For some, using a computer means casually checking email, surfing the Web and watching YouTube videos. If that describes your habits and needs, the $249 ASUS Chromebook C200M may be a compelling option. This ultraportable offers more than 12 hours of battery life in an attractive 11-inch package, but how does it compare to similarly priced Chromebooks?
The ASUS Chromebook C200M is affordable, but it doesn't look cheap from the outside. The lid uses a metal-like black plastic material adorned with a silver ASUS logo. Under the hood is a matte silver deck with an island-style keyboard. The only light is a small green LED for power.
The C200M's hinge is a bit bulky and inelegant, reminding us of an old-school netbook. We wish the bezel around the 11.6-inch display were thinner; there's some wasted space here. A silver-ringed 720p webcam sits above the screen.
Measuring 12 x 7 x 0.8 inches and weighing 2.5 pounds, the C200M is quite portable. The $299 Dell Chromebook 11 is a bit bulkier, at 11.6 x 7.9 x 0.9 inches and 2.6 pounds, as is the Acer Chromebook C720p, at 11.34 x 8.03 x 0.78 inches and 2.98 pounds.
Click to EnlargeThe ASUS Chromebook C200M certainly isn't the brightest bulb in the box. At 220 lux, the C200M is brighter than the Toshiba Chromebook's measly 183 lux. But that's dimmer than the 251 nits average for most ultraportables. Viewing angles weren't great either. Colors started to reverse from about 40 to 45 degrees.
During an HD trailer of "Guardians of the Galaxy," explosions and nebulas appeared muted instead of awe inspiring on the C200M. The ship's edges weren't particularly sharp, and we observed some jumpiness in the video.
According to our color tests, the C200M can display only 59.7 percent of the sRGB color gamut (closer to 100 percent is better). The screen displayed colors with a Delta E accuracy rating of 10.7 (0 is perfect), which is far above the 6.6 average for ultraportables.
Dual speakers sit along the bottom left and right edges, which amplifies the sound when the C200M is on a hard, flat surface. We had no complaints about the subtleties of the chimes and string instruments in the background of Sinead O'Connor's rendition of "Black Coffee." Also, Jace Everett's booming bass came through with chilling vibrancy on "Bad Things."
While the audio sounded pleasant, it was loud enough to fill a small conference room, but not much more.
The C200M hit 79 dB on our audio test, which involves playing a tone and measuring it from 13 inches away. That is below the category average of 86. By comparison, the Toshiba Chromebook and Dell Chromebook 11 both reached a blaring 94 decibels, and the Acer C720p hit 91 dB.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe island-style, black keys on the C200M are nicely sized and spaced, creating a comfortable typing experience. The keys, which offered a nice deep 2mm of vertical travel and required a satisfying 65 grams of force to depress, were springy and comfortable. On our typing test, we averaged 63 words per minute with 97-percent accuracy, which is exactly in line with our average.
As a Chromebook, the C200M also features a dedicated row along the top with Chrome OS-specific keys for brightness and volume control, while also sporting Refresh, Forward and Back buttons. These come in very handy by providing all sorts of shortcuts, including one for grabbing screenshots. Not surprisingly for a budget notebook, the keyboard isn't backlit.
The 4.1 x 2.4-inch, buttonless touchpad was responsive, perhaps too much so as it went zipping around the screen at a pace that made us a bit dizzy. Luckily, that's easy to adjust in the settings. The touchpad is comfortably larger than that on the Dell Chromebook 11 (4 x 2.25 inches) or the Acer Chromebook C720p (3.5 x 2 inches), but smaller than the one on the Toshiba Chromebook (4 x 3.75 inches).
After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we measured a temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit on the Chromebook's touchpad, and a bit warm 93 degrees between the G and H keys. While both were below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees, the underside reached exactly that threshold temperature. The Acer C720p got similarly warm, while the Dell and Toshiba Chromebooks stayed cool.
Ports and Webcam
Click to EnlargeThe ASUS Chromebook C200M comes with the ports you'll need. Along the right side you'll find a power port, an HDMI port, a headphone jack, an SD card slot and a speedy USB 3.0 port. On the left edge is a USB 2.0 port and a lock slot.
The notebook's 720p webcam isn't stellar. A headshot taken in our office looked washed out, as the sun reflected off our pasty white skin. None of the selfies offered much detail.
Click to EnlargeGoogle's Chrome operating system is amazingly simple. After you boot, which only took us 8 seconds, the system asks for your Google account password. Then you're greeted by a blank screen with a few icons on the lower left bar. If you click the square where the Start button appeared on Windows 7 notebooks, you can see all your apps and the app store.
The bottom right bar houses the time, Wi-Fi and battery status. Clicking the bottom right corner will get you to the settings for everything from wallpaper and privacy features to printer management. This is also where you go to turn the C200M off.
Click to EnlargeChrome OS is intended for users whose primary goal is to get online. While Google does offer a few apps that work offline, most open in a Chrome browser window and require a Web connection to function. So, if you're concerned with email, surfing the Web or streaming 720p video, this may be the OS for you. Also, because apps are in the cloud and heavily sandboxed, Chrome is considered fairly secure.
However, if you're going to do a lot of photo editing, or if you will run legacy apps of any kind, you'll want to look elsewhere. The app selection is simply not yet up to par with other operating systems.
Click to EnlargeThe Chrome Web Store contains more than 33,000 apps (including Chrome extensions), according to a count from January on ChromeOSApps.org, a website that follows the platform. That's a far cry from the 100,000-plus apps for Windows 8. However, we were pleased to see familiar faces, such as Evernote, Mint and Spotify.
MORE: Best Chrome Apps 2014
Click to EnlargeOne caveat is that many apps for Chrome OS won't work offline. Or if they do, they offer limited usability. For instance, while we could play "Angry Birds," there was no saved data, so we had to start from scratch. And Evernote and the NYTimes apps were inaccessible offline. However, the Chrome Web Store features 59 packaged apps in the "For Your Desktop" section, which means these apps will work without an Internet connection. Key players in this area include Pocket, WeVideo Next and Sunrise Calendar.
Click to EnlargeDuring our use of the Chromebook C200M, we spent a lot of time twiddling our thumbs. For instance, during seven rounds of "Angry Birds," we twice had to wait several seconds for the next level to load, yet other times levels loaded almost immediately. We also found that some apps loaded more sluggishly than others.
This Chromebook pairs a 2.4-GHz Intel Bay Trail-M dual-core N2830 CPU with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of flash storage. Sadly, these components offered lackluster performance on our various synthetic benchmarks. The system scored a low 1,533 on the Peacekeeper browser test, which is well below the 2,203 ultraportable average. The Toshiba Chromebook scored a much higher 2,920, and the Acer C720P scored 2,749. But the Dell Chromebook 11 takes the cake on this test, with a score of 2,969. All three of those systems feature a 1.4-GHz Intel Celeron 2955 CPU, which is based on the more powerful Haswell architecture that's used in mainstream laptops.
Click to EnlargeASUS claims the Chromebook C200M should last at least 10 hours on a charge. We were happily surprised to see the machine last an impressive 12 hours and 25 minutes on our Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi at 100 nits of screen brightness). That's just a tad longer than the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air's epic time of 12:20, but shorter than the Dell Chromebook's 14:45. The ultraportable average is just longer than 8 hours, while the Toshiba Chromebook's score of 8 hours also pales in comparison. The Acer Chromebook C720 lasted 6:20.
Click to EnlargeThe $249 ASUS Chromebook C200M offers exceptional battery life in an inexpensive and highly portable laptop, and normally that would be enough for a recommendation. However, competing Chromebooks offer more for the same price. For instance, the $299 Acer C720p has a touch screen and much better performance; the $299 Dell Chromebook is also more powerful and manages to deliver longer battery life, and the $279 Toshiba Chromebook offers a larger display. Even when it comes to budget notebooks, some are better values than others.