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Asus VivoBook S14 (S406) review: The MacBook Air killer. Sort of

The MacBook Air is the gold standard to beat among mainstream laptops. That’s not to say that it’s perfect. Its biggest flaw is its dated hardware set. Also, its display, leaves a lot to be desired. But here’s the thing. The MacBook Air may not be perfect, but a MacBook Air with all its imperfections, still holds considerable edge over rival Windows machines in and around its price point. This is because it gets almost every other thing — including all-round performance — right. The MacBook Air looks really, really good, and has rock-solid build quality. It’s an excellent performer — as far as mainstream laptops are concerned — and it has fantastic battery life. No other Windows machine has been able to come close. Until now.

Enter the Asus VivoBook S14. The VivoBook S14 is a viable alternative to the ageing MacBook Air. There I said it. You don’t even have to read ahead for the conclusion, but I suggest you do, since there are also areas where the VivoBook S14 falters. Areas that you would want to know about, since some of them, can be deal breakers. Let me get one thing straight though. If there’s a Windows laptop that you can put your money on right now, that can challenge the sheer dominance of the MacBook Air, and give Apple’s tried and tested machine a run for its money, the VivoBook S14 is that laptop. Period.

It looks really, really good. But most importantly, it has a gorgeous display, and latest (and also greatest) hardware, both of which are missing on the MacBook Air. The VivoBook S14 is available in a range of options to choose from as well, across different price points, which means there’s something for everybody. Unlike the MacBook Air that doesn’t give you many options. But, as mentioned earlier, there are some areas where the VivoBook S14 needs work. It’s a viable alternative to the MacBook Air, for sure, but in some cases, it leaves room for improvement. Which means, even though, it is a recommended buy, it’s not a downright MacBook Air killer. But it’s a start.

Design and build quality

The VivoBook S14 looks and feels like an ultrabook. But it isn’t. Which in itself is quite a big deal. It borrows heavily from the company’s top-of-the-line ZenBook series, but while laptops in that series start at around Rs 1 lakh, the VivoBook S14 costs half as much. And feels as good, if not better. Just the way the ZenBooks take inspiration from the MacBook, in the premium price segment, the VivoBook S14, looks a lot like the MacBook Air. It’s not surprising then that Asus is pitching it straight up against Apple’s popular mainstream laptop.

The VivoBook S14 is not a blatant rip-off though since the company has infused a number elements into it, that are all hallmark Asus, giving the laptop a distinct flavour of its own. This includes Asus’ signature spun-metal finish on the laptop’s lid but while the ZenBooks boast of concentric circular patterns, the VivoBook S14 comes with what the company’s calling a hairline finish. The lid is all metal and also it is scratch resistant, according to Asus.

The VivoBook S14 has a gorgeous display, and latest (and also greatest) hardware, both of which are missing on the MacBook Air

Asus is offering the VivoBook S14 in two colours: gold and grey. Asus sent me the gold variant, and let’s just say it looks gorgeous. The fact that Asus has continued with the laptop’s general colour scheme throughout its body, including over the keypad, makes the VivoBook S14 look like one solid piece of stone-cold Aluminium. It isn’t though, since the bottom half is all plastic with sandblasted metal finish.

Speaking of the keypad, which houses well-placed chiclet keys, I like that Asus is offering multiple levels of backlighting so you can custom tune things depending on your immediate environment. Also the keys offer up to 1.4mm of travel which is more than what the MacBook Air offers at around similar prices. This means typing on the VivoBook S14 is a pleasurable experience most of the time. Moreover, it has a slightly bigger track pad, and a fingerprint scanner thrown in at one end.

The VivoBook S14 may be slim and light (14.8mm and 1.2kg) and also premium to the T, but, it’s not perfect. It isn’t as solid as the MacBook Air or for that matter any other laptop in and around its price point. It’s prone to some creaking every now and then, especially when dealing with the keypad. I know, most of you buyers won’t go around stress-testing a laptop, but a laptop is primarily a portable device. You will, at some point of time, put it inside a bag. If a little aggressive typing can compromise its integrity, a little tryst with the real-world while you’re commuting with the laptop nestled inside your bag, among other things, may take a toll on it. If that wasn’t enough the lid has a tendency to wobble, a lot at times, and things get particularly nasty when you have it positioned in your lap and are looking to accomplish a quick task.

Although the VivoBook offers more key travel, typing on it somehow doesn’t feel as fluid as it is on Apple’s laptop. It doesn’t feel as confident, and that’s a bummer. Apple’s keys feel solid and sturdier. Moreover, the little spacing that there is in between its keys may irk some buyers. While we are on typing, a word about the touch-pad: I think that it is awesome, for the most part especially in the way it handles gestures. But, the right-click and left-click mechanism is sadly all over the place. There were (many) instances when it failed to register a command, and I was forced into clicking harder, and that really feels bad when you have the laptop as thin as the VivoBook 3 in your lap. It feels like you’re literally pressing the whole thing. Also, Asus could have placed the fingerprint scanner — which is really good by the way — anywhere but atop the touch-pad.

Display

The main USP of the VivoBook S14 is its display. There are a couple of positives to it. It’s nearly edge to edge, to begin with, which is a welcome change for laptops in this price range. The 8.5mm bezels entail in a 78.5 per cent screen-to-body, which is why Asus is able to fit a 14-inch panel inside a 13-inch chassis. That’s more real estate in a compact form factor, unlike rival laptops in and around its price category. The resolution is full-HD and the panel that Asus is using is best in-class. It’s IPS with anti-glare finish and although it lacks any sort of protection, for the price, what’s more important is that the quality is quite good.

Colours look rich and vibrant. Brightness levels are good, and so are the viewing angles. Which means you’ll have absolutely no trouble with it, even when you’re using it in warm sunny environment.

Performance, connectivity and battery life

The VivoBook S14, it’s safe to say, makes no glaring compromises as far as display is concerned. The same is true about its core hardware. The VivoBook S14, although it’s designed to be a low-cost ultrabook, is jam-packed with good hardware. Moreover, Asus is offering the VivoBook S14 in a variety of options, specifically for online and offline channels. The one that we have for review is an offline-only laptop, that’s available in two configurations. The base version rocks a seventh-generation Core i3-7100U CPU and costs Rs 54,990 while the top-end version that ships with an eighth-generation Core i5-8250U CPU has been priced at Rs 64,990. Both the versions come with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD storage.

The online-only versions (that are exclusive to Flipkart) have an SSD as well as a 1TB mechanical hard drive. Core hardware stays the same.

Clearly, Asus is right up there in the spec battle. In fact it’s ahead of many. Although there will be difference between the seventh-generation and eighth-generation models, the price points at which both the versions are hovering about, means there’s a little something for everybody. And it’s way above what the MacBook Air offers at its price point. The MacBook Air is in fact even more expensive in comparison. The only laptop that comes close to the VivoBook S14 in terms of hardware specs is the Acer Swift 5, but even that starts at Rs 79,999.

The result, of good hardware, is that the VivoBook S14 feels faster than the MacBook Air, and as zippy as some of the other high-end ultraportables in the market, like the Dell XPS 13.

If you’re looking to buy a thin and light-weight Windows workhorse at around Rs 60,000, and you’re not invested into the idea of a MacBook Air, the Asus VivoBook S14 is the laptop to get

Since, the hardware inside the VivoBook S14 is top-notch; it is bound to get a little toasty when pushed to the edge or when charging. But it is quick to cool down, which is a plus Also; it can get a little loud when playing GPU-intensive games or during complex multi-tasking activities. But, it’s on expected lines. What’s remarkable is that the VivoBook S14, because it has the best in hardware, can handle literally every task that you throw at it, and it does most of it without breaking a sweat or losing its cool.

And it comes with a good choice of ports. You get one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 and a single Type-C port, which is of the USB 3.1 (Gen 1) standard. There’s a Micro-HDMI video output as well as a micro-SD card slot, along with a microphone and headphones combo port. Select versions of the VivoBook S14 ship with an SD card slot and an HDMI port as well.

But there’s one thing that really holds the VivoBook S14 back. Its battery life. It’s not good. In fact, it’s not even in the same ball-park, as the MacBook Air. So even though the VivoBook S14 is a powerhouse of a laptop, there will be occasions when you won’t be able to utilize its true potential. Our extreme video loop test got us only 3 hours out of the laptop. But one thing that works in its favour is support for fast charging. The VivoBook S14 can apparently charge to 60 per cent in 49 minutes and the real-world numbers are also more or close to it.

Should you buy it?

The answer is yes. The VivoBook S14 is one of the first few Windows laptops to challenge the MacBook Air, the way it does, and also it manages to give Apple’s machine a run for its money, while at it, at least for the most part. It looks premium, has the best in-class display, latest hardware, and an aggressive price tag. It’s not perfect. It could have done with a bigger battery, but then, fast charging ensures that it is up and running in a jiffy.

If you’re looking to buy a thin and light-weight Windows workhorse at around Rs 60,000, and you’re not invested into the idea of a MacBook Air, the Asus VivoBook S14 is the laptop to get.





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