ASUS jumped from fifth last year to third place, thanks to its stellar Ultrabooks and improvements in its keyboards and touchpads. ASUS also deserves credit for being one of the first brands for offering a touch Windows 8 notebook for less than $500, providing an excellent mix of value-priced and premium We expect big things from this company in the coming year.
Slightly above-average performance landed ASUS in the middle of the pack for this category. Among the 11 notebooks we tested from ASUS, some, such as the Editors’ Choice award-winning Zenbook UX51Vz — which had a 1080p screen, discrete graphics and a sleek design — were real hits. However, there were a few disappointments, such as the 2.5-star VivoBook X202E, a $549 12-inch touch-screen notebook that lasted a little longer than 4 hours on a charge.
[More: See most recent ASUS laptop reviews.]
ASUS’ Zenbook line of Ultrabooks is still very attractive, combining brushed metal with sleek lines. In fact, this design is starting to pervade many of the company’s notebooks, including the budget-friendly VivoBook X202E. However, there’s a risk of this aesthetic growing a bit tired. There’s nothing sleepy about the Taichi 21, though, which is the first laptop to have a screen on the lid.
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Over the course of the last year, many ASUS laptops featured springy keys with solid feedback and lack of flex, including the improved Zenbook line. However, we did take issue with the lack of backlighting on certain units. While some ASUS touchpads elicited groans due to erratic behavior, most issues were easily rectified with a simple driver update. In fact, ASUS’ touchpads improved enough in the last year to give the brand a three-point boost in this category.
The new Customer Loyalty Group and BrandAnswers program combined with additional support staff helped ASUS notch an above-average tech support score. The company’s tech support site is clean and easy to use, but it took an hour for us to get a Web chat engineer on the line. Facebook gave us a helpful reply within 30 minutes, but Twitter was a dead end. Although phone reps didn’t keep us waiting, one was unable to give us battery life tips.
Most of the displays found on ASUS laptops this year were fantastic, such as the Zenbook UX51Vz. It offers a bright and vivid 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel screen with generous viewing angles. But not all of the brand’s machines were up to par, as was evident on the VivoBook X202E-DH31T’s dim panel. Thanks to Bang and Olufsen speakers on some models blasting high-quality sound even at maximum volume, ASUS’ score went up a point from last year.
ASUS has its hands in every category, from the very cheap $299 X501 notebook with a Pentium CPU to the luxurious Zenbook Ultrabook line to the G series for gamers and multimedia mavens. The $549 VivoBook X series is among the cheapest Windows 8 touch-screen laptops to land in our lab. We wish ASUS.com offered the ability to custom-order laptops, especially given the number of SKUs within each line, but we couldn’t find a big-box or online retailer without an ASUS notebook stocked.
Dell, HP and Toshiba should take note: ASUS continues to eat your innovation lunch. Take the Zenbook Prime UX32VD, which was the first Ultrabook to offer discrete graphics muscle in a very thin-and-light, 13-inch package. Sometimes innovation just means improving faster than the competition, which ASUS did with the UX31A’s revamped keyboard and 1080p IPS screen. We also give ASUS kudos for pushing touch-screen Windows 8 laptops into sub-$600 territory with the VivoBook X202E, though the battery life was anemic. Other standouts include the wild Taichi, which has a screen on the back of the lid, the Transformer Book (“the world’s first convertible Ultrabook”) and the Atom-powered VivoTab Smart with Tran-Sleeve Keyboard.
Security software preloaded on ASUS laptops this year most often came in the form of a trial for Trend Micro or McAfee, the latter of which bombards you with pop-ups until you activate it. We did appreciate the preloaded WebStorage app, which offers 2GB of free cloud space, but most helpful was ASUS Tutor, which gives users a walk-through on how to use Windows 8. We weren’t particularly impressed with the ASUS Vibe Fun Center portal to games, music and books. Impressively, the Taichi came with a dedicated Facebook app as well as Instant Connect, which makes it easy to tether ASUS and Samsung handsets.
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