Earning the bronze medal for a second year in a row, ASUS impressed us with its innovative designs; this is a company willing to take risks. The brand also outperformed most of the competition in the tech support category. We saw mixed results in the keyboard and touchpad category, as well as in software, but overall ASUS is a brand you should consider when shopping for a new laptop or hybrid.
With three notebooks earning 4 stars and four notebooks receiving 3.5 stars, ASUS has released a good number of above-average systems over the past year. In fact, the company’s showing was good enough to elevate its score by 3 points from last year. We especially liked the Zenbook UX301‘s Gorilla Glass lid and UHD display. However, the short endurance of the U38N and its 2.5-star rating kept ASUS from performing better.
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From a usefully redesigned website to an increased social media presence, ASUS offered an excellent improvement over last year’s tech-support showing. The company stumbled on phone support, however. Representatives had difficulty with our questions, and our three test calls took a very long average of 27 minutes and 39 seconds.
While some companies are happy resting on their design laurels, ASUS has flipped its lid — literally. The company transformed the lid of the Taichi 21 into a second touch screen, for an innovative, dual-screen hybrid design. The Zenbook UX301 ditched the classic agate aluminum chassis for a lovely and durable midnight blue Gorilla Glass lid. For the less adventurous, ASUS released a trio of handsome mainstream notebooks (N550jv, VivoBook S500CA and Q200). There’s also the budget X550CA, which emulates the stunning good looks of the original Zenbook, despite having an all-plastic chassis.
With few exceptions, ASUS laptop keyboards offer strong tactile feedback, reasonable key layouts and plenty of travel. However, a couple of the laptops we tested exhibited noticeable flex, including two different versions of the ASUS X550CA-DB31. The company’s touchpads are usually accurate and smooth, but a couple of systems, such as the ASUS UX51Vz, had issues consistently recognizing gestures.
ASUS’s high-end models, such as the Taichi 21, Zenbook UX51Vz and Zenbook UX301, offer beautiful, high-res definition and sharp color, but others fall flat. For example, the XX50CA’s 1366 x 768-pixel display delivered passable, mildly grainy images. The Q200’s 1366 x 768, 11.6-inch display was also on the dim side. Still with an average light meter reading of 241 lux, ASUS’ panels overall were in line with the 242-lux laptop category average for display brightness.
The Taichi 21 and Q200 stood out from the rest of ASUS’ 2013 lineup in terms of audio quality. But sound came through tinny and low with other machines, such as the U38N and Transformer Book TX300, costing the brand one point in this category versus 2013. Still, on average, ASUS’s notebooks pumped out 86 decibels of sound, which is louder than your typical notebook (85 dB).
For the second consecutive year, ASUS earned top marks for taking risks on devices such as the dual-screen Taichi 21. The company pushed the bounds of pixel density with the ZenBook UX51Vz-XB31 and that machine’s Retina-like, 2880 x 1620-pixel resolution. We particularly liked the outside-the-box thinking in the Transformer Book TX300 detachable hybrid, which puts its Core i7 processor and 128GB SSD right behind its 13.3-inch, 1080p display. The Transformer Book Duet (arriving spring 2014), uniquely gives users access to Windows 8 and Android in one device.
Quality over quantity is the story for ASUS. The company may have pushed through fewer notebooks in the past 12 months than last year, but among its new products are quality options, such as the excellent $999 N550JV multimedia laptop or the premium $1,973 Zenbook UX301 Ultrabook. The company did unveil a G750 gaming notebook, but ASUS is missing a good business line. While you can get the brand’s notebooks at a variety of retailers, such as Walmart, Newegg, Amazon and Best Buy, the company doesn’t sell its laptops via its website, which means you won’t be able to configure them. Some Windows 7 options exist, but not a wide range.
In terms of software, ASUS’ recent notebooks run the gamut from completely clean (Zenbook UX301) to brimming with unnecessary extras (N550JV). You’ll find about 20 proprietary apps on the latter laptop, including Splendid Technology for display adjustment. ASUS WebStorage helpfully provides 5.5GB of free storage (up from last year’s 2GB), and ASUS Instant Connect can tether between Android phones and ASUS laptops.