Asus VivoBook S14 (S433) full review

If you’re in the market for a Windows laptop, it’s highly likely you’ll be considering something from Asus. The Taiwanese company is among the most recognisable brands worldwide, accounting for more than 5.5% of all PC sales in 2019.

But while its Zenbook line tends to push the boundaries on what is possible in this form factor, the VivoBook prioritises everyday usage to ensure it remains relatively affordable.

As such, the 2020 refresh of its 14in model has few of the bells and whistles of more expensive devices , but that will matter little if it can deliver a convincing all-round experience.

Design

First impressions of the VivoBook are hugely positive. It’s a sleek, modern device very much in keeping with 2020 standards.

An all-metal chassis gives the device a premium feel when using it, but crucially it remains lightweight. Asus is perhaps overselling its portability given it weighs 1.4kg, but you’ll still have no problem quickly moving between rooms or throwing in a bag for trips away.

Without a dedicated fingerprint scanner, it means there are no biometric options available for unlocking the device. Other Asus VivoBook devices have a fingerprint scanner on the edge of the touchpad, but here this can only be long-pressed to reveal a number pad.

The touchpad itself can feel a little cramped and fiddly, but that can easily be averted by connecting an external mouse, which I’d recommend for any extended sessions.

One area that can’t be swapped out so seamlessly is the keyboard, so it’s good news that my experience of typing on the VivoBook has been excellent. Of course, this can’t quite match the experience of a dedicated mechanical keyboard, but offers a good level of travel and each key feels nice to the touch.

Asus has also chosen its own font for the keys, distinguishing it from the majority of laptops on the market. The other key feature is so-called ‘colour blocking enter key’, which adds a statement splash of colour but little else.

The keyboard itself backlit, and you can cycle between three different brightness levels depending on the amount of ambient light.

Among the most impressive aspects of the VivoBook is its range of ports. In addition to a power socket and 3.5mm headphone jack, you also get three USB-A ports, one USB-C, HDMI and microSD card slot. You’d need an adapter to access many of these ports on other laptops, so it’s great to see here.

In an ideal world, the USB-C port could be used for charging, but it’s an inevitable compromise at this price point.

The VivoBook also has a solid range of colour options, suggesting it can be a standout device for everyday usage. In addition to the Indie Black model I tested, you can also get the more eye-catching Gaia Green, Resolute Red or Dreamy White.

Screen

As you might have guessed from the name, the VivoBook comes with a 14in screen, at a resolution of 1920x1080.

This screen size sits in between the two regular configurations we’ve become accustomed to on laptops, but retaining a 16:9 aspect ratio means it quickly becomes familiar. Its size changes little about the experience when compared to a 13in device, although having slightly more screen real estate is always welcome when multitasking.

The display itself is pretty decent, offering a solid level of detail and good contrast, although colours can look slightly muted when viewing multimedia content. As such, I wouldn’t recommend using it as your primary device for watching videos.

It’s also not great for outdoor visibility, as even at maximum brightness it was hard to make out in direct sunlight. We recorded just 250 nits on the highest setting, considerably down on many competitors.

There are some fairly chunky bezels on offer here, which can make the VivoBook look a little dated when compared to more expensive laptops. The front-facing ‘HD’ camera doesn’t support Windows Hello for face unlock on the model I reviewed, so it feels like a poor use of space. However, from the product listings I understand that it is available on some variants, so it’s worth checking before you buy.

The 85% screen-to-body ratio is fine, but many modern laptops regularly exceed 90% in this regard.

Performance

The VivoBook model I tested comes with a 10th generation Intel Core i7-10510U processor, alongside 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. On the graphics side, you get Intel’s own UHD Graphics 620. These elements all combine to ensure performance is excellent across the board.

Of course, if that’s an issue you can pay more to get up to 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD, but I feel this configuration will suffice for most people.

I experienced no issues with multiple windows open simultaneously, making it a good fit for people who do lots of multitasking. Across word processing, consuming multimedia content and some light photo editing, the VivoBook showed no signs of slowing down. However, that may be a different story if using the i5 model.

The benchmarks below show how it stacks up to the very best in budget laptops, alongside three similarly priced devices in the HP Envy 13, Acer Swift 5 and Lenovo Yoga C740.

Battery life and speakers

I thought it was worth separating these two aspects from the other design features, as they are crucial to the way I use a laptop.

The VivoBook comes with a 50Wh battery, although Asus doesn’t give an estimate of how long it’s expected to last.

A HD video loop test therefore gives a clearer indication of what to expect with regards to battery life. Setting the screen brightness to 120cd/m2 (nits), I recorded a time of 8 hours and 38 minutes.

That’s slightly below average, although it’s worth noting that the laptop was set to ‘best performance’, which inevitably means battery life will take a hit.

Nonetheless, for comparison the cheaper Lenovo IdeaPad S340 and Honor MagicBook 14 recorded 14:26 and 10:43. These are the top two entries in our best budget laptop chart at the time of writing, so it shows Asus still has work to do in that regard.

Due to the size of their batteries, laptops trail smartphones significantly when it comes to charging speeds, and that is reflected here. The VivoBook charged 24 per cent from off in my testing, which suggests you’ll need two hours for a full charge.

The stereo speakers come certified by audio specialists Harman Kardon, which Asus claims ‘delivers high-quality detailed audio that’s second to none’.

Given the big build-up, the speakers are a slight disappointment. They offer a good level of clarity and a nice balanced sound, but lack in bass when compared to the top laptop speakers on the market. I also feel the maximum volume could be increased to be room-filling, although that will come with inevitable distortion.

It’s good news, then, that this laptop has Bluetooth 5.0, which allows you to connect multiple audio output devices at the same time. As mentioned previously, there’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack for wired connections.

Price and value for money

The Asus VivoBook S14 was unveiled at CES in January 2020, but we had to wait until April for it to go on sale.

It starts at US$699.99 for the Core i5 processor, but the model I tested (i7-10510U, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD) will set you back £899.97 from Laptops Direct.

That configuration is currently unavailable from Amazon in the UK, but Asus has confirmed that it will be on sale there and from other retailers in the coming weeks.

I think this is a fair price for what is a very capable all-rounder. A number of the entries in our best laptop chart are significantly more expensive, but it stacks up well to comparable offerings such as the HP Envy 13, Acer Swift 5 and Lenovo Yoga C740.

Despite some fairly sizeable bezels, the VivoBook also feels well future-proofed, and should be capable of running the latest version of Windows 10 for many years.

As such, it offers decent value for money, but for ultimate bang for your buck I’d recommend checking out our best budget laptop chart.

Verdict

The Asus VivoBook S14 offers a solid all-round laptop experience at a price that makes it extremely competitive in today’s market.

There’s not much real innovation here (unless you consider the fluorescent enter key to be!), with the VivoBook prioritising everyday usage.

As such, the most impressive aspects are those you’ll notice on a day-to-day basis. With the exception of heavy gaming or video editing, performance is impressive across the board. The keyboard offers a good level of travel, feeling tactile and responsive, while the port selection should mean you can use it adapter-free.

Other aspects are less impressive, including an average screen and unspectacular battery life, but if you’re rarely far from the charger the VivoBook is a compelling option.

Specs

Asus VivoBook S14 (S433): Specs

  • 10th gen Intel Core i7-10510U processor
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • 8/16GB RAM
  • 256GB/512GB/1TB SSD
  • 14in 1920x1080p display
  • 16:9 aspect ratio
  • Full-size backlit keyboard
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 50Wh battery
  • 1.4kg

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