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In Pictures: 5 things we love, hate about the ASUS X205 notebook

The ASUS X205 is a Windows 8.1 notebook designed to halt the encroachment of Chromebooks into the low-end Windows notebook market.

  • ASUS X205 The ASUS X205 is a Windows 8.1 notebook designed to halt the encroachment of Chromebooks into the low-end Windows notebook market. At $199, the X205 matches the cheapest Chromebooks. We found that the X205 is definitely more than able to serve as a secondary computing device -- the kind of notebook you take with you to the coffeehouse, classroom, or while traveling. But it handles web browsing and watching streaming video with such ease that we found it tempting to use as a primary machine while at home.

  • LOVE: THIN, LIGHT AND EASY TO HANDLE This is one of the lightest notebooks you can buy with an 11.6-inch screen, weighing at under 2.2 lbs. It’s a bit lighter than the HP Chromebook 11, which is one of the lightest Chromebook models at 2.3 lbs, and even lighter than the 11.6-inch screen MacBook Air (2.4 lbs). With its lid shut, the X205 has a very slight wedge profile. I found it comfortable to hold with one hand whenever I had to, whether its lid was closed or fully open, without feeling as if my wrist was straining.

  • HATE: SMUDGE-PRONE The X205 is available in four colors: black, gold, red and white. Its bottom, lid, and keyboard paneling are a finely matted plastic. Unfortunately, this material easily picked up smudges from my fingers and hands no matter how much I would keep my mitts washed. In slight contrast, the bezel and keyboard keys both appear to share a plastic that has a rougher surface, which protects them from being stained as easily.

  • LOVE: PRICE/PERFORMANCE For $199, you get 2GB RAM and a 64-bit Intel quad-core processor that clocks in at 1.33 GHz. The OS is 32-bit version of Windows, Windows 8.1 with Bing. There’s also a 32GB eMMC drive, but there’s barely 13 GB of free space. However, X205 owners get 500 GB of online storage for free for two years on ASUS’ WebStorage service. Microsoft also gives 100 GB of online storage on OneDrive, also for free for two years.

  • HATE: WINDOWS UPDATES Windows 8.1 worked as expected when the X205 was first booted up, and the OS took me through the steps of setting itself up on the notebook. Afterward, I manually checked for any updates that were available, going through Windows Update, and there were almost 700 MB of patches to install. After letting them download and install, I checked again and there were more official updates (around 200 MB).

  • LOVE: PRE-INSTALLED APPS A few third-party Windows apps are pre-installed: Flipboard, Line (a social-networking chat service), Netflix and Twitter. ASUS provides desktop programs to adjust the audio and display of the X205. They also include Windows app and desktop versions of front-end software to access your files stored on WebStorage. This notebook also comes with a free 1-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365

  • HATE: KEYBOARD Although the keys are obviously spaced apart from one another, once I started typing, they seemed to feel more tightly placed near one another. I was able to adjust my fingers, but these keys also may feel as though they recede into the panel a bit too much. In particular, the spacebar appears to have been intentionally set a tad lower than the other keys. Because it’s positioned right below the spacebar, it can be easy to accidentally tap the touchpad with your thumbs if you type with your palms rested on the keyboard panel. Your palms might also come into contact with this large, wide touchpad. These possibilities explain why there’s a hot key to switch off the touchpad.

  • LOVE: SOUND Two speakers are set toward the front corners on the bottom of the X205’s casing. When they’re turned up to full volume, they manage to blast out sound that feels surprisingly powerful from such a small notebook. The sounds, which are amplified with an impression of bassy fullness, come out toward the user as well as seem to erupt from this notebook’s sides. Likewise, listening with a good pair of earbuds (not included with this notebook), I found that the sound output from most sources (e.g. streaming music and video) was sufficiently loud enough that it was most comfortable to set the volume from 40 to 70 percent.

  • HATE: USER-FACING CAMERA The user-facing camera has a low-resolution sensor. It captures still images and video at only 640-by-480 pixels. Using Windows 8.1’s Camera app, the visual quality looked smudged -- certainly not sharp with defined edges. This gauzy effect was like a photo editor filter used to make a photograph look like an impressionistic painting.

  • LOVE: VIDEO The X205 showed no issue with lower high-definition video: Videos on YouTube played flawlessly at 720p resolution. At 1080p, playback would stutter at varying points -- but this resolution is greater than this notebook’s maximum number of pixel rows (768). So you’d probably want to stick with playing video at 720p on it anyway. I nudged the X205’s capabilities by installing a few traditional Windows desktop applications (Adobe Reader XI, LibreOffice, Paint.NET and VLC media player), each of which functioned decently enough.

  • HATE: UPGRADING MAY BE TRICKY If you’re a Linux enthusiast, you may be thinking this would make a great Linux notebook. However, settings under its BIOS do not include the option to boot from USB flash memory stick or other external source. This also means you can’t boot up the Windows 8.1 recovery tool written onto a USB flash memory stick, in case something goes wrong with the OS to where you can’t start it. And what about upgrading to Windows 10 when it’s released? At least based on its Technical Preview version, Windows 10 requires more than 16 GB of free space to install, but there’s less than 13 GB available on the X205. Hopefully, ASUS and Microsoft will come up with something.

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