The Asus C202, with its humongous keyboard font and rubber bumpers, may look like an alphabet-singing My First Laptop. But, this Chromebook is no fragile toy.
Designed with the student in mind, the Asus C202 is built to weather all types of day-to-day adversity, be it backpack G-forces, clumsy adolescent hands or careless tosses into the school's laptop cart.
Fortunately, parents won't have to bust open their piggy banks to pay for the C202. At $229 (about £159, AU$316) the C202 is cheaper than other education-oriented Chromebooks, like the touchscreen Dell Chromebook 11 ($329, £210, AU$380), and the Acer Chromebook 11 C740 ($279, £180, AU$379).
If the C202 were to channel a spirit animal, it would be the tortoise. It may run slow, but it takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
Like the tortoise, the C202's main line of defense is a rigid shell: dimpled plastic covers the laptop's lid and base. Additional shielding – thick, midnight blue rubber bumpers – runs along the C202's edges.
All this armor does not make for an elegant profile, but it does provide a good degree of ding, dent and drop resistance. According to Asus's tests, the C202 can withstand a 4-foot drop landing flat, and a 2.5-foot fall landing on its side.
Drops should be rare, however, as there's plenty of rough surface to grab: the aforementioned dimpled surface, as well as a rubber leg planted in the base.
The C202 is not easy to accidentally sweep off a table either (believe me, I've tried). Its rubber leg firmly sticks it to any surface. Just beware using this laptop on bare thighs. Rubber may love skin, but the affection is not reciprocated.
This defense-first philosophy continues with the C202's screen, hinge and bezel. The hinge allows the screen to tilt 180 degrees, a flexibility intended to safeguard the lid and hinge against sudden pulls or tugs. The large bezel provides plenty of grabbing room for lid-lifters too impatient to pick up the laptop by its base.
Despite all these reinforcements, the C202 is far from heavy. In fact, at 2.65 pounds, it's lighter than rugged rivals, like the Dell Chromebook 11 (2.91 pounds with touchscreen, 2.74 without) and Acer Chromebook 11 C740 (2.87 pounds).
The C202 also features repair-budget-friendly modular components. Thanks to the C202's modular design, a broken trackpad means only the trackpad will have to be replaced, not the entire input structure.
Inputs fit for the young and old
The C202's keyboard is your standard Chromebook fare: web navigation buttons on top, standard alphanumeric keys below. That said, the C202's keyboard is different in a few key (pun intended) areas, namely spill resistance, key travel and font size.
The keyboard repels up to 2.23 ounces of liquid, and any that leaks into the interior can be drained by merely flipping the laptop over. It's nice to know the laptop is saveable when the coffee goes flying.
But, in terms of features, it's not nearly as impressive as the C202's incredibly comfortable usability.
With two millimeters of travel, the C202's chiclet-keys descend so deep the Marianas Trench is jealous. And all that travel isn't undone by sponginess either: every key, from the top of the keyboard to the bottom, quickly bounces back after pressing. Even amateur typists will fly around this keyboard.
The C202's key font is comically large, a supposed aid to the new typist who might have trouble finding keys. Unfortunately, the extra benefit the enlarged font size provides is negated by the keys' blue-green color. In low light, the blue-green nearly disappears. A bland old white key color would have been far easier to see.
The C202's trackpad is as responsive as its keyboard. Multi-touch gestures are fluid (after all, it is a Chromebook) and the "click" is strain-free and forceful. Best of all, the trackpad is placed perfectly on the C202's keyboard deck. It never gets in the way.
A serious student
The C202 is a sub $300 Chromebook with rubber bumpers — an HD video, surround sound media machine it is not. This laptop stays home on Saturday night, drinks coffee and makes flash cards.
Its 1,366 x 768 resolution is average — both the Dell Chromebook 11 and Acer Chromebook 11 feature this pixel-count, too (though Dell does offer a touchscreen version of its Chromebook).
"Average" is the theme here. There's nothing exciting about the C202's display. Its colors are demure. Its viewing angles are frustratingly narrow. Its anti-glare coating is missing in action.
The laptop also pumps out audio as well as a transistor radio that's been dropped into a fishtank. The thin speakers are located near the base of the laptop, underneath the rubber bumpers, making audible, unmuffled sound an impossibility. To get any quality audio on the C202, you'll need headphones.