With the $229 VivoBook E203NA, Asus has made a budget laptop that looks nice but fails to do anything else well. Its battery life is short, its display is poor, the webcam is dark and dim, and the Intel Celeron processor provides middling performance. Though you can't expect a premium experience in this price range, competing laptops are a lot better than this.
Sure, the VivoBook E203NA is a budget laptop. And while it certainly feels like one, it looks better than some other sub-$300 machines. The lid is a grayish blue with a subtle honeycomb pattern and Asus' logo in silver in the center. It's a fingerprint magnet, though, so you'll either have to wipe it off constantly or accept that your PC will look like a crime scene.
It's far more bland inside, where the 11.6-inch display is surrounded by a thick, unsightly bezel and the deck is made of gray plastic.
The selection of ports on this notebook is varied, but minimal. Most are on the left side, where you'll find a microSD card reader, HDMI output, and USB 3.0 and USB Type-C ports (data only). On the right side are just a headset jack and another USB 3.0 port.
The 2.3-pound, 11.3 x 7.6 x 0.7-inch laptop is slightly lighter than competitors but a pretty standard size. The Lenovo Ideapad 120S is also 0.7 inches thick and weighs 2.4 pounds, while the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 is 0.8 inches thick and 2.9 pounds. The 14-inch HP Stream is a heavier 3.1 pounds and is also 0.7 inches thick.
Most laptop displays at this price leave something to be desired, and the VivoBook is no exception. The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display is dim and drab. When I watched the trailer for "Mary Poppins Returns," a green kite barely popped at all against an otherwise gray street, and while Poppins' red scarf was loud, her blue coat appeared dim and dark.
The VivoBook's display covers just 74 percent of the sRGB color gamut, and while that's better than the Lenovo Ideapad 120S (64 percent) and the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 (69 percent), the HP Stream (82 percent) is more vivid -- and all of them were below our budget-laptop average (91 percent).
The panel measured an average 202 nits of brightness on our light meter, which is dimmer than the average (226 nits) and Ideapad (249 nits) but more brilliant than both the Stream (186 nits) and the Inspiron (146 nits).
Keyboard and Touchpad
With 1.7 millimeters of travel and 68 grams of force required to press the keys, the VivoBook's keyboard is surprisingly deep. But the keys are made of cheap plastic, and the 11.6-inch body doesn't allow for a lot of room for your hands. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 109 words per minute, which is average for me. But I had a 5-percent error rate, which is worse than my usual 2 or 3 percent.
The 4.1 x 2.4-inch touchpad allows for Windows 10 gestures, including swiping apps down into the taskbar with three fingers and tapping four fingers to open the Action Center. It feels a little cheap, as it's the same plastic as the deck, but it gets the job done.
The speakers on the VivoBook E203NA don't produce a lot of detail. When I listened to Tears For Fears' "Shout," the song's vocals and drums were clear, but the electric guitar, synths and bass were all rolled into one big blob. The audio was loud enough to fill a small conference room, but there's no included software to tune the music to your liking.
With an Intel Celeron N3350 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of flash memory, the VivoBook wasn't exactly built for speed. The computer started lagging when I had just eight tabs open in Google Chrome, one of which was streaming a 1080p clip of Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, it earned a score of 2,680, which is less than the budget-laptop average (2,929) and the score from the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 (3,179, Pentium N3710) but higher than the Lenovo Ideapad 120S (2,483, Celeron N3350) and the HP Stream (1,817, Celeron N3060).
It took the VivoBook 3 minutes and 10 seconds to transfer 4.97GB of files, or 26.8 MBps. That's slower than the average (40.9 MBps) and the Ideapad (38.6 MBps) but faster than the Inspiron (22.6 MBps).
Asus' laptop took 7 minutes and 58 seconds to pair 65,000 names and addresses on our Excel macro test, which is longer than average (7:42) and the time from the Ideapad (7:38).
The VivoBook won't last all day on a charge, so be sure to bring the charger with you. It lasted 6 hours and 23 minutes (running Windows 10 S) on the Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which continuously browses the web, watches video and runs a graphics test at 150 nits of brightness. With Windows 10 Pro, it lasted for 6:09. Either way, it's worse than the budget-laptop average (7:16) and the HP Stream (7:04) and the Lenovo Ideapad 120S (8:35), but better than the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 (5:13).
The webcam on the VivoBook is a joke.
The 640 x 480 camera is insanely dark and almost colorless. In a photo I took in our well-lit office, I couldn't see my own eyes; I looked like Samson after the Philistines got their hands on him. Or Gloucester in King Lear. Or Oedipus Rex. You get the gist. (At best, I looked like a Funko Pop.)
My lips appeared almost colorless, with barely a hint of pink; my skin appeared purple; and my black sweater appeared so dark that I couldn't see the woven pattern on it.
This little PC stays nice and cool. It measured 85 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 90 degrees between the G and H keys, and 90 degrees on the underside. All of those temperatures are below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Software and Warranty
The VivoBook comes with Windows 10 S, which means that you won't find any of Asus' software, because it literally can't be installed. Windows 10 S doesn't allow anything outside of the Microsoft Store to be installed. That does, however, allow for bloatware in the Microsoft Store to be preinstalled (as it is on every copy of Windows 10), including Drawboard PDF, Candy Crush Soda Saga, March of Empires: War of Lords, Autodesk SketchBook and Bubble Witch 3 Saga.
The Asus VivoBook E203NA is a budget laptop with an attractive chassis, but it doesn't do anything to stand out from the crowd. Its display is dim and bland, its battery life is short and its webcam is one of the worst I've ever seen. If you want something in this price range, your best bet is the Lenovo Ideapad 120S. The 11.1-inch display is a little smaller and isn't terribly vivid, but at least it's bright. It also offered better performance, and its battery life was more than 2 hours longer.
The VivoBook may be a nicer-looking package, but once you open it, you may wonder why you ever had it delivered.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag