I never liked Chromebooks. Despite the obvious budget-conscious advantages for everyday browsing and ease of lugging around, I couldn’t get behind the lack of computing horsepower and linear productivity. Prejudices asides, ASUS and their latest C200 Chromebook is a decent option with battery longevity – although far from perfect in every other category.
For those that didn’t know, this is one of the first official Chromebook made by ASUS. That fact alone is surprising considering their previous blitzkrieg into the world of ‘cheap computers’ with their Eee PC lineup, they basically pioneered that goldmine long ago; from the absolutely cheap to the absurdly premium.
The C200 seems to know its place in the world and comes with looks to match. The 2.5 lb chassis is a black affair that comes in plastic matte lid and a textured bottom that’s part casual, part business, and mostly a fingerprint magnet that picks up smudges on first contact. The midsection is painted aluminum and features more than enough I/O connectivity with HDMI output, USB 3.0, memory card reader (MMC/SDHC), headphone/mic jack, and the required DC power input on the left side. On the right, there’s a single USB 2.0 port and Kensington slot.
Open up the hood and you’re treated to 11.6” 1366×768 LED-backlit display that’s all gloss surface along with a sharp 720p HD web camera. The screen itself is bright and clean for any reasonable indoor environment as long as it’s viewed directly head-on; otherwise, narrow viewing angles and sheen under sunlight washes out image and color almost entirely. To compensate elsewhere, the Chiclet (island-style) keyboard feels solid even with a few omitted function keys (like Caps Lock), while the speakers nestled on the underbody sides are noticeably good for the size – if not a bit flat for music and video.
With expectations in check, the Intel 2.16GHz (2.41GHz turbo frequency) N2830 Celeron processor and 2GB of memory provide adequate performance. Booting the system is blazingly quick at less than 8 seconds’ thanks to the 16GB SSD, and runs smooth for casual Netflix and YouTube streaming to Twitter and Angry Bird juggling, just as long the web plugins are compatible. Handling voice-activated searches (“OK, Google”) from as far as 9 ft away is equally good but is occasionally sluggish for lengthy spoken subjects.
However, the C200 isn’t quite the champ when called for demanding multitasking duties. In the Google+ Hangouts app video conferences were often choppy, and the device slowed to a crawl under the unintentional pressure of open browser tabs and USB file folders running in the background. My advice: keep the dedicated workloads light and you should be fine.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi access is pretty much mandatory and the C200 is only useful when in range of a Wi-Fi point. You get an on-board 802.11ac adapter, although only a/b/g/n protocols are currently enabled. The lack of WWAN (mobile broadband) on the other hand limits its true mobility.
It would be really easy to pick apart the C200 but the battery life is the sole redeeming factor here. Real-world figures lasted an awesome 10 hours and 56 minutes (from the advertised 11 hour claim) off of a full charge that includes continuous video playback and everyday time-wasting activities. Without any other recent choices to benchmark this is the longest lasting model we’ve currently tested, this is no surprise considering the efficient Bay Trail-M CPU working in tandem with the 3-cell Li-ion power plant.
Because ASUS assembled it with only the essential features in mind, the C200 Chromebook relies squarely on its phenomenal battery life in lieu of outright performance. Other entry-level competitors are more capable, but none of them can match the all-day confidence of forgoing a power outlet – which is what most people are probably after anyways.
I may not love them yet, but I’ve at least learned to acknowledge the Chromebook.