After reviewing the Asus Vivobook X202E a while ago, it’s now time to put its bigger brother to some intensive tests, the Asus Vivobook S400CA.
From starters, you should know that the Vivobook S400 is a fairly priced 14 inch ultrabook, with a solid and good looking metallic body and a touchscreen. In fact, it’s one of the cheapest touchscreen ultrabooks available right now in stores, and that’s why many of you might want to buy it. It also packs some decently snappy hardware and meets all those pesky Intel imposed requirements to earn the “ultrabook” stamp.
Of course, with all affordable laptops some corners have to be cut. But does that mean that the S400 is a good enough laptop? Long story short, it is, but you should really read the detailed review below for all the in depth details.
Asus Vivobook S400CA video review
The Specs sheet for the Asus Vivobook S400CA
|Asus Vivobook S400CA-DH31T|
|Screen||14.1 inch, 1366 x 768 px resolution, LED, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Ivy Bridge Core i3-3217UM CPU, 1.7 GHz|
|Video||integrated Intel 4000 HD|
|Memory||4 GB DDR3|
|Hard-disk||500 GB HDD with 24 GB Flash|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Fast Lan, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||1x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 2.0, VGA, HDMI, LAN, SD card-reader, webcam|
|Battery||3 Cell 44 Wh|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Size||340 x 240 x 20 mm (13.35 x 0.83 x 9.40 inches)|
|Weight||1.83 kg (3.9 pounds)|
Design and exterior
Right out of the box, you’ll notice that this S400 is a slim and fairly light laptop that should meet most of your requirements. When compared to the existing ultrabooks, it’s not very portable or compact. But next to a regular laptop, it is, as it measures around 340 x 240 x 20 mm and weighs about 1.83 kilos, which is close to 4 pounds.
Plus, the S400 does pack a 14 inch display which most of you will find more appropriate for daily tasks than the smaller 13, 12 or 11 inch screens you can get on ultra-portables these days.
The Asus Vivobook S400CA is a beautiful laptop
The S400 does offer the same build quality we’ve seen on the S200, with an aluminum covered exterior. It feels sturdy as well and the metal on top of the lid does not bend that easily when pressed, but on the other hand it catches fingerprints like crazy.
All in all, the VivoBook does look like a modern laptop. It’s not as sleek as some of the other more expensive ultrabooks, but for the money, you’ll hardly be able to ask for more.
The bottom of the laptop is covered in some soft plastic, but it feels alright and will provide a fair amount of grip when grabbing the laptop and carrying it around. The internals and the battery are encased, as down here you’ll only find some cooling grills towards the back and the two speakers carved on the sides of the body, plus the four rubber feet.
Having a look around the laptop, you’ll notice a decent selection of ports. On the left, there’s a Kensington lock, two USB 2.0 slots, the headphone and microphone jack and a card-reader that can’t actually fit a regular SD card. On the right, there’s an USB 3.0 slot, the HDMI and VGA video output, the Lan adapter and the PSU. Of course, on a laptop so thin, there wasn’t room for an optical unit (here’s a selection of ultrabooks with optical drives, if you’re interested in that), but you can use an external one if needed.
Lifting the lid, you’ll find a metallic interior. The palm-rest is wide and the entire design is simple and classy, with a black keyboard in the middle, that creates an appealing contrast with the light-silver finishing of the body. The shell is pierced by some status LEDs on the lower-right edge and by a Power button in the Top-Right corner.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard itself is fairly good, with proper sized and spaced keys. Typing on it is going to be an overall pleasant experience, especially once you get used to the layout, that adds an extra row of keys on the right side of the keyboard.
The keys do travel a bit too deep inside the frame for my liking, but that’s not going to be a massive issue. The amount of flex however can. Plus, on this test unit, the entire body squeaked and cranked very annoyingly when using the keys on the middle-right part of the keyboard, but that might be an issue associated only with this particular review unit, as I haven’t heard others complain about it.
A fairly good trackpad and keyboard
The trackpad is spacious and smooth, accurate most of the time and offers support for multitouch gestures, including those embedded with Windows 8. The cursor does tend to get jumpy from time to time though, which is pretty much a given with Asus laptops in the last years.
And then there’s the 14.1 inch display on this laptop, with 1366 x 768 px resolution, and like with all the other VivoBooks, the S400 comes with a touchscreen. It’s a fairly good one that supports multiple touch points, reacts fast and reliable to commands and feels pretty sturdy.
There’s a touchscreen on the Vivobook S400CA
However, the panel Asus uses for the S400 is rather mediocre. During the night or while in a dim room it’s going to be alright. Otherwise, the panel shows its limits, as it’s not very bright and offers both poor contrast and washed-out colors. And you’ll also have to deal with the limited viewing angles and the glossy coating on top of the screen.
I might sound a bit too harsh here and I probably am, as the screen on the S400 is not worse than what you can usually find on budget laptops. But having the X202 fresh in my mind and considering that this particular laptop is not really cheap, I believe I’m right to conclude that Asus should have gotten a better panel on their 14 inch VivoBook.
But the panel used for this screen is rather mediocre
Hardware and performances
With that out of the way, let’s go ahead and power on the device. The notebook boots fast, in around 15 seconds or so, despite the fact that the unit we’re testing here is the cheapest configuration, with an Intel Core i3-3217U processor, 6 GB of RAM, hybrid storage and of course, Windows 8 Home Premium. In stores, I found the S400 mostly paired with an Intel Core i5 processor, so expect that config to be faster than the one tested here.
Anyway, with everyday use, this laptop is going to be fairly snappy. Despite the lower power processor, the S400 coped well with my daily requirements, like watching movies, listening to music, browsing, editing texts and photos, chatting with my friends. Of course, when dealing with more complex programs, like video editors, or when multitasking between many opened apps, the platform will choke, but the Core i5 option will be able to deal with most of these tasks as well. Just don’t forget this is an ULV platform, so don’t ask too much from it.
The S400 will deal fine with most everyday tasks
The laptop runs Windows 8, with the touch-friendly UI and the classic desktop mode, as you can get both Metro Apps from the Windows Store on it and the legacy software from Windows 7 and the versions before that. On the other hand, Windows 8 is not really like the Windows you’re already familiar with, as it’s heavily dependent on gestures and no longer has a Start menu, so you might need some time to get used to the changes.
Also, you should know that Asus bundles a lot of bloatware on this laptop, and getting rid of most of it, while will take a hour or so, will make it noticeably faster.
Noise, heat, speakers and other details
I’m a strong believer than a good portable computer needs to run quiet and cool, and luckily the S400 does not disappoint. Of course, with a regular hard-drive and a fan spinning inside the body, the VivoBook is not completely Noise Free, but it runs overall fairly quiet, even when playing movies or games. It doesn’t get hot either, so you can comfortably use it on your lap.
Runs cool and mostly quiet
Besides these, there are some tiny details I should add. The sound system is definitely above average in this class of light computers, able to push punchy sound and decent audio quality even at high volume.
The wireless worked well on my test unit, even when I was a bit further away from the router, but on the forums there are several users complaining about slow Wi-Fi and even consistent wireless drops. So be careful, this might be an issue with some units. Also, this laptop lacks Bluetooth or WiDi.
The Asus S400CA Vivobook has no deal-breaking issues
The 720p webcam on top of the screen works fine as long as there’s proper light around, otherwise the images tend to get very grainy. The microphone picks up voices alright too.
As for the battery life, well, there’s a 44 Wh battery inside this laptop, the non-removable kind. Asus claims it can go for up to 8 hours on a charge, but in practice I averaged between 3 and a half and 6 hours of use with various everyday scenarios. If you’re interested in the exact numbers, they are below:
- editing texts with the screen at 0% and Wi-Fi OFF – nearly 6 hours;
- playing 720p Youtube Video with screen at 50% – nearly 4 hours;
- playing 720p video from HDD with screen at 50%, Wi-fi OFF – 4 hours 30 minutes;
- playing casual Windows 8 games with the screen at 50% – 3 hours and 30 minutes;
- everyday use with a mix of activities – between 3 hours 45 and 4 hours.
Of course, keep in mind that I might use my laptops in a different way than you do, so it can last longer or even less with you.
A compact power-brick and good battery life
Prices and availability
With all these on the table, let’s also talk about prices. The Asus VivoBook S400 is available in mainly three configurations right now, and for the latest discounts on all of them you should see this other post.
The Vivobook S400CA-DH51T (or UH51T) sells for just under 700 dollars right now, with a Core i5 processor and a 500 GB harddrive plus 24 GB SSD storage. In Europe, the same configuration starts at 700 euros.
The Vivobook S400CA-DH31T, the Core i3 config we tested here, retails for around $550 in the US, but you’ll only find it in some smaller shops. As for the Core i7 option, that’s about 800 dollars or 800 euros, based on where you’re from.
Out of those, I do feel that the Core i5 config offers the best bang for the buck and that’s the one I’d get if I was looking at a laptop like this one.
The Asus VivoBook S400CA is one of the best affordable ultrabooks of the moment
Ok, so basically the Asus VivoBook S400 is a decent everyday notebook, just thinner and lighter than the average laptop you’re familiar with. It also comes with a touchscreen and runs Windows 8, and while it’s not the snappiest flower in the garden, it’s still able to cope well with everyday tasks and light multimedia use (especially if you get the Core i5 model).
Are these enough to justify the 700 dollars price tag? I’d say yes, because the S400 is a fairly good laptop, despite the rather poor screen and some of its other less obvious quirks. Of course, you can find other thin and light laptops on the market right now, from Samsung, Acer, Sony, Dell, HP and many others, but the S400 has an edge above all these: it comes with a touchscreen, and that might prove decisive for the potential buyers. Still, if you want more options for a fairly priced everyday ultrabook, you should have a look at this post. And you might want to see these ultrabook alternatives as well, if you’re looking to save some extra money.
And with that in mind, it’s time to end this clip. I’d like to hear what do you think about the S400 in the comments, and if you have anything to add to this post or any questions, just leave your replies below and I’ll be here to reply.