Say hello to the Asus VivoBook S400. For P36,000.00, you get a 14.1 inch touchscreen Windows 8 notebook with an aluminum-sturdy housing, unexpectedly loud speakers, and a bright 1366×768 multi-touch panel display (16:9 HD) with excellent side viewing angles. When you watch a movie at Starbucks, the people on your left and right, will be watching with you.
The hybrid storage (500GB HDD + 24GB SSD cache) allows for fast app loads, boot ups, and a 2-second resume from sleep. Comfortable keyboard, responsive touchpad. Another unexpected bonus was the stiff display hinge, which was actually good: you don’t want the screen wobbling at every tap and swipe.
The brushed aluminum, black keys on steel gray, and the black border on the screen are clearly MacBook Air-inspired, but those are actual good points. With plastic housing notebooks (that’s how manufacturers pull down the price point) the keyboard center and screen (when closed) tend to flex badly, and although the notebook is light in your bag, you fear the bumps and drops. There’s none of that in the Asus VivoBook S400. The notebook has a comforting heft that tells you it’s sturdy. It’s light enough at 1.8 kgs and thin at 1.8 kgs.
Point is, I love the comfort that’s a consequence of the design decisions, and part of your buying dilemma is whether you can deal with that battery life and non-backlit keyboard. If there is one thing that, for me, overcomes both compromises, it’s the fact that this 14.1 incher rarely got hot during those long hours on my lap.
Asus stayed conservative with the design. There’s no back-flipping or side-twisting display. It’s essentially a notebook without a CD tray with a bonus touchscreen. Still, I’d actually recommend this over another “budget” ultrabook whose only advantage is a super comfortable keyboard.
Intel Core i5 3317U Ivy Bridge
4GB DDR3 1600 MHz SDRAM (2GB On-Board + 2GB )
500GB HDD + 24GB SSD for Cache
14.1” 16:9 HD 1366×768 Multi-Touch Panel
Intel HD 4000 Graphics
1 x COMBO audio jack
1 x VGA port/Mini D-sub 15-pin for external monitor
1 x USB 3.0 port(s)
2 x USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x RJ45 LAN Jack for LAN insert
1 x HDMI
SonicMaster Audio Technology
1.8kg Light, 21mm thin
Microsoft Windows 8
Because design is essentially a compromise, and because of the price point, the Asus VivoBook S400 compromises in two departments. It only has five hours of battery life and the keyboard is not backlit. You could also throw in a complaint about a higher resolution display, but you won’t, because the price would jump. Also, remember that this isn’t a gaming or video editing notebook.
A movie or two with the VivoBook, as with another budget ultrabook, cuts the projected battery life by half. I’m not surprised by this, just a little dismayed because I enjoyed watching movies on the S400 that I did not want to bother about plugging it into a wall socket.
As for the lack of a backlit keyboard, I discovered that the onscreen keyboard of Windows 8 can, to some degree, make up for that. With Internet Explorer 10, for example, you can tap and hold on a link until a transluscent square pops out. Pull your finger back and a “right click” menu pops out, through which you can open the link in another browser.
If the keyboard, the touchpad, the screen, the heft, the overlook doesn’t suck, there’s nothing else to do but dive in. And there’s no choice here, it’s Windows 8. Just a few notes about Windows 8.
* It’s not generally known that Windows 8 works perfectly well with either a mouse or a touchpad. The mouse takes some getting used to, but the swipe gestures on the touchpad are almost direct “translations” of the gestures on the touchscreen. (Maybe technoodling should write a Windows 8 guide?)
* You can, to some extent, ignore both the Windows 8 interface and the touchscreen and use only the Desktop only version and the touchpad. Windows 8 is actually two OS’s in one – one is a slick tile-oriented full screen version, and the other dons the traditional Windows 7-look. It’s schizophrenic in this way, but it seems to be the only way to assure hesitant upgraders that Windows 8 is still “familiar”.
* You can run all your Windows 7 apps on Windows 8. No need to downgrade to Windows 7. Right away I installed Chrome, Firefox, and VLC. My review unit also came with a trial MS Office 2010. I’d much rather spend time inside Windows 8 but I found myself going back to the Desktop, the familiar Desktop.
* You’ll be freaked out by the user interface of Windows 8 if you expect it to behave like Windows 7. But if you’re used to discovering touchscreen gestures on iOS and Android, you’ll figure out quickly which gestures do which trick. And soon you’ll love reading full screen in Internet Explorer 10. “Love” and “Internet Explorer” – I never thought I’d say them in the same sentence, ever, but there it is.
* Compared to Mac and iOS and Android stores, the Windows market is not as robust. But what makes up for this is the fact that you can install your legacy apps. You just need to do it without a CD tray.
If you think you can live with the Asus VivoBook S400’s non-backlit keyboard and a five hour battery life, along with its bright display, responsive (non-wobbling) touchscreen and touchpad, comfortable keyboard, sturdy build, and more importantly, the negligible warmth in its underbelly, and the fact that this isn’t a gaming or video editing gear, then this ultrabook is for you.
We’ll end this review with a few more shots around the S400 followed by some neat Windows 8 apps, including a shot of Snap View, or two apps running side by side, in action.
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