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Do you think it's possible to get a usable fully-fledged Windows 10 laptop for under £200 (~$280)? That's what ASUS aims to deliver with its entry-level Vivobook E200HA, which will set you back just £179.99 (inc. VAT). We found it online for as little as £160.
When you consider that the 11.6-inch Acer Chromebook R11 that we recently reviewed edges over £200, you might well be tempted by a laptop that does all the cloud stuff as well as offering on-device capability. But surely there are some pitfalls?
The Vivobook E200HA is a small machine, its 11.6-inch screen sitting in a chassis that measures 28.6cm by 19.33cm by 1.75cm. It's the kind of computer you can drop into a messenger bag or small rucksack with ease, and you'll barely notice its 0.98kg weight.
If you care about keeping your laptop looking good then the Vivobook E200HA will need some sort of sleeve, as its plastic shell is easily scratched. But that won't add much weight or bulk.
The chassis comes in a range of colours. Ours was a sort of pinky bronze that ASUS calls 'gold', but we've also seen it in blue and white.
The screen's large-ish bezel makes it look a little bit lost, but neither that nor the fact that it's not touch sensitive is a big problem. The moderate 1,366-by-768 resolution (135 pixels per inch) resolution is only to be expected at this price point.
The display's 16:9 aspect ratio makes this laptop well suited to watching movies -- in theory at least. In practice it's disappointing: colours are quite washed out despite ASUS's Splendid technology, which apparently automatically fine-tunes the display depending on what you're viewing to deliver the best colour support.
Sound quality isn't that good either. Volume goes high enough, but there's very little bass on offer. Oddly, the volume also had a tendency to restart at a much higher level than we'd set it when waking up from sleep.
The keyboard is rather better, stretching across the full width of the chassis, with a double-width enter key and a half-height Fn key row. The keys are reasonably responsive with a full 1.6mm of travel, and we didn't experience any problems typing.
The touchpad is relatively large, and recognises both cursor movement and gestures well. The embedded buttons are also efficient, although single taps -- to relocate the cursor in text, for example -- were sometimes not recognised. Perhaps the touchpad didn't like our customary light touch, as it responded well to a more heavy-handed approach.
The processor is an Intel Atom Z8300 running at 1.44-1.84GHz, supported by 2GB of RAM. This quad-core Cherry Trail processor made its debut about a year ago and is designed for entry-level/low-end Windows and Android devices. It's certainly not made for heavy-duty workloads. If you plan to restrict yourself to web browsing, media streaming, email and document creation/editing you should be OK -- but don't expect to do too much of anything simultaneously.
In fact, the Vivobook E200HA is slow even at basic tasks. Files don't open particularly quickly, for example, and it took a couple of seconds for Windows File Explorer to recognise our USB stick.
You might be able to live with this, but there are other ways in which the processor displayed its lack of muscle. You won't want to have too many web pages open at the same time, for example -- and the more complex they are, the fewer the Vivobook E200HA will be able to handle.
To illustrate this we ran three simultaneous data streams through Microsoft Edge: continuous music videos; a live International Space Station feed with only occasional sound as astronauts communicated with ground control; and a soundless animation. Even with just these three streams to contend with, video was unacceptably jerky as we moved into and out of full-screen mode.
That said, the Vivobook E200HA was perfectly happy writing direct to a Google Doc via the Edge browser at the same time. Occasionally the music video sound skipped a little, but the document had no trouble keeping up with our typing.
Although the Atom Z8300 with 2MB of RAM isn't great for complex multitasking, you should be able to run several basic tasks at once without too much trouble.
ASUS claims 13 hours of life for the 2-cell, 38Wh battery if you're playing video, rising to 14 hours for music and falling to 12 hours for web browsing.
We're not convinced. One of our longer continuous-use sessions was a four-hour period with the three video streams above running alongside Google Docs. We dipped in and out of other apps during this period, and there were occasions when the laptop went to sleep.
During this period the battery ran down from 96 percent to 56 percent. Extrapolating a loss of 10 percent charge per hour, we might expect ten hours of life for this kind of activity. That would still get you through a day, but it's well short of ASUS's claim.
Our review unit came with Windows 10 Home preinstalled, but Windows 10 Pro is also available. You also get a year's free access to Microsoft's Office 365. There's dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.1 for wireless connectivity, and a VGA webcam for video calling (remember that VGA is only 640 by 480 pixels).
Our review unit had just just 32GB of internal eMMC storage, and fresh out of the box only 8GB was free. Check the storage on your smartphone and you may find it has more.
You get 500TB of ASUS WebStorage for two years, and can use other cloud platforms as well as external physical storage. What's available in storage capacity is little different to what a Chromebook offers.
There are two USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0. Unfortunately the HDMI port is Micro-HDMI, and ASUS doesn't provide a converter. The only other connector is for your headset. Completing the minimal port/slot complement is a Micro-SD card slot.
ASUS has designed the Vivobook E200HA to meet a very challenging price point, and has made a fair stab at the task. Yes, the onboard storage is woeful and the processor can't cope with more than basic multitasking. The screen is somewhat lacklustre too. But the whole thing does hang together, albeit in a somewhat stuttering and frustrating way at times.
The Vivobook EH200A might find its level as a first computer or as a laptop that supplements tablet-only households. That said, if you are currently looking at Chromebooks, it's probably worth including this in your mix.
Whatever your reason for considering this laptop, don't simply be lured by the price: make sure you can live with its shortcomings.