- Incredibly cheap
- Attractive design
- Very portable
- Long battery life
- Very slow
- Tiny amount of storage
- Review Price: £179/$268.5
- 11-inch (1366 x 768) screen
- 32GB eMMC storage
- Intel Celeron N3350 processor
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- 0.98kg weight
What is the Asus VivoBook E12 E203NA?
The Asus E203NA is just about as cheap a laptop as you can buy. Available for under £200, it sports an 11-inch screen and a weight of less than 1kg. Alongside a near-10-hour battery life, this makes it potentially ideal as a go-anywhere laptop.
However, a super-slow processor and built-in storage makes it frustrating to use.
Asus VivoBook E12 E203NA – Design and features
This laptop definitely benefits from a smart design. The various white finishes – pearlescent, plain matte and speckled metallic – combine well together and the dark-grey bezel round the screen completes the look nicely.
Its relatively slim form factor also helps here – it measures 16.9mm thick – and it weighs in at just 0.98kg, yet there’s a sturdiness to its build. Meanwhile, its footprint is just 286 x 193.3mm.
One of the reasons it’s able to maintain such a slim build is that the CPU inside is so low-power that it doesn’t require a fan to cool it. This comes with the added benefit of a lack of fan noise and unsightly ventilation holes on the laptop’s underside.
Surprisingly for such a basic laptop, there are decent selection of ports. You get two USB 3.0 (one on each side), a microSD, a USB Type-C, headphone jack and even an HDMI port; the idea that someone would hook this laptop up to a TV or monitor seems pretty unlikely to me, but at least the option’s there.
There are few other extras, too: a webcam sits above the screen and a trio of LEDs to the left of the keyboard indicate power charging and Caps Lock.
Asus VivoBook E12 E203NA – Keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard on this laptop is perfectly passable. With the device being a compact size, the keyboard is a touch smaller than usual but it doesn’t feel particularly cramped. In the UK, the model features a UK layout and it’s great to see that the secondary function of the cursor keys are the PgUp/PgDn/Home/End keys. This is a really convenient and intuitive place to put them – some manufacturers put them elsewhere and use the cursor keys for volume and brightness adjustment.
Inevitably the key action is nowhere near as refined as that found on more expensive keyboards, but there’s enough of a noticeable break that you know by feel when a key has been pressed. There’s quite a lot of flex in the centre of the keyboard, but not enough to cause the annoying trampoline effect experienced on some laptops.
As for the trackpad, it’s okay. Tracking is reasonably accurate and it’s a decent size. However, the click action isn’t anything to shout about – the surface tends to drag beneath your fingers and the whole unit has a slightly wobbliness to it. Considering the price of this laptop, however, this feels like a reasonable compromise.
Asus VivoBook E12 E203NA – Webcam and audio
Another area of clear cost-cutting is the webcam. Those on the majority of laptops aren’t exactly DSLR quality, but here there’s a reduction in resolution from the typical 720p to just 480p (640 x 480). The result is a particularly low-detail, slightly washed-out looking image. You’ll recognise the person at the other end of your Skype call, but only just.
As for the laptop’s speakers, they just about pass muster. At lower volumes the lack of bass and general shrillness isn’t too off-putting, but crank them up and it’s a fairly unpleasant listen. They’re fine for catching up on your favourite vlogger, but you wouldn’t want to watch a movie or listen to music. Again, this is typical of a laptop at this price – but the step up in basic clarity you’ll get by spending £300/$450-£400/$600 is clear.
Asus VivoBook E12 E203NA – Screen
At 11 inches across, this laptop’s screen is ideally matched by its resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. Anymore would look too small; any lower would be impractical. That said, it’s still a fairly compact resolution that will mean some websites and apps feel cramped.
Poor viewing angles mean the screen looks very different as you move it up and down.
Otherwise, its image quality is basic but not awful. Colour balance is okay and it doesn’t look too washed out. However, with a contrast of just 487:1 and sRGB colour space coverage of 63.4%, it certainly isn’t spectacular. Plus, since it’s a basic TN panel, viewing angles are poor, with a noticeable shift in the balance of colours and contrast as you move the screen forward and back.
Suffice to say, this is a screen that’s useful mainly for basic work and play, not creating or watching.
Asus VivoBook E203NA – Performance and software
The first few hours of using this laptop were, frankly, tortuous as a result of its speed. The combination of its modest processor, mere 2GB of RAM and 32GB of flash storage meant that, with Windows Updates and McAfee antivirus running in the background, it was all but unusable.
After a dozen or so restarts, a couple of major Windows Updates and turning antivirus off, it was actually able to load the YouTube website – hooray!
The end result is a laptop that’s fairly slow at everything, all the time. From Windows boot time (average of 50 seconds in BootRacer) to browsing the web and even just opening the Start menu – it always feels sluggish. And of that 32GB of storage, you get just 8GB for your own use once Windows and all the pre-installed apps are accounted for.
To an extent, this is the price you pay for such a cheap laptop. It’s best to treat such a laptop as you would a tablet, running one app at a time, and do so with a degree of patience as you wait for apps to load.
Technically, the Intel Celeron N3350 processor here is faster for individual tasks than the N4200 of the Asus VivoBook E200HA, thanks to a faster clock speed. However, it’s only a dual-core chip and as such is slower at multi-tasking/multi-threaded tasks. This is reflected in its Geekbench scores, where it managed 1261/1329 (single/multi) points compared to 802/2287 (single/multi) for the Asus VivoBook E200HA.
As for gaming, it’s a non-starter – Solitaire is about all you’ll be able to manage.
Another key reason that this laptop feels so sluggish is its storage. It’s of the flash variant used in a typical SSD, but it just isn’t as fast with read/write speeds of just 263MB/sec and 51MB/sec respectively.
Plus, it should be noted there was an issue preventing many of my benchmarks – specifically those by Futuremark – from either installing or completing properly. PCMark8 and 3DMark couldn’t complete a benchmark run and Powermark couldn’t complete a full battery test. My result is extrapolated from the 50% or so of battery that was drained before the benchmark failed.
Asus VivoBook E203NA – Battery life
The one saving grace here is battery life. That weedy, power-sipping Celeron processor means this laptop can last a decent 9hrs 10mins on one charge. The Asus VivoBook E200HA lasted quite a bit longer, but anywhere around 10 hours is still ample for this sort of machine.
Should I buy the Asus VivoBook E203NA?
In many ways the E203NA fulfils its remit of being as cheap a laptop as possible while still being usable and offering decent battery life. If you’re simply after a basic machine for note-taking/word processing and other admin-type uses, then this VivoBook will happily get the job done. Plus, you can watch the likes of YouTube and Netflix – you just won’t want to do too much else at the same time.
However, if you’re even remotely used to nippier machines – or modern smartphones – then you’ll be frustrated by the sluggishness of this laptop. Indeed, the smartphone comparison is a crucial one since the quality of the screen and speakers on most smartphones surpasses what the E203NA offers.
So long as you’re aware of those limitations then all is good. Otherwise, if you’re not tied to using some key Windows apps (Office, for example) then consider opting for a Chromebook instead – they offer better overall performance for the same money.
A price of less than £200/$300 is always going to result in some compromises – but the E203NA’s long battery life and a decent typing experience make it a viable option for those needing a cheap, portable work machine.