Introduction

Since the launch of Windows 8, I've been looking for an x86 Windows 8 compatible tablet/laptop hybrid. I could see plenty of products being announced, however the only tablets that ever seemed to be in store were ARM based RT devices, which, I felt were far too limited for their respective pricing. Eventually X86 Windows 8 based became available, such as the Acer Iconia W510, however I couldn't help but be rather dumfounded at their end performance and ultimately the price.

I have used Windows 8 based laptops, and while I do like Windows 8, some of the features (The "Modern UI" respective Windows 8 app's) just aren't very mouse and keyboard friendly. Alternatively, I've used an Acer Iconia W500 with Windows 8 on it, and while it's been better in regards to usability with the "Modern UI", within the desktop environment it hasn't wasn't quite as easy to use, it also lacked a keyboard dock at a reasonable price (Not too many the aesthetics weren't so pleasing).

Enter the Asus Vivobook. This device isn't a tablet/laptop hybrid. It's essentially a touch screen Windows 8 netbook. I felt that to get the type of device I wanted, I'd have to make too many compromises, whereas the Asus Vivobook ticked the most amount of boxes, while still retaining a level of portability in its small 11.6" form factor.

The Asus Vivobook, in the UK has two variants, with only 2 differences between them. The Vivobook I'm looking at today is the Intel Core i3-3217U model, and there's also a Vivobook that has the Intel Pentium B987. The respective RRP of the i3 variant is £449.99 and the RRP of the Pentium model is £399.99.

Product Specifications

CPU : Intel Core i3 3217U
OS : Windows 8
Memory : 4GB DDR3 1333MHZ
Display : 11.6" 16:9 (1366x768 LED Backlight) Touch screen
Graphics : HD4000
Storage : 500GB 2.5" 5400RPM
Connectivity : HDMI out, 1x USB 3.0, SD Slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC) 2x USB 2.0, Combo Audio Jack, VGA out, Ethernet.

Testing Methodology and Environment

With this being the first Windows 8 device I'll be reviewing (And I hope to review more to compare) I'll be using the Vivobook as a baseline. In future reviews I'll see how other Windows 8 based devices compare (Near the same price range/target audience) and give comparisons.

With this product being aimed at a home user, I'll be conducting tests around that work load, seeing how it stacks up, where its limitations may be and also see how it handles media (Music/Movies) mild productivity tests (Office based tasks), Windows 8 based games and some more typical older X86 games (From the Late Xbox/PS2 generation and perhaps some titles during the early days of the Xbox 360).

With every device, there's more than just the end performance which counts and with this being a portable device, the end performance might not be the deciding factor. In this review I'll be spending time discussing other important details of the device, among these the battery life of the laptop, the build quality and the display quality.

Build Quality and Aesthetics

The first aspect of the device I'll be looking at is the build quality, as I believe that to be one of the most important factors when you're deciding what product to buy. As a consumer, you want something that looks nice and sturdy that is built to last.
Starting with the lid, you've got brushed metal with the lip in a rubber coating. It feels rather solid to the touch, unlike other netbooks and laptops I've used which were plastic, it feels very smooth and looks rather slick, with a metallic Asus logo in the middle.

The display itself is all glass, giving a glossy appearance, with a thin plastic bezel going around the side. There are some slim rubber pads going around the bezel (To prevent scratches to the laptop base as the lid is closed). While I do like the black on silver contrast, I can't help but wonder if it'd have been better having a metal (Preferably silver) bezel. It certainly doesn't feel poorly made, or look bad, but it's pretty much the only plastic that's used.

My favourite part of the Vivobook design is the body, it's just brushed silver metal, very similar to a Macbook. It feels very sturdy and doesn't half look the part. Given that this product in its Pentium powered variant comes in at 400, it feels and looks very premium for the price you're paying.

On the base, it'd seem Asus have taken note of their Nexus 7. Like the Nexus 7, the base of this device is rubberised, which gives a nice and sturdy grip, the colour compliments the device well. On the base, we also have 4 rubberised feet, given that the majority of users are going to be using it on a desk; it's pretty much a standard feature.

Overall, the laptop feels very sturdy and looks very slick. It certainly looks and feels like a premium product without the premium price tag, I'm very impressed.

Sound Quality

I'm a bit picky when it comes to sound quality, usually I don't enjoy laptop/netbook/tablet audio very much at all, the only tablet I consider to have acceptable audio is the Acer Iconia W510 and the Asus Vivobook isn't changing my opinion on that matter, however that's more a personal preference, for a device such as the Vivobook I'd just use my Sennheiser HD 202s.
For people who aren't too picky, you'll find the Vivobook perfectly acceptable, be that, using the integrated speakers for watching a film or even some light sessions of listening to some music.

I can't really fault the device for its speakers, they're perfectly cable for the audience, just don't try blasting anything out of them, it's not going to result in a happy experience.

Display Quality

Another area where I'm slightly picky. I'll start off by saying that the Vivobook uses a TN panel, and in my opinion is where Asus have had to cut the most corners to release this product at the standard and pricing they have. That isn't to say that the screen isn't nice, as that isn't true.

With Asus having more than one variant of the Vivobook, it would have been nice for them to include an IPS panel with the i3 (Perhaps at a higher price) as the end user probably won't see much difference between the Pentium and i3 unless they're doing none office related tasks, but that's just a small niggle.

With it being a TN panel, the viewing angles aren't the best, however that isn't too much of a problem, I don't think you'd be using the device from the side. Where it does matter though is how much you've tilted the screen on its pivot though, that's entirely dependent on how you're situated yourself using the device.

If you're just going to be using the device for office related work/mild gaming/watching a few films, you'd find the screen perfectly acceptable. Viewing media content is my main usage and I haven't got any problems with the display.
In the Windows 8 store, with the vibrancy of the app's, it does look a fair amount better than in the desktop environment, which is something I've noticed on the Acer Iconia W500 (Again, a TN screen).

At the price point for a laptop/netbook, I can't fault the device, but if media is your main concern, there are better products available in the form of tablets with better screens.

Touch screen

Following on from the display, the most logical next section to discuss would be the touch screen.

There's not too much to say. Within the "Modern UI", the touch screen was very responsive and slick. It would easily recognise where I was pointing to and wasn't resistive at all as I was sliding my finger from side to side. In Internet Explorer the touch gestures worked very well, swiping in from the bottom to bring up the URL. The desktop still isn't really suited to touch screen, however the aspects of the "Modern UI" which are integrated worked very well (Such as swiping in from the side to bring up the right hand bar, or swiping in from the left to cycle through Windows 8 apps.

Battery life

For the battery life, there isn't too much to say, obviously your mileage may vary dependant on your usages, so I'll try and give a small breakdown of the workloads the majority of people will use this device for.

When watching media content via my HD202's I was generally just over 4 and a half hours of usage. While not as long as some devices, is certainly fine if you're on a coach journey, although for your more extended journeys 4 and a half hours just might not be enough.

When watching media content via the integrated speakers I was able to get to about 4 hours, which if you're in a room close to a power source, then it's not too bad, but I'd have liked it to be longer.

Listening to audio content is a little bit different, as you won't need the screen to be powered, so as goes into standby/turns off, you'll be able to peek over 5 hours out of the battery.

The battery life is acceptable, although I have used devices with longer battery life, both in the form of tablets and netbooks at cheaper prices.

Keyboard and Trackpad

Before I get into the performance of the netbook, the last section to talk about is the keyboard and trackpad.

The first thing you'll notice with the Vivobook is just how big the trackpad is. The last netbooks and laptops I used had proportionally much smaller trackpads, however I see the large trackpad to be quite a positive. I can't count the amount of times I'd be moving my finger on a trackpad only for me to go too far.

Talking about the trackpad itself, I found it to be quite responsive and it certainly made it easier manoeuvring inside the Windows environment more than just a touch screen. Another aspect of the trackpad that I'm going to talk about are the Asus Smart Gestures. These basically emulate the touch screen gestures. If you swipe in from the left side, you'll bring up the right hand bar (You could use these in conjunction with the touch screen, which helps make things a bit faster).

The keyboard itself is nice and stylish, the black chicklet keys compliment the brushed silver metal body very well. Typing on it isn't quite as nice as it is typing on a full keyboard, however I didn't find it to be much of an issue, although I'll talk more on using the keyboard in the office section.

Media Playback

Firstly in the performance section, I'll talk about how it handles media playback.
With this device supporting hardware accelerated playback, I made sure that I was using files and a media player that supported hardware accelerated video playback.

The first thing I'd suggest anyone to do though, is to download and install the CCCP codec pack and then the media player classic player

Streaming the media from my PC to my netbook, the device could handle both 720p playback and 1080p playback flawlessly.
However, depending on how the file is encoded, you may encounter some situations where it can't handle the playback very well (For example, if all of the load was on the CPU).

I mainly use the device for media playback and haven't encountered a problem. It's been handling anything I've thrown at in regards to media playback. Hooked up to my 22" monitor 1920x1080 with my 2.0 speakers, it handled itself very well. With it being quite a low profile device, it would be quite proficient as being used as a media streaming device if you so desired (Although if you wanted a dedicated device, you'd be able to spend a lot less money).

Productivity

The netbook could handle light productivity work very easily. I could use the device to create reports made in Microsoft Word, as well as being able to make presentations in Microsoft PowerPoint and run them on a secondary screen.

If you were a student after a device that you could take into lecturers and use to take notes, the Vivobook would handle itself very well in this environment. It was responsive without any sign of input-lag when I was typing (Regardless of how fast I was typing).

The keyboard in its form factor can be a little hard to get used to, however after extended periods of time I found myself being able to type almost as fast as I could with a regular sized keyboard. The keyboard feels like it'll be able to weather general usage quite well.

For productivity, you can do more than just office based tasks as I found out. You could have some mild Adobe Photoshop and rendering usage and the CPU will handle itself quite well, although your biggest drawback in this area could be an I/O bottleneck due to the mechanical HDD.

All in all - a very capable workstation netbook for a student.

Gaming

With this netbook looking more geared towards students, gaming isn't a massive priority, however I decided to give the netbook a run on Fable: The Lost Chapters and Prey, to see how it copes for some casual gaming.

The first game I tried was Fable, as that was the older of the two. While gaming with the trackpad and keyboard isn't the best, it's quite possible to use a controller if you use a program to bind keys to the controller. Running at native resolution with the settings to the lowest, the game was actually quite playable and enjoyable. It didn't look overly bad and for the casual gamer would be perfectly adequate.

Next up I tried Prey. I wasn't expecting much from it. Running all low at 1024x768, it was playable, but wasn't the most enjoyable. For casual gaming I think you'd be best off sticking with the previous generation titles (Such as the Prince of Persia series, Halo 1 and 2, Deus Ex etc).

I'd hope as Haswell comes in that the IGP performance increases a fair amount, as it'd make casual gaming quite enjoyable, as it stands now, your best option is AMD's Trinity, however as mention, gaming isn't the aim of this netbook.

For the casual games on the Windows 8 Store, such as Angry Birds Star wars, or Cut The Rope, this device can handle it all very well, so as long as you've got casual games getting ported to the store, you'll have a much better time of things than trying to play traditional X86 games.

Conclusion

Overall, I'm very impressed with this device. Being able to switch between touch and keyboard quickly and with ease makes using Windows 8 rather user friendly, as opposed to just trying to use it via one input method. 

The build quality with this device surpasses other devices I've seen in similar price regions. The specifications and the form factor certainly deserve praise.

While using the netbook, I didn't feel it heat up much if at all, I didn't hear the fans kicking up to deal with the heat (As I have with other devices, such as the Iconia W500).

There are a few drawbacks as I've mentioned, such as the display and sound, however the positives far outweigh those. There are some negatives that I haven't mentioned though, so I'll take a small bit of time to do that now. The netbook has its RAM soldered on, so you can't upgrade it, which is a small nuisance. I personally don't feel for a device such as this that you'd need the extra RAM, if Windows 8 is anything to go by, Windows 9 could be even less resource intensive. The mechanical HDD is another small issue, however that's one that is easily rectified as the device uses a 2.5" SATA III port, so you could quite happily switch it out for a SSD.

For the price, I'm surprised Asus have been able to get the product to such a standard, I've used higher priced products and been disappointed by them in regards to many areas, where I found the Vivobook to shine.

If someone came to me for a netbook and this product fell in their price range, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to recommend this for them if it fit their usage.

I'd hope with this device, that there is some serious movement in touch screen Windows 8 devices at acceptable price regions, as at the moment, I just can't see them, but for the time being, this device is brilliant.

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