2.1, a microSD card reader and an Ethernet jack.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

While a base Duo 16 only comes with an NVIDIA RTX 3060 GPU, our fully-loaded review unit features an AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX chip and an RTX 3080 Ti graphics card, not to mention 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD. So it probably won’t be a surprise when I tell you this thing is basically the fastest laptop we’ve tested this year. It notched top scores in Geekbench 5’s compute test, 3DMark’s TimeSpy Extreme and more.

Naturally, the Duo 16’s gaming performance is also rather strong, hitting 145 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider on highest settings and 85 fps in Metro Exodus on high. And that was with both games running at 2560 x 1600. So really, the only limiting factor regarding performance is how much you’re willing to shell out for high-end components.

Laptop

PCMark 10

Geekbench 5 Compute

3DMark Timespy Extreme

ROG Zephyrus Duo 16

7,199

140,278

5,990

Razer Blade 15 (2022)

7,085

132,272

4,798

Acer Predator Triton 500 SE

6,779

125,001

4,887

Alienware x14

7,073

85,504

3,362

I also want to mention that while the Duo 16 normally keeps its thermals and fan noise in check, under full load, things can get a bit raucous. At full blast, you might hear a high-pitched whine coming from the vents that can get a little annoying. But you can always adjust that by going into ASUS’ Armory Crate app. There’s even a custom fan curve setting if you want to dial things in manually. Alternatively, you could just put on some headphones and make the fan noise someone else’s problem, not that I’ve ever done that.

Battery Life

Laptop

Battery life

ROG Zephyrus Duo 16

3:45

Razer Blade 15 (2022)

5:42

Acer Predator Triton 500 SE

5:25

The obvious downside to having a laptop this big and powerful is weak battery life. With both the main display and the ScreenPad enabled, the Duo 16 lasted just three hours and 45 minutes on our local video rundown test. That’s an hour and a half less than the Acer Predator Triton 500 SE and the Razer Blade 15, which themselves aren’t exactly shining examples of longevity. So you better make sure you save room for the Duo 16’s two-pound power brick in your bag too.

Wrap up

Right now, the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 16 high price makes it a somewhat niche device.  But it serves as an interesting and surprisingly practical demo of the benefits of adding a second display to a laptop.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Look, with a base price of $2,500 that quickly climbs above $3K when well equipped, it’s going to be tough to fit the ROG Duo 16 in most people’s budget. On top of that, it’s big, heavy and short on battery life. But for the kind of people who constantly find themselves seeking more screen space — especially when out and about — Asus’ innovative setup gives you more usable display area in less space than practically any other laptop maker. And while its keyboard and touchpad are cramped, combining big performance with a truly unique design feels like we’re seeing an evolution of the desktop replacement notebook happen in front of our eyes. That means this thing will be a rather niche device, but if you’re looking for something to cure your dual-screen FOMO, Asus’s ROG Duo 16 does it better than anything else on the market.

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