Affinity Consulting Blog

We've just endured/survived another Black Friday. I made only a single stop. That was at my local Staples store. Staples had the Asus X205TA Windows 8.1 notebook computer on sale Black Friday for just $99.99. That is the cheapest Windows laptop I have ever seen, and I've always liked the Asus brand. So I made an impulse buy.

My local store is small and the Asus was not in stock. No worries. The sales clerk led me to the in-store kiosk and I placed the order for free home delivery. The process took just a minute or two, aided by the fact that I already have a Staples account complete with all of my payment and delivery information.

The Asus arrived today via UPS. Upon unboxing and powering it on, I discovered that its Intel Bay Trail process allows it to be fanless. It has a small and light AC adapter/charger not much bigger than a cell phone charger. The connector ever looks like a micro USB plug. But it isn't. It is a proprietary rectangular plug that, like Apple's Lightning connector, is two sided. It can be used either side up..

This Asus model doesn't have a touch screen, which is understandable given the price. However, the 11.6 inch display is bright and sharp. The keyboard seems good too, but time will tell as I put it through it paces doing legal work.

Picking up the Asus revealed that it is very light weight. I use and love my Acer C720 Chromebooks (one regular and the other touch-screen). Ths Asus X205TA is considerably lighter than either Chromebook. The spec sheet says it is 2.16 pounds. The Acer C720 is a bit over 2.75 pounds.

The Asus has only a 32 GB SSD onboard, and a big chuck of that is taken up by the Windows 8.1 installation. I may add a micro SD card for additional storage if the nearly 15 GB of free space starts to feel cramped. I have a few spare micro SD cards laying around from old cell phones.

When I stop to think about it, adding a micro USB card will probably be unnecessary. I keep my files on my OneDrive cloud storage. They will be downloaded onto the Asus as needed. I have an Office 365 subscription that is currently at 10 TB of storage. It will soon go to unlimited. I like the security and convenience of storing my files on OneDrive. I will always have the same files, all current, available to me on any machine with an Internet connection.

This month, I will use the Asus as much as possible in my Michigan family law appellate practice. As the month progressed, I will post updates. At the end of the month it should be clear whether a $99 laptop running Windows 8.1 has any productivity value for a busy lawyer.

Update 12/6/14: I used the Asus most of the day yesterday, including a conference call with several fellow appellate attorneys via Skype while simultaneously using Chrome and Word. It managed the multitasking without bogging down. In no way is it as zippy as my Surface Pro 3 with a Core i5 processor, but it was not unpleasant to use. I was on my lanai (Florida-speak for screened patio) a long way from my wireless router at the opposite side of the house, but the wireless signal remained solid and the Skype call (voice only) had no dropouts.

When I awoke this morning, the Asus's small 32 GB SSD was nearly full. I am not sure if the settings carried over from my Surface Pro 3, but a number of large folders in OneDrive were marked as "Make available offline" meaning they were sync'd down to the SSD on the Asus. That was not good, so I right-clicked on those folders in Windows Explorer and reset them as "Make available online Only." Slowly the sync'd files were removed and my SSD space began to reappear. I left only my current active case folders syncing to the Asus SSD. I may go ahead and get a micro-SD card anyway despite my earlier thought to stick solely with the internal storage.

After a full day of use, I remain impressed with how light this thing is. Carrying it is like carrying a magazine.

If you are intrigued by this cheap little Windows 8.1 notebook PC, Staples still has it on sale, but for the slightly higher price of $149.99 with free shipping.

Update 12/7/14: Each morning I take my dog, Pauline (a Golden Retriever/Chow mix), down to our neighborhood dock on Tampa Bay at the mouth of the Manatee River. Usually I take just my phone and Bluetooth headset to listen to legal or tech podcasts. Today I brought the Asus with me. We have a Bright House Networks wi-fi hotspot at our community clubhouse. The range when using my phone is only about 75 feet for a usable wi-fi connection that reliably keeps my online.

Much to my surprise and delight, I am sitting at the end of our dock about 300 feet from the clubhouse typing this. The wi-fi on the Asus still has a decent signal despite the football field distance from the hotspot, keeping me online. I find this amazing and surprising for such a cheap device. I am really starting to like this thing.

Update 12/17/14: As part of my role as Treasurer for a small non-profit, I had to obtain quotes for liabiity insurance for the organization. The agent sent quotes in some sort of secured PDF file that my usual PDF reader (the otherwise excellent Notable PDF Viewer and Annotation Extension for Chrome) would not open. So I downloaded and installed on my Asus X205 the free Adobe Reader. While it successfully opened the PDF file containing the insurance quotes, it also gobbled up RAM to the point that I received from Windows 8.1 Low Memory warning. In my two weeks with this machine, I did not receive a Low Memory warning until I installed Adobe Reader. Now that insurance has been obtained and I don't need to open this type of secured PDF file, I plan to uninstall Adobe Reader and stick with Cloud-based and seemingly more memory-efficient Notable PDF for my PDF viewing and annotation on the Asus X205.

I've been carrying the X205 with me nearly everywhere I go. Although I have not done a comparison using a proper scale, it feels lighter to me that my 4th generation iPad when paired with its Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. Who thought a Windows 8.1 laptop could be a lighter alternative than an iPad with keyboard cover?

Update 12/18/14: I actually weighed the Asus and my iPad 4th Generation with its Logitech Ultrathin keyboard cover. To my surprise, the Asus was two ounces heavier. It may feel lighter because it is less dense. It is about the same height at the iPad, but a couple of inches wider.

I've also had occasional problems with the Asus touchpad losing its ability to two-finger scroll. Yesterday, Asus posted an updated Asus SmartGesture utility on its web site. I installed it and it seems to have corrected the problem.

Update 12/23/14: I wrote an appellate brief over the weekend using the Asus. It ran MS Word 2013 and Adobe Acrobat and Chrome simultaneously without a problem. But who wants to have all of those applications open on a 11.6 inch screen? Not me, so I connected by USB-driven AOC external 16 inch monitor.

I was not sure the tiny and cheap Asus would be able to power the external monitor using only one of its two USB ports (my mouse was connected to the other). Yet it worked just as it works with my much more expensive (and superb) Surface Pro 3. What a nice surprise.

I didn't try to display video or anything fast moving on the external display. I split the AOC's display to have Word on one half and Acrobat on the other while having Lexis open in Chrome on the Asus' internal display. It worked well enough to allow me to be productive on a $99.99 laptop and a $70 external monitor purchased from Woot on clearance.

Update 01/05/15: Crap happens. No, not to the $99 laptop that is the subject of this post, but to me. I just spent five days in the hospital and narrowly avoided major abdominal surgery (so far, anyway). This was not a good thing, but there are always lessons to be learned from negative experiences. On my way to the ER on 12/31, along side the extra undewear and socks, I stuffed the Asus X205 laptop and charger into my tiny book bag. I was pretty sure my problem was serious and that I would be admitted into the hospital for at least a few days. I was right. But a few days stretched to five.

The little Asus came in handy when, on New Year's Day from my hospital bed, I drafted and electronically filed and served an emergency motion to adjourn an appellate court date that I clearly could not make thanks to my unexpected medical condition. Given the pain medication I was on, I am almost afraid to go back and re-read what I wrote, but the documents were filed, served, and the adjournment was granted. There are probably many portable devices on which I could have done this, but being able to fire up familiar MS Word, draft my documents, convert to PDF, open my regular web browser (I use Chrome), and get the job done on a real keyboard was nice. It was also nice to use it to complete work on Affinity's January 2015 email newsletter.

Update 01/31/15: The little Asus has been a joy to use in most ways. My only complaint is that the lid is a real fingerprint magnet. The same is not true for the bottom or the deck surrounding the keyboard and touchpad. I often buy "skins" to jazz up my portable devices anyway, so I decided the Asus needed a skin not only to make it look snazzy, but also to reduce the horrible smudging on the lid. So I picked the Blue Carbon Fiber skin from DecalRUs for $17 plus tax and shipping. It is a reasonably good match for the existing blue plastic body of the Asus and does not show fingerprints. It is also grippier than the bare plastic, reducing the risk of dropping the laptop. The kit includes a carbon fiber texture skin for the touchpad as well. I installed it, but I am not completely sold on having so much texture on the touchpad. I like the smooth feel of the touchpad's unskinned surface. I may remove the touchpad skin at some point.

Actually, I do have a second complaint. The power connector end that plugs into the Asus is non-standard. It is about the size of a micro-USB plug, but like Apple's Lightning connector, it is both proprietary and insertable in either orientation. There is no right side up or upside down. And that is all good, except that I like to keep an extra power adapter around for all of my portable devices. I leave on in my travel bag and one at home. I have been unable to find an extra power adapter with the correct plug, not even directly from Asus. I hope they fix this problem. If I ever lost or damaged the included power adapter, the Asus would be useless once the battery dies.

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