This post is about the Asus Vivobook TP501 series, a mid-level laptop line with Skylake hardware and a 15.6-inch screen that can rotate all the way around onto the back. In other words, this is a 15-inch convertible computer, which can be used as a regular notebook, as a tablet or in stand and presentation modes if so desired.
But is it actually worth buying? Well, stick around for the next few minutes and you’ll find out.
Before we start though, you should know that we reviewed a pre-production sample of the Vivobook TP501UA model here, in a configuration that includes an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 500 GB HDD.
The TP501UA series will be available in a few different versions, with Core i5 or i7 CPUs, 4 or 8 GB of RAM and optional M.2 SSD storage. The same options are available for the Vivobook TP501UB models, which also bundle an Nvidia GT 940M graphics chip and will cost $50 to $70 more than a similarly configured TP501UA.
The specs sheet
|Asus Vivobook TP501UA |
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, TN, glossy, touch|
|Processor||Intel Skylake Core i7-6500U CPU|
|Video||Integrated Intel HD 520 + Nvidia GeForce GT 940M 2GB|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3L ( 4 GB soldered + 1 DIMM)|
|Storage||500 GB 2.5″ 5400 rpm HDD 7 mm (Seagate ST500L), empty M.2 SATA slot|
|Connectivity||Atheros Wireless AC , Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.1 (5 Gbps), HDMI, RJ45, mic/headphone, SD card reader, Kensington Lock|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||378 mm or 14.88” (w) x 253 mm or 9.96” (d) x 22.5 mm or .88” (h)|
|Weight||2.2 kg or 4.85 lb|
|Extras||non-backlit keyboard, HD camera|
Design and first look
On the outside, the Vivobook TP501 is a refinement of the older Asus Transformer Book Flip TP500 (which we reviewed a while ago), slightly better built and a bit more compact.
Asus put a significant effort into creating a strong screen, which shows little to no flex, mainly thanks to its metallic hood and glass covered display. They also revamped the hinges. There are two of them on this new model, and they are stiff enough to hold the screen in place as set up, but also allow smooth transition between modes. You’ll need to use both hands to lift up the screen or switch between them though.
The laptop’s main body on the other hand is entirely made out of plastic, while some of the competitors get an aluminum inner deck as well. So the interior doesn’t exactly feel premium, but it’s not bad, as the plastic on the palm-rest is matte and actually gets a brushed texture. As for the belly, well, Asus used a soft piece of silver plastic for this part, with four rubber feet, an air-intake grill and two side cuts for the speakers.
The exhaust grill is placed on the back edge, and the fan pushes hot air away from users, while the entire IO is grouped on the lateral sides, with two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 ports, an USB 3.1 TypeC slot, a card-reader, HDMI output and a LAN connector.
I’m not very happy with the fact that most of the ports are lined on the right edge and will cause cables to interfere with my mouse. They are also squeezed tight, so you might not be able to use all of them at once.
I’m not a fan of the Power button’s placement either, which sits on the left edge. But at least it’s small and stiff, so you shouldn’t worry about pressing it by mistake.
One final nit I have with this laptop is the fact that it’s top heavy. Marrying a plastic body with a metal/glass screen causes the laptop to fall on its back when you open the screen to more than 150 degrees. In everyday use though, with the screen only leaning back to 120-130 degrees, this particular aspect is not a concern.
Overall, the Asus Vivobook TP501 is a well built and fairly nice looking laptop. It feels good in hand, thanks to its rounded edges and sturdy frame, and I think it should age well. The soft plastic on the back and the metal on the hood might scratch fairly easily though, so you’ll want to be careful about that.
The convertible screen is one of its strong suits when compared to most other 15-inch laptops. On the other hand, keep in mind this is a fairly large and heavy computer, weighing 4.85 lbs, so it’s not going to be very comfortable to hold as a tablet or even when switching between modes. That’s why my advice is to make sure you really want such a convertible, as you will have to pay a hefty premium for the form factor.
My biggest nit with this laptop is the 1920 x 1080 px TN panel that Asus choose for it, which is just bad by today’s standards, especially when the competition puts IPS panels on their 15-inch convertibles.
The tests show poor contrast and color reproduction, while the limited vertical viewing angles are something you’ll notice from the first seconds you’ll lay your eyes on this screen, especially if you’re used to higher-end panels.
- Panel HardwareID: CHi Mei N156HGE-EAB (CMN15C4);
- Coverage: 63% sRGB, 45% NTSC, 47% AdobeRGB;
- measured gamma: 1.9;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 182 cd/m2 on power;
- contrast at max brightness: 90:1;
- white point: 6500 K;
- black on max brightness: 2.06 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 11.90 uncalibrated, 2.94 calibrated .
The contrast isn’t as bad as shown above, but the panel has a slow response time and that interferes with my measuring tool and software (Spyder 4 Elite). In reality, blacks at max brightness are around 0.6 cd/m2 and the contrast around 300:1. Also, the colors are severely skewed out of the box and a calibration run is going to make them more accurate. If you’re interested in downloading the calibrated profile, you can find it right here.
It’s worth adding that this is a touchscreen, and there’s little to complain on this front. At the same time, due to the thick glass on top of the panel, which causes a significant amount of glare, and the low brightness, it’s nearly impossible to use in bright environments. So keep it indoors.
Keyboard and trackpad
Where your hands go you’ll find a pretty good keyboard and a large palm-rest.
The keyboard’s layout is classic for an Asus 15-incher, with rather short arrow keys and a squashed NumPad area. But his keyboard actually types surprisingly well, as the keys pose the right amount of resistance, travel deep enough inside the frame and are actually quiet. On the other hand, there’s no back-lighting and some of you might find their finishing a bit rough.
The trackpad is large and has a ridge around, so you can easily find you way around it without having to lower your eyes. It also performs well most of the time, better than some of the other Asus trackpads I’ve seen in the past, although it still skips taps here and there.
What bothers me most though is the lack of proper customization options, as the Asus Smart Gesture app leaves lots to be desired, but overall I think this at least a half-decent trackpad.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
Hardware wise, we had the TP501UA model for our review, as mentioned in the beginning, equipped with an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, 8 GB of DDR3 RAM and a regular 2.5” 5400 rpm HDD for storage. The memory is upgradeable (there are 4 GB of RAM soldered on the motherboard and an extra DIMM that can take an 8 GB DDR3 stick), the 2.5” drive can also be replaced and there’s an M.2 SATA slot inside, for an M.2 SSD.
However, upgrading this laptop is not as easy as it was with the previous TP500. You’ll have to unscrew the Philips screws on the bottom, that’s the easy part. Then, with the help of a plastic card, pop-up the entire plastic interior in order to get to the hardware. Be careful not to pull too hard, there are two ribbons connecting the keyboard that you’ll need to disconnect first.
At this point, you can have a look at the internals, but only the 2.5″ storage bay and the Wi-Fi chip are easily accessible. The RAM and the M.2 slots are on the other side of the motherboard, so you’ll need to take it out to access them, so make sure you know what you’re doing. And disconnect the battery first!
Oh, and it comes without saying that removing the motherboard will void warranty, so if that’s important to you, perhaps you should find an authorized service to perform the upgrade.
Now, when it comes to performance, this is a capable computer, although its speed and app loading times are dragged down by the slow HDD. It can still handle all the daily activities at ease, from browsing with multiple tabs open to watching any sort of video content, and it can also run some games at the native 1080p resolution, albeit older ones with reduced details.
The software package puts some stress on the performance, as there’s a fair amount of preinstalled apps that you probably won’t need. There were 102 processes running in the background with the default settings and only 78 left once we uninstalled most of the crapware (McAfee, Dropbox and Office Trials, Evernote, a handful of Asus apps, etc).
If you’re interested in benchmarks results, you’ll find them below.
- 3DMark 11: P1605;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 58158, Cloud Gate –6331, Sky Driver – 3858, Fire Strike – 867;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2656;
- Cinebench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 3128, Multi-core: 6571;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 35.26 fps, CPU 3.56 pts, CPU Single Core 1.47 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 41.56 fps, CPU 320 cb, CPU Single Core 128 cb;
- x264 Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 113.18 fps, Pass 2 – 20.58 fps.
I also tried a few games at the native 1080p resolution, with LOW and HIGH details. The numbers are listed in the following table. Keep in mind this is a pre-production sample, but based on my other tests of Core i7-6500U configurations, it performed as expected.
|FHD High||FHD Low|
|Need for Speed: Most Wanted||12 fps||20 fps|
|Grid Autosport||24 fps||43 fps|
|Tomb Raider||15 fps||33 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||14 fps||20 fps|
Now, if you’re interested in running games on such a computer, you can only expect that much from the Intel chip, and here’s where the Vivobook TP501UB models come into play, with the dedicated Nvidia 940M 2 GB graphics. That’s a mainstream chip, so not a top performer, but should be enough to handle most games launched in the last years with medium-high details, and even some of the latest titles if you trim down the details.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
A few words about the thermals and acoustics.
There’s a fan inside the Vivobook TP501 and it starts spinning even with the lightest of tasks. On top of that, there’s also a mechanical HDD, so this computer is not going to be perfectly quiet, no matter how you take it. However, I do think Asus can temper down the fan on the final retail versions, so it won’t kick on with everyday activities, especially since this notebook runs very, very cool and has a lot of headroom when it comes to both inner and outer-case temperatures in pretty much any situation.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Need for Speed Most Wanted for 30 minutes
Connectivity wise, there’s Bluetooth, Gigabit Lan and Wireless AC on this machine. The Wi-Fi chip (Qualcomm Atheros AR5BWB222) performs admirably, both in close proximity of the router and when further away, with obstacles in between, where some other laptops with metallic hoods tend to struggle. I didn’t run into any Wi-Fi drops or signal problems during my tests. There’s also an USB 3.1 slot that I’ve already mentioned before, but it only supports 5 Gbps speeds, so it’s not Thunderbolt 3 compatible.
The speakers aren’t bad either. They do lack bass, but sound overall decent and are loud enough to fill a mid-sized room. They don’t distort or vibrate at max volume either.
The webcam on the other hand is simply horrible, at least on this test version.
There’s a 38 Wh battery on this laptop, which is surprisingly small, given how most other 15-inchers house at least a 40 Wh battery and the older TP500 actually bundled a 48 Wh one.
Now, the hardware is efficient and the TN screen doesn’t ask for much in terms of energy, so as a result this computer will offer around 7 hours of video playing and 3-5 hours of daily use. But it could have lasted longer with a more adequate sized battery.
In the following test, we’ve set the screen’s brightness at 80%, which is about 120 nits.
- 3.5 W (~11 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 5.5 W (~7 h of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.8 W (~6 h 30 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in EDGE, Balanced Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.2 W (~7 h 15 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in Movie App, Balanced Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 14 W (~2 h 40 min of use) – heavy browsing in EDGE, Balanced Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
The laptops is paired with a compact 45Wh power-brick and a full-charge takes a little over 2 hours while lightly using the device during this time.
Price and availability
One final aspect we should touch is price. The Asus Vivobook TP501 is expected in stores in February-March 2016 and based on what we know right now, a Core i5-6200U configuration with 4 GB of RAM and 1 TB of HDD storage will sell for around $750, but take this with a grain of salt. Configurations with Core i7 processors, more RAM, Nvidia 940M graphics and 128 GB M.2 SSDs are also available, going up to around $1100.
Just to be sure that I was clear before, there are two TP501 models:
- TP501UA – without dedicated graphics;
- TP501UB – with Nvidia 940M 2GB dedicated graphics.
They share all their other traits and the UB is going to be $50 to $70 more expensive than a similarly configured UA, based on the info I have right now.
Drawing the line on the Vivobook TP501, build wise, Asus did a pretty good job here, although do keep in mind the main body is entirely made out of plastic. The keyboard, trackpad and IO are solid, and the laptop performs well and runs very cool in every situation.
On the other hand, the poor TN panel, the rather small battery and the difficulty of upgrading the RAM and storage might be enough to steer you towards something else, especially if these are not compensated by an adequate pricing policy. We’ll see and we’ll have to draw our final conclusion on this series based on this important aspect.
For now though, the Vivobook TP501 gets a 3.5 out of 5, since it’s a decent laptop, but not my first pick in its segment.
The Asus Vivobook TP500UA is a decent 15-inch convertible, but the TN screen and small battery could make you look elsewhere
And that’s because the TP501 is not the only mid-level 15-inch convertible worthy of attention. The Lenovo Flex 3 15 (also known as the Lenovo Yoga 500 15-inch and reviewed here), the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1, the Toshiba Satellite P55W and the HP Envy X360 15 are just some of the alternatives, all of them with bigger batteries (43 Wh for the Dell and HP, 45 Wh for the Lenovo and Toshiba), better screens (IPS panels for the Toshiba and Lenovo) and some selling for as low as $600 (Lenovo) for a Core i5 Skylake configuration.
So what I’m saying is that if you’re in the market for a device like this Vivobook TP501, you’ll want to check out all the options available in stores and see which offers the best value for your money at the time you’re reading this post. Personally, I’d rather pay $50 to $100 extra and get an IPS screen and a large battery.
There’s one more thing I’d like to add, and you might call this a rant, but it bothers me. I’m usually recommending those who look for a computer in the $600 to $800 price range to get lower-end models and then upgrade the RAM and storage themselves later on, once they can afford it. But with this laptop, Asus made upgrades difficult and in a way force us to buy the higher-end configurations they are selling. I’m not a fan of that, especially since there’s no ultra-slim or ultra-light body to justify this trade off. The TP501 is only 0.3 of a pound lighter than the old TP500, but that’s due to having a smaller battery, which for me is another step backwards.
Anyway, we’ll end this here. Get in touch in the comments section if you have any questions or anything to add to this post, and check out our list of recommended 15-inch ultraportables or our post on the best 2-in-1 hybrids available in stores right now for more suggestions that you might find interesting.