The Asus 1015E is a tiny notebook computer with a tiny price tag. It features a 10 inch display and sells for under $299. In fact, many stores are selling the little laptop for as little as $249.
That’s not a bad price for a 2.8 pound computer with an Intel Celeron dual-core processor, a 1366 x 768 pixel display, and Windows 8 software. While it’s not the fastest, thinnest, or lightest laptop around, it’s the only 10 inch laptop on the market that I’m aware of which offers better-than-netbook performance.
In my tests, the Asus 1015E offers about twice the performance you’d expect from a netbook with an Intel Atom processor. But it’s just as portable and at least as inexpensive.
In other words, it might be the best 10 inch laptop you can buy.
But it’s not for everyone. The keyboard is rather small. You can’t use it as a tablet. The fan is kind of noisy. And while the laptop offers reasonably good battery life, the only way to get true all-day battery life would be to invest in a second battery pack.
But did I mention that the Asus 1015E sells for as little as $249? And that’s just the price for a Windows model. Asus also offers a version with Ubuntu Linux which sells for about $200.
Asus loaned me a Windows model for the purposes of this review.
Low cost portable laptops have come a long way in the past few years. If you wanted to buy a 10 inch laptop in 2006, your only options were expensive premium models which sold for $1500 or more. Asus changed all of that when the company introduced the first Eee PC netbook in 2007, featuring a 7 inch screen and sold for $400.
The idea was that most people looking for portability in a notebook don’t necessarily need bleeding edge performance. Over the next few years we saw dozens of laptops with screens between 7 and 12 inches in size, selling for as little as $250.
Nobody talks much about netbooks much anymore, but in recent years we’ve seen low-cost portable devices ranging from inexpensive Android tablets to Chromebooks which sell for as little as $199.
We’ve also seen a number of laptops with 11.6 inch and larger displays with reasonable price tags, including the HP Pavilion DM1, Asus VivoBook X202e, and others. They’re faster than netbooks — but they’re also larger.
For years I’ve been hearing from netbook fans who have been waiting for a notebook with a 10 inch screen featuring a processor that offers more power than the Intel Atom chips that have powered most netbooks since 2008.
The Asus 1015E fits the bill.
The Asus 1015E features a 10.1 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel matte display and a 1.1 GHz Intel Celeron 847 dual-core processor.
That’s a Sandy Bridge chip with Intel HD 2000 graphics. It’s a 17W chip that was first released in 2011, but it’s still faster than any Intel Atom processor on the market. While you shouldn’t expect Intel Core i3 level performance, the Asus 1015E can handle most basic computing tasks and has no problem playing HD video.
Asus offers the notebook with a 320GB hard drive, although out of the box it’s divided into two user-accessible partitions and a hidden recovery partition.
The notebook has 2GB of RAM and comes with Windows 8 64-bit, although an Ubuntu version will also be available soon. There’s no access panel on the bottom of the laptop, so you’ll have to partially disassemble the case to upgrade the storage. While the chipset can also theoretically handle memory upgrades, the RAM on this model is soldered to the motherboard, so there’s no place to put an extra stick of memory.
Asus includes 802.11b/g/n WiFi, 10/100 Ethernet. Some models may also offer Bluetooth, but the notebook featured in this review does not.
The laptop ships with a 6 cell, 56 Whr battery, but Asus says a smaller 3 cell battery is also available.
Around the sides of the laptop you’ll find 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, an Ethernet jack, HDMI port, a VGA/Mini D-sub port, an SD card slot, and a combo mic/headphone jack.
There’s a 720p camera above the screen, a built-in mic, and stereo speakers.
Design (Display, keyboard, touchpad)
Weighing less than 2.8 pounds, and featuring a 10.1 inch display, you might be tempted to put this little laptop in the same category as ultrabooks. But it’s actually not as thin as an ultrabook (nor does it have the solid state storage you find in most ultrabooks).
The Asus 1015E measures 10.3″ x 7.0″ x 1.4″ at its thickest point (in the back where the battery sticks out from the bottom). It’s closer to 0.9 inches at the front, but the emphasis is clearly more on light weight than thinness.
Asus also went small with the power adapter. Instead of your usual 2-piece notebook power brick, the Asus 1015E comes with a small one-piece power adapter which is easier to carry around for times you’re worried you’ll run out of battery power.
In order to fit a full-sized Ethernet jack, Asus had to attach a small piece of plastic which you swing down in order to lock your RJ45 cable into place.
As you’d expect from a budget notebook, the Asus 1015E has an all-plastic case. The lid has a glossy finish, as does the bezel around the screen and the area around the keyboard.
But the palm rest area has a matte, textured finish which means that it doesn’t show oily smudges.
The display also has a matte finish, which means it doesn’t reflect as much glare as a glossy screen. That makes it easier to use outdoors or near a window — although you’ll still need to crank up the screen brightness if you plan to use this laptop outside on a bright sunny day.
Like many matte screens, the display can look a little grainy at times, especially when you’re looking at a white background. But I still generally prefer matte to glossy.
Some users may also find that text and images look too sharp on a 10 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display. While you can adjust some DPI settings in Windows, the OS doesn’t scale graphics as well as OS X, Chrome OS, and some other operating systems.
Still, the upshot is that you can fit more content on the screen on the Asus 1015E than you could on most netbooks. That means more text on a website, more cells on a spreadsheet, and higher resolution games, pictures, and videos, among other things.
The screen’s viewing angles are mixed. When you tilt the display back too far, colors start to look washed out. But when you view it from the right or left, things look pretty good.
Since the Asus 1015E has a smaller screen than most notebooks, it also has a smaller keyboard — you can’ t easily squeeze a full-sized keyboard into a laptop this size. So Asus has a keyboard that’s about 90 percent full-sized instead.
But I can’t think of many companies that have as much experience as Asus in designing keyboards for small laptops, and this one is pretty good. The keys are well arranged and it’s easy to get used to the keys that are doubled-up.
For instance, the Up, Down, Left, and Right arrows also function as PgUp, PgDn, Home, and End buttons when you hold the Fn key.
If you’re used to typing on a larger keyboard, the Asus 1015E keyboard can take a little getting used to. But after using the laptop for a few minutes, I had no problems touch-typing at over 80 words per minute.
Below the keyboard is a touchpad which is a bit on the small side as well. It’s a clickpad-style model, which means that there are no phsyical buttons for left or right clicks. You can just push down on the lower left or right portions of of the touchpad.
But it also supports multi-touch gestures so that you never have to click at all. For instance, a two-finger tap is the same as a right-click. You can also put two fingers on the touchpad and slide up or down to scroll.
Windows 8 gestures are also supported, including swiping from the right edge of the touchpad to bring up the Windows 8 Charms menu.
The touchpad works reasonably well, but since it’s a bit on the small side it can be tough to maneuver with precision. I find that I’m much more productive on this laptop when I plug in a mouse — but I tend to do that even on notebooks with the best touchpads, like the Google Chromebook Pixel.
On the bottom of the laptop there’s a solid piece of plastic with no access panel. I suspect if you remove the padded rubber feet you might find screws that you can remove to open up the laptop and get at the internal components, but since I have to send this notebook back when I’m done with it, I’ve left those feet in place.
You’ll also find two little latches which you can slide on the bottom of the laptop to release the battery. Unlike most ultrabooks (which seem to dominate the ultraportable notebook space these days), it’s easy to replace the battery on this mini-laptop.
There’s also a vent on the bottom of the laptop, and another on the left side. There’s pretty much always warm air blowing out of the left vent. The Asus 1015E may be about the same size and shape as a typical netbook, but it has a processor that uses twice as much energy, so the fan which helps keep the CPU cool is almost always blowing.
You can reduce the clock speed on this laptop which will help improve battery life and keep the CPU cooler, but I don’t recommend it.
The Intel Celeron 847 chip in this laptop is a few years old, but it’s a good option for a low-priced laptop since it offers a decent mix of performance, price, and power consumption.
It’s a 1.1 GHz dual-core processor which does a decent job with most day-to-day tasks. I had no problems streaming HD video from Netflix or Hulu. I was able to open and edit documents, surf the web with a dozen browser tabs open, and listen to music without running into any problems.
And in terms of raw processing power, I ran a series of benchmarks which suggest that this laptop isn’t as fast as a model with a Core i3 or Core i5 CPU, but it’s much faster than a notebook with an Intel Atom chip. It also has a more powerful CPU than a machine with an AMD Brazos chip, although AMD still has the edge in graphics performance.
But there’s a caveat – Asus includes a tool called the Power4Gear Hybrid Engine which lets you underclock the CPU in order to get longer battery life. Don’t use it.
Virtually every time I switched from Performance mode to Battery Saving mode, the Asus 1015E slowed to a crawl. I didn’t even bother running most benchmarks again in Battery Saving mode, because I had a hard enough time even launching programs or switching between running apps.
If you absolutely need to squeeze every minute of battery life out of the notebook and you’re only running one simple app at a time, I suppose it’s nice to have this option. But even in performance mode, I’ve found that the Asus 1015E gets between 4.5 and 6 hours of run time with a 6 cell battery.
To test overall CPU performance, I ran my usual set of benchmarks which involve transcoding audio and video files and creating a large ZIP archive.
This chart shows how long it takes in seconds to complete each task — so the lower the score the better. Here are the challengers in this test:
- HP Envy X2 - 11.6 inch Hybird tablet with Intel Atom Z2760 dual-core CPU (2013)
- Asus Eee PC 1015PN - 10 inch netbook with an Intel Atom N550 dual-core CPU and NVIDIA ION graphics (2010)
- Asus VivoBook X202E – 11.6 inch touchscreen notebook with Intel Core i3 Ivy Bridge (2013)
- HP Pavilion DM1 – 11.6 inch notebook with AMD E2-1800 (2012)
In these CPU-intensive tests the Asus 1015E came out way ahead of any machine with an Intel Atom processor, and ahead of the AMD Brazos chip in most tests. But it’s clearly not as powerful as an Intel Core i3 Ivy Bridge processor.
In other words, while this computer has enough oomph to handle document editing, web surfing, and other general-purpose tasks, if you need to perform activities that really need a heavy-duty processor (like editing video), you might want to opt for a more expensive model with a more powerful CPU.
But good luck finding a computer with one of those chips and a 10 inch screen.
Incidentally, I did run one benchmark in Battery Saving mode. While it took 199 seconds to transcode the sample video file in Performance Mode, it took 284 seconds in Battery Saving. So switching to the low-power mode basically gives you the performance you’d expect from an Intel Atom processor.
This time I also threw in an Acer Aspire V5 notebook with a Core i5 processor, because I happened to have scores for that model handy. Clearly, that machine is in a different performance class — but it also costs nearly twice as much as the Asus 1015E.
- Acer C7 Chromebook - 11.6 inch Chrome OS notebook with Intel Celeron 847 (2012)
- Samsung Chromebook – 11.6 inch Chrome OS notebook with Samsung Exynos 5210 ARM Cortex-A15 dual-core (2012)
- Acer Aspire V5 – 11.6 inch Windows 7 notebook with Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge (2012)
Unsurprisingly, the Asus 1015E and Acer C7 achieved similar scores in these tests. They have similar hardware, so that’s about what you’d expect — although the tests were taken about 6 months apart, so Chrome browser improvements and updated drivers may help explain why the Asus 1015E comes out a little ahead.
Both models perform better than the Samsung Chromebook with an Exynos processor, but the Acer Aspire V5 still runs circles around the bunch.
While the computer’s integrated Intel HD 2000 graphics offer enough power for HD video playback and some basic gaming, this isn’t by any means a gaming laptop. Like most portable notebooks I’ve tested, it comes pretty close to failing the Street Fighter IV graphics benchmark, with a letter grade of “E.”
Overall, while the Asus 1015E is hardly a powerhouse, it offers a fair amount of power for a laptop with a 10 inch screen and a price tag of $300 or less. There’s really nothing else quite like it on the market at the moment.
That’s not to say that the Asus 1015E offers a no-compromise experience. The keyboard and touchpad are on the small side, which can take some getting used to. The constantly-blowing fan is a bit noisy. And the screen can look a little grainy.
But the Asus 1015E offers decent performance, reasonably long battery life, and a compact package. And it comes at a great price.
While ultrabooks like the Asus Zenbook and Samsung Series 9 don’t weigh much more than the Asus 1015E and offer better performance and larger screens and keyboards, they also cost 3 times as much.
The Asus 1015E picks up where netbooks left off a few years ago, offering a decent compromise between price, performance, and portability — and offering a user experience that’s “good enough” for most of the things you’d expect to do with a $300 laptop.
I wouldn’t recommend buying one unless you know that you’re comfortable with notebooks featuring 10 inch displays and smaller-than-normal keyboards. But if you’ve been waiting to upgrade your aging netbook until something truly better came along, the Asus 1015E is truly something better.
It’s a cheap mini-notebook that acts like a larger, more expensive model in many ways. It doesn’t have a touchscreen. You can’t use it as a tablet. It won’t run for days on end. But it’s good enough that I could see some folks using it as a primary computer, not just a low-cost traveling companion.