Earlier we unboxed the ASUS VivoBook E403, an inexpensive Windows 10 laptop with some rather premium touches. Here is the full review in all its brushed aluminum glory.
The VivoBook E403 is a large 14-inch laptop that feels massive to hold and use, but surprisingly only weighs a cool 3.3 lbs, somewhere between the Macbook Air and the Surface Book in terms of how it feels to carry. The sheer size and thickness of the laptop completely belies its light weight, so transitioning to it from a smaller or even larger device can be a bit jarring. But in a very good and pleasant way.
The E403 comes in only one color, a dark gray brushed aluminum that covers the entire devices forward facing surface as well as the bottom keyboard region, but interestingly this aesthetic does not cover the bezel surrounding the monitor.
The brushed aluminum is significant because traditionally, this style has been reserved for ASUS's high-end UX range of laptops. That the style is now finding its way to the lower-end devices, I think, shows ASUS is putting forth a great effort to make its whole lineup of devices more premium, even the cheap ones. Which is fantastic. I think the brushed aluminum looks fantastic on the device.
The laptop also features a solid arrangement of ports, including two full-sized USB ports, a full-sized HDMI port, and a full-sized SD card slot. I'm a bit perplexed a laptop of this constitution does not have a third standard USB port, but that might be offset by the fact that it features a forward-thinking USB 3.1 Type-C port.
The overall design of the laptop can be described as solid and competent, if not particularly graceful. There's little to complain about.
The 14-inch display sports a 1920x1080 resolution, again solid for such a cheap device. It's also a matte screen, for those of you who despise the shiny glares of glossy screens that are all the rage these days. Solid choices for a solid laptop.
What isn't solid is the actual display quality. Color accuracy is sloppy and viewing angles are mediocre. Despite the solid resolution, nothing in this display looks particularly crisp. The worst thing is that the colors are horrifically under-saturated, to the point where you have literally no idea how deep and pronounced the colors would look like on a proper display.
Those things are livable on such a cheap device. But what can really be a deal breaker is the uneven lighting. The lighting of the pixels for better visibility seems to be much strong on the bottom and sort of gradually weakens toward the top of the display. In a bright environment, such as the great outdoors, it makes finding a comfortable viewing angle almost impossible, because one side is always going to feel a bit different from the other.
The only good thing it has going for it is the size. At 14-inches, it's a comfortably wide viewing experience, and multitasking feels pleasant on the device.
The E403 is powered by an Intel quad-core Pentium N3700 with 4GB of RAM. For those of you unfamiliar with this range, it slots somewhere between the Atom and Core ranges. As such, it's a decent enough performer for daily tasks. I would never describe it as fast, but it's far from slow. Office 365 use is plenty satisfactory, except for loading large amounts of images store in a OneNote page (though admittedly every device no matter how powerful has this problem).
The only area where this device seems to struggle is web browsing with Edge. Constant freezes and frequent crashes threaten to destroy the ownership experience of this laptop. Thankfully, that seems to be limited only to Edge, as Chrome works fast and with no difficulty. I'm quite tempted to believe the fault lies more with Edge than with the device. Clearly, many users have satisfactory experiences with Edge, but no matter what device I use I never enjoy the experience.
The device also comes with 128GB of eMMC storage, which is perfectly fine for the daily use tasks that this device is designed for.
Mind-blowingly good. ASUS states that the device can expect up to 14 hours of battery life, and my experience more or less meets this standard, with an average of around 12 to 13 hours of real world use, even with Chrome as my main web browser.
This can be attributed to the modest processor and simple display. Admittedly, the shameful lighting found on the display may be a contributing factor to the E403's ability to hold its drink.
While I haven't done any intense gaming or anything on this device (it really isn't designed for that), daily use with web browsing, email, movies, and Office does little to dent this device's excellent battery life, and sleep drains virtually no power, even with days of staying in standby.
I don't know what it is with PC manufacturers, but even after all this time they still can't replicate the butter-smooth tracking and gesturing on trackpads found in Macbook devices. This device is no exception to this rule of nature.
The trackpad ranges from mediocre to decent depending on how you use it. If you prefer to click the button to actuate mouse clicks, this laptop is going to be an awful experience. Two-finger right clicking doesn't register at all, and there's no way to turn off the right click button in the lower right region. If you're a tapper, the experience gets a bit better, as two-finger right-clicking now works for you, and are quite consistent.
Multi-touch gestures work, but not particularly well. Two-finger scrolling, while smooth, doesn't take into account velocity, so no matter how intense your swipe, you'll only move a few lines at a time. This is extremely frustrating with long documents. Pinch zooming works as well, and pretty accurately, but it's not smooth, though this may be an issue with individual software than hardware.
These problems are slightly remedied by the size of the trackpad. This is one of the largest I've ever seen, so no matter how frustrated you get with using the trackpad, at least you'll never feel sore or cramped hands from long sessions of use.
The trackpad itself is also outlined with a gorgeous Chrome-like metal ring, a pleasing, if rather meaningless, aesthetic.
The keyboard is quite good. Key presses have plenty of travel and feel pleasant to press, with the exception of the left Alt key, which has a tendency to "feel like" it gets stuck. What I mean by this is when you press the key, it makes that weird snapping sound that suggests it's about to get stuck. In my experience thus far it never actually has gotten stuck once, but it feels like it could any moment, and the key's bounce-back to its original state feels mechanically slower that the rest.
I don't know what it is with ASUS laptops, but every ASUS laptop I've ever owned has had at least one problem key like this, that blemishes an otherwise solid build quality. Nice to see tradition has continued here.
The keys are spread out across the large laptops body. Almost too spread out, to the point where standard typing positioning feels just a tad unnatural. I find myself having to constantly shift my hand to reach certain keys that are normally easily within reach. It's not a bad problem to have, but it's not a pitch-perfect typing experience either.
One thing that kind of bugs me is the size of the right Shift key. It's a bit too short, to the point where I find myself pressing the adjacent up arrow by accident more often than I should-- which is never.
This is a pretty decent, all-around device with some glaring faults that you might be willing to live with only because of the price. Thankfully, I won't be the one using this laptop, as I purchased it for one of my family members, whose computing standards are much lower.
This is the crux of why I think the VivoBook E403 makes for a compelling product. Not because it excels in any particular way, but because it's all-around "good enough" while being future-proof and inexpensive that it makes great fodder for people who don't care very much about having Surface or Macbook levels of computing excellence. It also has astounding battery life, something everyone benefits from. It's a competent device that won't embarrass you by being seen with it. And for many, that's all that's needed.