This has gone on long enough, and I will be silent no longer. I am hereby requesting that companies cease putting Pentium processors in midrange computers immediately.
Look, I get the argument. Not everyone needs a Threadripper. Not everyone needs a Core i7. Some people only want a device for their nightly YouTube watching. Some people just want a Twitter machine. They can save a lot of money — and potentially afford a nicer build, a nicer screen, and fancier features — if they go for a cheaper chip.
That’s all well and good if you’re in that group. But no one — and I really do mean no one — should be spending more than a couple hundred dollars on a one thing at a time device. Because a $360 Chromebook Duet can browse the web just fine. The benefit a Windows laptop has over these devices, in addition to the larger screen, is that the Windows operating system can better accommodate multitasking and work. It supports more powerful programs, it can better manage app windows and files, and it has more computing power to run a bunch of tasks at once. So if you’re paying over, say, $800 for a device that will only ever have one window open at a time, you are doing something wrong.
For this very reason, Asus’ $899 Vivobook 13 Slate OLED Steven Harrington Edition (yes, that is the full name) is one of the coolest but also most confusing computers I’ve reviewed this year. Asus made it in collaboration with LA-based artist Steven Harrington (not to be confused with the Steve Harrington character on Stranger Things), and it’s incredibly cool-looking with a brilliant OLED screen.
It also includes a Pentium processor. That Pentium processor works. But it mostly works if you have one thing open at a time.
It looks like a dream
The Vivobook 13 Slate Steven Harrington Edition is a 13.3-inch OLED tablet (already an atypical combination). It’s one of two limited-edition Slate OLED models released in collaboration with popular artists this year. (London’s Philip Colbert has one, too.) The models are supposed to “represent the unique world-view of the artist,” according to Asus’ promotional material.
I would say the Steven Harrington Edition succeeded. It looks, in a word, awesome. The cover stand (magnetic, detachable, and can support the device in both portrait and landscape modes, though you may see screen wobble if you use the stylus at certain angles) is covered in cartoon dogs, trees, planets, and such, including some recurring characters of Harrington’s. The bottom of the keyboard (also detachable, Surface Pro-style, and surprisingly comfortable) has an additional smattering of cute graphics.
This laptop has a personality. I wish more gadgets did. I would love to pop this open at a coffee shop and look just a bit cooler than all the other coffee shop denizens around me. In a tech market full of boring grays and blacks, a splash of unique flavor to help folks incorporate their tablet into their style is always welcome.
But the Pentium is bad
This Vivobook 13 Slate model is $899 on Asus’ website (for the Pentium Silver N6000, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage). That makes it much cheaper than the likes of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 9 (especially since the keyboard and stylus are included with the Vivobook’s price). Neither of those premium devices has such a cool design or a kickstand that works in multiple orientations. And few 13-inch laptops out there, let alone devices under $1,000, have an OLED screen.
How did Asus get the price this cheap? I can only assume that a big part of the cost savings is found in the chip. The Intel Pentium Silver N6000 is not, by any definition, a good processor. It doesn’t provide good battery life — I averaged just over five hours of continuous use with around a dozen Chrome tabs, Slack, and Spotify running occasionally at medium brightness — and it doesn’t provide great performance, either.
If I were only doing one thing at once, the Vivobook ran okay. Hopping between my dozen or so Chrome tabs was doable. I saw some typing lag, especially when I was really going at it with the backspace key, and there were some websites where I could feel the Pentium chugging. (Likes on Twitter, for example, took a bit of time to show up after I’d clicked the button.) But with those caveats, browsing in Chrome was doable.
But once you try to get the Pentium running other things, there be dragons. I got impatient while clicking around the Settings app. Drawing in Paint was fine, but Whiteboard was frustratingly slow. Slack, over top of the Chrome tabs, got sluggish. It was slow to update and slow to address my clicks, with swaps between channels sometimes taking multiple seconds. When I got the Vivobook started downloading some Windows and Microsoft Store updates, everything else I was doing ground to a halt, and the device became almost unusable, with programs freezing left and right. Boot time, in general, was slow, and I found myself staring at the Steven Harrington logo for a while every time the thing turned on.
In summary, this can be a miniature TV for YouTube and Netflix. This can be a Twitter machine. But you won’t have a great time if you want to use it for anything more than that — and if you don’t, I just really don’t think you should be spending $900, even for all the cool cartoons.
The non-Harrington Vivobook Slate is available for a few hundred dollars cheaper (and I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $300 before). Reviews point to that one being a much better deal. At that point, you’re looking at one of the cheapest ways on the market to get an OLED screen. Those for whom affordable OLED is a major draw should consider that model.
There’s a lot I like about this product. An OLED laptop with an artist-designed chassis, an included stylus, and a two-way kickstand is something you might assume would cost over $1,000. I am glad to see this sort of device in a more affordable range.
I wanted very badly to like this Vivobook because almost everything about the outside is great — and I always appreciate that Asus is willing to release such bold and fun designs in a way few other companies do.
But the insides are important, too. And I think a Pentium, in 2022, is too high of a price to pay. Companies should not be selling devices that are this slow for anything close to this price. If you want a convertible device that’s good for one thing at a time, you have many cheaper options. If you want a real Windows laptop, one you could reliably use for multitasking and work, these cartoons shouldn’t fool you. The Pentium is too slow for today’s standards.