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ASUS Laptop L210 11.6” ultra thin, Intel Celeron N4020 Processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB eMMC storage, Windows 10 Home in S mode with One Year of Office 365 Personal, L210MA-DB01

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I’m giving this little engine that could five stars. Why? Well, it’s two hundred dollars. So I’m reviewing it as a two hundred dollar product. If I was comparing it to a Macbook Air M1, it would probably be three stars. If I was comparing it to a Microsoft Surface, three and a half. But it’s a small, budget laptop, and in that category, it’s excellent.

QUICK RUNDOWN – It blows my mind how good of a job they did with this. I’ve used a lot of computers, and this one impresses me. If you’ve ever had a Chromebook, or even just a cheap (or perhaps even more expensive) laptop you’ll feel the difference immediately. It has a few issues, none of which are deal breakers, but it has many, many pros. Read on.

PROS —
Incredible Price to Performance Ratio
Very well built, with no cheap parts
Full-size, comfortable keyboard
Small and lightweight
Good design (add stickers if it’s a little too plain for you)
Full Windows 10 License, and no hardwired bloatware
Internal NVMe slot and external SD Card slot
I could keep going… it’s $200.

CONS —
No backlight keyboard (at least on the 11.6 model)
Some irksome viewing angle problems
Maddeningly little built in storage
Almost too little RAM
Realtek Wifi Card (explained why in the ‘Linux’ section)

I’ve divided the review into individual sections: webcam, speakers, performance, software, etc, so scroll down to the one that’s most important to you, or read the review from top to bottom. They are (in order):

Introduction (above)
Weight & Build
Keyboard and Trackpad
Screen
Battery
Performance (including Gaming)
Webcam
Speakers & Sound
Software
Linux
Other (SD Card Slot, NVMe slot, HDMI output, heating, cleaning)
Conclusion

Let me start with a few disclaimers. First, I’ve only been using it for a few weeks, which is about enough time to get a good sense of its mettle and iron out any problems it has. There’s been a few things I’ve noticed that I’ve added to this review, (see ‘performance’ and ‘screen’) and I’ll add more if more arise. No problem has been significant enough that it made me in any way wonder if it was worth. $200 is a really good price point.

The second disclaimer, is there’s a few reviewers saying either A, they got a dud, or B, it clunked out on them after two years. Duds happen, with any product, this is no exception. So if mine does decided to go on the fritz, I’ll update my review relative to the exchange process – I WON’T deduct stars *just* because it gave out. Second, if you get two years of solid use out of this, it’s a good product. Just buy another one.

With that being said, let me get into the details.

WEIGHT AND BUILD – This is one of its greatest strengths, and rivals many laptops in higher price ranges. There’s no creaks, no cheap plastic waiting to shatter, it’s not a flimsy toy. It’s a solid electronic. It feels right, in your hands, on your lap, on a desk. So many laptops try and woo you with larger screens or better specs [or, for the life of me, a lower price tag], and turn out to be cup coasters you have to plug in. Not this. It really feels like it has some life in it.

It’s not obscenely light, like a MacBook Air, but you can move about and use it on your lap without strain. If traveling’s your kind of thing, then the weight is sufficient. I would feel comfortable carrying it through an airport.

The screen hinge feels durable and like it won’t be breaking anytime soon, and when you set it at the position you like, it stays. The laptop isn’t super-ultra-mega thin, but it is thin, and that’s a nice bonus. You could probably fit it in an envelope, just maybe a slightly larger envelope then the one Steve Jobs used.

KEYBOARD AND TRACKPAD – The keyboard, I’m in love with. It’s full size; no cramping on tiny keys or accidentally presses. The give is decisive and gratifying, and it just feels good to use. The keyboard is actually the one (literally, the only one) thing I feel they cut a little too close to the corner on. There’s no backlight. It appears as those some of the models have a backlight, though I’m not sure, but mine doesn’t. (I got the 11.6 model). This can be a little frustrating, and I’m considering getting a book light so I can type in the dark. Again, this is a two hundred dollar laptop, so it is what it is. I’ll make due.

Another note, is they put the ‘delete’ key right next to the power key. Shucks. A few times, I’ve gone to press the delete key, and the computer goes into sleep mode. This is more of an inconvenience than anything. Just press the power button again and it will start right back up where you left off. Still, if you’re doing sensitive work, it’s something to consider, and I’m sure you’ll learn very quickly to be cautious.

Also, the ‘enter’ key is green. I thought this was strange, but I really like it. Hard to explain.

The trackpad is responsive and that click is also decisive and gratifying. I don’t have any issues accidentally pressing it while I’m typing, and it’s very good at doing what I expect it to. If I click or tap, the mouse clicks. If I click on the right, it right clicks. Scrolling is painless and intuitive and very nuanced. The numpad on the keyboard is a nice touch, though I would have traded it for a backlit keyboard.

SCREEN – Going back to where we started, this is a two hundred dollar laptop. You’re not getting an Apple Retina display. It has some minor viewing angle problems you’ll have to accommodate for. If you’re looking directly at it, everything looks good – pure colors, no whitening. If you turn it horizontally or bend the screen back, there’s a noticeable change in tone. It is what it is, and it likely won’t interfere with your work. Just don’t do color grading for professional photoshoots on it.

The screen resolution is just right. The screen is small, but there’s enough room to do what you want and then some. This is one of the most significant factors in comfort. If it were cramped, it would give you a headache and strain your eyes. But they did a good job of making sure there’s some breathing room with a healthy buffer zone around whatever it is you’re focusing on. You feel like you can move and engage in multiple things.

There’s a few reviews complaining it’s not a touch screen. You can’t please everyone. It’s not something I feel is missing, especially for $200.

BATTERY – The battery life is on point. The time remaining Windows estimates seems to vary quite a bit, but I watched two movies and used it for 4 hours, and still had 17%. It’s the kind of thing you can charge at night and it will last you the day under normal conditions. It also doesn’t have quick charge, another little cut corner, but I’m not stressing about it. Then again, I’m around a power outlet most of the time. If quick charge is an issue for you, you’re in the wrong price point.

Side note: the charging port really plugs in. You have to give it a little oomph to pull it out. Which can be a pro and a con. You definitely don’t want to trip on the cord; the whole thing will go flying off the table. But you can reposition the device without having to worry about the cord falling out.

PERFORMANCE – This is actually one of its biggest strengths, and really surprised me. All the components come together to create a seamless experience. I was nervous about the odd named Intel Processor (N6 something something) but it turns out, it’s actually an Intel Celeron. And only four gigs of memory? Doesn’t seem like quite enough. But it somehow manages to muscle out the minimum, and have some left over. My guess is, this is largely due to the SSD. Just a few years ago, laptop manufacturers had two options for storage: a physical hard drive, which was expensive, bulky, and a power drain, or some sort of memory like a thumb drive. Both were slow and huge bottle necks.

Well, this thing has a Solid State Drive. And that makes all the difference. With a decent processor, just enough memory, and the SSD, it will breeze through any routine task you ask it to do: open Microsoft Word, surf the web, torrent files, play music, and it will do it all without a hitch. Performance, under reasonable conditions, should never be a problem: you’ll never feel a pause or get frustrated.

I LOVE the original Warhammer: 40K: Dawn of War series. This plays it effortlessly, even with mods. Which is very welcomed. I can imagine it can also play Sins of a Solar Empire, Age of Empires, Among Us, Terraria, and maybe even Minecraft, if that’s your kind of thing. Check out GOG.com (great old games) and you’ll be surprised at what’s out there. If you are planning to do some light gaming, the NVMe slot will really come in handy.

IMPORTANT EDIT: After using it for some weeks, the lack of RAM is starting to become an issue. Windows has done a good job managing memory, but even day-to-day tasks can overwhelm it. This expresses itself as stalled applications, dropped Chrome tabs, or even system notifications that the system has run out of Memory. It did reach a significant error, though – everything went black, and after a reboot, Windows wanted to help set up my system (which is a big error.) Luckily everything was intact, my files, settings and programs. So it’s just kind of a startling headache.

I was running a few programs, nothing too demanding. So if you’re planning on using this for anything more then Spotify and Chrome, be forewarned.

WEBCAM – The webcam is about what you would expect. It’s a hefty 0.3 megapixels, but there aren’t any dropped frames, and the color processing is alright. If you need a webcam on the fly, it’ll due. If you use a webcam for any serious purposes, I would suggest investing in a nice one, which you were probably going to do anyway. The device will be able to handle it without issue.

Of special note, is the microphone, which is actually great. Audio comes through clear and audible, distinct and focused. If you do find yourself in a situation where you have to use the onboard webcam, the video quality won’t be great, but you won’t have any problem being heard and understood.

SPEAKERS & SOUND – The speakers are placed under the device, pointing directly down. You would think this would make them impossible to hear, but it projects and doesn’t distort the sound. I’ve watched a few movies, and haven’t had an issue hearing them – it gets plenty loud. I’m a bit of an audiophile, (though there are many more advance then I), and what I can say about these speakers is they’re passable. They’re not so bad that you’re getting irked with the sound quality, but they’re not so good you would enjoy Beethoven’s 5th. The various aspects of sound – the bass, and whatever else the other parts are called, are balanced and clear.

If you’re using it for casual media use, the lackluster sound quality will fade into the background and you’ll be able to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing.

The headphone amplifier is decent and it appears they didn’t skimp on it. I tested it with a pair of Sony MDR7506s (which are one-for-one studio monitors with a higher than average impedance.) The amplifier didn’t quit reach optimal levels, but it produced clear and pleasing sound. (and it does have a nice kick to it.) For an onboard amplifier, it’s more then adequate. If you’re a real audiophile and use an external amplifier, the primary factor to consider is if the sound it’s putting out can be boosted, and it definitely can.

SOFTWARE – There’s a few pieces of bloatware you’ll want to uninstall. McAfee, Skype, MyAsus. (if you don’t know what bloatware is, ask the techy in your family to remove it for you.) Fortunately, none of them are hard coded into the software or hardware, so uninstalling them is straight forward and simple and can be done through ‘Add or Remove Programs.’ The laptop does come in Windows S mode (which is suppose to be a simpler version of Windows, but has some bothersome limitations for power users.) They made it extremely easy to convert into regular Windows 10. I clicked a button once and haven’t had to worry about it since: full Windows 10.

LINUX – I’m not a super user when it comes to Linux. I do know enough to install and use it on a day-to-day basis, and for low-performance computers like this one, Linux is tantalizing. Unfortunately, the WiFi card in the system [as of 11/19/21] doesn’t work with Linux and there doesn’t seem to be any support on the horizon. Most people who need or prefer Linux have taken to using a USB WiFi antenna, an untenable inconvenience for most. Some people have been reporting switching out the NIC entirely, but I don’t know enough to speak about that.

OTHER – What I find really helpful is the SD Card Slot. The 64 gigs of storage it comes with goes REALLY quick. I like to watch, uh, documentaries in public domain (like ‘Joker’ with Joaquin Phoenix). It’s amazingly simple to plug in an SD card (I got a 256gb one for $45), set up uTorrent to load all the unfinished and finished torrents onto the card, and that solves the whole problem. Just about any SD card you buy will be fast enough to download movies and play one at the same time.

Other reviewers have pointed out it comes with a slot for an NVMe SSD. If you don’t know what that is, it probably doesn’t make much of a difference. If you do, it’s a very helpful addition. Hooray.

It has tons of ports, which is great. Two USB ports, a USB-C port, the above mentioned SD card slot, an auxiliary port, and an HDMI port. I’ve used the HDMI port on a full screen TV, and it works for watching a movie. The quality of the movie file will make a difference – but the sound compression changes that are necessary with downloaded media [generally done through VLC] help a lot. It’s not blu-ray, but performance doesn’t seem to be affected by what’s happening in a scene or the amount of sound.

If you’re planning on using this for presentations, it’s exactly what you want. Plug, play ‘n forget.

During normal, unplugged, use you wouldn’t be able to tell that it’s turned on just by the heat. If you’re running a process-intensive program or have it plugged in, it does heat up, but that’s normal. You can use it on your lap without a worrying. I don’t see heating being an issue. It’s also fanless, which is a big deal if you live in a dusty environment. You won’t slowly be running it into the ground just by using it, listening to the fan whir louder and louder as it tries to compensate for all the dust.

Side note: If it overheats, it’ll just turn off. It won’t hurt it.

I like to take good care of my computers, so ease of cleaning matters to me. Being fanless, that alleviates a lot of of the issues you would come across. Still, you can’t access behind the keyboard, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out. You might be able to remove each key and clean it out, which would go a long way, but I wouldn’t try it without doing some research and carefully weighing the benefits and risks.

Either way, do yourself a favor: buy a small pack of Q-tips, a little bottle of house hold cleaner (Pinesol works well), and lens clothes, and throw them in the bag or case you’re carrying the laptop in. Occasionally go over the keyboard with the Q-tips and wipe down the exterior, and the lens cloth will come in handy a lot more then you think. I don’t know if it will necessarily add to the life of the machine, but it will feel a lot better. And it’s worth taking some pride in your devices.

CONCLUSION – The bottom line is, is it feels good to use. Everything from the keyboard to the performance to the build quality makes it a very enjoyable and complete experience: there’s nothing really lacking that will get in your way. It’s spectacular for day-to-day use, and it’s got a little muscle to it. For $200, you’re getting a real product, and it even has something to say to higher end laptops. If you decide to go with this, I think you’ll be very pleased.

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