Asus X102B review
When you start to look at budget laptops, the first thing most people will tell you is to go with a Chromebook. Google's Chrome OS laptops from HP, Acer, and others are affordable, lightweight, and somewhat easy to use - so long as you've got an internet connection.
Asus is hoping to break that belief with the Asus X102B, a sub-£300 Windows 8 laptop that should service most kids and students looking to do their homework or coursework. It provides the familiarity of an operating system that allows you install pretty much any software you like and while working online or offline.
But does the X102B have what it takes to break Chromebooks' current rule or does it suffer similar weaknesses as a result of its entry-level price?
What do you get?
For the £300 cover price you get a 10.1-inch touchscreen LCD display and a full-sized keyboard all wrapped into a lightweight 1.1kg chassis that's nearly 3cm at its thickest point.
It's made from plastic and despite the budget price point it isn't flexible or flimsy like some competitors can be. Our model was finished in a fetching pink colour - not for everyone, of course - but back, white and blue options are also available.
Around the sides there are a pair of USB 2.0 sockets, one USB 3.0 socket on the opposite side, alongside an Ethernet port and even an HDMI out so you can connect it to a TV and enjoy content a bigger screen. There's an SD card slot for importing your pictures and files and a front-facing webcam for Skype calls and the like.
We found the keyboard to be responsive, well spaced out over the given space and easy to use for a laptop of this size.
However, the trackpad was a bit small and short for our liking, which was sometimes frustrating, but it's a similar experience to other products at this price point. Once we got familiar it was fine, but it's no Macbook Air.
The screen quality isn't the best you'll see on a Windows 8 laptop, but it is on par with similar Chromebook devices. That means a 1,366 x 768 resolution with reasonable brightness and so-so viewing angles - it's the latter that's among the biggest problem we've had with almost all Chromebooks we've seen, echoed again here in this Windows device.
However the inclusion of a touch-sensitive panel does mean you won't always need to use that trackpad. Swipe, tap and pinch at the screen to perform tasks and open apps with ease. It may make the screen look a little grubby, but gives the device more of a tablet-esque appeal that many will like. And if not then you're not forced to touch the screen.
Under the hood is an AMD A4 1GHz processor paired with 4GB of RAM, which is moderate rather than super-powered - but then you get what you pay for and this isn't a powerhouse. The processor means you will have to wait a while for certain apps to load, but like a heavyweight truck once it get up and running the experience isn't flows along merrily - so long as you don't need to do any drastic gear changes in demand.
Although you can install any Windows 8 applications, don't expect to be performing the most graphically demanding tasks. That means surfing the web, writing documents, or texting via Skype is no problem - which ticks the boxes of what most will buy this device for.
There is an element of you get what you pay for, but as that's just £300 rather than several hundred more we are still impressed overall with how much the X102B puts on offer.
Battery life is acceptable, although is quoted at five hours maximum per charge. What we're particularly keen on is the small scale of the charger cable - it's akin to a phone charger in size rather than a giant brick that's bigger than the laptop itself. Makes it easy to carry around and plug in on the go as needed.
If you are after the latest and greatest Windows 8 laptop then the Asus X102B can't claim to be that. But it does deliver for the budget and, in our view, wins compared to a Chromebook solution.
Although it's not always snappier than a Chromebook competitor, it's on par for the most part and there's that added depth from Windows 8 that, overall, makes it a more compelling offering. There's the ability to run almost any application, but in reality you'll be waiting quite some time for them to load before you can get going.
Our biggest issue with the Asus X102B is what it's not: you may instead want to buy a tablet with a keyboard dock as an alternative, given the better screen viewing angles, smaller scale and general versatility. Asus makes similar crossover devices, including the Transformer Book T100, so in terms of future-proofing the X102B gets a thumbs up for its touchscreen operation, but fails to excel in this post-PC era where there are so many other options.
The Asus X102B is a solid small-scale laptop that's affordable and capable for the basics. The only reason it doesn't score higher is because we're not convinced a laptop such as this is the best solution these days.