ASUS VivoBook S551L notebook

This is a 15.6in notebook with a thin chassis and a good keyboard, but it has a poor screen and merely average wireless connectivity

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ASUS VivoBook S551LB-CJ081H
  • ASUS VivoBook S551LB-CJ081H
  • ASUS VivoBook S551LB-CJ081H
  • ASUS VivoBook S551LB-CJ081H

Pros

  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Good build quality
  • HDMI, USB 3.0, SD

Cons

  • Low screen resolution
  • Single-band Wi-Fi
  • No Bluetooth on our model
  • Average touchpad

Bottom Line

The ASUS VivoBook S551L offers good build and a comfortable keyboard, making it a good choice for writers who want a large notebook for the home (or home office). It also has a good configuration. However, the screen isn't great, nor are the wireless networking features.

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If you visit your local appliance retailer, whether it’s JB Hi-Fi or The Good Guys, you might come across this ASUS VivoBook S551L (S551L-CJ081H) notebook. It costs about $1400 and it's a big unit of 15.6in that's designed to be somewhat of an all-rounder when it comes to home computing. There are some good points to it, such as the Intel Core i7 CPU and discrete NVIDIA graphics, but there are also drawbacks, such as a low-resolution and highly reflective screen.

Features

We'll start off by saying that the build quality of this notebook is surprisingly good. It feels solidly constructed for its large size (it's 380mm wide), and it didn't produce any noticeable creaks or bending when we picked it up from its edges. The 15.6in form factor can make it a chore to carry on an everyday basis, but it's actually quite thin, and it doesn't feel overly heavy. The base is 21mm thick, including the rubber feet that provide table-top grip and a small gap for air to pass, and the overall weight of the unit is 2.45kg. We think that it's best suited as a stay-at-home (or stay-in-the-office) type of computer, though it's not a true desktop replacement — it just doesn't have all the features that allow a notebook to replace a desktop computer.

It's not like the notebook isn't packed with features, it just doesn't have enough advanced features to make it an ultimate go-to computer like Dell's Alienware 18, or MSI's GT70 20D — (though they are geared to gamers and power seekers, while the VivoBook S550 is a more affordable option). You get the usual assortment of ports along the edges, including full-sized HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, a headset port, an Ethernet port, and a full-sized SD card slot, but there is also a built-in DVD burner. Aesthetically, the burner blends in nicely with the overall look of the notebook, and it doesn't compromise the structure. We didn't notice any clicking or creaking noises, nor any bending, when we picked up the laptop with one hand from the side housing the DVD burner.

What the notebook lacks is a high-resolution screen, dual-band Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth (our test model, at least, did not come with Bluetooth). You get a panel that has a mainstream resolution of 1366x768 pixels, which, on a 15.6in scale, is just too low and makes everything look large. It's not effective for multitasking sessions in which you might want to put two windows side by side. It would be nice to see either a Full HD panel, or at least a 1600-pixel wide panel in this notebook.

The Wi-Fi module is only of the single-band variety, which could be a hindrance if you already have a dual-band network and wish to run your computers on the 5GHz band. (For example, many people who live in apartments like to do this due to the proliferation of 2.4GHz networks in most buildings). The lack of Bluetooth is a hindrance if you want to connect a wireless speaker system, or even Bluetooth peripherals. As worst, it means you have to plug in your own Bluetooth module and waste a USB port.

Performance and battery life

At the core of the VivoBook S551LB-CJ081H's configuration is an Intel Core i7-4500U CPU, which is an ultra-low voltage model designed to run in thin bodies. It has frequency of 1.8GHz (it boosts to 2.4GHz), two cores, and Hyper-Threading, so it’s great for running multiple applications at the same time. It's surrounded by 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, an NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M graphics adapter, and a 1TB hard drive (there is also a 24GB solid state cache drive). It's a configuration that can be used to easily handle office tasks, and it can also be used for entertainment purposes: the built-in DVD burner makes it easy to rip your DVDs and CDs to the internal hard drive, while the strong graphics adapter allows you to run many games, albeit at low resolution and without high detail levels enabled.

The performance of this configuration in our tests was as expected. It took 45sec to complete the Blender 3D rendering task, and it took just over 21min to create an MP4 file out of a DVD (vob) file in Handbrake. Its return of 5099 marks in the 3DMark Cloud Gate test is a good one, and it shows that the graphics adapter does indeed have some grunt for gaming. However, if you are a serious gamer, then you will want to invest in a laptop with a more powerful graphics adapter — the GeForce GT 740M is a middle-of-the-road mainstream adapter for mobility.

However, the notebook felt sluggish at first during our evaluation period. We put some of that down to the background software that's installed; it has McAfee Internet Security, which you'll need to configure so that it doesn't keep asking you questions), as well as some ASUS utilities for configuring settings and performing updates. The hard drive also isn't a fast one, recording rates of 93 megabytes per second (MBps) in the CrystalDiskMark read and write tests. Switching applications (and even tabs in Firefox) was sometimes not as responsive as we're used to from other Core i7 machines we've tested recently. On the bright side, boot up and resumes times were quick, thanks to the installed SSD cache.

For such a big notebook, its battery life is impressive, though we expected that considering the trend has been for big notebooks running U-model CPUs to last longer due to having beefier batteries than smaller laptops. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness, and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the VivoBook lasted 5hr 15min. That's 7min longer than the time put up by another recent 15.6in Core i7 laptop we've seen, Dell's Inspiron 15R. You can get a little more out of it when you reduce the brightness and use it for basic Web browsing and some typing.

User comfort

The problem with reducing the brightness, though, is that the screen is very glossy and reflections from it can be very annoying — it was distracting to see reflections of people walking past when we used the laptop in the office. In some instances, the only way to counter this is by using the highest brightness setting, and by adjusting the tilt angle. The overall quality of the screen is washed out, and, as mentioned earlier, the resolution is way too low. It's a touchscreen, which means you can use a combination of screen taps and swipes, in addition to the touchpad and keyboard, to navigate around Windows 8, and it was responsive during our tests. The hinge doesn't do anything special though, so you are stuck in the clamshell form factor.

We found the keyboard to be very good, and perhaps one of the best parts of this laptop. We enjoyed typing on it for long periods of time, mainly because the keyboard felt solid (there was no bouncing like there can be on other big notebooks), and the keys were crisp, with an appropriate amount of travel and responsiveness. ASUS has included a number pad, which should come in handy for those of you who crunch numbers, but there is very little gap between it and the rest of the keyboard. Because of this, it takes a little while to get used to the position of the Enter, Backspace, and Delete keys. On the bright side, the arrow keys have some room around them so that they can be easily differentiated.

The touchpad is large (105x78mm), and while it's decent overall, it does have some issues. It would not allow us to perform three-finger swipes in Firefox, even though it worked when browsing folders in Windows. Scrolling characteristics could not be altered in the driver, which meant that we had to endure some unwanted continual scrolling when we lifted our fingers without first distinctly stopping the scrolling motion. In general, though, it performed better than usual for a touchpad on an ASUS notebook.

Speakers are present under the front of the machine, and they are of average quality. You can easily use them for the odd YouTube clip, but they aren't ideal for listening to music or watching movies — they produce mids and highs relatively well, but they can't do much with low frequencies. You're better off plugging in a pair of headphones or speakers (we usually connect to a Bluetooth-enabled amp to listen to music from laptops, but couldn't do so in this instance due to the lack of integrated Bluetooth on our model).

We like the inclusion of the DVD burner, which we used a lot for ripping our DVD collection, and the drive didn't make too much noise as it operated. As a whole, the laptop was relatively quiet, and it didn't get overly warm. That said, we used it primarily on a desk, rather than on our lap, mainly due to its size.

Conclusion

The VivoBook S551LB-CJ081H from ASUS is worth considering if you want a relatively fast home computer that can be used for a little bit of everything, from office work to gaming. It can be moved around from room to room very easily, and it also supplies good battery life. It's comfortable to type on, and it has a useful array of features on its sides. However, its screen is not a good one, it only comes with single-band Wi-Fi, and our model didn't come with Bluetooth.

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