Asus S56CA review

Ultrabook size, with an optical drive

Asus S56CA review
The Asus S56CA has an optical drive but only an i3 processor

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The headline for the Asus S56CA-XX024H is surely its price. Ultrabooks for below £600/$800 are pretty rare, and Asus has somehow managed to get the Asus S56CA down to £499.99/US$699.99 (around AU$765) without sacrificing too much in the feature tick list - and even adding something to it in the form of an optical drive.

Actually, we say "somehow", but it's easy to spot the weak points. The processor is an obvious one, lacking even the grunt of the Toshiba Satellite U840-10V, which comes in at £650 (around AU$998/US$1,034) - still considered cheap for an Ultrabook.

It's also much larger and heavier than 13-inch Ultrabooks - so much so that you have to consider something of a perspective adjustment when judging it compared to other Ultrabooks. It's weightier, chunkier and slower than something such as the Asus Zenbook UX32A, but then it's also not far off half the price.

It makes much more sense to view the Asus S56CA as a svelte regular home laptop than as a bloated Ultrabook - suited more to sitting on the side of the sofa than in your travelling bag.

We liked

There's no denying that the price of the Asus S56CA is rather attractive. It's half the price of even mid-range Ultrabooks, so regardless of the compromises, it's worth looking over if you've got a tight budget.

While we're not sure we'd say we explicitly "like" the optical drive, it's another feature that massively stands out. If you liked the idea of Ultrabooks, but not the sacrifice of physical media, you've something of a stopgap here.

It's also important to note that Asus hasn't abandoned usability in its quest to make a cheap Ultrabook. The keyboard is nice, and the trackpad's multi-touch gestures are easy to use. The battery life is impressive, too.

We disliked

Despite the good work Asus has done to make the S56C cheap, there's no denying that it doesn't feel as premium as other Ultrabooks. The processor is just a little slow here and there, the hard drive means that getting files is slow (even if it turns on quickly) and the screen is low-res and of distinctly average quality.

And it's all produced a laptop that really is big and heavy for an Ultrabook. It only just squeezes into the specifications, and we can't help but feel it's a case of following the letter of Ultrabooks, not the spirit. It's also annoying noisy, coming in no small part from the optical drive and hard drive.

And it's sad to see the bloatware menace pervade even on Windows 8. The new interface offers some respite, but going back to the Desktop mode will assault you with just as many needless popups as it ever did.

Final verdict

Let's get this bit out of the way: Is the Asus S56CA a good Ultrabook? No. It's too heavy, too large, too noisy and too slow.

But is it a good mid-range home laptop in general? It's not bad. It packs the waking speed of an SSD, an optical drive and good usability into a body that's still slimmer than most non-Ultrabook laptops.

If you abandoned the slim form factor, you might be able to find one with a better screen or faster CPU, but it certainly doesn't seem unreasonable for the price.