Here’s something we see too seldom in modern laptops: bold color! With color choices and highlights that set it apart from the hordes of ho-hum mainstream laptops, the Asus VivoBook S15 is a thin-and-light winner among laptops geared toward students. Given the $699.99 price for the single configuration that Asus offers, you might expect middling performance and an uninspiring build, but this laptop surprised us. It ships in a choice of five colors, but the internal components of the Asus VivoBook S15 are a strong one-size-fits-all: an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of solid-state storage. Plus, the VivoBook S15 packs an unusual lifting-hinge design first seen in the Asus ZenBook S UX391, and some impressively thin bezels. All of this combines to make this laptop a commendable all-purpose student machine.
Some Serious Color Scheming
The Asus VivoBook S15 I received for review had a fun Tonka Truck motif. Asus calls this color scheme “Silver Blue,” but it has bold yellow accents around the edges. With a textured gray finish on the lid, the yellow plastic around the periphery, and a similarly gray (but non-textured) keyboard deck, this model is a study in quirky color contrasts. If you like yellow, you might enjoy the sunshiney air that this laptop carries, and the combination of muted color and saturated accents works. It’s a strategy that, to my eyes, works even better with some of the other combos, such as the Star Grey model, which has fire-engine red around the edges.
The color-scheme choices are the Silver Blue and Star Grey mentioned, as well as Firmament Green (which has aquamarine accents) and Gunmetal, with a Bicycle Gold option (gold contrasting with white edge accents) coming in October. No matter which you get, you’re in for the same specs and the same 0.7-by-14.2-by-9.6-inch (HWD) dimensions as the model you see here.
The VivoBook S15 is thinner than the 0.76-inch-thick base model of the Editors’ Choice Dell XPS 15, though the Dell’s 14.1-by-9.3-inch footprint is smaller than the VivoBook S15’s. The VivoBook S15 is marginally lighter, too, at 3.97 pounds as opposed to the 4-pound XPS 15. Likewise, the Asus VivoBook S15 is thinner than the Editors’ Choice Acer Aspire E 15, another budget-friendly ultraportable that’s also a lot heavier. (It weighs 5.27 pounds, in part due to its hefty DVD drive.)
Carrying it around the city in my own laptop bag, I found the VivoBook S15 significantly less burdensome than other 15-inch laptops I’ve lugged with me. It helps, too, that the power supply is nothing more than a small, square AC adapter with a thin cable attached.
Give Your Typing a Little Lift
Thanks to its hinge design (Asus calls it “ErgoLift”), the keyboard deck of the Asus VivoBook S15 inclines at a 3.5-degree angle when the laptop is open. Asus says that by elevating the laptop off a surface in this way, the extra space underneath the deck allows for more airflow, which leads to more efficient thermal characteristics and quieter running. The machine never got noisy under stress, nor was the bottom of the VivoBook S15 especially hot. (More about the keyboard itself in a moment.)
At a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel native resolution, the Asus VivoBook S15’s IPS panel is no sharper or duller than what I typically see in other laptops in its price range. While its native resolution is standard for the size and price, visuals do pop more on the VivoBook S15’s display than on, say, the Alexa-equipped Acer Spin 3 I recently reviewed.
Drawing your eyes toward the screen rather than the areas surrounding the display, the VivoBook S15’s bezel is a mere 6.3mm thick. And if you’re planning on squeezing all of your friends onto the couch for movie night in the dorm, you can take solace in the fact that the IPS screen has wide enough viewing angles for everyone in your hall to enjoy. Having looked at it myself from all sides, the screen is almost as bright and clear at an angle as it is from straight on. Moreover, because the display has a matte finish, glare is kept to a minimum.
Meanwhile, the VivoBook S15’s bottom-mounted speakers are loud enough to fill a small room, if not much of a departure from the norm. When listening to the classic “lo-fi hip-hop radio: beats to study and relax to” playlist on YouTube at maximum volume, I could hear familiar samples over jazzy background music without any distortion. That said, I would refrain from using the onboard speakers to, say, entertain at parties; they aren’t loud enough to project over small talk, even if they’ll do a decent job of filling uncomfortable silences with ambient sound.
Likewise, the VivoBook S15’s integrated webcam does the job. It captures standard HD photos and videos at a resolution of 1,280 by 720 pixels; your video-conferencing sessions will be workable, if grainy and unremarkable, even in bright lighting. Still, 720p is a step up from the 640-by-480-pixel resolution of some other budget and mainstream machines’ webcams. (The Asus VivoBook S510 is one such machine.)
An All-In Keyboard, and Decent Connections
The VivoBook S15’s touchpad, however, could use some work. Despite the perk of a working fingerprint scanner in its upper right-hand corner, the overall feel needs some tuning, if you ask my fingers. They much prefer the Force Touch trackpads of Apple’s MacBooks, or better yet, a pad with discrete, clickable left and right buttons. Like with most touchpads, tapping menu items on the VivoBook S15’s touchpad feels too light on the fingers, while clicking down in the corners requires too much force. Then again, I have the same quibble with most touchpads on Windows laptops. The exception is those with physical left and right buttons, which tend to appear more often in business-centric laptops like the Lenovo ThinkPad series.
The VivoBook S15’s port selection is
It’s not clear (beyond possible cost savings) why Asus opted for USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0 on the left side, but on the right side is a more contemporary arrangement. Here, from right to left, you get a single USB Type-A port, an HDMI 1.4 output, a USB Type-C port, and a 3.5mm audio combo jack…
The USB ports on this side are USB 3.1 Gen 1 (in essence, USB 3.0). Furthermore, the VivoBook S15 ships with Bluetooth 4.2, along with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and comes backed by a one-year standard warranty.
As Powerful as “U” Expected
Clocking in at 1.6GHz, or up to 3.4GHz when Turbo Boost kicks in, the Intel U-series processor in this laptop, the Core i5-8250U, is a typical silicon choice in a mainstream laptop in this price range. That’s not a bad thing.
Sporting four cores and eight threads, as well as on-chip Intel UHD Graphics 620 silicon, this processor carries the VivoBook S15 from point A to point B without much delay for everyday tasks. A strong pick for online multitasking and productivity applications, and casual, Web-based gaming, the VivoBook S15’s Core i5-8250U processor handled everything from photo editing to video conversion in our testing.
I ran the Asus VivoBook S15 through PC Labs’ usual regimen of tests. In UL’s (formerly Futuremark’s) PCMark 8 test, the Asus VivoBook S15 rang up a score of 3,425, beating out the similarly priced, Intel Core i5-8250U-equipped Acer Aspire E 15 by almost 400 points, though the difference is modest. The Microsoft Surface Laptop, another student-focused machine in the same price range, scored 2,745 in PCMark 8, losing out to the VivoBook S15 by around 25 percent. Because the Surface Laptop we tested used a seventh-generation, two-core/four-thread Intel Core i5-7200U processor, it makes sense that the VivoBook S15—which has a four-core/eight-thread, eighth-generation processor—would outscore it.
The VivoBook S15 also outperformed the Aspire E 15 and Surface Laptop in Cinebench R15 and our Photoshop CS6 test. And although it lost to the Aspire E 15 in our Handbrake video conversion test, it did so by just 6 seconds. While the Acer Aspire E15 uses the same four-core i5-8250U processor as the VivoBook S15, you can chalk up the Surface Laptop’s loss in this benchmark to its dual-core Core i5 once again.
The graphics tests were another story. Whereas the Asus VivoBook S15 relies on the graphics integrated into the CPU, the Acer Aspire E 15 configuration tested here has a modest discrete Nvidia graphics chip, the GeForce MX150. For that reason, the Aspire E 15 topped the rest of the bunch here in all of our graphics testing.
That being the case, a fairer comparison for the Asus VivoBook S15 is the Surface Laptop. Housing last-generation Intel HD Graphics 620, the Surface Laptop also targets students, and it scored 6,192 points in the the GPU-intensive 3DMark Cloud Gate benchmark, compared with the Asus VivoBook S15’s score of 7,876. In the Heaven and Valley tests at Medium graphics settings, the VivoBook S15 scored 21 frames per second (fps) and 26fps, respectively, compared with the Surface Laptop’s 22fps and 26fps. The Asus VivoBook S15 will fare about the same as other student-focused mainstream laptops using integrated graphics, either for casual gaming or partaking in other graphically demanding tasks. You’ll want a dedicated graphics chip (and probably one better than the MX150, at that) if you mean to get serious about games.
I then tested the VivoBook S15’s battery, running it down by playing The Lord of the Rings trilogy, stored locally, until the battery died. The VivoBook S15 did better than the VivoBook S510 before it, lasting 11 hours and 17 minutes (11:17) before running out of juice, versus its sibling’s 8:02. Still, both models paled in comparison to the Acer Aspire E 15, which lasted a whopping 14:03. Given its $100-lower price, and its better battery life and graphics performance, it’s clear why the Acer Aspire E 15 got our Editors’ Choice stamp of approval.
Never Too Late for Class
At $699.99, the price of the Asus VivoBook S15 is a little above that of a typical “budget” laptop; our ceiling for that category is usually $500. Even so, the VivoBook S15 gives you a bunch of worthy features–the functional fingerprint reader, the handy hinge design–that cheaper laptops don’t. Add to that the thin, colorful styling, its hardy performance, and the premium-feeling, full-size keyboard, and the VivoBook S15 sums up as a fine value for mainstream buyers and students. If the Acer Aspire E 15 lacks flair and functionality enough for you, take the Asus VivoBook S15 for a test drive. Any color will do.