Hey everyone, Mike here and this is the Asus Vivobook S301, a 13 inch portable laptop with a touchscreen, Intel Haswell hardware and optional dedicated graphics, that starts at around 700 dollars in the US and about 700 euros over here in Europe.
But is it something worth looking at and eventually buying? Well, that you’ll find out from this article.
Before we start, it’s important to understand exactly what we’re looking at here. The S301 is not one of the sleekest or lightest 13 inchers and it lacks fancy features, like a backlit keyboard, SSD storage or a high resolution panel. It’s designed to offer an excellent bang for the buck and that’s why it is one of the few Haswell 13 inchers to bundle dedicated graphics.
We have the Vivobook S301LP version here, with an AMD Radeon graphics chip. Asus sells the S301LA version as well, which ditches the dedicated graphics, but is more affordable and lasts longer on a charge. The S301 line is sold as the Q301 in some regions, including the US, and that means that over there you’re going to find the Vivobook Q301LA, the cheaper versions without dedicated graphics, or the Vivobook Q301LP, the one with the AMD graphics, identical to our test unit.
And one more thing: out test unit is a pre-production PR sample, that’s why I did encounter some issues with the existing drivers. So take all the numbers and results in regards to performances with a grain of salt and expect the final product to perform somewhat better.
Asus Vivobook S301 / Q301 video review
The specs sheet for the Asus Vivobook S301 / Q301
|Asus Vivobook S301LP / Q301LP
|Screen||13.3 inch, 1366 x 768 px resolution, TFT, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Haswell Core i7-4500U CPU|
|Video||integrated Intel 4400 HD + AMD Radeon Mobility 8530G|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3|
|Storage||750 GB 5400 rpm HDD|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Gigabit Lan, Bluetooth|
|Ports||3xUSB, SD card reader, HDMI, LAN|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Size||330 x 233 x 21 mm (12.9″ x 9.1″ x 0.8″)|
|Weight||about 1.75 kg (3.8 pounds)|
Design and exterior
For starters, let me tell you that this is a fairly sleek and sturdy machine. It’s not really as thoroughly polished as some of the premium ultrabooks you can find these days in stores, but for the money, is definitely good enough.
Aluminum is used for the upper part, the sides and the laptop’s interior, while some rough plastic covers the underbelly. Which BTW can be removed without voiding warranty, by taking care of the 10 or so screws holding it in place, and that will allow you to access the internals, in case you want to upgrade stuff here. More about that in the Hardware and performances section.
Anyway, I don’t really have much to complain about this laptop in terms of looks and build quality. Nor can I complain about the footprint or weight, although you will find thinner and lighter 13 inch notebooks on the market, especially if you are willing to spend more on them. At 3.8 pounds, the S301 is a bit on the heavy side for a 13 inch ultrabook, but given what it packs and the price, I can definitely live with that.
Opening the lid, you’ll notice the metal dressed interior, as I mentioned earlier, that creates a nice contrast with the keyboard. The palm-rest is spacious and that makes the S301 comfortable to use even for hours in a row, despite the fairly sharp edges. The Power button is placed in the Left-top corner, with some LEDs next to it, and you’ll find more status LEDs on the front edge, towards the right.
Keyboard and trackpad
Anyway, let’s turn our attention on the keyboard.
The keys are large, properly spaced and stiff enough, so they will register commands even when pressed on the sides. At the same time, the rather shallow travel is something you will have to get used to and there’s no back-lighting system, if you care about that.
The layout is alright, with a few exceptions. For instance, there are no dedicated Home and End buttons, as you’ll have to press FN and the arrow keys for that. Which BTW, are tiny, and I did find that very annoying in games, where those keys are crucial.
The trackpad is smooth, properly sized and most of the time accurate, although I did find it somewhat over-sensible, but that can be to some extent tweaked from the software. It supports all kind of gestures, including those characteristic to Windows 8.
And then there’s the screen. If you’re used to a premium display and care a lot about viewing angles or a non-glare finishing, this is not going to be the one for your. For the average user though that only wants a decent screen and doesn’t have high expectations, this will do.
We have a 13.3 inch touchscreen on the S301, with 1366 x 766 px resolution and a TN panel, and that translates in a rather low pixel-density and not the best contrast or viewing angles.
Regardless, as long as you’ll keep this Vivobook mostly inside and on a desk, you’re going to be fine with it. Otherwise, you might get annoyed by the reflective glass covering the screen and the fact that you can’t completely lean back this display and adjust the vertical viewing position in more difficult conditions (on a plane or while lying on the couch).
Hardware and performances
All these being said, the S301 is more or less similar to all the Vivobooks we’ve seen in the past (Check out my review for the S200, the S400 or the newer S551 with Haswell). And that’s because the major update lies inside, where the laptop bundles the latest Intel ULV hardware platform and something on top.
I have the most powerful configuration for this review, with an Intel Core i7-4500U processor, 8 GB of RAM, dedicated AMD Radeon graphics on top of that Intel HD 4400 chip embedded within the CPU and a 750GB hard-drive. But there will be plenty of options available in stores, with Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs, various types of storage and with or without dedicated graphics, as you can see below, in the Prices section.
Overall, these make for a potent machine. The S301 can handle all sorts of tasks, from everyday activities like browsing or editing documents, to playing movies and games. There is one thing however dragging down the overall speed of this notebook: the 5400 rpm hard-drive without any SSD caching is a major bottleneck, so you should definitely upgrade it.
Speaking of upgrades, you can fairly easily access the internals on this laptop, but you’ll find out that you can only swap the HDD for something else, as the memory is soldered on the motherboard from what I can tell and there is no eSATA spare slot available for an extra compact SSD (the one available is occupied by the wireless chip.
Anyway, if you’re after numbers, here’s how the S301LP scored in various benchmarks:
- 3DMark 11: E1909, P1132;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 44734, Cloud Gate – 3871, Fire Strike – 660 ;
- PCMark 07: 3021;
- Windows Rating: 5.9;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 21.77 fps, CPU 2.82 pts.
And here’s what I got in some of the games that I’ve tried, all on 1366 x 768 px native resolution and with details set to Low:
- Need for Speed: Most Wanted – 32 fps;
- Skyrim – 44 fps;
- Starcraft 2 - 42 fps (4 v 4 map) – can drop below 30 fps in intense battles with hundreds of units.
- Bioshock Infinite – 23 fps.
There is however one important thing you should know. This tested unit is a pre-release PR sample and some of the apps and games failed to actually detect the dedicated graphics. HWInfo or Skyrim only show the Intel graphics, however, when running all the tested games, the results are superior to what I got on other Intel HD 4400 motorized machines that I tested in the past, which hints that the AMD chip is actually working.
Still, take these results with a grain of salt. From the benchmarks, it looks like CineBench and most of the others detected the dedicated chip, while 3DMark 13 did not. At least that’s how I translate the numbers. What do you guys think?
Anyway, I’m not going to jump to any conclusions here. And you should not either. Still, as expected, the S301LP does perform better in games and graphic dependent applications than the average ultrabook, I just can’t say for sure how much better for the time being.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity and others
The laptop runs fairly cool and quiet most of the time, although it will heat-up a bit when really pushed, on the area just above the keyboard, but it never gets annoyingly hot or anything like this.
There is a fan inside and you’ll hear it spinning, slower or faster, based on what you’re doing on the computer. The air is sucked from the the bottom of the device and then blown out through the grills behind the screen’s hinge, towards the user.
The good speakers definitely help with the multimedia experience on the S301, as they are punchy and clear for this class, with little distortions, even at high volume. On top of that, you can adjust the sound output via the included Audio Wizard app.
Connectivity wise, the Vivobook S301 offers all the things you might expect from a laptop of its kind. There’s Wireless, Gigabit LAN and Bluetooth, while on the sides you’ll find three USB ports, an Ethernet connector, a card-reader that can’t completely fit a regular SD card and HDMI video-output. VGA is missing, but you can use adapters if really needed.
I should also mention that the wireless performance tends to drop fast when getting a bit further away from the router (20+ feet), with two or three walls in between, and that is something you should have in mind. At 10-15 feet away from the router with no obstacles, the S301 performed flawlessly though.
That’s somewhat unexpected, since there is an Intel 7260 wireless module on this tested unit, and this chip is known for its solid performances. That’s why my money are on some software issues here and hopefully Asus will take care on these by the time the S301 actually hits the stores.
At the end of the day, Haswell is more about efficiency than it is about performances. And the S301 I had here proves that.
With average daily use that included a mix of browsing, chatting, watching movies and listening to music, all with Wi-Fi ON and the screen at 60%, I was able to get about 4 and a half hours of life on the S301. I also got about 5 hours of looping a 720p clip in similar conditions, with the sound volume at about 50%.
That’s not great, considering what we’ve seen from Haswell ultrabooks in the past, but don’t forget that there’s only a small 2 Cell 38 Wh battery on this machine and on top of that, we do have the most powerful configuration here, with the Intel Core i7 processor and dedicated graphics.
Regardless, the Core i3/i5 versions without the graphics should do significantly better. But of course, all these won’t stop me from concluding that Asus should have squeezed a higher capacity battery on this machine. It’s not like they did not have the room for that, judging by the hardware layout.
Prices and availability
There will be several versions of the S301 available in stores in a few weeks. These are the configurations that I know about right now:
- Vivobook S301LA-C1015H – $699 – Intel Core i3-4010U, 500 GB HDD, 4 GB RAM, Intel HD 4400;
- Vivobook S301LA-C1042H – $799 – Intel Core i5-4200U, 750 GB HDD, 6 GB RAM, Intel HD 4400;
- Vivobook S301LA-C1043H – $899 – Intel Core i7-4500U, 1 TB HDD, 8 GB RAM, Intel HD 4400.
- Vivobook S301LP-C1024H – $749 - Intel Core i3-4010U, 500 GB HDD, 4 GB RAM, Intel HD 4400 + AMD Radeon Mobility 8530G;
- Vivobook S301LP-C1028H – $849 – Intel Core i5-4200U, 750 GB HDD, 6 GB RAM, Intel HD 4400 + AMD Radeon Mobility 8530G;
- Vivobook S301LP-C1029H – $949 – Intel Core i7-4500U, 1 TB HDD, 8 GB RAM, Intel HD 4400 + AMD Radeon Mobility 8530G.
These are of course the list prices, and in the meantime, I’m pretty sure they got lower. The latest discounts on this series can be found here. And don’t forget that the Vivobook S301 line is sold as the Vivobook Q301 in the US and a few other countries.
Out review unit is almost identical to the last version in this list.
All in all, the Asus Vivobook S301 is a good 13 inch laptop. It lacks some of the fancy features encountered on premium ultrabooks, like a high-resolution IPS screen or the backlit keyboard and is not as sleek or as slender as those. It has some flaws, but it doesn’t have any real deal breakers, and with prices going between $700 and $1000 at launch, I’d say it offers plenty for the money. Especially since it is one of the few 13 inch ultraportables packing dedicated graphics.
The S301 is not without rivals though. The Lenovo IdeaPad U330 or the Samsung Series 9 Lite are just some of the newer ones, plus many of the IvyBridge mid-range ultrabooks, that sell for as little as $600 these days.
At the end of the day though, if you want a fast and solid 13 inch Haswell laptop and don’t have a lot of money to spend on it, the Asus Vivobook S301 is for sure an option to consider. But if Haswell and the graphics are not at the top of your list, you will find more affordable alternatives out there, or sleeker ones that pack extra features, for the same kind of money. This article is a great place to start your search.
Anyway, that’s about it for now. Thank you guys for sticking by and if you have any questions about this laptop or other ultraportables in general, leave them below and also check out the other reviews, the guides and the comparisons here on the site.