A big boon for Chromebooks is the fact that they’re extremely cheap relative to traditional laptops. But who says that a cheap Chromebook has to have crappy hardware? The ASUS Chromebook C200MA-DS01 tries to be among one of the most affordable Chromebooks available, while at the same time providing some pretty decent hardware, especially for the price. Is this ASUS Chromebook a good buy if you’re in the market for a quality laptop replacement, or should you pass on it? Let’s take a look.
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About the ASUS Chromebook C200MA-DS01
The ASUS Chromebook C200MA-DS01 is on the cheaper end of the Chromebook market — at $249, it’s only bested by the Acer C720 in terms of price. However, for just $249 dollars, you’d expect pretty horrid specifications, but that’s not the case. The ASUS Chromebook C200MA-DS01 includes an Intel Celeron “Bay Trail” rated at 2.16 GHz (turbo up to 2.41 GHz), which is one of the newest Celeron chips.
It also comes with a 16GB solid state hard drive, 2GB of RAM, a webcam with an undisclosed amount of megapixels, and a 1366 x 768 resolution on the 11.6″ display. It even has 802.11ac WiFi and an advertised battery life of 11 hours. Yes, eleven hours. It also includes a combo audio jack, a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, and an HDMI port.
Like I mentioned earlier, it aims to be one of the least expensive Chromebooks around. The Acer C720 is cheaper, but it has a worse processor, only 802.11n WiFi, and a shorter 8.5-hour battery life. Another competitor is the Toshiba CB35-A3120, which costs a bit more at $279, has a shorter 9-hour battery life, but it does have a better processor and a 13.3-inch display. In my opinion, the ASUS Chromebook is a better choice compared to these two because it has respectable performance with its newer chipset, is lighter, has good build quality, and the best battery life around. And if you’re a road warrior, the extra battery life will be especially important as you’ll be much more likely to go through the day without having to stop once to recharge.
Other Chromebooks are also competitors, though not as directly since they are more costly (such as the $319 Samsung Chromebook 2, which we reviewed).
The packaging for the Chromebook is very straightforward. The box has an eye-catching exterior, and once opened, the Chromebook is featured in the middle; an owner’s manual and warranty information underneath, and then the power brick under the left cardboard fold. Like most other Chromebooks, there’s not much else to it — it’s simple and allows you to just plug it in and get straight down to work.
Design and Built Quality
The Chromebook has a very appealing black and silver design, where the entire display, keyboard, and outward-facing surfaces are black while the surface around the keyboard and the ports are silver. This is a good idea so that any scratches won’t be as noticeable as if this area was black as well.
Other than that, the design is very similar to other Chromebooks — the keyboard keys have the same font, the Caps Lock button is still replaced with a search button, and so on. The display is attached to the rest of the Chromebook similarly to MacBooks, which means it’s very stable.
As a reference to compare to other devices, this ASUS Chromebook has dimensions of 12 x 7.90 x 0.80 inches and a weight of 2.5 pounds. This makes it very easy to pack and go without being burdened by it.
The build quality is quite exceptional. There are no creaks, the materials don’t feel as cheap as they probably are (it’s completely plastic, by the way), and it sits firmly on a flat table. Everything just feels solid and not like anything should break. There is only one flaw for the build quality however — the trackpad. It simply doesn’t feel as solid as the rest of the Chromebook, and even rattles a bit if your finger happens to “bounce” a bit across the trackpad while you’re moving your finger around.
Considering that the display is only 11.6 inches diagonally, the 1366 x 768 pixel resolution is pretty impressive. That doesn’t mean it’s a high-density resolution display, but for a screen that small, ASUS could have gotten away with a lower resolution — but I’m glad they didn’t. The colors are vibrant and well represented, and the viewing angles are very good.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard on this Chromebook is fantastic. The keys are sufficiently spaced apart so that you don’t have to worry about hitting neighboring keys unintentionally, and there’s enough travel on each key press so that you get a very satisfying response to that you actually pressed a key, unlike shallow key travel which can make you wonder sometimes whether you actually pressed that key or not.
The trackpad, on the other hand, isn’t quite as nice. It’s acceptable and gets the job done, but it doesn’t feel very good. Out of everything, the trackpad is the only item that feels “loose” or generally has poorer build quality. You can definitely feel it whenever you’re clicking on the trackpad. It’s a bit annoying, but it still works and doesn’t always feel like that. You’ll be especially fine if you teach yourself to place your finger on the trackpad lightly as the issues are more likely to appear to if you drag your finger around with a good amount of pressure. A light touch will be recognized just fine and won’t cause any issues as described above.
Webcam and Microphone
Sadly, ASUS does not say how many megapixels the webcam has. However, I found out that the webcam runs at just 800 x 600 pixels, which translates into 0.48 megapixels. The microphone, which is on the left of the webcam, works acceptably as well. That is the only microphone it has which is why sound quality won’t be splendid, but like other items onboard, it’s good enough to get the job done. Between the webcam and microphone is the webcam operation indicator.
While these are very lackluster specifications, it does work. This is just one of the areas where sacrifices had to be made. But be assured that it will work well enough for Google Hangouts video calls and the like.
For a cheap Chromebook, I was expecting the speakers to be subpar, and I wasn’t completely wrong. The speakers aren’t great, but they also didn’t sound like tin cans. The sound quality was decent, but bass was lacking. The sounds come through small slits on the bottom, near the front edge. I personally think that these slits are too small and are part of the problem. In any case, the speakers are good enough for watching videos, so they get the job done.
Performance is very good for such a small system. The dual-core Bay Trail-based processor can boost itself up to 2.41 GHz, which is quite a bit more than most other Chromebooks. There’s virtually no lag anywhere — it just chugs along as it pleases. The only issue I did come across was when I tried to play some YouTube videos in 1080p. It did tend to stutter occasionally in that scenario, but you should probably be using 720p quality anyways as you’ll get virtually no quality benefit from watching 1080p (at least none that you can percieve on such a small screen), especially for the performance hit you’ll encounter.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to test out the wireless chipset’s true potential. The hardware can support 802.11ac, but that will only be enabled in an update released sometime in Q3 this year. Yes, it’s Q3 right now, but the support still hasn’t been released yet. I had to make do with 802.11n, which in all honesty isn’t the end of the world. It works well, as expected.
Never before have I seen an advertised battery life of 11 hours on a Chromebook. The previous record was approximately 9 hours. Of course I had to put this claim to the test, and I found that it doesn’t quite get the 11 hours that ASUS claims, but it did a very respectable 9.5 hours with a low screen brightness and some casual use (very small amounts of YouTube).
That’s still better than any other Chromebook that I’ve tested so far, and it’s even more impressive that you can get the longest battery life on one of the cheapest Chromebooks available at just $249. This is most likely thanks to the Bay Trail-based processor that’s included in this Chromebook, which means that it even beats both Samsung Chromebooks (the first and second generation) which use energy-efficient ARM-based processors.
Should you buy the ASUS Chromebook C200MA-DS01?
Now that we’ve taken a detailed look at every part of the Chromebook, how good is it with everything put together? Overall, it’s a very good Chromebook, especially for the price. It isn’t perfect, but it is definitely worth the money. Great build quality, good hardware, but a mediocre trackpad make the ASUS Chromebook C200MA-DS01 something to highly consider while shopping. I normally place a lot of importance on trackpads since that’s one of the most-used input devices, but the trackpad found on the C200MA-DS01 isn’t that debilitating, so I’m still okay with it.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it. It’s a great Chromebook, and worth the money despite the few imperfections.
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