The TouchSmart also did well in terms of battery life with a runtime of 4 hours and 49 minutes — an hour longer than the VivoBook. And you can quickly swap battery packs, something the Asus system doesn't allow.
On the other hand, the TouchSmart was slow to emerge from hibernation mode. It took 19.0 seconds for the laptop to wake (vs. 4.9 seconds for the VivoBook).
The TouchSmart comes with a standard one-year warranty; a three-year warranty costs $160. While both of these budget notebooks come with Windows 8, HP adds a nice printed primer on getting acquainted with the new OS that includes tips on using multi-finger gestures. The system includes a two-month subscription to Norton Internet Security 2013, along with the usual additional software.
If you really need to economize, HP's Pavilion TouchSmart 14z is a competent laptop with fine graphics that is also one of the cheapest touch machines you'll find. Unfortunately, it's more weighty, which can make a lot of difference if you're going to be carrying it around campus all day.
Rarely do you come across two systems that are so different — and yet are so well matched.
As a parent with two teenagers in need of laptops, I am drawn to the HP Pavilion TouchSmart's sub-$500 price tag, better battery life (along with a swappable battery) and excellent graphics. However, it lacks two must-haves on my personal list: a VGA port and Bluetooth. (If you do decide on the TouchSmart, by all means get the $15 Bluetooth option.)
It's also more than half a pound heavier than the Asus VivoBook (which can be significant when you're carrying it around a campus) and requires a three-prong outlet to power up — not a showstopper, but a definite inconvenience.
The overall configuration and performance of the Asus VivoBook is superior, and it is much lighter. It also comes with a hybrid storage system that increases the speed of the system, along with 32GB of online storage. There are also small conveniences like the two-prong power adapter (the prongs conveniently fold out of the adapter and go right into the power outlet). However, the battery life could be better and the graphics aren't anything to write home about.
But the VivoBook also has something that any parent loves to see: a warranty that covers accidental damage. At a retail price of $540 - $590, it is a little more expensive than the TouchSmart, but to my mind, it could be money well spent.
How we tested
To see how these inexpensive notebooks stack up for the back-to-school crowd, I used them at my office and on the road for two weeks. I spent some time getting to know each system. In the office, I connected to a Wi-Fi network and while on the road each was connected to a mobile hotspot as well as a public Wi-Fi network at my local library.
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