Asus EeeBook X205TA review

Thin, light and bundled with a year of Office365, the Asus EeeBook X205TA is a Chromebook beater and a real bargain

5 Dec 2014
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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
180
inc VAT
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Specifications

Processor: Quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3735F, RAM: 2GB, Size: 286x193.3x17.5mm, Weight: 980g, Screen size: 11.6in, Screen resolution: 1,366x768, Graphics adaptor: Intel HD Graphics , Total storage: 32GB eMMC

Google's super cheap, cloud-based Chromebook program has given Microsoft a real headache in recent years. These low-cost machines get oodles of free cloud storage and access to Google's powerful web-based tools such as Docs and Sheets, and until now Microsoft hasn't managed to come up with a viable alternative. That looks set to change with the Asus EeeBook X205TA, which could be the first genuine challenger to Google's devices. It's a light, thin and cheap laptop that comes with cloud storage and Microsoft Office.

BUILD AND SCREEN QUALITY

For a £180 laptop, build quality is hugely impressive. The 11.6in EeeBook X205TA weighs 980g, making it one of the lightest laptops we’ve ever tested, but this lightness hasn’t resulted in compromised construction. The plastic chassis doesn’t feel nearly as cheap and nasty as some of the other budget laptops we've tested. We actually found its smooth corners and squared-off edges rather attractive.

Just two USB2 ports are found on the right edge of the X205TA, and there are no USB3 ports whatsoever, which is slightly disappointing. You do at least get Bluetooth in addition to 802.11n Wi-Fi, so you can connect wireless peripherals easily. On the left is a microSD card slot, a headset jack and a micro HDMI port for hooking the laptop up to an external monitor. The built-in speakers are fine: they’re loud, bright, and just a little tinny so you’ll definitely want a pair of headphones if you’re going to be watching videos and listening to music.


The screen isn’t particularly good, although the 1,366x768 pixel panel is no worse than the screens you’ll find on other cheap laptops. In our calibration test it was only able to display 54.7 per cent per cent of the sRGB colour gamut, while the 437:1 contrast ratio and fairly narrow viewing angles are nothing to shout about. Images with bright colours look somewhat washed out, and this is made worse if you're viewing the screen from an angle that isn't straight-on. Careful adjustment of the hinge is required to get the best viewing experience. Our main concern is that the screen doesn't have a matt coating, which means it is very susceptible to being obscured bright interior lighting and sunlight.

The keyboard, meanwhile, is surprisingly capable. The keys don’t have a huge amount of travel but they’re light, responsive and not in the least bit spongey, making them perfectly acceptable to work on for hours on end. The touchpad is responsive, too, meaning navigating around Windows and using multi-fingered gestures is easy.

PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE

Being so small and cheap, we had tempered our expectations for the EeeBook X205TA’s performance. In order to be a good buy, it needed to be able to run a web browser with plenty of tabs open, handle a few videos and, of course, run all of the Office applications without fuss. In our time with the laptop we didn’t run into any major problems, although with Google Chrome, Word and Excel all open around 1.5GB of the maximum 2GB of RAM was in use at all times. You’ll have to exercise a little restraint if you’re a heavy user.


The quad-core, 1.33GHz Atom Z3735F procssor inside the X205TA is from Intel's new Bay Trail-T range. Bay Trail-T is normally found in cheap Windows tablets and its presence in a fully-fledged laptop did initially cause us some concern. Our worry was short-lived though: in our challenging multimedia benchmarking tests it managed an overall score of 19, where 100 represents a Core i5 desktop machine. A score of 19 at this price is actually fairly impressive, and while Windows 8.1 doesn’t exactly feel snappy and super responsive with this chip, we weren’t left twiddling our thumbs waiting for programs to open either. Web pages with lots of elements such as images, videos, comments and advertising will take a few seconds to load, though. You also won’t be able to do advanced tasks such as photo and video editing, and the latest games are well beyond the reach of this machine, but at this price you really can’t ask for much more.

The X205TA is completely silent thanks to its fanless design, and we never noticed it getting uncomfortably warm. We were impressed by the machine's boot times too: it took just 15 seconds to go from a cold boot into Windows 8.

Bay Trail-T is also supposed to be power-efficient, and this rang true in our light usage battery benchmark. The X205TA lasted 8 hours 47 minutes hours on a single charge, meaning a full day's work is well within its reach.

WORKING IN THE CLOUD

There is one big problem for users who like to have all their files stored in one place: just 9.5GB of the 32GB eMMC flash storage was available after we’d installed Microsoft Office and Google Chrome. As a result, you can’t treat this laptop like you would any other general purpose machine. Instead, you’ll need to fully embrace the cloud, streaming your music from services such as Spotify or Google Play and storing your bigger files on OneDrive. If you really need more space, you could use a large microSD card to expand your storage, but this will neither be fast nor cheap.

The X205TA comes with a one-year subscription to Office365 and 1TB of OneDrive storage, which is worth £60. It's a generous offering, and one which you'll find on some other cheap Windows laptops from the likes of HP Toshiba. Chromebook buyers, by comparison, get 100GB Google Drive storage for two years, which is worth less in monetary terms but perhaps slightly more attractive because you pay nothing for two years. We prefer Microsoft’s offer because both its browser-based Office Online applications and Windows-based software are more fully featured than Google’s Docs, Sheets and Slides. You’re also given a free two-year subscription to Asus’s WebStorage service with 500GB of space, but this is a completely separate product you won’t be able to combine with OneDrive.

No Office365 products come pre-installed on the laptop. Instead, you’ll need to use the code found on a sheet of paper inside the box to activate your subscription. Once activated, you’ll be able to install Microsoft Office (including Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Access) on one smartphone, one tablet and one Windows PC. 

CONCLUSION

Asus has done a very impressive job to make such a capable machine costing so little. If you’re happy to take your work to the cloud and don’t mind paying a yearly fee of £60 for Office365, the Asus EeeBook X205TA is a terrific buy, even when compared to our favourite Chromebooks.  If you’re happy to spend slightly more and reject the cloud completely, the Acer Aspire E3-111 would be a worthy alternative: it's more powerful and has a 500GB hard disk.

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Core specs
Processor Quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3735F
RAM 2GB
Memory slots (free) 1 (0)
Max memory 2GB
Size 286x193.3x17.5mm
Weight 980g
Sound Realtek HD Audio (3.5mm headset port)
Pointing device Touchpad
Display
Screen size 11.6in
Screen resolution 1,366x768
Touchscreen No
Graphics adaptor Intel HD Graphics
Graphics outputs Micro HDMI
Graphics memory Shared
Storage
Total storage 32GB eMMC
Optical drive type None
Ports and expansion
USB ports 2x USB
Bluetooth Yes
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi
Memory card reader microSD
Other ports None
Miscellaneous
Operating system Windows 8.1 "with Bing"
Operating system restore option Windows 8 recovery
Buying information
Parts and labour warranty One-year collect and return
Price inc VAT £179
Details www.Asus.com
Supplier www.very.co.uk
Part number X205TA-BING-FD15BS

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£180