A lightweight laptop at a ridiculously low price
The Asus X401a is a lightweight laptop weighing just 1.8kg which is a surprise given its rock bottom price of just £300. Asus has achieved this low weight by omitting the optical drive so unless you buy an external DVD drive you'll need to download software and back up files to a USB disk or to online storage.
The X401a has a tapered shape that's made out of matte black plastic decorated with a subtle white polka dot design. It sounds garish, but it's actually very understated. Although the lid flexes and creaks under pressure more than we'd like, it's otherwise a reasonably sturdy laptop. The underside did become a little warm when running our demanding benchmarks, but not uncomfortably so.
The Asus X401a has a 2.1GHz Intel Pentium processor which isn't as fast as some of the Core i3 and i5 chips used in other budget laptops, but it's about as fast as other more expensive ultra portable laptops and is still capable of running most programs. The only exception is games - the Intel integrated graphics chip isn't up to the job.
Battery life is reasonably long for a cheap laptop at just under five hours. Battery life would be even longer with a SSD or a processor specially designed with low power consumption but these would have increased the price.
The 320GB hard disk seems a bit stingy when other budget laptops have 500GB models, but it should be enough for storing office documents and a modest collection of photos, music and videos.
We were unimpressed with the 14in 1,366x768 pixel display. It's not very bright and image quality, even for a budget screen, is disappointingly poor with washed out colours and restricted viewing angles.
Another sign of cost cutting is the touchpad. Although large and accurate, the touchpad is made out of cheap plastic that feels loosely affixed to the rest of the laptop. This is especially noticeable when pressing the touchpad buttons which are are built into the pad itself. It's also far too easy to accidentally brush up against the pad while typing, inadvertently moving the cursor and potentially entering text at some random point in the document.
Apart from the slightly smaller than usual Shift key, the keyboard is large. It's also reasonably responsive and comfortable to type on, although the keys do feel a touch spongier than we would like. The chunky battery props up the keyboard at an angle which may make typing more comfortable for some.
It's easy to forgive the X401a's many faults given its very low price. If you want an inexpensive lightweight laptop though, the Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook is better in almost every respect. It's more expensive at just under £500, but it's better value and is our recommendation unless you're on a very tight budget.
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An affordable lightweight laptop, but better designed ultra portables such as the Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook are available for only a little more money.
Very cheap; Lightweight; Reasonably long battery life
Poor quality screen; Badly designed touchpad
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