Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)
Alienware 14 (Core i7, 16GB, 256GB SSD, Nvidia GTX765M)stars
No complaints about the performance, but the design changes don't go nearly far enough.
The cost of entry into the world of touch-screen Windows 8 laptops has been falling since the first $1,600-plus systems we previewed in the fall of 2012. Many of the early examples were north of $1,000, but by the time the holiday shopping season got into gear, Black Friday specials brought a few basic models down below $600.
The 11-inch Asus VivoBook X202E is $549, even apart from holiday sales (technically the list price is $599, but it's widely available for $50 less). For that, you get an Intel Core i3 processor -- rather than the more common Core i5 version -- plus a 500GB HDD and 4GB of RAM.
That CPU downgrade is the X202E's biggest concession to affordability, and it's something to seriously consider. There's a definite performance difference between this and a touch-screen Windows 8 laptop with an Intel Core i5 processor, which can cost you about $200 or more extra. On the other hand, we've also tested a handful of Windows 8 systems with Intel Atom CPUs, and despite not costing any less than this, those Atom systems are slower on our performance tests by a large margin.
The physical design is a bit of a mixed bag. The X202E is relatively slim, with a part-aluminum body, but thicker than one might expect in today's ultrabook-centric world. The keyboard is small but functional, but the touch pad is frustratingly unresponsive at times, requiring frequent use of the touch screen as a backup.
I'm confident that we'll see many more sub-$600 Windows 8 touch-screen laptops in 2013, and hopefully that will include Core i5 systems as well (perhaps with Intel's upcoming fourth-gen version of the i-series chips). In the meantime, the X202E is one of the better bargains around if you're looking for a low-cost way to get Windows 8 and a touch screen in a mostly usable package.
|Price as reviewed||$549|
|Processor||1.8GHz Intel Core i3-3427U|
|Memory||4GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.9 x 7.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.1/3.4 pounds|
Design and features
Asus has long been a leader at taking lower-end machines and making them look more expensive than they are. You can see the influence of high-end laptops, such as the Asus Zenbook series, in this model, which is tagged with the VivoBook name (a name you're unlikely to ever hear anyone walk into a retail store and ask for).
The back of the lid has a brushed-metal top layer, with other metal accents throughout, although there's more plastic on the body than you'd find in a more expensive laptop. At 0.8 inch thick and a hair under 3 pounds, it's both chunky and heavy for an 11-inch laptop, at least in today's ultrabook-obsessed market. A couple of years ago, this would have been the body of a $1,000-plus ultraportable laptop.
When you're dealing with a chassis this small, the keyboard and touch pad input usually involves serious compromise. In this case we have a keyboard that's small, but works well, and a touch pad that's large, but underwhelming.
The island-style keyboard has keys that are on the small side, especially if you're used to the bigger keys on 13-inch ultrabooks (11-inch laptops are rare these days). The keys are also a bit shallow, but important ones, such as the Backspace, Enter, and Shift keys are given extra room, making keyboard navigation easier. F-key functions, such as volume and screen brightness controls, are regrettably still mapped to the Fn+F-key combo, making it a hassle to, for example, mute the speakers on the fly.
Despite these limitations, typing was easy and mostly error-free on the X202E, after you take a few minutes to adjust to the layout and key spacing. For a such a small ultraportable, it's a very satisfactory typing experience.
I wish the same could be said about the touch pad. It's large, and of the clickpad style, meaning it lacks separate left and right mouse buttons, thereby giving the pad itself more surface area. But, it's also frustratingly unresponsive, especially when two-finger scrolling through Web pages and documents, or navigating the traditional Windows desktop view. In the tile-based Windows 8 UI, it was fine, but there's only a limited amount of swiping and clicking you'll be doing there.
It's not fair to expect every Windows laptop to have a touch pad as useful and responsive as the ones on Apple's MacBooks, but I found navigation to be a constant headache, and frequently ended up resorting to the touch screen to interact with the system.
The 11.6-inch display has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is on the low side for a modern laptop, but perfectly fine for a small screen such as this. The display is covered with an edge-to-edge glass overlay, but it still has a very thick bezel under the glass, making the screen appear smaller than it is. Touch response from the screen is excellent, and off-axis viewing angles are also very good.