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Ultraportable laptops

Asus VivoBook S400CA review

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The Asus S400CA-040H is the first in Asus’ new VivoBook range. These are highly portable Ultrabook-style laptops. With their 10-point touchscreen they might even be a route to a better understanding of the controversial Windows 8. Two models will be made, with either 11.6in or 14.0in display.

Here we've reviewed the 14in-screen Asus S400CA-040H, which comes with an Intel i7-3517U processor. Cheaper models in the S400CA range (the CA038H and CA039H) come with similar specs, but use Core i3 and i5 processors respectively. 

As well as these S400CA models, Asus will also be selling models under £400 from the even more affordable S200 family, based on the 11.6in display, but still with a touchscreen.

First impressions are very strong. Styling is very much Apple influenced once again and the laptop verges on ultraportable status. It’s 21mm thick at the rear and at the sides, with the lid closed, it’s around 16mm, falling to 12mm at its thinnest. 

It feels amazingly slim, and the brushed aluminium makes for a smart but attractive case, even if the lid is a little too fast in picking up fingerprint smudges. 

The 1.8kg weight is relatively modest given the 14in screen, and the laptop might be lighter still if there wasn't a need to supply the base with plenty of mass. This is necessary for the Asus to remain stable while you use the touchscreen. 

This being a comparatively light laptop, there are inevitably omissions, the most obvious of which is the optical drive. If you want to load up software from disc, you'll need an external drive. 

It may be possible to find some versions of the VivoBook with solid-state storage. However, our review sample of S400CA doesn't, issuing instead a Seagate 500GB hard disk. It didn't seem to slow down the Asus too much in everyday Windows tasks. And it booted up from cold in under 15 seconds. 

The 14in display offers clarity, even if it doesn't always bring out all detail with its relatively limited 1366 x 768-pixel resolution. The colour palette is pleasing, if a little light. Despite it being a glossy screen, the reflections weren't too obtrusive. 

The panel is sadly using cheap twisted nematic (TN) technology rather than IPS, so it does have issues with limited viewing angles. You may need to fiddle around with the angle of the screen in order to see its picture. 

As a touchscreen the 14in display is a triumph. Its very sensitivity, and with practice we were able to punch tiny icons with reasonable accuracy. After practice we found moving from keyboard and trackpad to touchscreen and back came to feel like second nature. Windows 8 was designed for laptops like this.

Performance

The Asus wasn't quite as fast as we might have hoped. In PCMark 7 it achieved a score of 2928. This is decent, but we expected a higher score given that the Asus has an Intel i7-3517U chip. 

Gaming performance is also curtailed, in part due to the onboard Intel HD Graphics 4000 controller. We've seen up to 29fps with this graphics solution before but here it could only muster 22fps in FEAR. In our Crysis tests, it finished only marginally ahead of the Core i5-powered Acer V3-571, playing up to 64fps at 1024x768 in Low detail.

The Asus keyboard lacks depth. It's still comparatively pleasant to type on, and we didn't experience too many problems with inaccuracies, but ardent touch typists may hanker for a less shallow keyboard. Size isn't an issue with the 104x71mm trackpad, and its decent size offers plenty of finger room. Multi-touch gestures are fully implemented. But the trackpad lacks precision, and it's easy to find yourself accidentally resizing a window when you meant to click on an icon. 

Connectivity is decent. HDMI and VGA ports offer both digital and analogue options for external monitors, while three USB ports (one of them USB 3.0) are placed at the sides, alongside the SD card reader. Wireless facilities are covered by single-band 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 controllers, while the ethernet port is gigabit. 

Sound from the speakers is a little distant, but will suffice for Windows alerts or a brief burst of a music or film clip. 

The Asus is pleasingly quiet in operation, barely adding to existing noise levels for the most part. 

Battery life is disappointing. The Asus is saddled with a three-cell battery, which rather cuts the time you can keep using the laptop for. We got 3 hours and 27 minutes from it in MobileMark 2007 Productivity test.



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