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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.
|Asus VivoBook X202E||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||HDMI, VGA||HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/mic jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Connections, performance, and battery
Despite its small size, the X202E manages to fit in three USB ports, two video outputs, and an Ethernet jack. Keep that in mind the next time you look at the pocketful of external dongles some ultrabooks force you to carry around. On the downside, only one of the USB ports is 3.0 speed, and I can only wonder if there would be any size/weight savings could be found by ditching the dated VGA port.
Trading down to an Intel Core i3 CPU, a part found in only the most budget level of laptops these days, definitely has an effect on performance, as seen in our benchmark tests, running slower than Core i5 low-voltage laptops. If you're only doing one thing at a time, and sticking with everyday tasks such as Web surfing, watching videos, or social networking, there's a good chance you won't notice much of a difference at all. Start adding multiple windows, apps, and simultaneous tasks, and some slowdown is likely.
There was a world of difference, however, between the Core i3 performance, and the performance in Windows 8 systems with Intel's Atom series of processors, as found in the HP Envy X2, Acer W510, and other hybrids. Atom-based systems, despite being pushed in a big way by Intel and Microsoft, are much slower than the i3.
The battery life we've seen from those Atom systems, slow as they are, has been frankly amazing, topping 10 hours in our tests. The Core i3 in the X202E doesn't fare as well, running for 3 hours and 29 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which is less than a lot of recent Core i5 laptops (which, to be fair, have bigger bodies and can fit in bigger batteries). Still 3.5 hours isn't very impressive for an ultraportable, and that's something to factor in along with the price.
I love the idea of touch-screen Windows 8 laptops dipping down close to $500. There are trade-offs to be sure, in processing power, input device quality, and battery life, and spending another $150 to $200 could make a big difference. But as far as $550 Windows 8 laptops go, the X202E is portable and useful, and worth a look for budget shoppers.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i3-3427U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 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 x2
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB SSD
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 180GB Intel SSD