This 14-inch Ultrabook offers a Windows 8 experience complete with a touch-enabled screen for $699. Read on to find out what's forgivable and what's not at this price point.
At $699 the ASUS S400CA represents one of the least expensive Ultrabooks on the market, especially considering this model has a touch-enabled screen. Highlights of this model aside from the touch screen include solid battery life, metallic surfaces, a clean design and good speakers.
Build and Design
The S400CA has a clean uncluttered appearance. The stark silver aluminum palm rest contrasts nicely with the black lid and chassis bottom. The corners are rounded just the right amount.
The build quality is above average; the chassis is reasonably stiff and resists flexing. The lid is impressively strong and noticeably better at resisting flex and pressure than most Ultrabooks that have gone through our review process. Fit and finish is good; there are no unfinished areas or sections that seem to be of better quality than others.
Note that the aluminum on the S400CA is decorative; it certainly adds support but isn't the main source of chassis strength. A full aluminum shell is too expensive at this price point.
The S400CA wasn't designed with user upgradeability in mind but it is user upgradeable; remove the eight Phillips head screws on the chassis bottom to get at the 2.5" storage drive, mSATA slot, wireless card and one open RAM slot. That's not bad at all for an Ultrabook.
Input and Output Ports
Port selection is one of the S400CA's highlights; it offers many ports other Ultrabooks leave out including VGA, Ethernet, a media card reader and a full-size HDMI out; this is in addition to three USB ports (one USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0). A small detail I appreciate on the S400CA is its inclusion of status lights along the front. I always miss the storage drive activity light when it's left out. All picture descriptions are listed from left to right.
Left: Kensington lock slot, 2x USB 2.0, headphone/microphone combo jack, SD card slot
Right: USB 3.0, HDMI out, VGA, Ethernet, AC power jack
The S400CA has a full-size keyboard with Chiclet-style keys. It's not my favorite part of the notebook. Unlike the keyboards on most Ultrabooks, this one has noticeable flex which doesn't translate to a solid feel. The limited key travel doesn't allow for much tactile feedback.
Something I definitely don't appreciate is the fact that the chassis has a slight rattle while typing; this is unacceptable and I see it too often. One last complaint is the key surfaces; they're granular plastic which will in all likelihood wear shiny over time.
The ASUS clickpad lacks dedicated physical buttons; press down anywhere to produce a click. It has a pleasantly smooth surface and relatively quiet clicks but the praise stops there. The clickable surface isn't properly anchored so it has a small bit of give, translating into a rattling sound while tapping to click. Furthermore physical clicks take too much effort. Overall ASUS could have scored higher in this section of the review.
Screen and Speakers
The 14" screen is another sore point of this review. Its redeeming factor is the touch capability; it works well but is more of a novelty. The primary issue with the touch functionality is usability; the display hinge provides plenty of resistance to prevent the screen from moving backward while touched but can't stop it from wobbling which makes for an awkward experience. I found myself supporting the display with one hand while touching with the other.
The screen is otherwise utterly unremarkable. It has the lowest resolution offered on a mainstream PC, 1366x768; it looks grainy compared to higher resolution screens (1920x1080, for example) because the pixels are physically larger; there are less of them per square inch. Windows 8 scales so well across resolutions that the old "the text is too small" excuse is no longer valid; save for price reasons it makes little sense to get a resolution this low.
Compounding the resolution issue is the panel's picture quality; contrast and especially saturation are well below average. The display looks washed out and dull and has poor viewing angles; there's a narrow 10-15 degree vertical window that's 'optimal'; pass that and the picture washes out or darkens from above and below, respectively. Even the brightness is suboptimal.
The speakers are a step up from "normal" tinny notebook speakers. The pseudo surround sound effect is actually impressive. The speakers get sufficiently loud but lack low bass notes. Normally I'd say use the headphone jack but the S400CA's has some background static; this is not a good thing.
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