This review was originally published on April 23, 2016
Update: We added the results of our Chromebook drop test to the durability and drop test section of this review.
Whenever you hand a laptop to a child, you can expect that they're going to drop it, and in many cases, it may not survive. The $199 Asus Chromebook C202 ($229 as tested) will help kids avoid that fate, thanks to its durable chassis that's designed to take its fair share of bumps and bruises. Beyond the C202's rough-and-tumble exterior is an excellent keyboard and a battery that lasts over 8 hours on a charge, making it a strong choice for elementary schoolers or anyone who might let it slip.
Although it's a very small laptop, the Asus Chromebook C202 feels like it can take a punch. Built to stand up to the kind of punishment that can only be doled out by school children, the C202's dotted plastic lid and bottom are surrounded by a rubberized protective ring that serves as armor against drops. The dark-blue rubber and gray plastic make the C202 look like the official Chromebook of the New York Yankees, but the only logos are Asus' and the Chrome moniker on the lid.
When you open the lid, you'll see a plastic silver deck with a black, Chiclet-style keyboard featuring blue lettering. The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display is surrounded by a chunky, navy-blue bezel.
As a result of the rugged exterior, the C202 is heavier and thicker than its competitors, weighing 2.6 pounds and measuring 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.88 inches. The HP Chromebook 11 (2.2 pounds,11.7 x 7.6 x 0.7 inches) is the lightest of the bunch, and the CTL Chromebook J4 Plus (2.46 pounds, 11.42 x 8 x 0.76 inches) is a close second. The Lenovo 100S Chromebook rounds out the competition at 2.52 pounds and 11.81 x 8.23 x 0.78 inches.
Durability and drop test
Asus claims that when the C202 lands flat, it can survive falls from 3.9 feet, and when it lands on its side, it can survive drops from 2.6 feet. Additionally, the spill-resistant keyboard should handle 2.23 ounces of liquid.
I took the Chromebook up to our office roof for some drop testing, and the Asus earned some battle scars but kept on kicking. When I dropped it on its side from 2.6 feet, the C202 came away with just slight scuffs on its rubberized rings.
When I dropped it on its side from 2.6 feet, the C202 came away with just slight scuffs on its rubberized rings. When I did a 3.9-foot drop, I heard a snap when it hit the concrete and immediately sensed that something had gone wrong. Upon opening the laptop, I was relieved to see that the system was still fully operational, but saw that the plastic cover had fallen off the hinge, making it difficult to open and close.
It turned out that all the C202 needed was a little TLC. After carefully closing the lid, we snapped the hinge cover back into place, which was no harder than putting the back of a phone on after changing the battery.
After returning the C202 to full working order, it was time to put those spill-resistant claims to the test. I spilled a quarter of a cup of water on the keyboard. The water beaded and rolled off the keyboard for the most part, but a quick flip upside down drained the computer of any residual fluid. A few seconds and a couple of paper towels later, the keyboard continued to work as normal.
Asus' drop test claims seem accurate based on the results of our Chromebook drop test. With a durability score of 7, the Asus C202SA landed in sixth place out of 11 of the most popular Chromebooks. Weak spots include the laptop's top bezel, which separated after we dropped the laptop from 4.5 feet onto concrete and carpet.
If you do break the C202, you're in luck -- it's designed to be easy to repair. Parts that tend to break more often, such as the keyboard, have been separated from other components. In a genius move, the power jack has its own circuitry attached, so you don't need to remove the whole motherboard. It takes only four steps to disassemble, provided you have a pry tool and a Phillips-head screwdriver.
Keyboard and Touchpad
This is one of the best keyboards I've ever used on a Chromebook. The keys have 2.1 millimeters of travel and require 60 grams of force to press, resulting in an extremely comfortable typing experience.
On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 114 words per minute (faster than my usual range of 100 to 110 wpm) with my usual 2 percent error rate. Students will blaze through assignments with the C202. My only wish is that the keys were a little more spaced out, but it clearly didn't cause any typing issues.
MORE: Best Asus Laptops
The touchpad required just the right amount of force to click, but I found its default settings a little too sensitive, which made the pointer hard to control. However, after I changed the pointer speed, the pad was extremely accurate and comfortable.
The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 screen on the C202 isn't sharp, but it's as crisp as you can expect from a Chromebook at this resolution. Just don't expect a wide range of colors. I viewed the 1080p Ghostbusters trailer and found that the red on the Ghostmobile was tinted slightly pink, while Slimer's green goo was paler than it should have been.
The display averaged 250 nits of brightness on our light meter, barely beating the Lenovo 100S Chromebook (244 nits). Both the CTL Chromebook J4 Plus (256 nits) and the HP Chromebook 11 (267 nits) were brighter but still dim compared to the ultraportable laptop category average of 305 nits.
The C202's screen reproduced just 58 percent of the sRGB color gamut on our tests -- the same as the Lenovo 100S Chromebook. The J4 Plus hit 74 percent, and the Chromebook 11 showed off 62 percent.
The display registered a Delta-E color accuracy score of 2.8 (the closer to 0, the better), beating the 100S Chromebook (4.6). The J4 Plus had a very accurate screen with a near-perfect score of 0.4.
Ports and Webcam
There are only a few ports along the sides of the C202, but they're all the essentials that students in classrooms will need. The majority of the ports are on the left side: HDMI, USB 3.0, a headphone/microphone combo jack and an SD card slot. The right side houses another USB 3.0 port, the power jack and a security lock slot.
A selfie I took with the 720p webcam had a lot of visual noise. The colors were mostly accurate (with the exception of my face, which looked a little red), but the skylight behind me was completely blown out.
I didn't expect loud, booming sound to come out of an 11-inch Chromebook, but the C202 punched above its weight class. I listened to Twenty One Pilots' "Stressed Out" and found that the mids and lows were clear and the bass was decent. When I pumped up the volume to its max, the sound became slightly muddled.
With a 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron N3060 processor and 4GB of RAM, the C202 isn't a performance powerhouse, but it's fine for writing book reports or even manipulating spreadsheets. Just don't do too much multitasking. The browser started to lag when I scrolled through websites with only six tabs open.
Our go-to graphics test, WebGL Aquarium, measures performance by displaying a large number of fish in a tank and measuring frame rates. The C202 did well in this benchmark, showing 50 fish at a smooth 60 frames per second, but it began to buckle at 1000 fish. The J4 Plus managed 58 fps for 50 fish, the HP Chromebook 11 switched between 53 and 57 fps and the 100S Chromebook managed 45.
On Browsermark, which evaluates speed based on browser actions like resizing the screen and loading web pages, the C202 scored 2,434. This mark trumps those all of the Asus' closest competitors.
Students should be able to use the Asus Chromebook C202 throughout the school day without being tethered to an outlet. The laptop lasted 8 hours and 23 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which consists of browsing the web continuously over Wi-Fi. That's longer than the CTL Chromebook J4 Plus (6:39), the HP Chromebook 11 (7:10) and the ultraportable average of 8:12. But it was still outclassed by the Lenovo 100S Chromebook's whopping 11:19.
Students will be able to keep their cool in the classroom when using the Chromebook C202. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from Hulu, the touchpad stayed frosty, at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and the center of the keyboard reached 82.5 degrees. The underside hit 95 degrees, which is right at our comfort threshold.
Software and Warranty
Chromebooks run Chrome OS, which is largely browser based. If you've ever used Google Chrome, you'll have no trouble using a Chromebook. The desktop features a menu bar similar to what you would find on Windows, including pinned apps, a clock and easy access to settings. Almost everything else, including the apps, is opened in Chrome tabs.
Like most Chromebooks, the C202 doesn't come with much software, other than Google's apps. Asus includes a program to register your new laptop, but that's it. There's no software specifically for education, despite that being the notebook's primary purpose.
Google's preinstalled apps include Chrome, Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Drive and Play Books. The Chrome Web Store offers a variety of apps, ranging from productivity programs like Microsoft Outlook to games like Spelunky. Most apps require you to be connected to the Internet, though some, such as Gmail Offline, work without Wi-Fi.
There's only one major difference between the two configurations of the Asus Chromebook C202 is the RAM. The version we tested with 4GB of RAM costs $229, while the base model with 2GB of RAM will run you $199.
The Asus Chromebook C202 is a notebook worthy of the honor roll. It offers a durable shell, a very comfortable and spill-resistant keyboard, long battery life, and decent (though somewhat mixed) performance. This laptop is a tad heavier than competing machines, but it should still be in one piece when kids inevitably drop it on the floor.
If you're a student or light user who needs even more than 8 hours of battery life and don't require a lot of durability, you should check out the Lenovo 100S Chromebook, which will last over 11 hours on a charge and costs just $179. However, if you want an extremely durable, affordable and usable Chromebook for your child, the Asus Chromebook C202 is your best choice.