X

Asus VivoBook S400CA review: Won't be the life of the party

Under the new VivoBook branding, this Windows 8 touch laptop is an awful lot like the competition.

Scott_Stein.jpg
Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg

Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

See full bio
7 min read

Windows 8 may have one foot solidly planted in the future, but in the present it needs to be a reliable OS for everyday computers, too. While Macs are pricier, Windows PCs have always been what to look at if you're on a budget: this Asus VivoBook S400CA is meant to be exactly that sort of value machine, with a price tag of $700 and a touch screen to boot.

ASUS VivoBook S400CA DH51T - 14" - Core i5 3317U - Windows 8 64-bit - 4 GB RAM - 500 GB HDD
7.4

Asus VivoBook S400CA

The Good

The <b>Asus VivoBook S400CA</b> is a reasonably priced 14-inch laptop with a touch screen, and a solid, mostly metal body.

The Bad

An uncomfortably mushy keyboard, a lower-resolution display, and unimpressive battery life make this laptop feel like a series of compromises.

The Bottom Line

You get a decent 14-inch laptop package in the Asus VivoBook, especially given that it has a touch screen, but it doesn't add up to anything particularly impressive that you can't get elsewhere either with better design or for a lower price.

"VivoBook" is a new Asus brand, adding to an already densely crowded galaxy of Asus laptop products. But, top to bottom, the VivoBook S400CA is really just your classic 2012 mainstream budget ultrabook, made a little thicker and outfitted with a touch screen. That's not such a bad thing, but it's hardly unique: we've seen a lot of budget picks recently, including the Acer Aspire V5 and M5 481PT. The Acer M5 has a DVD drive, too.

What does the VivoBook offer that other laptops don't? Nothing, really. The design's reasonably attractive, but a slim Zenbook this is not. The battery life is serviceable, not stellar, and the laptop's not all that comfortable to use.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Considering the VivoBook S400CA as a total package, I'm left with a lukewarm feeling. It's less expensive than many touch-enabled laptops, but still not cheap enough, thin enough, powerful enough, or well-designed enough to stake a definitive spot above the competition. It's good, but not great -- and I have a feeling that 2013 will present a ton of similar-looking, more competitively priced alternatives.

Price as reviewed $699
Processor 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
Memory 4GB, 1,600MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB, 5,400rpm + 24GB SSD hybrid
Chipset Intel HM77
Graphics Intel HD 4000
Operating system Windows 8 (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 13.4x9.4 inches
Height 0.8 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 14 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 4.1 pounds / 4.8 pounds
Category Midsize

Bigger than your average ultrabook
The Asus Zenbook was notable largely for being the closest thing in terms of surface design to a MacBook Air for Windows. The VivoBook takes some of those touches and incorporates them into a larger, thicker laptop made with a combination of metal and plastic.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The VivoBook certainly looks nice: from its black brushed-metal back lid to its silver aluminum interior and black-bezeled screen covered in edge-to-edge glass, I found myself wanting to pick it up and review it immediately. Once I did, some of that initial joy faded away.

The VivoBook S400CA is heavy -- not a block of lead, but heavier than an ultrabook. It looks astonishingly like a MacBook Air from the front (with the addition of the edge-to-edge glass and black bezels), but it's 0.83 inch thick and weighs 4 pounds. Granted, this is a 14-inch laptop, but it lacks a DVD drive or any higher-end graphics and features other than a touch screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Touch screen vs. keyboard and touch pad
That capacitive touch screen, much like the screens on other Windows 8 computers and tablets, feels very responsive, similar to screens on modern smartphones or tablets. The lid bends back pretty far on a somewhat stiff hinge, and the upper lid feels like it doesn't flex when you're touching and tapping at any angle.

The screen quality, however, is fair at best. A 1,366x768-pixel resolution is the generic baseline for laptops, and the screen brightness feels soft. Off-axis vertical viewing isn't good, either, but you can at least see the screen decently from side to side. The screen threw off some glare in my office, too. It's good enough for average use, and touch works very well.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Another letdown: the keyboard. The raised chiclet-style keys aren't backlit, and feel mushier to the touch than those of other high-end keyboards. The only backlit key is the power button. Volume and screen brightness controls layered on top of the Fn keys aren't function-reversed, either, which means to use them you need to hunt down the Fn key to press simultaneously.

A very large multitouch clickpad lies flush with the palm rest, making off-edge finger gestures a breeze. Responsiveness feels mixed, but it's a better experience than on other recent Windows 8 laptops I've seen from Sony and Toshiba...when it doesn't crash. On my review unit, the gesture support suddenly dropped out and I was unable to switch apps from the clickpad after watching a movie using the Netflix app.

Speakers and software
SonicMaster-branded stereo speakers with Waves MaxxAudio 3 are tucked away under grilles on the left and right sides of the laptop bottom, and offer better-than-average pop for movies and TV shows. "The Adventures of Tintin" sounded crisp and enjoyable.

Asus didn't overcrowd the assortment of preinstalled apps and software on the VivoBook S400CA, focusing on basic dashboardlike settings apps that help streamline basic fine-tuning of Windows 8. For newcomers, finding your way around Windows 8's multifaceted layout can be pretty confusing.

Asus VivoBook S400CA-UH51 Average for category [midsize]
Video HDMI, VGA VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader 2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None DVD burner

Sarah Tew/CNET

Ports, performance, and bang for the buck
You can see the ports and connections in the photo above, but I'll just say that the Acer Aspire M5 managed to fit an optical drive into a similarly sized space, partly because it moved its ports to the rear. Otherwise, the VivoBook matches the average laptop's feature set.

Equipped with the practically generation-standard 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317 processor, as seen in many other ultrabooks, along with its Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics, the VivoBook S400CA hardly surprises. It performs about as well as any of the other laptops we've seen, handling applications well and running games reasonably effectively, too, provided they're not graphics barnburners. That's good news, because it means the VivoBook performs well enough to do almost anything you'd expect out from a basic laptop. You get 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive with an added 24GB solid-state drive (SSD) cache, which makes booting up feel speedier.

The bad news, of course, is that the S400CA doesn't do things any better, particularly, than its chief competitors, and if you look at the benchmark charts below, for a few tasks it was actually a little bit slower.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in minutes)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in minutes)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Load test (avg. watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus VivoBook S400CA
26.49 

I wish I could say something profound about the VivoBook S400CA; I can't. Despite the new brand name it's a very familiar product, a big-boned 14-inch ultrabook with a touch screen and somewhat unimpressive feel and design. Getting this much computer plus a touch screen for $700 is a pretty good value, but I'd recommend the Acer Aspire M5 over it because the Acer has better battery life (see below), a backlit keyboard, and a DVD drive.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life and warranty
Speaking of battery life, the Asus VivoBook S400CA eked out 4 hours and 45 minutes of run time in our video-playback drain test. That's not as long as similarly sized laptops like the Acer Aspire M5-481PT, HP Envy 4, and Toshiba Satellite P845t lasted, though in some cases not by much. It's better than the Acer Aspire V5's time. Still, you'd ideally aim for closer to 6 hours of battery life in an ultrabook-style laptop like this one, and there are products out there (the Acer Aspire M5, in particular) that achieve it.

Asus gives a one-year warranty with accidental damage protection for this particular model, the Asus VivoBook S400CA-UH51 (confusingly, a similarly specced S400CA-DH51t model is also sold on some Web sites). The Asus Web site can get a little confusing to navigate, but 24-7 phone support is available at 888-678-3688. To find your laptop's support information, the fastest way is to type the model number into the support page search box.

Conclusion
The Asus VivoBook S400CA may have a new name, but it's a very familiar laptop, infusing some of the Zenbook design into a 14-inch Windows 8 laptop with a touch screen. It's aggressively priced at $700, and covers all the bases you might be looking for in the average laptop, but lacks a killer feature, or a particularly killer price, considering the new bottom line in Windows touch laptops extends as low as $500. Even though it's relatively well-designed, you can sense the corners that were cut; and it's easy to imagine other laptops leapfrogging it in 2013 sooner than later. But for now, it's a fair value.

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.

System configurations:

Asus VivoBook S400CA
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Toshiba Satellite P845T-S4310
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 750GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio T13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Acer Aspire M5-481PT
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm + 20GB SSD Hybrid

HP Envy 4-1102
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Dell Inspiron 13z - 5323
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

ASUS VivoBook S400CA DH51T - 14" - Core i5 3317U - Windows 8 64-bit - 4 GB RAM - 500 GB HDD
7.4

Asus VivoBook S400CA

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8Battery 7Support 8
laptop
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping