The world of 15-inch ultrabooks has always felt odd to me: Intel’s dream of superthin Windows laptops carried over to a big, wide chassis never seemed right, whether it was the 15-inch Samsung Series 9 back in 2012 or this year's Asus VivoBook S500CA, a budget-range touch-screen Windows 8 laptop in 2013.
On the other hand, the $699 S500CA (even less, at some retailers) has an attractive price, a clean, good-looking design, booming speakers, and a touch display that’s responsive and bright, albeit only 1,366x768.
The larger footprint, and its middle-of-the-road battery life, ensure it isn’t a killer laptop. But if you’re into big screens and don’t want to spend a lot, this isn’t a bad bet -- and its processor and performance add up to a better overall value than the similarly large HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z, but slightly more expensive laptops like the Acer Aspire M5 still represent a better bet.
|Price as reviewed||$699|
|Processor||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Memory||6GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Dimensions (WD)||15.0 x 10.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.8/5.5 pounds|
Sleek brushed black aluminum on the top, a soft-touch bottom underneath, and a silver aluminum keyboard deck inside all give the VivoBook the look of a premium laptop. On this larger-bodied ultrabook, the design aesthetic doesn’t seem as thick as the smaller VivoBook I reviewed last year. At 4.8 pounds, it’s lighter than the average 15-inch laptop, but still more than a pound heavier than most smaller ultrabooks. At this weight, you’d almost expect an optical DVD drive, like there is on the Acer M5 -- but there isn’t one.
The extra footprint size gives this laptop the heft of a desktop replacement, though. That does away with the whole ultrabook aesthetic. It’s a computer that’ll feel large in a backpack or have a hard time fitting into one at all. But it's a good deal lighter and slimmer than the average budget 15-inch laptop. It depends on which way you're looking at it.
A big keyboard with a number pad feels reasonably good, but the keys don’t have a lot of travel, nor are they backlit. Volume and screen brightness require pressing down the Fn key at the same time, so it’s hard to think of this as a natural multimedia laptop.
Below, a pretty big multitouch clickpad is more than ample enough to handle any Windows 8 gesture. Its actual handling, however, feels more reflective of the budget category the VivoBook slots into: functional, but not exceptional.
You’ll probably spend more time touching the big 15.6-inch display, which is big, bright, and very responsive to touch gestures. Not all is perfect: the screen resolution’s only 1,366x768 pixels, which amounts to bare-bones functional in the PC universe. It’s good enough for everyday programs, and videos do look sharp, but you can make out pixelation when reading text or looking at detailed photos. Also, the screen’s viewability breaks down fast when not seen head-on.
SonicMaster-branded speakers with grilles located under the chassis pump out far louder and better-sounding audio than I expected. They’re definitely a step above any other budget laptop.
|Asus VivoBook S500CA-DS51T||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||HDMI, VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, 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|
Your basic set of ports includes HDMI, VGA, USB 3.0, an SD card slot, and Ethernet. The Ethernet port’s got a hinged pull-down jack, allowing it to fit into the slim body. Nothing’s missing that you’d miss, except maybe a DVD drive.
It’s really hard to complain about the value package on this VivoBook: $699 (or even less at many Web sites and retailers) gets you a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 6GB of RAM, and a 500GB hybrid hard drive with a 24GB SSD cache. Performance, as you’d expect, matches most ultrabooks featuring that extremely common Core i5 processor. The extra bit of RAM lends a little more zip. Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics are good enough for most uses and for many older games, especially on this display’s lower screen resolution
The nonremovable battery ran for 4 hours and 31 minutes using our video-playback loop test, which isn’t so hot for an ultrabook with integrated Intel graphics. Many laptops run at well over 5 hours. It’s enough for a decent day’s work, provided you’re close to a power outlet and keep power settings adjusted. The laptop is large enough that it’ll probably stay anchored on your desk anyway.
This laptop reminds me of those big-boned budget finds from several years ago, when laptop manufacturers would often stick the guts of a midlevel PC into a larger chassis, often with lower-than-expected battery life. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that equation, but when portability starts to go out the window on a laptop, you’ve got to wonder what you get in exchange. This VivoBook isn’t a powerhouse CPU-wise, nor does it have any Nvidia or AMD graphics, or even a DVD drive.
If you’re a budget Windows 8 laptop hunter, want a touch screen, and value a physically large screen more than better battery life or screen resolution, then the VivoBook S500CA’s worth a look. It’s also a pretty good cover-the-bases laptop for most people, especially if you’re keeping it on a desk most of the time. Just keep in mind that it’s larger, and bulkier, than the "ultrabook" moniker implies.
Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.
Asus VivoBook S500C
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB HD + 24GB SSD
HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15 Sleekbook
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/sp 1; 1.8GHz AMD A8-455M APU; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 512MB (Shared) AMD Radeon HD 7600G; 750GB Seagate 5,400rpm
Dell Inspiron 15z
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 500GB HD + 32GB SSD
Toshiba Satellite U845t-S4165
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Toshiba SSD