With a typical online price of around £299, the new X102BA from Asus is one of the most affordable Windows 8 laptops that we've seen. It's obviously not going to be a top performer at that price, and its compact 10in screen and downsized keyboard won't suit everyone. But it does provide good value for money if you just want a light, affordable laptop for basic web browsing and running Microsoft Office. See also: Group test: what's the best budget laptop?
Asus describes the X102BA as ‘thin and light', which is actually marketing-speak for ‘not quite an Ultrabook'. And since Intel coined the Ultrabook name, this AMD-powered laptop will not do. See also: Best laptop of 2014.
In fact, its 10.1-inch display puts it directly in netbook territory, and while it weighs a highly portable 1.1kg it also measures a distinctly un-Ultra 29mm thick along the back edge where the keyboard and screen panels hinge together.
Even so, the lightweight design and compact screen mean that the X102BA is easy to carry around when you're on the move. It's solidly built, and Asus is clearly targeting the handbag/manbag audience by offering the laptop in a variety of different colours, including a rather lurid ‘hot pink'.
The screen is often a weakness on low-cost laptops, but Asus does a respectable job here. The 1366 x 768-pixel resolution is perfectly acceptable on a screen of this size, and the image is bright and colourful. Viewing angles are a little limited – around 120-degrees – but the X102BA works well for browsing the web or watching some streaming video.
It's even touch-sensitive, which is a bargain at this price – although we're still not convinced that touch-screens provide any real benefit on laptops.
The speakers are reasonably loud, given the size of the device, but they do sound thin and tinny, so you'll want to plug in some headphones for listening to music. We also found the keyboard and trackpad rather small, and they did slow us down when trying to tap away at full speed while writing this review.
The X102BA is well connected, though. It includes three USB ports – although only one is USB 3.0 – an SD card slot, and both HDMI and VGA ports for connecting to a larger monitor.
And along with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, Asus has also included an ethernet port for wired networks, albeit the slow 10/100 type. It even throws in a full copy of Microsoft Office Home & Student Edition 2013 as well, which is a nice bonus at this price.
But, as you might expect, performance is pretty modest. The X102BA is currently only available in a single configuration, with a dual-core AMD A4-1200 processor running at 1.0GHz, integrated Radeon HD 8180 graphics, 4GB of memory and 500GB hard drive.
That combination produced a score of just 1100 points when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 benchtest. That puts it in the same bracket as Intel's netbook-oriented Atom processor. But, to be fair, that's not bad for such an inexpensive laptop and the X102BA can still handle routine web browsing and wordprocessing perfectly well.
The touch-controls respond smoothly enough too, and our main complaint is more to do with the speed of the 5400 rpm hard drive. Even when using the ‘fast start' option in Windows 8, the X102BA takes a good 20 seconds to return from this sleep mode into the Window 8 Start screen, followed by another 20 seconds of cursor-spinning before it really gets itself going.
You can forgot 3D gaming too. The X102BA wasn't able to complete our Stalker gaming test at all, so any gaming action will be strictly two-dimensional.
But while the A4-1200 may not be particularly fast, it is also one of AMD's supposedly power-efficient 'Temash' processors. Unfortunately in our battery test the Asus X102BA only managed to get 4 hours and 20 minutes of streaming video from its 33 Wh lithium battery. Different use may even allow you to reach AMD's claimed five hours of battery life. It certainly won't have Intel's power-efficient Haswell chips quaking in their silicon wafers.