Review: Asus Chromebook C202

Introduction and design

The Asus C202, with its giant keyboard font and rubber bumpers, may look like an alphabet-singing My First Laptop. But, this Chromebook is no fragile toy.

Designed with the student in mind, the Asus C202 is built to weather all types of day-to-day adversity, be it backpack G-forces, clumsy adolescent hands or careless tosses into the school’s laptop cart.

Introduction and design

The Asus C202, with its giant keyboard font and rubber bumpers, may look like an alphabet-singing My First Laptop. But, this Chromebook is no fragile toy.

Designed with the student in mind, the Asus C202 is built to weather all types of day-to-day adversity, be it backpack G-forces, clumsy adolescent hands or careless tosses into the school’s laptop cart.

Fortunately, parents won’t have to bust open their piggy banks to pay for the C202. At $229 (about £159, AU$316) the C202 is cheaper than other education-oriented Chromebooks, like the touchscreen Dell Chromebook 11 ($329, £210, AU$380), and the Acer Chromebook 11 C740 ($279, £180, AU$379).

Design

If the C202 were to channel a spirit animal, it would be the tortoise. It may run slow, but it takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

Like the tortoise, the C202’s main line of defense is a rigid shell: dimpled plastic covers the laptop’s lid and base. Additional shielding – thick, midnight blue rubber bumpers – runs along the C202’s edges.

All this armor does not make for an elegant profile, but it does provide a good degree of ding, dent and drop resistance. According to Asus’s tests, the C202 can withstand a 4-foot drop landing flat, and a 2.5-foot fall landing on its side.

Drops should be rare, however, as there’s plenty of rough surface to grab: the aforementioned dimpled surface, as well as a rubber leg planted in the base.

The C202 is not easy to accidentally sweep off a table either (believe me, I’ve tried). Its rubber leg firmly sticks it to any surface. Just beware using this laptop on bare thighs. Rubber may love skin, but the affection is not reciprocated.

This defense-first philosophy continues with the C202’s screen, hinge and bezel. The hinge allows the screen to tilt 180 degrees, a flexibility intended to safeguard the lid and hinge against sudden pulls or tugs. The large bezel provides plenty of grabbing room for lid-lifters too impatient to pick up the laptop by its base.

Despite all these reinforcements, the C202 is far from heavy. In fact, at 2.65 pounds, it’s lighter than rugged rivals, like the Dell Chromebook 11 (2.91 pounds with touchscreen, 2.74 without) and Acer Chromebook 11 C740 (2.87 pounds).

The C202 also features repair-budget-friendly modular components. Thanks to the C202’s modular design, a broken trackpad means only the trackpad will have to be replaced, not the entire input structure.

Inputs fit for the young and old

The C202’s keyboard is your standard Chromebook fare: web navigation buttons on top, standard alphanumeric keys below. That said, the C202’s keyboard is different in a few key (pun intended) areas, namely spill resistance, key travel and font size.

The keyboard repels up to 2.23 ounces of liquid, and any that leaks into the interior can be drained by merely flipping the laptop over. It’s nice to know the laptop is saveable when the coffee goes flying.

But, in terms of features, it’s not nearly as impressive as the C202’s incredibly comfortable usability.

With two millimeters of travel, the C202’s chiclet-keys descend so deep the Marianas Trench is jealous. And all that travel isn’t undone by sponginess either: every key, from the top of the keyboard to the bottom, quickly bounces back after pressing. Even amateur typists will fly around this keyboard.

The C202’s key font is comically large, a supposed aid to the new typist who might have trouble finding keys. Unfortunately, the extra benefit the enlarged font size provides is negated by the keys’ blue-green color. In low light, the blue-green nearly disappears. A bland old white key color would have been far easier to see.

The C202’s trackpad is as responsive as its keyboard. Multi-touch gestures are fluid (after all, it is a Chromebook) and the “click” is strain-free and forceful. Best of all, the trackpad is placed perfectly on the C202’s keyboard deck. It never gets in the way.

A serious student

The C202 is a sub $300 Chromebook with rubber bumpers — an HD video, surround sound media machine it is not. This laptop stays home on Saturday night, drinks coffee and makes flash cards.

Its 1,366 x 768 resolution is average — both the Dell Chromebook 11 and Acer Chromebook 11 feature this pixel-count, too (though Dell does offer a touchscreen version of its Chromebook).

“Average” is the theme here. There’s nothing exciting about the C202’s display. Its colors are demure. Its viewing angles are frustratingly narrow. Its anti-glare coating is missing in action.

The laptop also pumps out audio as well as a transistor radio that’s been dropped into a fishtank. The thin speakers are located near the base of the laptop, underneath the rubber bumpers, making audible, unmuffled sound an impossibility. To get any quality audio on the C202, you’ll need headphones.

Specifications, performance and features

Considering their price and operating system, it’s no surprise that the Dell Chromebook 11, the Acer Chromebook 11 and the Asus C202 all contain Celeron processors. Dell’s Chromebook has more raw processing speed than the rest, but in an older, less efficient Bay Trail chip. The C202’s newer Braswell chip is at least a slight upgrade in terms of energy efficiency and heat output.

With only 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, all three Chromebooks are light in the memory department, though this is to be expected. With a Chromebook, you use Google’s cloud services for your storage needs.

The C202 doubles up on USB 3.0 ports, while the Acer and Dell Chromebooks offer only one — their second port slot is dedicated to USB 2.0. Here, the Asus C202 at least has a small, but not insignificant leg up on its rivals.

It’s worth mentioning that the C202’s Wi-Fi antenna is particularly potent. There are dead zones in my apartment where my cell phone, at best, achieves one bar of connectivity. The C202 however, in those same dead zones, ramps up to three bars.

Spec Sheet

Here is the Asus C202’s configuration sent to techradar for review:

CPU: 1.6 GHz Intel Celeron N3060 (dual-core, 2MB cache, up to 2.48GHz with Turbo BoostGraphics: Intel HD Graphics 400RAM: 4GB LPDD3Screen: 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 with anti-glare coatingStorage: 16GB eMMCPorts: 2 x USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, headphone/microphone combo jack, SD card readerConnectivity: Intel 7265 Dual-Band 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.2 supporting WiDiCamera: 1,280 x 720 HD webcamWeight: 2.65 poundsSize: 11.5 x 7.87 x 0.88 inches (W x D x H)

Like its spirit animal, the tortoise, the C202 is slow, especially when it comes to juggling multiple tasks. Media rich sites in particular will overwhelm it.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Asus C202 performed in our suite of Chromebook benchmark tests:

Octane: 8,303Mozilla Kraken: 3,913.8

As the benchmarks show, the C202’s JavaScript performance is mediocre. The Acer C740, for comparison, scored nearly 60% better on the Octane and Kraken tests,

In day-to-day use, the C202 handles multiple browser windows and applications well enough, but open too many and the device slows down considerably. Sites with pop-up and auto-play video often fail to load completely unless refreshed.

On techradar’s battery test, during which an HD Movie is continuously looped at 50% brightness and 50% volume, the C202 actually fares quite well: it lasts a school-day-ready 8 hours and 42 minutes. On the same test, the Dell Chromebook 11 only musters 8 hours of playback. But the budget Chromebook battery crown belongs to the Acer C704. At 9 hours and 35 minutes, it handily edges out the C202.

Verdict

The general public should and will stay away from the C202. But, educators and parents will appreciate its rugged chassis and cheap-to-buy, cheap-to-maintain design philosophy.

We liked

This Chromebook is built to last. Drops, spills, bumps and dents can send any device to the scrap heap, but the C202 takes its lumps in stride. And, if something does manage to put it down for the count, it’s easy-to-repair modular design gets it back on its feet quickly.

We disliked

Asus’s latest Chrome OS laptop is simply underpowered, especially when compared to similarly priced Chromebooks. More so than its poor visuals and audio, the C202’s shoddy multitasking is what really holds it back.

Final Verdict

The Asus C202’s purpose-built design ensures it will only ever attract a niche market: parents of school-age children, cost-conscious school boards and chronically clumsy Chromebook lovers.

If you’re looking for a Chromebook – and you’re not a member of the above niche(s) – there are plenty of zippier Chromebooks out there that are just as inexpensive as the C202. They may not have purpose-built rubber bumpers or a rugged chassis, but many do have warranties, and that’s often all you’ll need to keep them running.

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