Asus EeeBook X205 review - hands on: is the netbook back from the dead?

Asus kicked off its IFA press conference with a surprise announcement; the resurrection of the EeePC low-cost laptop brand in the shape of the EeeBook X205 . Set to launch at a rock bottom € 199, we couldn't wait to see if there's still life in the netbook category, so made sure to get some hands-on first impressions once the presentation wrapped up.

Asus has used polycarbonate plastics, which weigh next to nothing, making the EeeBook incredibly light. At 980g, it's lighter than the power adapters you'll find bundled with other laptops, so you should be able to throw it into a bag and forget it's even in there. Despite the plastic construction, it still felt film when folded flat, so you shouldn't have to worry about it taking damage when in transit.

Despite the thin dimensions, the full-size keyboard still felt comfortable to type on. Each Chiclet-style key has a surprising amount of travel, with a springy action that means you should be able to type throughout the day without getting achey wrists. The touchpad, which Asus says is around 36% larger than the average laptop, was just as comfortable to use, even though Asus has opted for an all-in-one touchpad which we usually detest on Windows laptops.

The 1,366x768 resolution screen might not be able to compete with Full HD panels found on most tablets, but it looked more than adequate for word processing and web browsing. The LED backlight was impressively bright, so although viewing angles weren't the best and reflections were a bit of a pain under the bright show lights, for general office work it should be perfectly legible.

It was difficult to notice on a busy trade show floor, but the X205 is fabless, meaning it stays entirely silent when powered on. We couldn't judge performance without running our benchmark suite, but Intel's Bay Trail Atom chip has proven perfect for light tasks like web browsing and multimedia. Even with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, it should be able to handle most basic desktop tasks smoothly. Considering you get the full version of Windows 8.1, not a cut-down version as was the case with the netbooks of old or Windows RT tablets, you'll be able to install any programme - not just the ones Asus or Microsoft approves.

Connectivity is basic; a necessary sacrifice to keep the laptop as thin as possible and to keep costs down. You get two USB ports on one side and a 3.5mm audio jack, micro SDXC card slot and micro HDMI video output on the other, although with Bluetooth you'll be able to pair more wireless devices.

Although the EeeBook is certainly an impressive amount of laptop for the price, it remains to be seen whether there's still any demand for netbook-style machines in a world filled with excellent budget tablets that are perfectly capable of web browsing, social networking and multimedia playback. It's certainly a compromise, but the keyboard, long battery life and light weight could mean the netbook still has a place.

We'll know when customers start peaking with their wallets, when the EeeBook X205 goes on sale throughout Europe later in the year. When it does, we're hoping to bring you a full review.

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