Recently, Windows 8 laptops have gone back to their roots. We've seen a small number of them breaking away from the more expensive models, such as Ultrabooks and hybrids, offering great portability, incredible value for money and good battery life.
Though manufacturers are hesitant to label them as such, they're basically netbooks in disguise.
The latest in the line of this new niche is the Asus X102BA – an 11.1-inch laptop that is light, easy to carry and costs relatively little. What's more, it also comes with a bundled version of Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student Edition.
It goes against similar low-powered, bargain bucket machines out there, including the Acer Aspire V5-122P and HP Pavilion TouchSmart 11 though the Acer features a quad core A6 chip, while the TouchSmart offers just the two cores with its A4-1250 APU.
The Asus, on the other hand, has the newly introduced Jaguar-architecture Temash APU, which is also a dual-core chip, as per the TouchSmart, but it uses much less power, on paper at least. Interestingly, Acer has also just updated the Aspire with the V5-123, which also includes the same AMD A4 1200 processor found in the X102BA, with an almost like-for-like specification, including that all-important touchscreen, for exactly the same price tag.
Like the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 11, the X102BA looks to be one of the perfect Asus laptops for parents to buy their children that are just starting out with Windows 8, or it would also be ideal for a student that is about to go off to college and wants a no-frills laptop, which also doubles up as a tablet for entertainment use, thanks to the built-in touchscreen.
Of course, a full version of Windows 8 is found inside the Asus, but those looking for a laptop that they can work regularly on spreadsheets with, might want to spend a little extra money on something more powerful.
In both models we reviewed, performance was a little uninspiring, so it'll be interesting to see how the Asus X102BA fares in comparison. We're not expecting great things, but could we see a surprise showing?
The Asus X102BA is built to an incredibly miniscule budget, so unsurprisingly it doesn't have any standout features, at least not those that the untrained eye would spot. The processor is pretty low on performance, with just 1GHz to play with, but the Temash APU - which unlike a regular processor, features a CPU and GPU on the same chip, making it smaller – is designed with low power consumption in mind.
At just 4W, the Temash uses approximately half the power than its A4-1250 counterpart found in the slightly older HP Pavilion TouchSmart 11. That should, in theory, give the Asus greater battery life. Making up for the lack of proper performance from the processor, Asus has been wise to give the
X102BA a little added power via 4GB of memory on-board, though you can choose to opt for just 2GB, if you really want to.
The 500GB traditional hard drive is pretty standard at this price range, so don't be expecting a super-fast startup. The X102BA does, however, boot up immediately, provided you use the Sleep function in Windows rather than shutting it off completely.
Considering its relatively small dimensions, the X102BA doesn't feel especially light, though 1.1kg on the scales says differently. At that mass, it comes in well under the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, which is around 1.5kg (with the Type Keyboard added), as well as its closest competitors - the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 11 and Acer Aspire V5-122, both of which are around the 1.4kg mark.
The X102BA starts off relatively slim around the front, but quickly tapers off to a much chunkier thickness of around 29mm at the rear. It's better than the HP, but not quite as thin as the Acer, and it certainly doesn't rival the Surface Pro 2. But as far as portability is concerned, the X102BA is about as good as you're going to get if you need a machine on which you can get some work done.
Adding to the usability factor of this laptop is an 11.6-inch touch screen display. While the 1,366 x 768 pixel screen is good to look at, if unremarkable, with slightly limited viewing angles our only real criticism, the inclusion of a touchscreen is very welcome. It doesn't feel like an afterthought either, and we were pleasantly impressed with its responsiveness.
To us it feels like it belongs on a laptop of a much higher caliber, probably owning to the fact that the X102BA has an accurate 10 points of multi touch to work with. It's certainly great to have, since the screen is quite small and navigating through touch makes for a nice change of scene, as well as quicker in confined spaces.
The three-cell battery is comparable to similar laptops, though Asus has wisely included a regular-sized charger - the kind that you'd find bundled with a smartphone. This makes it easy to carry around with you for extra charging when the battery runs dry.
Rounding things off nicely, you get decent wireless capability, including 802.11bgn WiFi, up-to-date Bluetooth, and also included is a single USB 3.0 slot, 2 x USB 2 slots, HDMI out, an SD card slot and, handily, an Ethernet connection. Unusually, the charging connector for the X102BA lies in the middle of the others on the left-hand side. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but unexpected.
The biggest win for the X102BA is the retail price, though it can be found for less, which makes this one of the cheapest touchscreen Windows 8 laptops on the high street. Students looking for a budget laptop for their college travels should surely take note.