The ASUS VivoBook L203MA has enough features and performance to shine as an everyday-use budget laptop for college students. It boasts class-leading portability, good build quality and design, good connectivity and an HD screen that’s easy on the eyes.
- Very inexpensive
- Nice-looking, portable design
- USB-C port
- Narrow viewing angles
- VGA webcam
Sometimes all you need is a competent, decent, and inexpensive laptop with the right screen size for schoolwork, basic media editing, or simply browsing the Web. The ASUS VivoBook L203MA checks all those boxes, and it’s one of the most affordable Windows 10 systems we’ve seen with a USB-C port, so it’s a good choice if you need the extra connectivity option in a budget desktop-replacement laptop.
Our top pick, the Acer Aspire 5 (A515-43-R19L) has a few advantages over the VivoBook L203MA-DS04, including a 15.6-inch full HD (1920 x 1080) screen, more storage, and a backlit keyboard, but either would be a good choice for a daily-use PC.
- Need more college laptop options? Check out our Best Laptops for College 2019
On styling, Asus always gets it right even on its budget line. When the VivoBook L203MA-DS04 is closed, the honeycomb lid with a silver ‘Asus’ logo etched in the middle, and the same theme extends to the keyboard deck and bottom cover. The plastic enclosure looks great, much better than you’d expect from a budget 11-inch laptop. In any case, the system is pretty compact for a college laptop, measuring 0.7 by 11.3 by 7.6 inches (HWD), and weighs 3.2 pounds.
The 11-inch LCD non-touch panel has a 1366-by-768 (HD) resolution, which is common among budget laptops. Sure, the new Lenovo 130S has it, but other Windows-based competitors like the Acer Aspire 5 (A515-43-R19L) and Chromebooks like the Asus Chromebook C425 all have screens with a much higher resolution (1920-by-1080).
The VivoBook L203MA is therefore not so-good if you’re planning on editing website layouts, working on large spreadsheets or watch HD movies at native resolution – you’re better off with the Acer Aspire 5 or Asus Chromebook C425. Still, the screen is clear and delivers decent detail when viewed in its sweet spot, but colors wash out a bit if you view it from too far forward or backward.
There’s a very good selection of I/O ports. The right panel holds the Power connector, an HDMI port, a headset jack, a USB 3.0 port, an SD card reader and a USB-C port. On the left panel, there’s a single USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack. The placement of this port is excellent if you want to use a wired USB 2.0 mouse.
Nonetheless, we’d still welcome multiple USB 3.0 ports instead of one, but it’s still a solid selection for a budget PC. Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5 are available for wireless communications, which is much better single-band found on some inexpensive notebooks.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The ASUS VivoBook L203MA has a chiclet-style keyboard that lacks backlighting, essentially a luxury never seen at these prices. However, in the latest Acer Aspire 5 laptops, we’re seeing backlit keyboards and, in a few Chromebooks, as well. It’s comfortable to use, but it lacks enough space for a numeric keypad. The one-piece touchpad is tall, spacious and quite responsive.
It has 6GB of memory soldered to the motherboard, along with 64GB of eMMC flash storage. That doesn’t come out as a lot of storage, but its more than you get from rival Chromebooks that come with 32GB flash storage, and it’s faster than the traditional spinning hard drives.
With an Intel Celeron N4000 Processor (with Intel HD Graphics) the VivoBook L203MA-DS04 performs well on everyday tasks. For sure, the AMD Ryzen 3 3200U CPU in the Acer Aspire 5 makes that system faster all round, but the Asus VivoBook is certainly capable of doing everyday tasks in a timely manner. As with all budget laptops, 3D gaming scores are often low and frame rates in the single digits. Just stick to regular website, and everything will run fine.
Battery life is notable, since the 2-cell battery lasts just over 5 hour 21 minutes, enough to last most part of a school day. Either way, it’s below the category average of 7 hours 19 minutes; which the Acer Aspire 5 (7: 28) and Lenovo Chromebook C425 (11:34) easily achieve.
The ASUS VivoBook L203MA has enough features and performance to shine as an everyday-use budget laptop for college students. It boasts class-leading portability, good build quality and design, good connectivity and an HD screen that’s easy on the eyes. However, the screen’s low resolution and middling battery life hold it from earning our Editors’ Choice award for budget laptops. Still, it suffices as an excellent choice for anyone looking for an affordable, nice-looking, small-sized laptop for college use and basic home productivity tasks.
Is there a better alternative?
The larger Acer Aspire 5 (A515-43-R19L) remains our top pick, for having much better performance, more storage, a vibrant full HD screen, and an expansive backlit keyboard for doing real work, all while coming in at a lower price.
Another exciting must be the Asus Chromebook C425 – a 14-inch clamshell Chromebook with a sleek, metallic build, more memory, a backlit keyboard and better overall performance. If Windows 10 is not a must-have in your ideal laptop, this Chromebook offer more bang for your buck than any other budget laptop out there.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If portability is more importart to you over everything else or simply shopping for a value daily-use laptop, keep the ASUS VivoBook L203MA on your short list.
Acer Aspire 5 Slim Laptop, 15.6 inches Full HD IPS Display, AMD Ryzen 3 3200U, Vega 3 Graphics, 4GB DDR4, 128GB SSD, Backlit Keyboard, Windows 10 in S Mode, A515-43-R19L
20 used from $319.00