The netbook has now come full circle. From a tentative, innovative product released by Asus back in 2007 with the original Eee PC 4G 701, the netbook went from strength to strength, finally evolving into elegant and award-winning budget ultraportables like the Toshiba NB550D. However, now netbook popularity is on the wane again. This is due in part to convertible tablets like the Asus Transformer Pad 300 offering better screens and longer battery life in a thinner, lighter chassis, and partly due to the sharp drop in price of more premium 13in laptops, of which older models can now be easily found for under £400.
With more and more companies not refreshing their netbook lines anymore, the company that started it all is one of the last bastions of the humble netbook. Today we’re looking at one of Asus’ latest models, the X101CH, to find out if the netbook is worth keeping alive.
The X101CH suffers from many of the classic limitations we’ve come to associate with a netbook. Advanced connectivity like USB 3.0 is not available, the 10in screen sports a sub-par 1,024 x 600 resolution, and at its heart remains an underperforming Atom processor backed by a mere 1GB of RAM with Windows 7 Starter running the show.
On the other hand, the X101CH is thin, light and attractive, adds HDMI thanks to its newer chipset (where most older netbooks only offered analogue video out through VGA), brings a fanless design to the table that means this ultraportable runs almost noise-free, and it also offers ‘instant-on’ wake-up from standby - despite using a slow hard drive rather than hybrid SSD/HDD storage.
At least where its design is concerned, Asus has everything pretty much spot-on too. You can’t expect the most premium materials or build quality at a price of around £210, but the X101CH is nonetheless solidly built. Its matt textured finish is also relatively rugged and provides a good grip. It’s available in black, white or red/black.
Thin and light are also on the menu, as the X101CH maintains a profile of just 22mm and weighs exactly 1KG (1.001kg in our measurement). That’s both thinner and lighter than most rivals, which is more important than ever in a market where specs, connectivity and screen type/quality are necessarily restricted. The one-piece power adapter is also worth mention, as it’s compact and quite attractive with a handy blue LED.