Review: Asus VivoBook S550CA offers Windows 8 and touchscreen in mainstream package
At a Glance
Attractive, touchscreen-equipped laptops running a full version of Windows 8 are getting cheaper than you might think. Some newly announced Sony touchscreen-equipped laptops start around $600 for 14-inch and 15-inch models. But for just a little more money, Asus’ 15.6-inch VivoBook S550CA has an MSRP of $750—and you can find our review model online for as low as $630.
Touchscreen laptop with Windows 8 costs less than a high-end iPad
That’s right—the VivoBook S550CA costs just as much as a souped-up 16GB iPad, but it’s also got a full-size keyboard, an optical drive, and the touchscreen. If you’re looking for a deal, this is a pretty good one.
The VivoBook S550CA is the largest of Asus’ low-cost VivoBook line. It’s 0.86 inches thick, and it weighs 5.7 pounds. Asus calls it an Ultrabook, but, as we’ve already determined, Asus seems to be bandying that term about recklessly. The VivoBook S550CA isn’t even technically an Ultrabook—while it does have a 24GB SSD boot drive (alongside a 500GB hard drive), and it does start up in just under 15 seconds, the S550CA is 0.04 inches too thick to be an Ultrabook. Intel’s guidelines do state, after all, that Ultrabooks with screens larger than 14 inches have to be under 0.82 inches thick.
Plentiful features in fairly compact profile
That said, the S550CA cuts a slim profile for a 15.6-inch machine. Our review model is housed in a black and silver chassis, with brushed-aluminum detailing on the cover and wrist-rest and cheaper matte plastic on the bottom. The black cover is unfortunately prone to fingerprints, which sort of messes with the sleekness of the look.
Despite being just 0.86 inches thick, the S550CA does have a tray-loading optical drive—a Super-Multi DVD drive, to be exact—located on its right side. That may seem quaint, but many mainstream laptops still include it. It’s also got a couple of USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI and VGA outs, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Connectivity is good (there’s also built-in Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0), but it would be nice to see two or three USB 3.0 ports, instead of just one. However, the full-sized HDMI out is a nice touch.
The S550CA’s input devices are a mixed bag. The touchscreen is very good—it’s responsive, accurate, and easy to use. The only minor issue I have is that the touch sensitivity doesn’t extend past the bezel of the screen (and it’s an edge-to-edge glass screen, so this could easily have been implemented), and that makes certain Windows 8 gestures, such as swiping from the right side of the screen, more difficult than necessary. Many of the higher-end laptops I’ve seen do extend the touch sensitivity just past the edge of the screen, which makes for a much smoother Windows 8 experience. However, it is an otherwise excellent touchscreen for the price, so I can’t complain too much.
Disappointingly shallow keyboard and touchpad
The laptop’s other input devices aren’t quite as impressive. The full-sized keyboard has black, island-style keys and a 10-key number pad. The keys are lightly textured and evenly spaced, but the keyboard is shallow—so shallow, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to type quickly and accurately. The large touchpad below the keyboard is a little better, but it also suffers from shallowness: It hardly depresses when you tap the built-in buttons, which means that right- and left-clicks are often disregarded. It is a touchpad, though, so you can tap to left-click, and Asus’ Smart Gesture technology (such as pinch to zoom and two-finger scrolling) works smoothly.
The S550CA is a good performer in our benchmarks, with a 1.7GHz core i7 CPU and 6GB of DDR3 memory. The exception is media playback, which is a little disappointing.
The S550CA has no discrete graphics card—just Intel integrated graphics. HD streaming video looks OK, but you will see a lot of artifacting and blurring in scenes with a lot of high-motion content. In other words, video playback on the S550CA is about as good as you can expect on a machine with integrated graphics and a low-res screen.
Display looks great, but resolution could be higher
Also, the screen has a paltry resolution of just 1366 by 768 pixels—par for the course on 11-, 13-, and even 14-inch notebooks, especially cheap ones, but definitely dated on a 15.6-inch screen. The low resolution is unfortunate, because the S550CA has an otherwise excellent-looking screen. Not only is it extremely bright, but colors look crisp and accurate, and off-axis viewing angles are good.
Battery life is mediocre, too: We clocked just under three and a half hours in our rundown tests. This is a laptop you could take around town with you, but not on a long airplane trip, without AC reinforcement.
Audio playback is a little better, however. The speakers, which are located primarily on the bottom of the laptop, produce loud, full sound. Asus’ SonicMaster sound-enhancing technology offers up a decent simulation of surround sound, though it’s certainly not the best sound I’ve ever heard. The only issue is that the main speakers are on the bottom of the laptop, and are situated so that sound gets muffled if you rest the laptop on anything, such as your lap or a desk.
Decent performer for a great price
Getting the full Windows 8 experience—touchscreen and all—doesn’t have to be expensive. The Asus VivoBook S550CA falls short in some performance areas and features, but for many mainstream users, it's still a decent computer for a great price.