No company has a longer history of building affordable 2-in-1 devices than Asus. It entered the market way back in 2011 with the Transformer TF101, an Android tablet with keyboard dock, and has kept at it ever since.
The company’s focus has changed, however, as Android proved inadequate for laptop use. The release of Windows 8 gave Asus the chance to jump ship, and it took the opportunity with glee. Today, the Transformer line is all about Windows, and it scales up to devices like the Transformer Book T300 Chi which, in its most powerful configuration, can exceed $1,000.
But Asus hasn’t forgotten its roots, and the company still puts most of its effort into perfecting affordable, approach 2-in-1s. The Flip TP200SA, its latest offering, is an unusual mix of cutting-edge and last-generation features. It makes due with an Intel Celeron N3050 dual-core and a 720p display, but it also includes a USB 3.1 Type-C port and the latest wireless connectivity.
Priced at $350, the new Flip is certainly within reach for most buyers, and it even includes a convertible hinge that makes the system usable as a tablet. Is this a budget do-it-all PC, or does it try to do too much with too little?
The Asus Flip TP200SA may be inexpensive, but it doesn’t look or feel cheap. Available only in a handsome navy blue, the system wears a brushed aluminum display lid and a plastic, faux-aluminum interior. This is a typical choice, but Asus’ approach works better than most. The plastic feels sturdy, and panel gaps, while present, are kept out of sight. You’ll find flex if you look for it, but in day-to-day use the Flip is solid.
Like most 2-in-1 devices, this Asus has a 360-degree hinge, and is converted into a tablet by pushing the display back until it touches the laptop’s bottom. The power and volume rockers are positioned on the left flank of its lower half, as well, so they’re easy to access in either mode. You won’t find any other concessions to tablet use, though. The display’s bezels are thick and the hinge itself doesn’t feel secure when pushed into tablet mode. Even the slightest touch from an errant thumb can separate it.
The 2-in-1 design does introduce an unfortunate drawback – poor balance. Pushing the display too far back in laptop mode can make it prone to tipping over, which could result in a laptop-killing accident.
Connectivity includes two standard USB ports, one of which is 3.0, as well as a USB Type-C port. It is for data only – not charging the laptop. Mini-HDMI, a MicroSD card reader and a combo headphone/microphone jack round out the options. This is good selection for the price, and the Type-C is particularly nice.
This notebook’s 11.6-inch display means it’s far from large, but its thick bezels provide a bit of extra room. Asus has used that to squeeze in a reasonably large keyboard. The keys feel a bit odd because they’re smaller than most, but there’s good separation between them and plenty of key travel. In fact, the TP200SA can rival the typing experience of the best Chromebooks.
In day-to-day use the Flip is solid.
A backlight is missing, but that’s no surprise. Few systems in this price range offer it.
Below the keyboard you’ll find a large touchpad that’s about twice as wide as it is tall. It provides plenty of space and is responsive to user input, but not too sensitive. Multi-touch gestures work fairly well. In fact, the main problem with the touchpad is system performance, a subject I’ll explore in more detail shortly. While gestures work, the system sometimes struggles to keep up with user input.
Related: Acer Aspire Switch 10 E review
The same can be said of the touchscreen. It works, but it often feels hindered by the budget hardware it’s paired with. At least the thick, unattractive bezels provide plenty of space to grip the screen, making the system easy to hold in tablet mode while you wait.
The 11.6-inch touchscreen in the Asus TP200SA offers 1,366 x 768 resolution, resulting in 135 pixels per inch. That’s not bad for a notebook, but the lack of clarity becomes an issue during tablet use, where fonts and other fine details look jagged and blocky.
Our calibration utility found the screen can render only 68 percent of the sRGB gamut, which isn’t a great result, but it’s better than most inexpensive notebooks. The display also boasted solid color accuracy and a shockingly good maximum contrast ratio of 770:1. That puts it in league with laptops that cost two or three times more.
I measured a maximum brightness of 256 lux. The best notebooks can exceed 300 lux, but this result isn’t bad. The screen is glossy, though, so in certain situations the backlight fails to overcome glare, which can make this Asus hard to use. In direct sunlight the display becomes almost unreadable.
Using the Flip is like trying to travel at rush hour.
Even so, the Flip’s excellent contrast makes it a winner when the lights are dimmed. Colors seem to leap off the screen and shadowy details are revealed in all their glory. Though the resolution is not impressive, the screen’s other attributes make it one of the best to be found in a budget notebook.
Audio quality is also strong. The speakers are well balanced, loud, and don’t distort at maximum volume, which is high enough to fill a small room with music. Most users won’t see a need to augment the system with external speakers. The only downside is location – Asus has positioned the speakers on the bottom-front of the notebook, so they can sound muffled when used on your lap.
Our review unit arrived with an Intel Celeron N3050 processor paired with 4GB of RAM. The CPU is a 1.6GHz, dual-core chip based on the “Braswell” architecture used to power other Atom and entry-level Pentium products. On paper it’s not an expensive nor powerful chip, and that certainly proved true in benchmarks.
The Asus TP200SA has the shame of offering the worst processor performance we’ve seen from any system in 2015, losing even to the Acer Aspire Switch 10E. Compared to the Toshiba Satellite Radius 14, which has a basic Core i3 processor, the Flip serves up less than half the single-core performance, and one third as much multi-core performance.
The hard drive doesn’t save the Flip TP200SA. Its 64GB solid state drive hit sustained read speeds of 136.3 megabytes per second, and sustained writes of 58.85 megabytes per second, in CrystalDiskMark’s sequential testing. That’s slightly below the Acer Aspire Switch 10E, which hit 165MB/s in reads and 80MB/s in write. It’s also way behind a typical ultrabook SSD. The Dell XPS 13, for example, exceeds 400MB/s in both reads and writes.
And here’s another shocker – graphics performance is not good.
The Cloud Gate score of 1,490 actually does exceed the Acer Aspire 10E by a reasonably large margin, but even so, the Asus TP200SA is among the worst computers we’ve recently tested when it comes to graphics. Even older 3D games will struggle, and new titles may not load at all.
The net result of all this? An excruciatingly slow experience. Using the Asus TP200SA is like trying to travel at rush hour. Even the simplest task takes far longer than it should, and sometimes progress comes to a halt for no obvious reason.
Long battery life, cool operation
Though small, the notebook manages to equip a rather large 38 watt-hour battery. That, in combination with the power-sipping Celeron, makes for excellent battery life. We measured seven hours and 49 minutes of endurance in the heavy-load Peacekeeper web browsing benchmark. Our less demanding web browser macro, which includes significant idle time, extended life to just over ten hours.
That’s a very, very good result for a system that costs $350 – in fact, it’s the best we’ve seen from any laptop that sells for less than $600. The Flip TP200SA is also light at 2.65 pounds and thin, at just .73 inches thick. There are systems with a thinner profile or lighter chassis in the same price range, like the Acer Chromebook C670, which is 2.4 pounds. But that’s not much of a difference, and the battery life is worth a few extra tenths of a pound.
There’s another benefit to the Celeron, and that’s heat, or rather lack thereof. Even at full load the TP200SA barely warmed above room temperature, in spite of the fact it’s passively cooled. We saw a maximum of 87.8 degrees on our IR thermometer.
Asus ships the TP200SA with a one-year warranty, the typical standard for notebooks no matter the price.
I wish the Asus TP200SA was allowed to reach its potential. In many areas the notebook is an excellent budget system. It’s attractive, has a decent keyboard, is reasonably light, lasts a very long time on battery, and even serves up a high-contrast display. But all of that doesn’t matter because there’s something holding it back.
Nothing can match the performance of Intel’s Core line, but budget notebooks like this Asus can’t afford to use them. Instead they must make do with derivatives of Atom, and they don’t deliver the performance a modern notebook needs to shine. The Asus TP200SA isn’t just slow. It’s at times so under-equipped that tasks grind to a complete halt. Want to encode a long, 1080p film to a different resolution and format for your smartphone? I hope you have a half-hour to spare!
Even basic web browsing is a chore, and in 2015, that’s unacceptable.
Unfortunately, that means the notebook itself doesn’t matter. Even if it racked up another point with a 1080p display, I still could not recommend it – especially not at $350. As inexpensive as that may seem, the $100-ish price gap between a notebook like this and the Toshiba Radius 14, which has a Core i3 dual-core, is too small.
If you want to spend this little on a notebook, buy a Chromebook. And if you don’t like Chrome OS, then you need to keep saving your pennies. The well-designed Asus TP200SA should be proof that budget Windows notebooks can compete. Instead, it only proves the bottom-rung processors forced into these systems need to be thrown in a deep, dark pit, and forgotten.
- Good keyboard
- USB Type-C port
- High-contrast display
- Long battery life
- Tends to tip in laptop mode
- 720p resolution
- Frustratingly slow