ASUS recently unveiled the brand new 14-inch highly portable mid-range “VivoBook” laptop. The price is currently set at $399 and I think it’s an absolute bargain, considering how well-rounded this device, the ASUS E403SA-US21 is.
Review – At a glance
I’ll begin my review by saying this device, the E403SA-US21, falls under the “affordable” umbrella, which also hosts entry-level laptops and uninspiring all-rounders. However, just by looking at the ASUS you’ll immediately feel that in spite of the low-ish asking price, you get considerable build quality, style and a refined design.
These exterior aspects are constantly neglected by other manufacturers when putting together affordable devices. The ASUS feels sturdy and premium, but not heavy. It features a brushed aluminum finish and it’s just 0.7 inches thin, not unlike many ultrabooks on the market today.
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The ASUS E403SA-US21 features a quad core Intel Pentium N3700 processor. It has 2 megabytes of cache, runs on 64-bit architecture, has a clock speed of 1.6 GHz to 2.4 GHz and a thermal design power of just 4-6 Watts. As you can see, the main hallmark of this CPU is energy efficiency. The laptop in question will run for longer on a charge when compared to more powerful processors.
As you’d expect, there is a downside: a certain lack of “oomph” when it comes to wanting to do more than just browsing, multitasking and other mundane tasks. The N3700 will struggle a bit if you throw too many open programs at it or want to edit videos for example.
Benchmark tests rate this processor at just under 1900 points, which isn’t low, it’s actually more than a decent score for a laptop that costs under $500. You’ll have to know its limits and use the laptop accordingly, but more on that further down.
System memory is rated at 4 gigabytes of SDRAM DDR3 – more than enough considering the processor. More memory won’t help the device perform better in everyday tasks, and since the ASUS E403SA-US21 comes with Windows 10 pre installed, I don’t think you’ll ever need more.
The storage department is one of the two big surprises I had when researching this laptop. It has a solid state drive! Yes, we finally see the advent of SSDs in more moderately priced devices. The ASUS has a 128 gigabyte drive installed, which will mitigate the shortcomings that come with the modest processor. This will make the ASUS boot up in seconds and everything will feel snappy and instantaneous.
Also, you’ll get loads of storage space online via ASUS’s own cloud storage solution called WebStorage.
Screen and display
The second surprise comes from the visual department. The ASUS E403SA-US21 has a 14-inch LED-backlit screen which features a full HD display with a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Viewing angles are surprisingly good for a notebook placed in this price bracket, but the real star is the FHD display. You’ll be able to watch 1080p videos on YouTube or Netflix, since the processor and integrated Intel HD Graphics can handle such a resolution without hiccups.
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Another interesting feature the ASUS promises is the addition of the brand new USB-C connector, capable of delivering much higher speeds than their 2.0 and 3.0 counterparts, and more power to connected devices. You can read all about USB-C here.
So, the ASUS VivoBook E403SA-US21 has:
- 1 x USB-C Gen 1 port
- 1 x USB 3.0 port, 1 x USB 2.0 port
- 1 x HDMI-out port
- 1 x combo audio jack
- 1 x SD card reader
These options are enough for any user. Any more ports, like an RJ-45 or more USB holes would have added quite a bit of bulk to its sides.
The ASUS has a 802.11ac wireless card with built-in Bluetooth 4.0. Connecting to compatible ac-enabled routers will increase network response and download speeds when working in a crowded environment such as coffee shops or airports.
Portability and ease of use
As I stated earlier, the ASUS E403SA-US21 is a beautiful laptop and isn’t too heavy. I don’t think we can label it as a lightweight either, because although the screen is 14 inches across, the device weighs 3.3 lbs. Now, that number is significantly lower than what other laptops in the same price range will offer (typically around 5 pounds for most entry-level notebooks).
Considering a full battery charge will offer up to 12 to 14 hours of screen time, the weight “issue” suddenly becomes smaller, since you won’t need to also carry the power adapter wherever you go.
Who is this laptop for?
Battery life is exceptional, the size recommends it for a host of different usage scenarios (from business to campus to home to nationwide travel) and it doesn’t weigh that much.
This machine is best suited for active people on the go, folks who don’t want to compromise features even when the price is lower than expected and for those who need a device that will work as day-to-day notebook – think emails, social media, browsing, document editing, watching videos, reading newspapers, compiling reports … the usual things we do for most of the time on our devices.
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To conclude, the ASUS E403SA-US21 is probably the best affordable travel companion you can buy right now. It comes with a simple, elegant and understated design, adequate hardware specs, a great display, plenty of interface options, good connectivity and with an impressive battery life.