The Asus VivoBook S400CA is thin and light, with a great 14-inch touch screen and a snazzy aluminum shell. But some other Ultrabooks offer all of that plus better performance and more features for the same price.
Feels brisk, but the battery drains quickly. In benchmark tests at PCMag.com, the cheap Asus VivoBook S400CA trounces even $900-plus Ultrabooks.
"You wouldn't expect great performance in a less expensive system, but in this case you'd be wrong," tester Joel Santo Domingo says. Its processor -- a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5 -- "is the same one we've seen in systems costing over $1,000," and it kills most other budget laptops in day-to-day work and photo editing tests. However, the newer Acer M5-481PT (*Est. $700) is a better performer still, yet costs the same, thus wresting the crown as PCMag.com's favorite cheap Ultrabook.
In other sites' benchmark tests, the Asus VivoBook S400CA falls more in line with its top budget rivals. It easily handles day-to-day tasks, but like most other Ultrabooks, it's not powerful enough to play graphics-heavy games on high settings. For more power, try the heftier Acer Aspire V3-571G laptop (*Est. $775) .
The Asus S400CA boots quickly, thanks to its 24 GB solid-state drive. There's also a 500 GB hard drive and 4 GB of RAM -- all standard-issue for Ultrabooks. Battery life is disappointing, though. It delivers only 3.5 to five hours of normal use in tests. Experts blame the power-hogging touch screen.
Great touch screen, so-so keyboard. Testers appreciate the Asus' responsive touch screen, which makes it easy to navigate Windows 8. There's also a traditional multi-touch trackpad, which works well in tests. The keyboard gets mixed reactions, though. PCMag.com's tester finds it comfortable, but other experts say the keys feel "mushy" or too shallow. They're not backlit, either.
The Asus S400CA runs cool in tests. Its sizable touch screen makes it a little heavier than smaller Ultrabooks, at 3.9 pounds. But it's still thin and tapered, "without feeling the least bit flimsy," writes Konrad Krawczyk at Laptop Magazine.
Like many Ultrabooks, the S400CA lacks an optical drive. It does have three USB ports (two 2.0 and one faster 3.0), HDMI, Ethernet, VGA and a combo headphone/microphone jack.
MacBook Air-like design. Seems like everybody's trying to copy the MacBook Air's look, and critics say the Asus VivoBook S400CA does it pretty successfully. Laptop Magazine's Krawczyk praises the Asus' "lightweight and sleek" design, with a brushed-aluminum deck and soft-touch plastic underside that make it "a pleasure to hold." NotebookCheck.net's Jonas Adams agrees that the Asus "looks elegant" and "feels very luxurious."
The 14.1-inch, 1,366-by-768-pixel touch screen isn't full 1080p HD, and it's not the brightest. Still, it's clear and plays videos smoothly in tests. Its edge-to-edge glass is glossy, not matte, so it can pick up some glare. Testers say the Asus' speakers sound pretty good, for a cheap Ultrabook, although they won't be able to handle heavy bass.
Good brand reliability, but tech support gets mixed marks. Asus computers are reliable, experts and owners say. Asus wins a Readers' Choice award at PCMag.com, where owners say their Asus laptops rarely break down. They give Asus low scores for tech support, though.
Asus' tech support does better in a Laptop Magazine test, earning a B-. Asus's phone, email and Facebook responses to staffers' anonymous questions were all satisfactory. But it took way too long to reach someone through live chat, and nobody ever answered Laptop's Twitter inquiry.
Asus backs the VivoBook S400CA with a one-year warranty (it covers parts, labor and accidental damage) and 30-day zero bright dot warranty for the screen. Fewer than one in 10 Amazon.com buyers report that their VivoBook S400CA broke. A few of those complain that Asus dragged its feet on repairs.
Others offer more for the money. The Asus VivoBook S400CA is a very good touch-screen Ultrabook for the price, but the Acer Aspire M5-481PT gives you more (faster performance, optical drive, better keyboard and battery life) for the same price.
If you'd like to save a couple hundred bucks, Asus does offer a tinier, less powerful version for cheap: The Asus VivoBook X202E (Est. $450) swaps in an 11.6-inch touch screen and loses the solid-state drive.
Review Credibility: Excellent The Asus VivoBook S400CA won PCMag.com's Editors' Choice award, but recently the Acer Aspire M5-481PT replaced it as editors' favorite budget Ultrabook. Both laptops pack full Ultrabook specs and a touch screen at an affordable price, but the Acer performs better in benchmark tests, with longer battery life and a couple of features the Asus lacks.
Review: Asus VivoBook S400CA-UH51, Joel Santo Domingo, Dec. 27, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent Scott Stein calls the Asus VivoBook S400CA "a fair value." He prefers the Acer Aspire M5-481PT, though: It offers a longer battery life, backlit keyboard, DVD drive and better performance in benchmark tests.
Review: Asus VivoBook S400CA Review: Won't Be the Life of the Party, Scott Stein, Dec. 11, 2012
3. Notebook Check.net
Review Credibility: Very Good After exhaustive testing, Adams awards the Asus VivoBook S400CA one of its highest ratings in this class -- 85 percent. Battery life could be better, and the screen could be brighter, but overall, this well-built, touch-screen Ultrabook handles daily tasks nicely at an entry-level price. However, this site hasn't tested the Asus' biggest rival, the latest Acer Aspire M5-481PT.
Review: Review Asus VivoBook S400CA Ultrabook, Jonas Adams, Nov. 24, 2012
4. Laptop Magazine
Review Credibility: Very Good Thinner, lighter and cheaper than other 14-inch Ultrabooks, the Asus VivoBook S400CA is "a pretty solid value," Konrad Krawczyk says. It performs nicely in benchmark tests and feels solid. Only the five-hour battery life gives him pause. Laptop hasn't yet tested the latest version of the rival Acer Aspire M5-481PT, though.
Review: Asus VivoBook S400CA-UH51 Review, Konrad Krawczyk, Dec. 4, 2012
Review Credibility: Good The Asus VivoBook S400CA is one of the top-rated budget laptops at Amazon.com, following around 100 user reviews. In fact, almost nine out of 10 users awards it 4 or a perfect 5 stars. A few say theirs broke, and sending it in for repair was a frustrating procedure. (This DH51T configuration has identical specs to the UH51 model that experts review.)
Review: Asus VivoBook S400CA-DH51T 14-Inch Touch Ultrabook, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of March 2013