Asus practically invented the netbook with the launch of the Eee PC line of low-cost, mini-laptops in 2007. While the netbook moniker has fallen out of fashion in recent years, there’s no shortage of inexpensive portable computers these days, including Chromebooks, 2-in-1 tablets, and more basic laptops.
Asus loaned me a demo model to test for a few weeks for this review, and I have to say it largely met or exceeded most of my expectations.
This little laptop gets around 10 hours of battery life, has a comfortable (if somewhat small) keyboard, and offers enough performance for most basic computing tasks.
The EeeBook X205 sells for $199 or less and makes a great Windows alternative to a Chromebook. It’s a great little machine for getting some work done on the go and it makes a decent secondary computer — but I wouldn’t recommend buying one for use as your only PC.
That’s because the EeeBook X205 has limited storage space, a mediocre display, and a few other shortcomings that could be dealbreakers if you’re planning on using it as your primary computer.
Overview and design
The Asus EeeBook X205 is a 2.2 pound laptop that measures 11.3″ x 7.6″ x 0.7″. It’s powered by a 1.33 GHz Intel Atom Z3735F quad-core Bay Trail processor.
That’s an inexpensive, low-power chip which is also found in low-cost Windows and Android tablets and mini PCs, but it’s a surprisingly capable little processor that allowed me to get a fair amount of work done on the EeeBook X205 — I wrote most of this review on the laptop.
Part of the reason this laptop is so thin and light is that the low-power chip doesn’t generate a lot of heat — so Asus didn’t need to include a fan. There are no vents or holes in the bottom of the case unless you count the stereo speakers located near the front.
Other hardware includes 2GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC flash storage. You can’t upgrade the storage or memory, since both are soldered to the motherboard.
Since Windows takes up a bit of space, there’s only about 14GB of free disk space when you first turn on the computer. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for programs and files — you won’t want to load your entire music, video, and photo collections on the EeeBook X205. But there’s certainly enough room to load a few programs such as Office, Firefox, and GIMP and to store a few documents.
You can always upload your other files to cloud storage services such as Microsoft OneDrive, Google drive, or the Asus WebStorage service (the last one comes pre-loaded on the laptop).
The notebook has 2 USB 2.0 ports, a micro HDMI port, and a microSDXC card slot. While the USB ports are full-sized, the lack of a full-sized SD card reader can make transferring pictures from a camera a little tricky. And you’ll need a micro HDMI cable rather than any old HDMI cable if you want to hook up an external display.
The laptop has a combination mic and headphone jack which you can use to connect a headset or just a pair of headphones.
Asus includes 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. If you want to connect the notebook to a wired network you’ll need a USB to Ethernet adapter, and if you want to connect to faster 802.11ac WiFi networks you’ll also need a USB adapter.
There’s a 38 Wh battery under the hood, which Asus says should offer up to 12 hours of run time. I never managed to get quite that much battery life during normal use, but I did regularly get close to 10 hours.
The Asus EeeBook X205 features a glossy 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display which looks pretty good when it’s placed directly in front of you. But the colors can easily wash out when you view the laptop from the side or tilt the screen back — which can be especially awkward when watching videos with friends.
Above the screen is a VGA webcam which you can use for video chats — but don’t expect stellar image quality or low-light performance.
The laptop’s keyboard is pretty easy to type on. While some keys are a little small, particularly the arrow keys (which also function as Page Up, Page Down, Home, and end keys), I had no problem typing at or near full speed on the keyboard.
I did notice a little flex when pushing down on the center of the keyboard. This doesn’t usually bother me, but if you’re the sort of person who likes your keyboard to be perfectly rigid, you should probably consider spending more than $200 on a laptop.
Below the keyboard is a surprisingly large touchpad for a laptop this small. The touchpad supports multi-touch gestures such as two-finger scrolling as well as edge gestures such as swiping from the right side to bring up the Windows Charms menu or from the left side to switch between Windows Store apps.
Asus includes a tiny AC adapter that looks more like a smartphone charger than a typical notebook power brick.
Unfortunately it isn’t a smartphone adapter — the EeeBook X205 has a proprietary charging port rather than a micro USB port, so you won’t be able to charge the laptop unless you have the correct power adapter.
Flip the laptop over and you’ll find 10 screws. You can remove them to open up the case, but as tlbhd notes there’s not much reason to do that since just about nothing is upgradeable. You could theoretically replace the battery yourself, but you’d need to find a battery designed for this particular laptop.
Asus ships the laptop with Windows 8.1 with Bing and the demo unit I received also included a license key that provides 100GB of Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage for free for two years.
Unlike the HP Stream 11 and some other low-cost Windows notebooks, the EeeBook X205 does not come with a 1-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 (unless you pay extra for it).
Windows 8.1 with Bing is basically the same as the full version of Windows 8.1. It just costs less for PC makers to license because they agree to leave Bing as the default search engine for Internet Explorer. Once you buy the laptop, there’s nothing stopping you from changing your default search engine or web browser.
In fact, I’ve barely touched Internet Explorer on this notebook because I prefer to use Google Chrome.
Windows runs smoothly on the EeeBook X205. The operating system boots quickly, resumes from sleep almost instantly, and while the Start Screen and settings menus are clearly optimized for touchscreen devices, I haven’t had any difficulty using them on this non-touchscreen laptop by using touchpad gestures or by connecting a mouse.
Don’t want to run Windows? It’s theoretically possible to replace the operating system with something else — although you have to jump through a few hoops to run Ubuntu or other GNU/Linux-based operating systems on most devices with Intel Bay Trail processors.
I was able to boot Ubuntu from a USB flash drive using pretty much the same steps I used to run Ubuntu on the Asus Transformer Book T100 2-in-1 tablet a few years ago.
In a nutshell, I had to create a liveUSB with a recent 64-bit version Ubuntu on it, but then I had to add a 32-bit bootloader since the the EeeBook X205 doesn’t recognize 64-bit bootloaders.
Then I had to disable Secure Boot from the laptop’s UEFI settings. There may be a way to boot from a USB flash drive with Secure Boot enabled, but I wasn’t able to figure out how to do it. While Secure Boot was turned off, I was able to boot from the removable drive and run Ubuntu… but I was unable to boot into Windows 8.1 until I turned Secure Boot back on again.
When Ubuntu did load, I also noticed that WiFi doesn’t work out of the box. You may be able to install wireless drivers manually or to use a USB WiFi or Ethernet adapter to get online. But I didn’t test either of those things. I just wanted to see if Ubuntu would run at all… and it does. The process for loading it just isn’t as user friendly as it could be.
Netbooks with small screens, low prices, and Intel Atom processors were all the rage a few years ago — and I still see people using aging netbooks at coffee shops from time to time. In fact, I spotted a few journalists using them at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show.
But netbooks were also frequent punching bags for critics that complained the screens and keyboards were too small to be useful and that the cheap, low-power processors that helped many models offer decent battery life also made the little laptops painful to use.
There will probably be folks that make similar complaints about devices like the Asus EeeBook X205: the screen has limited viewing angles, there’s not enough storage space, and the keyboard is less-than-full-sized.
But in many ways the EeeBook X205 doesn’t feel like just another netbook. It feels like the evolution of the netbook: a higher form of budget portable computer.
It has a processor that’s fast enough to keep up with common computing tasks, an operating system that’s designed to run smoothly on low-end hardware, and it sells for half the price of the original Asus Eee PC (which had a list price for $400 when it launched in 2007).
While testing this little laptop, I regularly found myself opening more than a dozen browser tabs in Google Chrome, cropping and resizing images in Irfanview, and watching YouTube videos. The computer was able to keep up with all of those tasks without freezing, crashing, or slowing down.
It can also handle more CPU-intensive tasks such as transcoding video files using VirtualDub or Handbrake… although it’s certainly not as fast as a computer with a more powerful processor.
In fact, you can see that even notebooks with more powerful Intel Bay Trail chips including the Atom Z3740 and Pentium N3530 were able handle audio and video transcoding jobs more quickly than this laptop — although all of these chips have similar graphics cores, so they score pretty comparably in tests that rely more heavily on the GPU, such as the Street Fighter IV benchmark.
If you want a high-performance computer, get a system with an Intel Core processor, not a model with an Atom chip. But if you want a cheap machine… and one that also happens to offer all-day battery life, the Asus EeeBook X205 feels pretty zippy for common tasks and it can do heavy-duty jobs if you really need it to.
Just keep in mind the limited amount of storage space. Sure, you could theoretically use this system to edit HD video files. But you’ll probably run out of disk space pretty quickly if you do that.
As for watching HD videos, I had no problems streaming HD content from YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Instant Video (although I did have to close a few browser tabs to prevent a video from Amazon from stuttering).
The Asus EeeBook X205 is a laptop for someone who likes the size and price of the typical Chromebook, but doesn’t understand why you’d want to buy a laptop that can’t run desktop Windows apps.
It’s also a laptop for fans of netbooks who have been using low-cost, portable Windows computers for years — but who want better performance than you could get from earlier models.
The Asus EeeBook X205 isn’t a laptop for folks looking for a high-performance machine for gaming or other tasks that would benefit from a faster (and more expensive processor). It’s also not a system for anyone looking for a machine that can store their entire music or video collections.
It has a good enough display and a fast enough processor for watching videos, playing casual games, or running productivity apps.
In other words… it’s a pretty good secondary computer for anyone who has a more powerful machine at home or at the office, but who doesn’t need all that power every time they go to a coffee shop.
Asus isn’t the only company offering this type of machine. The HP Stream 11 and Acer Aspire E11 sell for about the same price — and both of those laptops have Intel Celeron N2840 dual-core Bay Trail chips that should offer better performance (at least on single-threaded tasks).
But the EeeBook X205 weighs about half a pound less than either of those laptops and gets longer battery life than most full-fledged Windows notebooks in its price range.