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Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T review: Nice, but lacking for the price

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The Good The Asus VivoBook V551L is a thin, attractive, and seemingly well-constructed laptop. Its midrange discrete graphics card and 4th-gen Core i7 processor give it overall very good performance and battery life. And it has a 1TB hard drive and DVD burner.

The Bad For the V551LB's near-$1,000 price, the screen is pretty disappointing, as is its slow-spinning hard drive. Also, its keyboard is not backlit, which, again, for the price it should have.

The Bottom Line An attractive, solidly built 15.6-inch thin laptop with overall good performance, the Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T is held back by its lackluster display.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 8
  • Support 7

With the Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T, you get approximately the look and feel of the higher-end Asus Zenbook UX51VZ-DH71, but for a lot less money.

However, if you look closely at the specs and construction of the two, it's easy to see why the V551LB is much less of a notebook than the UX51VZ. Screen resolution and quality, for example, are sacrificed on the V551LB and, although it has a 1TB hard drive for plenty of storage, it doesn't have a solid-state drive or secondary flash memory to help boost performance.

Those things might not be deal breakers for you, but for its price of around $1,000, we've come to expect a bit more. It's not a bad deal, but it's not a great one, either.

Design and features
The V551LB is an attractive notebook. That might not be a priority for everyone, but it's nice that it's not an ugly, plasticky mess, nonetheless. The lid's brushed-metal finish gives it a premium look and the whole body seems well constructed. The bottom of the system is a single piece of polycarbonate, with just a small fan vent and two slits near the front for its stereo speakers.

Though the laptop is relatively thin (it measures 15 inches wide by 10.2 inches deep by 0.9 inch thick), it isn't exactly lightweight at 5.8 pounds. With its small power adapter, the travel weight tips the 6-pound mark. Depending on how strong you are or what else you have to travel with, for a daily commute or carrying around campus, that might be a bit too much.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Lift the lid and you'll find a large touch pad with no discrete buttons for right and left clicks; there is, however, a vertical line at the bottom so you don't have to guess. It's set up for multitouch use, for things like two-finger pinch-to-zoom and scrolling and three-finger swipes for showing open applications or the desktop. Fingers glided smoothly on its surface and it generally didn't misbehave if a palm accidentally landed on it.

It has a full keyboard with a number pad and Asus managed to keep all the important keys large enough for comfortable and accurate typing. Considering how shallow the body is, the keys of the chiclet-style keyboard have very good travel. Plus, there's plenty of room below the keyboard to rest your wrists (though the left side could use a bit more).

It is not backlit, however, and at this price it really should be. Also, there's a key just right of the Backspace key that launches a VivoBook interface for doing things like seeing system information, turning on a power save mode, adjusting audio quality and display color, and learning about gesture support, among other things. It's nice to have, but really easy to accidentally hit instead of the Backspace key and since it actually takes over your screen, it can be frustrating.

Asus VivoBook V551LB Sony Vaio Flip 15 Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277
Price (as reviewed) $999 $1,199 $999.99
Display size, resolution 15.6-inch, 1,366x768 touch screen 15.5-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen 15.6-inch, 1,366x768 touch screen
Processor 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-4500U 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-4500U 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ
Memory 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM 12GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 740M 1.8GB Intel HD Graphics 4400 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 740M
Storage 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive
Optical drive DVD burner None DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
OS Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit)

If there is one thing that would keep me from recommending this laptop, it's the screen. For starters, its pedestrian 1,366x768-pixel resolution is typical of more budget-friendly 15.6-inch laptops like the Acer Aspire E1-572-6870. Like that laptop's, the Asus VivoBook V551LB's display doesn't get all that bright and the screen is very glossy. Trying to work on it outside in daylight or in bright indoor lighting may leave you struggling to see what's onscreen or, at the very least, regularly adjusting your screen angle.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Color is decent for casual use, but washes out some when you're viewing from the sides. Similarly, colors invert when the screen is viewed from above or below. If color accuracy or off-angle viewing is critical to what you need day to day, it's probably time to start looking at other laptops.

The V551LB's built-in speakers aren't great, either. They don't get terribly loud and they sound a bit hollow. They're passable for casual listening, but they don't match the quality of Asus' higher-end laptops. For regular use, you'll probably want to hook up some external speakers or headphones.

Video HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive DVD burner

On a more positive note, the V551LB offers a good amount of ports and connections spread out on both sides of the system. On the left you'll find an Ethernet jack, an HDMI output, and two USB 3.0 ports.

Sarah Tew/CNET

All the remaining connections are on the right along with an SD card slot and, yes, a DVD burner.

Performance and battery life
As mentioned earlier, the V551LB-DB71T has a 5,400rpm 1TB hard drive. If you're looking for the fastest performance these days, you'll want a computer with either a solid-state drive or a hybrid drive that combines a small amount of flash memory with a larger hard drive. That said, a hard drive offers more storage space for your money, so if that is what is most important to you, the V551LB's 1TB is ample, and Asus throws in an additional 32GB of cloud-based Asus WebStorage for three years.

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