Starting Configuration Price
Inexpensive. Rugged design resists spills, drops, and scratches. Excellent battery life and speakers.
Outdated looks. No USB-C. Only runs Windows Store apps.
- Bottom Line
The Windows 10 S-powered Asus VivoBook W202 is a rugged budget ultraportable notebook that packs enough power for the classroom, as long as you can overlook the stodgy design.
Remember netbooks? They were small, cheap laptops with slow processors and paired-down versions of Windows 7, whose sales mostly dried up by 2013. If it were just a few years ago, the Asus VivoBook W202 ($279) could certainly fall into that category. This 12-inch laptop that runs Windows 10 S is aimed at parents and school districts searching for a durable yet inexpensive laptop for kids. It's a niche market, but one that the VivoBook W202 serves well. It's also a worthy choice for anyone who pulls a laptop in and out of a crowded purse or backpack several times a day. But selecting the Asus over our Editors' Choice for budget laptops, the Acer Swift 1, means giving up USB-C compatibility and settling for design cues of yesteryear.
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Water-Resistant and (Mostly) Sturdy
With the lid closed, the W202 feels sturdy, perhaps even as much so as the unibody MacBook Pro. In fact, durabilty is this laptop's signature feature. The edges and corners are lined with rubber to reduce the impact of knocks and bumps, while Asus boasts that it can survive extreme twist forces and high pressure.
To test this out, I pushed it off a lab bench with the lid open a few times, simulating what could happen in a crowded classroom with lots of kids' elbows flying. Each time, the impact with the floor forced the lid to snap shut, and there was no damage. I also applied significant pressure to both the display lid (which flexed a lot and caused artifacts to momentarily appear on the screen) and the chassis (which didn't budge). Finally, I investigated Asus' claim that the keyboard can survive up to 2.2 ounces of water. The water droplets beaded and allowed me to brush them off like dust, and the laptop was soon dry with still-functioning keys.
Swathed in rubber and plastic, the W202 measures 0.89 by 11.6 by 7.9 inches and weighs 2.6 pounds. That's a tad on the heavy side for a laptop of this size, considering that the larger Acer Swift 1 weighs just 3 ounces more. Inside, there's a wide bezel around the screen and a shrunken keyboard. The resulting aesthetic is fine for kids, but the antiquated design might leave you shrugging off raised eyebrows from your airplane or train seatmate if you're planning on using it yourself.
Opening the clamshell lid reveals an 11.6-inch matte screen with a bezel that's enormous by modern ultraportable standards, though is similar to what you can expect from other inexpensive laptops, including Asus's own Chromebook Flip. Matte screens are fewer and further between these days, but I'm pleased to see one on the W202 for two reasons. First, the screen does an excellent job of filtering out the glare from the fluorescent ceiling lights that adorn PC Labs, a setup that resembles the school classrooms where the W202 is likely to be used the most. Second, the screen has a fairly low resolution (1,366 by 768), which means that you won't miss the more vibrant colors of a glossy display as much as you would if there were more pixels packed in.
The W202's chiclet keyboard is not quite full-sized and suffers from significant flex, so it's awkward if you have fat fingers that strike forcefully, but at least there's decent key travel. Below the keyboard is a Windows Precision Touchpad, which means that its ability to accept multifinger gestures and reject accidental palm input meets Microsoft's standards. It makes a startling clicking sound and has some slight flex when you tap, though, and is even louder and flexes more when you click. Kids won't care, but you'll certainly notice the difference if you're used to the quality glass trackpads on Macs and high-end Windows ultraportables.
On the laptop's left edge, you'll find an HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack, and an SD card slot. The other side features a second USB 3.0 port, a power port, and a Kensington lock slot. There's no DisplayPort or Thunderbolt-compatible USB-C connectors here, which is unfortunate since peripherals that support those standards are quickly proliferating the market. Their absence on the W202 is likely due more to its small chassis than to cost-cutting efforts, since other larger budget laptops, including the Acer Swift 1 and the Asus F556UA, do offer USB-C ports.
My review unit comes with 4GB of memory and 64GB of eMMC flash storage. That should be adequate if you or your kid stores everything in the cloud and rarely opens more than one app at a time. There are two speakers with grilles located on the left and right edges of the notebook, and they're surprisingly powerful for such a small laptop: at full volume, I could hear both audio and music across several rows of test benches in PC Labs, so they'll have no trouble filling an average-sized room. The W202 also comes with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, and a VGA webcam that is adequate in a pinch but suffers from inaccurate colors and significant video lag. Asus offers a one-year warranty.
As for software, the W202 is among the first group of laptops to run the new Windows 10 S, a locked-down version of the operating system that blocks non-Windows Store apps. This limitation will inconvenience some people who have specific legacy apps they need to install, but it also reduces the possibility that first-time computer users will inadvertently install malware. If you'd rather switch to Windows 10 to avoid this limitation, Microsoft will let you do it for free until the end of the year. After that, you'll have to pay a $49 upgrade fee. Asus also plans to sell a $299 version of the W202 with Windows 10 Home pre-installed starting in September. The only other Windows S laptop we've tested so far is the significantly more expensive Microsoft Surface Laptop. The W202 should appeal to schools or students who want or need to work in Windows 10 S, but don't have the budgets for Microsoft's $999 notebook.
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With an Intel Celeron N3350 CPU running at 1.1GHz and an integrated GPU, I wasn't expecting great performance from the W202, but it turned out to have a surprising amount of processing oomph, at least compared with its low-cost competition. In fact, it boasted a score of nearly 2,000 on the PCMark 8 benchmark, which measures a variety of productivity tasks that PC users are likely to perform on a daily basis, such as typing, video conferencing, and web browsing. That's significantly better than the mid-1,000 scores of the Celeron-based Lenovo IdeaPad 110S and the HP Stream 11-y010nr, and it even tops the Pentium-equipped Acer Swift 1. Unfortunately, the W202 fell behind on our multimedia-editing tasks, coming in near the 10-minute mark on our Handbrake video encoding and Photoshop image-editing tests.
Graphics performance was again impressive compared with the competition, with leading scores on both the Heaven and Valley frame rate tests. The actual rates are far below what's required to play most games, however, as you'd expect from a notebook with these specs. For many inexpensive laptops, foregoing gaming is a compromise you'll have to endure. This is a perk, however, for parents who want to make sure that their teenagers stay focused on schoolwork instead of fragging the enemy.
The W202 managed to last for 13 hours and 11 minutes on our battery rundown test, which involves playing a looped video file at 50 percent screen brightness. That's slightly better than the Acer Swift 1's 12 hours and 48 minutes, and more than five hours longer than the HP Stream 11, the Lenovo IdeaPad 110S, and the Dell Inspiron 11 3000. Since you or your kids are most likely to be using the W202 for taking notes in class rather than streaming online videos, it will have more than enough juice to get you through a full day of classes or a long flight home.
Not Another Cheap Netbook
The Asus VivoBook W202 combines an attractive price, a durable chassis, and specs that result in performance that's among the best in its class (though by no means adequate for more intensive computing tasks). The W202 is aimed at students, but it should really appeal to anyone who's constantly on the go and needs a basic productivity machine that will shrug off spills and scratches and won't fall apart on the way in and out of a purse or backpack. On the other hand, if you're looking for a basic laptop for casual computing around the house, the Acer Swift 1 is a better choice for its larger screen, USB-C port, and sleeker design.
As a hardware analyst, Tom tests and reviews laptops, peripherals, and much more at PC Labs in New York City. He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a news reporter for PCMag in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he rode in several self-driving cars and witnessed the rise and fall of many startups. Before that, he worked for PCMag's sister site, Computer Shopper, where he occasionally dunked waterproof hard drives in glasses of water. In his spare time, he's written on topics as… More »
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