“OLED screens in affordable machines” has been the running theme of the notebook market this year. Between Lenovo’s 13-inch Chromebook Duet 5 and various 13-inch Windows options from the likes of Dell and Asus, 2021 has really brought the OLED laptop computer from a luxury product to, well, somewhat less of a luxury product if you know where to look.
Asus’ Vivobook Pro 14 OLED is a shot at putting OLED in yet another unprecedented form factor: the midrange workstation. It’s poised to be the first 14-inch OLED laptop computer on the market, as well as the first OLED laptop computer with a 90Hz refresh rate. Of course, it won’t actually earn either of those monikers until it’s actually released, which it hasn’t been yet – Samsung (which makes the screen) and Asus are claiming “early 2022.”
Rather than being geared toward a multimedia experience – as are 13-inchers like Dell’s XPS 13 OLED, Asus’ own Zenbook 13 OLED, and Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro – the Vivobook is here to work. It’s equipped with AMD’s capable eight-core Ryzen 9 5900HX processor and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050 GPU. It’s targeting creative work, on the go, on a budget.
With that in mind, my test unit (16GB of RAM, 1TB of storage) is a strong package for $1,199 – less than half the MSRP of a comparable 14-inch MacBook Pro. (Samsung gave me that price with the heavy caveat that it could change prior to release. You have my word that if that happens, I will change the Vivobook’s score accordingly and republish this review.) It has a good port selection, it’s not too heavy, and the speakers and microphones should suit whatever video calling needs you have. Still, there are odd things here and there that you won’t see in more expensive devices (and even plenty of others at this price point). It’s an impressive and powerful machine that still won’t be the right daily driver for everyone.
If you’re considering this Vivobook, it’s probably due to the screen. I’ll vouch for that: The 2.8K (2880 x 1800) 16:10 OLED panel is very nice and higher resolution than you generally see on OLED laptops of this size. It’s got impressive contrast, vivid colors, and sharp details, reproducing 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut and maxing out at 399 nits of brightness. The trademark of OLED technology, of course, is that blacks are totally black (since the individual pixels just turn themselves off). Samsung claims that the panel emits less blue light than other screens as well, and you will select an “Eye Care” color profile that yellows everything slightly in the MyAsus app.
The 90Hz refresh rate, while likely not a necessity for many people’s jobs too, is a nice bonus also. Scrolling is smooth – once you get used to it pleasantly, switching to 60Hz is downright painful back. This is certainly going to be one of the smoothest screens you can get at a $1,199 price point (again, assuming that the Vivobook stays there).
If the screen isn’t what piqued your interest in the Vivobook, it was probably the chip then. The eight-core Ryzen 9 5900HX in my unit is the most powerful processor that AMD makes for thin and light laptops. It’s unusual to see such a powerful chip combined with a GPU in such a little device – excluding Apple devices, this is one of the most powerful 14-inchers on the market.
You can have a look at the chart to see how the Vivobook did on various synthetic benchmarks below. It should go without saying that the Ryzen 5900HX and RTX 3050 are handily beating what we’ve seen similarly sized AMD machines with integrated graphics like the Zenbook 13 OLED.
It’s unusual to see such a powerful chip combined with a GPU in such a little device
The more important question for a complete lot of innovative professionals is where specifically the Vivobook stands among MacBooks, which are the current gold standard and the machines we unambiguously recommend to anyone for whom money is no object – they also have exceptional screens.
The bad (but unsurprising) news for Asus is that the Vivobook got less than half the score that the 14-inch MacBook Pro got on PugetBench for Premiere Pro, which measures video export and playback time at 8K and 4K. (The MacBook got a 1072, to the Vivobook’s 494.) It also took twice as long to complete our real-world 4K export (though that task is a weakness of AMD’s and a strength of Apple’s) – it took seven minutes and 36 seconds, where the Macbook took two and a half just.
But it does get scores better than those of the 13-inch MacBook Pro (which is $700 more for comparable specs) on a few of these benchmarks, and is comparable on the majority of the others. There’s a convincing argument that if you’re considering the 13-inch MacBook Pro for whatever reason, the Vivobook Pro is worth taking a close look at, too. (The 13-inch OLED Zenbook took over 14 minutes on the export and got a 201 on the benchmark.)
Also impressive was how easy these tasks seemed to be for the 5900HX just. The Vivobook’s fans were running throughout my benchmark testing, however they were always quiet enough that I could work on another device at the same desk with no distraction. CPU temperatures were very under control throughout the synthetic benchmarks – I saw some spikes during the export but nothing above the high 80s (Celsius). In other words, these CPU-heavy tasks weren’t working the Vivobook too hard famously.
Asus Vivobook Pro 14 Benchmarks
|Cinebench R23 Multi||10270|
|Cinebench R23 Single||1472|
|Cinebench R23 Multi looped for 30 minutes||8945|
|Geekbench 5.3 CPU Multi||7109|
|Geekbench 5.3 CPU Single||1505|
|Geekbench 5.3 OpenCL / Compute||55379|
|PugetBench for Premiere Pro||494|
Now, there’s a caveat to all this: battery life. The Vivobook’s battery life is not great, and it’s one area where the device is far behind everything Apple currently sells. That’s not surprising necessarily, given the high refresh rate and high resolution of the display. OLED technology is supposed to somewhat mitigate those penalties, since it’s turning off pixels here and there, but operating in dark mode with a completely black desktop background even, I only averaged six hours and 37 minutes of continuous use. (That was with a load of around a dozen Chrome tabs, with occasional Zoom calls and streaming video). That’s not a terrible result, but it’s worse than many laptops in this price range. The primary benefit of a 14-inch form factor is the ability to use it away from your desk, and battery life is likely a big consideration for folks shopping in this category. Six and a half hours just puts a sour taste in my mouth.
The other thing for “Pros” to note is that the configurations seem somewhat limited. The specs the Vivobook comes with may change closer to release (and I’ll update this review if they do), but from the sheet I was given, it seems like I have the top model. That means you can’t configure this device with more than 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, which – even with a capable processor – really limits what you can do with the device. (It’s not possible to upgrade the RAM or storage yourself after the fact, either.) Add the lack of Thunderbolt ports, which limits compatible peripherals such as external drives and docks, and you’re looking at a device that may be below the needs of many professional workloads. (There’s also not a 4K screen option listed here, if that’s something you need.)
The rest of this computer is pretty good. The audio is strong, with no distortion at maximum volume. The microphones did a fine job of filtering out loud dishwasher noise in the background of my Zoom calls. The keyboard is quite springy with a comfortable texture – I will note that the deck is a bit flimsy and my keystrokes sometimes depressed the deck, which I know is a thing some people hate (and I have a fairly light stroke, as they go).
One cool thing is that if you press a little button in the top right corner of the touchpad, an LED numpad pops up on it. (This is a staple of a number of Asus laptops.) It’s potentially useful, and it doesn’t get in the way of using the touchpad, but the button is sensitive enough that I occasionally pulled up the numpad with my palm by accident while I was typing. Slight annoyance.
Agree to Continue: Asus Vivobook Pro 14 OLED
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it – contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.
As with other Windows 10 computers, the Asus Vivobook Pro 14 OLED presents you with multiple things to agree to or decline upon setup.
The mandatory policies, for which an agreement is required, are:
A request for your region and keyboard layout
Microsoft Software License Terms and Asus Notice
In addition, there is a slew of optional things to agree to:
Connect to Wi-Fi network
Name your device
Sign in with a Microsoft account (if you decline to do this, you’ll create a username and password for an offline account)
Device privacy settings: Find My Device, Inking and Typing, Advertising ID, Location, Diagnostic data, Tailored experiences
Provide your name, region, and email address to save to your device and autofill in the Asus member registration form in the MyAsus app
Use your provided name, region, and email address to register for a McAfee account and receive emails of promotions, subscription, and security news from McAfee
That’s four mandatory agreements and 11 optional ones.
Assuming this Vivobook stays at the price I’ve been given, it’s a great deal. It also seems like, as we said of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, a bit of a tweener. Realistically, I’m not sure how large the constituency is who’s looking for a processor this powerful with a discrete GPU but is also fine with just 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. The so-so battery life, given this device’s thin and light stature, may limit the audience further.
I see this mostly as a device for people looking for a primary driver who want to game or edit on the side. This is a good affordable option for that crowd, but you’re also somewhat getting what you pay for – editors, or others with GPU-heavy workloads, who can afford to spend a bit more on the 14-inch MacBook Pro should absolutely do so, and gamers who can live without the OLED screen can get a more powerful GPU, more RAM, and much better battery life in the Zephyrus G14.
But I’m still glad the package exists; 90Hz OLED screens are really a joy to use, and they’re a thing I hope we see more of at this accessible price point down the road. And with its Ryzen 5000 series, AMD continues to bring power to thin and light laptops that we haven’t seen in years past. This is more so an exciting thing to see than something I’d recommend most people buy. But it is very exciting.