There was a time when the netbook category was quite popular, as it gave a lot of people an affordable entry-point into owning a portable computing device, at a time when smartphones were yet to go mainstream. Asus had its own netbook series which was called the EeeBook and had some innovative designs such as the Bamboo series. Then came the era of tablets which gave you an alternative to carrying a portable computing device and gradually the relevance of the netbooks started decreasing. Considering most of the netbooks came with low power Atom processors, the amount of work you could do on the netbook was limited. Also with the tablets getting sleeker, and coming with powerful processors, no one wanted to carry around a thick netbook. For all practical purposes, the netbook category was laid to rest.
Or was it?
Chromebooks started making their appearance couple of years back and over the years we have seen more companies jumping onto the Chromebook bandwagon. We even reviewed the Acer Chromebook C720 and had some mixed reactions about the product. Chromebooks also come at an affordable price point, and house similar SoCs seen on a lot of tablets and smartphones. Clearly with the rise of the Chrome OS sporting Chromebooks, Microsoft’s concerns were on the rise.
Asus releasing a netbook in a sleeker form factor, although with the same Atom series of processors, seems like they see a market for entry-level laptops coming bundled with Windows 8.1. So will the EeeBook X205TA be the rebirth of the Netbook category? Will the Chromebook category suffer as a result? Let us find out as we go along.
Build and Design: 7/10
The first thing that strikes you as you hold the Asus EeeBook X205 in your hand is the lightness. It weighs in at just 980 grams, and with just 17.5mm thickness on the sides, this is one notebook that does not add much weight to your back pack. The hinge mechanism is good and overall build quality is sturdy. You can open the flap and stretch it beyond 120 degrees and the EeeBook still stays steady with the centre of gravity preventing it from toppling over. Although I did notice a slight wobbling of the display on mild tapping.
The EeeBook X205TA comes in four colours and we got the white-coloured model. It has a glossy white plastic flap on top with silver sprinkly element on the plastic. That is the only glossy part of the X205TA apart from the glossy display. The rest of the EeeBook is covered with matte finish plastic. Considering this is a fanless system, there are no vents on either side of the X205TA or any side for that matter.
Keyboard and Trackpad: 7/10
The chiclet keyboard has well-spaced keys, and someone moving from a full size laptop to the EeeBook will have the initial annoyance while typing, but over time it gets better. I could comfortably type on the EeeBook thanks to the tactility of the keys. Although it may look like the keys do not have enough travel, but they get the work done. In fact, this whole review was typed on the EeeBook, which points to the fact that the keyboard lends itself well to long typing sessions. Having said that, people with large palms may find the keyboard a bit congested.
The trackpad is quite large and is a single slab of plastic. For a netbook, such a huge trackpad is quite unconventional. Asus claims to have used the same touch technology it uses with its smartphone touch displays. On the whole the mouse response is good, but the single button for left and right clicks can be a bit annoying. The trackpad supports gestures such as two-finger pinch, webpage scrolling and Windows 8 edge gestures.
Asus EeeBook X205 continues with the tradition of using a low power Intel Atom processor. However, as compared to the processors used in 2011 and 2012, the current generation Intel Atom processors are much more power efficient and thereby not needing a fan to cool it down. The X205 houses the Intel Atom Z3735 which is a quad-core processor clocked at 1.33GHz housing the Intel HD graphics. This comes paired with 2GB of DDR3L memory. The 11.6-inch display comes with 1366 x 768 pixel native resolution.
Unlike the netbooks from the past, majority of which came without an OS installed (and the ones which did come with the OS, charged a premium), the X205TA comes with Windows 8.1 out of the box. It offers 32GB of eMMC flash storage and out of this only 21GB is available to the user. So if you are planning to store huge amounts of data on the machine, it is best to have a portable hard drive to go with this or you can invest in a microSD card of higher capacities. Else, you can use Asus’s proprietary web apps such as Asus Web Storage which offers 500GB of free cloud storage for 2 years. You also get one-year subscription to full versions of Word, Excel, Outlook and other MS Office products.
Considering it comes with the Atom Bay Trail processor, the performance numbers are not the best. In terms of benchmark tests, the EeeBook lags behind the more powerful Core series notebooks. This is expected. But when it came to real life scenarios where the EeeBook will be used, it performs well. For instance regular applications work fine (and no Photoshop CS5 does not come under that category). Multi-tab browsing does not slow down the system. It has a capable set of speakers which are loud enough to work in a single room, but not enough to drown out traffic noise.
PC Mark 8 gave a score of 1483 marks whereas Cinebench R11.5 gave a score of 1.04 points. The 3D Mark’s Ice Storm benchmark gave a score of 12437. Thanks to the flash storage, you get a theoretical read / write speed of 126.8 / 49.54 MB/s respectively.
The 11.6-inch display comes with a 1366 x 788 pixel resolution. The colours appear vivid and text appears legible. There was no point while using the laptop, that I had to strain my eyes to read what I was typing. Watching movies is a good experience on the X205TA, but do not play high bit rate full HD movies on this, there will be a lot of stutter. HD movies played back without any hitch. The black levels are not the best and I did see a minor backlight bleed along the corners of the display. As for games, only the entry level ones will work.
Battery life: 8/10
The Asus EeeBook X205 comes with a 38 Whr battery and promises a 12-hour battery life. A 12-hour battery life is a tall claim and we ran the PC Mark 8 utility which gave a battery life of 8 hours 35 mins. Now while this may certainly not equal the 12-hour claim, in the netbook category this is quite a long-lasting battery. The standby time is also quite impressive. The EeeBook X205 can easily last you a working day, and you can easily extract close to 9-9.5 hours on regular use case. It also retains the battery life quite well, when in the idle mode.
Verdict and Price in India
So does the Asus EeeBook X205TA offer better value proposition than the Acer Chromebook C720? I would have to say yes, for the simple reason that this is a more familiar OS and you can use your regular Windows applications online as well as offline to get work done. The two issues that we had with the Acer Chromebook C720 included terrible display and bad keyboard – both areas where Asus EeeBook X205TA offers a better solution.
Who is it meant for? Certainly the student community comes to mind. And at Rs 14,999, the Asus EeeBook X205TA is cheaper than most smartphones out there. It certainly comes with its limitations and should not be treated at par with proper laptops housing Intel Core series processors. But if your work involves working on word documents, making power point slides for project work, the X205TA is a good bet if you are on a budget.
The major flaws include limited on-board storage capacity and USB 2.0 ports. Sure Asus promises 500GB free cloud storage for 2 years, but 21GB storage is too low and will be a major hindrance for a lot of potential buyers. In 2014, when majority of external portable drives come with USB 3.0 standard, it is just stupid not to have at least one USB 3.0 port on the netbook.
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