Forget the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina, Asus’ VivoBook could well be the new ultraportable line to get excited about. Get this: the affordable VivoBook sports a smooth, unibody aluminium base chassis with build quality to match its own premium Zenbook line and indeed Apple’s MacBook laptops. The lid is brushed black aluminium. It offers touch, which is essential to its Windows 8 OS, and it all hums along on a third-gen Intel processor with 4GB of RAM and HDD or hybrid SSD storage. What makes this superbly build and great-looking laptop family truly amazing is that the basic 11.6-inch model starts at a mere £399…
Read our full Windows 8 review here
Yes, under £400 will get you an ultraportable laptop in 11.6 or 14inches, one that easily looks like £1,000 and sports the kind of specifications you’ll find on many £600-£700 Windows 8 touch machines. You even get generous connectivity, with USB 3.0, HDMI and a card reader among others. It’s almost too good to be true, so did Asus cut any essential corners?
Check out our Asus Vivo Tab hands-on
This laptop is, in a word, gorgeous. It’s just so difficult to believe we’re talking about a budget laptop with the VivoBook. The brushed metal lid looks and feels great, though it does pick up the occasional fingerprint.
The keyboard surround and sides of the base are solid metal with a smooth, silver finish, easily on a level with premium laptops and far superior to other ‘affordable’ slim laptops and Ultrabooks like the Sony VAIO T13. It’s not just attractive, but also feels absolutely brick-like in its solidity.
Cleverly, the bottom of the Asus VivoBook is coated in a soft-touch plastic that provides a superb grip when carrying this Ultraportable around and ensures it will never slip off your lap. This is the kind of thoughtful design that should be obligatory from every laptop manufacturer, and even Apple’s lovely laptops could take a leaf out of Asus’ book.
The screen is protected by a glass layer that extends across the black bezel to make this an ‘edgeless’ display, which protects it from enthusiastic touches and looks pretty great too, though it does cause the inevitable reflections.
The only obvious ‘downside’ to the VivoBook’s design is that it’s a little thicker than the latest Ultrabooks at 21.7mm for the 11.6-inch model, but this avoids sharp edges, ensures good cooling and gives its ports plenty of room. Its weight is also perfectly acceptable at 1.3kg.
Connectivity is pretty generous for a laptop this affordable. Along the left you’ll find a slim non-Gigabit Ethernet jack, full-size HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, and a Kensington lock slot.
To the right we have an SD card reader, headphone/microphone combi jack, second USB 2.0 port and a good old VGA connector for those that still use displays without a digital input. Wi-Fi N is on hand for wireless connectivity.
The keyboard with its well-spaced black chiclet keys is reminiscent of that found on the Zenbook, though there’s just a bit more travel. So while feedback is still on the shallow side, it’s perfectly usable and typing is both accurate and comfortable. Naturally there’s no backlighting, a feature that laptops at twice the price also omit.
The trackpad is huge, much bigger than you would expect on the 11.6-inch model. In fact, on the smaller VivoBook it’s still larger than those found on many 13-inch laptops. It’s also impressively responsive and its integrated buttons offer a nice click. Of course there’s full support for Windows 8’s multi-touch gestures too.
As we said in our Windows 8 review, Microsoft’s latest OS really needs touch to get the most out of it, so it’s a good thing that the Asus VivoBook range sport multi-point touchscreens. We found these to be as accurate and responsive as the best of the rest, with the glass surface providing a smooth experience.