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Surprisingly good display
Really affordable price
Dated Wi-Fi card
Thick, clunky build
The Asus X441BA is a laptop for those who don’t mind a bit of patience when web browsing, but want a big bright display to watch content.
Asus is a key player in the budget laptop space, and the 14-inch X441BA is a meat-and-potatoes example of just such a machine. The unit I got my hands on is capable of a very basic, very specific set of tasks, but beyond that is really nothing much to be excited for.
That said, there’s a surprisingly good display on-board—something that is often lacking on this end of the price range—and the weight is surprisingly light for its size. However, the processing power (and more specifically, how the RAM handles the operating system) slows things down considerably when you ask too much of this laptop. So is this machine for you? Read on to see if it checks the right boxes.
The design of the 14-inch Vivobook sits somewhere between striking and basic. It isn’t quite as plain as other laptops I’ve seen in the range, but is most certainly not as premium as you’d expect from a higher-dollar offering. Most of the build is a plastic chassis that sports a light-silver, brushed-aluminum finish. That isn’t to say it is aluminum, as it’s most definitely plastic—a fact that becomes plainly obvious when you open it up and see the giant, cheap-looking bezels.
The laptop is over an inch thick, which makes it one of the bulkier options I got my hands on. This seems largely a result of Asus leaving space for an optical drive (though my laptop here only has a dummy slot for one). In 2020, that’s not super necessary, and as such, the laptop looks bulky and dated. However, at only 4 pounds, it tricks you a bit into making it feel more portable than the size would imply.
The usual Windows 10 setup is involved here, having Cortana (the Windows voice assistant) walk you through the sign-in, region, and opt-in steps. However, once I got through the steps, the machine churned a bit more once actually lifting the curtain on my home screen. I’ve run a lot of budget laptops through their setup process in the last few weeks, and this one definitely was on the slow side. It’s a bit of foreshadowing for the biggest shortcoming of this machine—its performance—and it really doesn’t bode well.
On paper, this display isn’t much more capable than any other display in the range. It’s a 16:9 LED display sporting a resolution of 1366x768. This makes it technically an HD panel, but pixel peepers will certainly spot some edges in normal use.
Where many of the budget LED panels I’ve seen tend to lean washy and undefined, this display seems to have handled things well. The colors are a little more vibrant than I was expecting, and honestly the resolution is pretty pleasant when watching video or browsing the web.
However, where many of the budget LED panels I’ve seen tend to lean washy and undefined, this display seems to have handled things well. The colors are a little more vibrant than I was expecting, and the resolution is pretty pleasant when watching video or browsing the web. I think this is largely due to the software handling of Windows 10 Home that comes stock, as well as the glossy finish Asus has put on the screen itself. Again, don’t look for Apple Retina vibes, but if a good screen at a good price is your number one priority, this could be a good bet.
I already alluded to the slow setup process, and I’m disappointed to report that performance on this machine, top to bottom, is lackluster and basic. There’s a 2.6GHz AMD A6-9335 processor onboard, which is a bit worse than the A9 available on step-up configurations of this laptop.
There’s also 4GB of SDRAM. Normally, 4GB is an adequate amount of RAM on a laptop like this, but I found it just couldn’t keep up with all the expectations of Windows 10 Home. At first, I wasn’t sure why it was topping out, but then I realized that the big kicker here is that Asus has tried to cram the full Windows experience on a lower-end machine. It’s a problem that could have been avoided if they’d opted for Windows 10 S, like on the lower-end Vivobook line.
The non-solid-state hard drive here is another contributor to the slower speed, but it was nice to see 500GB of onboard storage. One benefit of including the AMD processor is that it works decently well alongside the Radeon R4 graphics onboard.
For how much this computer struggles with heavy web browsing, I was surprised to see that once you load up a lighter game, it runs and looks decent. However, what this all means in regular use is that you’ll have to be patent when running normal web tasks. I’d recommend keeping the Microsoft Edge browser, as Chrome is just too much, and don’t plan to fire up too many tabs at once.
As I’ve mentioned, the multitasking on the X441BA, from a power perspective, is not ideal. But the other side of the productive equation is how well the interface components work. This is another bright spot on this laptop, one that I’m surprised about, even now as I’m typing this review on the laptop.
The feature highlight sticker that Asus has put on the inside chassis highlights the 2.3mm of key travel as a core feature. Though I scoffed at this tout at first, I’ve grown to love how much tactile feedback these keys provide. This is largely because the laptop is so thick, giving Asus more room to fit scissor-style switches under the keycaps. The trackpad also has a satisfying click (that borders on an annoying “clunk”), and it does support gestures. However, both the trackpad and the keycaps feel cheap and plasticky to the touch. But this isn’t a premium laptop, so you can forgive this, especially considering how good the keys feel in actual, real-life typing.
Asus is touting the SonicMaster audio technology front and center—both in the online marketing of this machine and on the physical computer itself. The giant strip of speaker grille is right below the screen and above the keyboard, making it really hard to miss.
Asus is pegging these as 3W stereo speakers that are—thankfully—forward-firing. To be fair, this is a big step up from the keyboard-, or worse, lap-firing speakers of smaller laptops. In practice, when watching video and listening to music, the performance is not bad. But it’s also not good. I found the speakers a little bassier than you’d expect which resulted in muddiness that wasn’t pleasant.
First, the bad: the on-board Wi-Fi card here employs the 802.11b/g/n protocol, meaning this laptop won’t pick up the faster 5GHz band your router most likely puts out. It would have been nice to see the modern 802.11ac protocol here to offer full connectivity, and internet speeds definitely slow down web browsing even more than the processor does. There is Bluetooth 4.0, which is a bit more modern than I’d expect from an 802.11b/g/n machine, and that worked well in practice.
But the real shining point in this category is the on-board I/O selection. There are three separate USB ports here, two 3.0 A-sized inputs and one 3.1 C-sized input. This gives you a full arsenal of options, new and old, to run tons of peripherals. There’s also a full-sized VGA port as well as an HDMI option, giving you some welcome versatility on the display front. Finally, there’s an Ethernet port to help you overcome the dated Wi-Fi card, and the standard power and lock ports on either side of the machine.
I won’t spend much time on this—Asus’s VGA webcam is adequate at best, but that isn’t totally a deal-breaker as most cameras on laptops in this price range fit this description as well. It looks fuzzy, and I was getting an ISO-driven graininess even in good lighting. This is definitely a negative, but not one that’s fair to harp on.
The on-board battery here is a 3-cell, 36Whr setup that is actually doing a lot of work for its size. I’ve seen much smaller battery cells last much shorter on smaller laptops. This unit gave me just about 5–6 hours of reasonable use before it brought me down to 15 percent and I put it on the charger.
There’s also 4GB of SDRAM on-board here. Normally, 4GB is an adequate amount of RAM on a laptop like this, but I found that it just could not keep up with all the expectations of Windows 10 Home.
This should be considered an average battery life, though, its largely a function of the full Windows 10 Home as well as the large, bright display. If display is a key consideration for you, you’ll have to sacrifice some battery life to support that.
As mentioned earlier in this review, the biggest misstep on this machine is that it runs Windows 10 Home, rather than Windows 10 S. The main two differences between these two is that the S version of windows offers out-of-the-box encryption for your files, and it prevents you from running any software unless it is downloaded from the Windows store. This is, in essence, the Windows equivalent of Google’s fully controlled Chromebook eco-system.
This has the added benefit of not including as much bloatware out of the box as full-on Windows, letting your machine boot faster and run smoother. This laptop tries to give you a full Windows 10 Home experience, which seems great for flexibility and options, but actually ends up worse because the background operations and heavier RAM requirements slow everything down. If you need fully customizable Windows, this could be good for you, but I’d honestly recommend stepping up to a higher price if that’s your main need.
As with the other options in the price range, the dollar amount is the number-one reason to consider this machine. Look at it this way, for under $200 (I picked mine up for about $180) you get a full Windows experience, plenty of I/O ports and even a solid HD display. That’s kind of crazy when you consider where we were even five years ago. The downside is that the machine is understandably slow, and as a result, pretty limited. If you want to do any gaming, or need better battery life, you’ll need to pay more.
Lenovo is a key competitor in this space, so comparing the 14-inch X441 laptop against the 15-inch Ideapad is a natural choice. The Ideapad gets you a newer A9 processor, the modern ac Wi-Fi protocol, and flash-style hard drive memory—meaning the machine should run faster out of the box. But, as of writing, you’ll pay more than $50 more for this, and compared to other Ideapad models I’ve gotten in-hand, the display won’t be quite as nice.
It’s no workhorse, but it’s cheap enough for kids.
The Asus X441BA should not be your main, workhorse machine. That’s mostly okay, though, when you consider that this laptop is mostly aimed squarely at young users who want their first laptop, or those who want a cheap casual machine as a backup to their main computer. This is a great option for travelers who don’t want to risk their more expensive computers on trips, and with a really impressive display, I can even see this being a good choice for those who just want to watch YouTube.