2 Windows 8 touchscreen laptops for tight budgets
The Asus VivoBook V400CA excels at delivering an enviable mix of performance and features. At about $540 to $590, it's a real back-to-school value.
The system's black-and-silver case measures 13.3 x 9.4 in., making it slightly narrower than the TouchSmart. When closed, the slim system is 0.9 in. high in front and one-tenth of an inch higher at the rear; it slides into and out of a backpack without a problem.
On its own, the notebook weighs 4.1 lbs. -- about half a pound lighter than the TouchSmart. Plus the VivoBook uses a relatively small power adapter that brings its travel weight only up to 4.6 lbs., compared to the TouchSmart's travel weight of 5.8-lbs. And here's a bonus: It doesn't require a three-prong outlet.
Rather than use a new processor design, Asus chose to cut corners with a second-generation dual-core Intel Core i3-2365M, which runs at 1.4GHz and has 3MB of built-in cache. Asus also offers a VivoBook with a Core i5 chip, but that raises the price of the computer to more than $650. The VivoBook comes with 4GB of RAM and can handle up to 8GB.
Unlike the TouchSmart, the VivoBook uses a hybrid storage arrangement. It includes both a 500GB hard drive and a 24GB solid-state drive; the latter makes starting the system and waking it up from sleep mode much faster. Asus also includes three years of up to 32GB online storage.
The VivoBook comes with a 14-in. touchscreen that is capable of 1366 x 768 resolution; it uses Intel's antiquated HD 3000 graphics accelerator with 32MB of dedicated video memory. I found that the display could interpret up to 10 independent finger moves and handle two-finger gestures without a problem; it also worked well with a Wacom Bamboo stylus.
While the hinge on the competing TouchSmart allows its screen to sit at a 45-degree angle, the VivoBook's display can be lowered to 35 degrees, allowing a more natural feel when using fingers or a stylus. The VivoBook's screen also wobbled less than the TouchSmart's when it was tapped.
The display's bezel is slightly narrower than the TouchSmart's and is slightly raised, which made some finger movements on the screen near the edge a little awkward.
The keyboard has 19mm black keys that show up well against the notebook's silver background. There's also a 4.1-by-3-in. touchpad that's 50% larger than the one on the TouchSmart.
Above the screen is a single microphone and a webcam that can capture 1200 x 800 video or still images.
The VivoBook comes with Asus Sonic Master speakers that fire out of the sides of the system. The sound is full, rich and can get quite loud. The system also includes software that allows you to fine-tune the audio.
Connections include an HDMI port, two USB 2.0 ports and a single USB 3.0 port. It also has audio connections and an SD card slot. Unlike the TouchSmart, the VivoBook includes a traditional VGA port for connecting with an older projector or monitor, making it more versatile. The system has an Ethernet connection and supports 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
With a PassMark PerformanceTest score of 915.9, the VivoBook outperformed the TouchSmart by almost 10%. It fell short on graphics, though, with a Cinebench graphics score of 6.95 fps compared to the TouchSmart's 12.78 fps. Its Cinebench processor score of 1.33 was also slightly behind that of the TouchSmart.
At a Glance
The VivoBook was able to play a continuous series of HD videos from a USB drive for 3 hours and 39 minutes, about than an hour less than the TouchSmart. With some judicious power conservation, it should be good enough for a school day -- but if it's not, you can't swap the battery.
Thanks in part to the system's hybrid storage system, it took just 4.9 seconds for the VivoBook to wake up from hibernation mode. In contrast, the TouchSmart took 19.0 seconds.
Like the TouchSmart, the VivoBook comes with Windows 8 and the usual mix of software, including a one-month subscription to Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security.
There's also a neat utility: Tap the "<>" key in the upper right corner and the VivoBook interface comes up, which shows how much RAM and storage remains and provides access to Asus' online Cloud Storage and a variety of configuration options.
The system's one-year warranty covers accidental damage, including damage caused by spills, drops, power surges and fire. A warranty extension to three years of coverage adds $129.
It may cost a little more than the TouchSmart and use some older technology, but the Asus VivoBook V400CA provides a lot of entry-level notebook for the money, including the coverage of accidental damage. For most students, it should be more than enough computer for schoolwork.
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