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Laptops

Asus resurrects the netbook with the tiny, affordable EeeBook X205

Asus is hoping you'll prefer the small, cheap EeeBook X205 notebook to a tablet. But is a return to netbooks a smart move, or misguided?

With its line of EeePC machines, Asus was a major player when it came to netbooks, the special breed of very small, cheap laptops that were popular for a few years from around 2007, before being entirely killed off by the rise of tablets and cheaper, fully fledged laptops.

Asus is resurrecting the concept with its new X205 notebook, which will cost roughly £200 in the UK and €200 in the rest of Europe (which is approximately $265 or AU$280, although US and Australian launches are yet to be confirmed). Can this new Windows 8.1 machine possibly compete?

Tablet fighting

Asus has taken pains to ensure the X205 is as slim and portable as possible. With an 11.6-inch display, 17.5mm depth and 980g weight, this computer is much chunkier than a tablet, but certainly thin enough to comfortably fit inside a rucksack or large handbag.

Where the X205 does a better job of taking on tablets, however, is its port selection. Whereas Apple's iPad features only a charging port, and Google's Nexus 7 is bare but for a microUSB socket, the X205 nets you a micro-HDMI port, a microSD slot and two USB 2.0 ports. That's not as many options as you'll find on a full-sized laptop, but at least plugging in a mouse and an external hard drive will be very little hassle.

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Asus

The X205 is powered by an Intel Atom Z3735 processor, backed up by 2GB of RAM. That's not one of Intel's more powerful chips, and suggests that you'll be frustrated if you try to use this computer for things like gaming, or editing high-resolution photos. The 11.6-inch display has a 1,366x768-pixel display, which isn't especially high for a screen this size, especially compared to the pixel count you'll find on new smartphones and tablets.

No touchscreen

One really glaring omission is a lack of a touchscreen -- something that could very easily have made the X205 a more tempting alternative to a tablet. The problem is compounded when you consider the Windows 8.1 operating system that powers this computer, which was designed to be prodded on touch-capable screens.

It's possible to navigate Windows 8.1's colourful tile-based homescreen using a trackpad and keyboard, but the experience can be frustrating, and certainly isn't as intuitive as using an iPad or Android tablet, something to bear in mind if you're considering buying the X205 for a less tech-savvy friend or relative. Asus hopes to make up for the lack of a touchscreen with a larger trackpad, which we'll be putting to the test when it comes time for the full review.

Outlook

The X205 comes in white, black, red and gold options, and comes with either 32 or 64GB storage. It's expected to go on sale in the last three months of 2014, with a starting price of around £200. It's an interesting prospect that could appeal to students looking for a dirt-cheap computer -- in our full review we'll be looking at whether it's a better bet than a tablet.

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