Asus C201 Chromebook review: A solid Chromebook with great battery life
If there’s one thing Asus seems to care about when it’s making Chromebooks such as the Asus C201, it’s battery life. You can almost imagine the company president slamming his fist on the boardroom table when the C200 was launched last year, demanding more from his quivering engineers: “11 hours from an Asus Chromebook you pathetic layabouts? Not. Enough.”
Seen through this (entirely made-up) prism, 2015’s updated model makes sense. While the Celeron inside the previous version was light on fuel consumption, the ARM-based Rockchip in this iteration is positively weightless. Asus claims a staggering 13 hours, and while my real-world tests suggest you’re more likely to get 12 in general use – with the screen’s brightness set to low – that’s still amazing.
Especially when you consider that this Chromebook weighs less than 1kg (980g, to be precise). Sling it into a bag and it’s barely noticeable, and since you don’t need to worry about carrying the power supply it couldn’t score much more highly for portability.
Further good news comes if you do need to give it an emergency charge: it went from empty to full in less than an hour. The bad news? Although the charging port looks like it’s micro-USB, it isn’t – you need Asus’ specific charger, which supplies power at 12V and 2A.
Asus C201 Chromebook review: Specifications and design
Should you decide to take the Asus with you on your travels, it’s built sturdily enough to sling into a case. It’s largely a plastic affair and the screen does feel vulnerable to direct hits, but little else can go wrong: there’s no mechanical disk, only 16GB of eMMC flash storage. This is upgradeable via a microSD card slot on the left of the chassis, but Google wants you to store most everything in the 100GB of Google Drive storage that comes included (the subscription is for two years).
Those who value style may feel a little self-conscious as they whip this laptop out in Starbucks when all around them are tapping away on their MacBooks – it certainly isn’t a machine I’d take into a sales meeting – but the dark blue lid with an updated Chrome logo means it looks respectable enough. It’s more smart casual than business casual.
The C201 certainly won’t embarrass you when it comes to speed. If you’re an Intel traditionalist, you have nothing to fear from switching to ARM. I found it responsive in every situation I threw at it, from jumping around Word Online documents to viewing embedded videos on the BBC website and editing photos on Pixlr.
Naturally, as it runs Chrome OS, I couldn’t run the normal Alphr benchmarks, but JetStream – the natural successor to the now defunct SunSpider benchmark – returned a score of 44. That actually outperformed my Dell XPS 13, powered by a Core i5 processor, which scored 42. JetStream is a web app-based benchmark only, but in this case it’s 100% relevant, because you’ll only be using web apps.
Asus C201 Chromebook review: Screen and keyboard quality
Where this machine falls behind more luxurious machines like the XPS 13 – and even behind rival Chromebooks such as the Toshiba Chromebook 2 – is the screen. Its 11.6in diagonal holds 1,366 x 768 pixels and it looks perfectly sharp, but it uses cheap TN technology rather than IPS. That means viewing angles are poor and, in this case at least, the screen also looks slightly washed-out.
Normally, that would prompt howls of derision in the Alphr office, but in this case it’s important to bear in mind both the price and the rest of the package. It’s a weak point, sure, but if all you want to do is browse the web and use apps such as Google Docs then it’s perfectly fine. However, movie watchers are likely to be disappointed.
Likewise, the keyboard. It’s nothing special at all, with a damp feel to each keystroke, but in use it’s easy to reach high typing speeds. Plus, the only keys with a compromised size are the cursor keys. The only mistake I found myself consistently making was hitting the power button when I was looking for Delete. There isn’t, in fact, a Delete key, only Backspace.
The touchpad is a genuine plus as well. It’s unusually large for a Chromebook and reflects the screen ratio, which I found particularly helpful when navigating between Chrome tabs: run three fingers along it from left to right and it flicks between the open tabs. As with all Chromebooks, there’s no left- or right-click button: if you want to right-click, the easiest way is to press Alt at the same time as pressing down on the bottom of the pad.
Asus C201 Chromebook review: Verdict
There’s a huge amount of choice if you’re looking to spend £200 on a laptop. Never mind Chromebooks such as the HP Chromebook 11, you should also consider the Windows-powered Toshiba Satellite C40-C and HP Stream 11.
Nevertheless, the Asus C201 Chromebook has carved out its own niche, and it all comes back to battery life and portability. Its screen isn’t perfect, nor is it the world’s most luxurious laptop, but if you want something that you can sling into a bag for a weekend, and not have to worry about chargers, it’s an excellent choice.
Need a full blown laptop? Check out our roundup of the best laptops of 2015.