The Asus C200 Chromebook is a 2.5 pound laptop that offers up to 12 hours of battery life and sells for just $249. It’s not the fastest notebook around, doesn’t have the best screen, and some folks might find Google’s Chrome OS operating system limiting. But there’s a lot to like about this little laptop… especially given the low price.
Asus is the first company to offer a Chromebook powered by an Intel Celeron Bay Trail processor. It uses less power than the Haswell chips in some Chromebooks, but helps the Asus C200 achieve its all-day battery life while offering stronger performance than some older Chromebooks with slower chips.
The Asus C200 Chromebook isn’t perfect. It has an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display with limited viewing angles, just 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, and lacks features found on some other models such as a touchscreen display. But thanks to a good price, respectable performance for common tasks, and extraordinary battery life, the Asus C200 Chromebook is definitely worth considering if you’re in the market for a cheap, portable Chromebook.
Asus loaned me a C200 Chromebook for the purposes of this review. The company also offers a 13 inch model called the C300 Chromebook with nearly identical specs and an identical processor.
The Asus C200 Chromebook is powered by an Intel Celeron N2830 dual-core Bay Trail processor and features 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, one USB 3.0 port and a USB 2.0 port, HDMI and audio jacks, and an SD card slot.
The notebook measures 12″ x 7.9″ x 0.8″ and weighs 2.5 pounds. The larger Asus C300 Chromebook has the same specs, but sports a 13.3 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, measures 13″ x 9.1″ x 0.9″ and weighs 3.1 pounds.
Not surprisingly for a $249 laptop, the Asus C200 Chromebok has a plastic case, but it feels pretty sturdy, there’s not too much flex in the keyboard, and bottom is painted a metallic silver/gray color while the lid is black. The lid is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but it’s not hard to wipe clean.
Asus says the 11.6 inch model has a glossy display while its 13.3 inch Chromebook has a non-glossy screen. I’ve been using the Asus C200 to write blog posts, surf the web, and watch videos for a few days and I haven’t had many problems with screen glare.
Viewing angles are rather limited though. If you tilt the screen back too far it can be hard to make out text or pictures because the colors start to fade. Side viewing angles aren’t as bad.
A higher-resolution display would be nice… but 1366 x 768 pixel screens are still pretty common for inexpensive Chrome and Windows laptops, so I can’t really fault Asus for choosing one for its first Chromebooks.
Some people will also probably complain that the laptop has a rather large bezel around the screen. I don’t really mind, since the Asus C200 is reasonably compact, but still large enough to fit a full-sized keyboard.
Like most Chromebooks, the Asus C200 has a special keyboard with dedicated keys for functions such as Search, Back, Forward, as well as more common functions such as volume and brightness. You can also go into the notebook’s settings and choose to use the Search key as Caps Lock if you find you really miss having a Caps Lock key.
There are no dedicated Home, End, Page Up, or Page Down keys, but you can access those functions along with many more by memorizing a few keyboard shortcuts.
Beneath the keyboard there’s a large touchpad which supports multi-touch gestures such as two-finger scrolling.
Some folks also take issue with the idea of calling Chromebooks laptops… but that’s exactly what they are. The Asus C200 may ship with a browser-based operating system, but it’s a fully functional PC that just happens to have an operating system designed around a web browser.
Chrome OS has come a long way in recent years. It’s no longer useless when you’re without an internet connection, since there are a growing number of web apps that let you save data to local storage so you can play games or edit documents even when you’re offline. And there’s an ever-growing number of Chrome Web apps that you can use for productivity, social interaction, gaming, business, and more.
It’s a relatively secure operating system since any web apps you install run in a sandbox so they can’t affect the operating system. Chrome OS downloads software updates automatically. And most of your data is stored in the cloud, which means that if your notebook stops working or you switch to another machine all you have to do is login with your username and password and you can pick up right where you left off — the only thing you might lose are any photos or other files stored on the notebook’s rather meager 16GB of storage.
If you’re still not convinced Chrome OS is good enough for your needs, you’re not stuck with it. There’s no simple way to install Windows on the Asus C200, but you can turn on developer mode and enable support for booting from a USB flash drive or even install Ubuntu, Debian, or other operating systems in a chroot environment so they share the Linux kernel with Chrome OS, but give you a traditional desktop operating system and support for desktop apps including LibreOffice, GIMP, and even Firefox.
The Asus C200 Chromebook is one of the first Chrome OS laptops to feature a Bay Trail processor. As you’d expect, that means it’s not quite as fast as a system with a Haswell chip, but it’s much faster than older models featuring earlier Intel Atom chips.
It also outperforms models with a Samsung Exynos 5 ARM Cortex-A15 dual-core processor including the Samsung Series 3 and HP Chromebook 11 by offering both longer battery life and faster performance.
It’s kind of tough to compare a mid-2014 Chromebook to an older model by running a bunch of benchmark tests, because every time Google pushes out a software update, there’s a chance that older models (which I don’t have on hand anymore) also get a little better.
The system can feel a little sluggish when running resource-intensive web apps and multitasking at the same time. So while I was able to open a dozen browser tabs and switch back and forth between then while writing articles in WordPress without problems, switching tabs and opening new tabs started to feel a little pokey if I was streaming music from Songza at the same time.
It’s not always easy to predict when the system will start to slow down — sometimes after using it for a few hours, I’ll be typing a document and suddenly notice that characters show up on the screen a second or two after I press the keys on the keyboard, suggesting that it might be time to close a few browser tabs.
I had no problems streaming videos from Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Instant Video. YouTube videos also looked great at 720p resolution. There was a bit of stuttering while watching some 1080p videos from YouTube, but since the Chromebook doesn’t have a 1080p screen, the only time you’d really want to do that anyway is if you have an external display plugged in.
While you should never expect miracles from laptop speakers, the Asus C200 has reasonably loud and clear speakers which will suffice for listening to music when you don’t have better speakers or headphones handy.
There’s an HDMI port on the side of the notebook, allowing you to plug in an external display. Chrome OS lets you either mirror or extend your desktop, which means you can either use a second display as an extra workspace for additional browser tabs or to play a video in one screen while surfing the web on another or you can show the same content on both screens.
Unfortunately there aren’t quite as many options in the display settings as I’d like — for instance, the only way to turn off the notebook display while mirroring your screen to external display is to dim the screen brightness until the screen goes black.
In the Google Octane and Peacekeeper web-based benchmarks, the Asus C200 came out ahead of the HP Chromebook 11 and Samsung Series 3 Chromebook, but it trailed behind the Asus Chromebox and Acer C720p Chromebook, both of which feature Intel Celeron N2955U Haswell processors.
Meanwhile the Google Chromebook Pixel with an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge CPU continues to reign supreme in terms of benchmarks and real-world performance.
But speed is a relative thing when it comes to a Chromebook. As mentioned above, the Asus C200 doesn’t feel quite as fast as some other recent models, but it’s good enough for basic web surfing, video watching, casual gaming, and more.
It also blows the competition out of the water when it comes to battery life… which makes it easier to accept the middling performance.
You can thank the Celeron N2830 chip and the laptop’s 48Whr battery for the strong battery performance. The processor is as 64-bit chip with a clock speed of 2.16 GHz, Intel HD graphics, and a TDP of 7.5W. Unfortunately you may have to put up with occasional slow downs if you expect to put the system to heavy use.
On the other hand, one benefit of the low-power chip is that the system doesn’t generate a lot of heat — and the Asus C200 Chromebook features a fanless design. That means it’s pretty much silent while operating since there are no fans, hard drives, or other moving parts to generate noise.
On occasions when you might need more than 10-12 hours of battery life, it’s nice to know the power adapter won’t take up much room in your bag. Instead of a large power brick, Asus includes a charger small enough to hold in one hand. The adapter also weighs less than 5 ounces.
Speaking of heavy use, Chromebooks might be designed as user-friendly, secure systems which put the web browser front and center. But for just about as long as there have been Chrome OS laptops, there have been people trying to push them to do more.
It’s just as easy to enable developer mode and install Ubuntu using the Crouton script so that it run side-by-side with Chrome OS on the Asus C200 as it has been on just about every other Chromebook I’ve used. Ubuntu seems to run resonably well, but the Chromebook froze every time I tried switching from Ubuntu to Chrome and then back again… until I figured out that logging out of Ubuntu completely was a safe way to switch between operating systems without locking up the computer.
Not happy with the 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage that come with the Asus C200 Chromebook? Then you’d best buy a model that comes with more… because there’s no easy way to add more to the Asus C200 Chromebook.
You can use the SD card reader to add removable storage, but the RAM and solid state storage are not user upgradeable. When I took the bottom off the case to see what’s under the hood, the only component that seemed relatively simple to remove was the wireless card, although I don’t feel much need to do that, since I’m pretty happy with the WiFi and Bluetooth performance of the Chromebook.
The Asus C200 Chromebook is a great laptop… if you can live with Chrome OS , don’t need a lot of local storage space, and value price, portability and battery life over bleeding edge performance or a great display.
I’d probably take off marks for the laptop’s relatively mediocre performance while multitasking when you can pick up an Acer C720 Chromebook for the same price or less and get noticeably more performance. Acer also offers several different configurations, which means you can opt for a model with a touchscreen display, 4GB of RAM, or 32GB of storage.
Update: There is a version of the Asus C200 with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, but it sells for $329.
But none of those systems will get 12 hours of battery life.
The Asus C200 isn’t perfect… but it’s remarkable simply for being a $249 laptop that offers all-day battery life. The fact that it has a decent keyboard, weighs just about 2.5 pounds, boots up in seconds, and can run Ubuntu and other operating systems as well as Chrome OS are all kind of bonus features.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this notebook for everyone. But folks who can live with its limitations (and who probably have a better PC at home, but need something portable for use on the go), can get a lot more for $249 today than they could a few years ago.