There was a time when you could not get a Chromebook in South Africa. That’s no longer the case, however, especially as many people rely solely on Google, its services and Chrome OS to get things done.
Over the past couple of years, the local Chromebook segment appears to be split into two distinct lineups – enterprise and education. With Microsoft and Windows still the go-to operating system in the business space, it is yet to take off.
Education is a different prospect though, with Chromebooks becoming increasingly popular. This brings us to the latest device from Asus to launch in South Africa – the Chromebook C204MA. This new offering is a no frills, no fuss notebook that takes care of the basics and features Chrome OS at its core.
It also landed on our review desk recently, so this is what we discovered about the Chromebook C204MA, and who this R6 200 (RRP) notebook is designed for.
Built to last
Before we delve into that, let’s take a look at the design. Once again, there are next to no frills here. There is, however, quite a bit of grey and plastic. Don’t worry, the latter does not feel cheap. Instead it is ruggedised, not for working on a construction site or somewhere else with tough work conditions, but rather a classroom, where things are routinely dropped, bumped and knocked.
While the C204MA is built for the classroom, Asus has still ensured that there is military-grade protection on offer. MIL-STD 810G to be more precise, which can handle up to 30kg of pressure on its lid, multi-sided 1.2 metre drops, as well as hinges and ports that can cope with up to 50 000 opens/closes and 5 000 uses respectively.
As such, the C204MA is fairly well equipped when it takes to withstanding a few bumps and scrapes.
Other elements designed to help this notebook from taking a beating include a 3D-textured finish to the outer lid of the device. The keys are also tamper resistant, which is important if you plan to be using a few of these Chromebooks in a multiple classroom setup, such as a computer lab for example. Lastly, the same keyboard is spill-resistant, with Asus noting that it will take upwards of 66 millilitres of liquid before you need to worry.
We did not test that feature out, but are happy to take Asus at its word on that front.
Set up, and go
Now that we’ve gone through the design, it’s time for the beating heart of the Asus Chromebook C204MA – Chrome OS. For those who are less familiar with the operating system, it is heavily reliant on a constant internet connection in order to get the most out of it. It’s also essential upon a proper setup, as is the case with most Android powered smartphones.
If you’ve ever set up an Android smartphone, the setup process here is much the same.
Plug in your Google account details, connect to the WiFi (WiFi 5 functionality), select your preferences, main a few minutes and you’re good to go. As setup processes go, it is about as simple as they come, which is particularly good given the type of user that this notebook is designed for.
On this front we’re talking about children in Primary School, or perhaps those coming to grips with a computer for their first time. For High School or those at tertiary institutions, the C204MA is not going to cut it unfortunately, as there is only so much multitasking that the device can handle, so resource intensive applications might prove a challenge.
At the Primary School level of requirements though, it is more than capable.
We’ll touch on the specifications of this R6 200 notebook (which we have found listed on local sites for less) shortly, but first a word on Chrome OS. For those well versed in the world of Windows or Mac, it does take a little getting use to, but this is limited to navigation around the operating system for the most part.
What we do like about the OS in particular, is that it gives users an idea of how working on a notebook is like in this day and age, with access to applications happening online as apposed from being pulled natively. This means that not too many internal components need to be dedicated to storage, but also carries with it the disadvantage of being heavily connectivity dependant.
As we saw in 2020, this is one area that South Africa is sorely lacking, and as a result needs to be a significant consideration for anyone wanting to purchase the C204MA. This is in no way the fault of Asus, but simply a fact that must be taken into account if you’re pondering this device.
Now for the performance, and let’s get one thing straight: the C204MA is not a workhorse.
That said, it is solidly equipped to handle the Chrome OS-specific tasks needed of it. To that end a dual-core Intel Celeron N4000 processor is present, clocking in at 1.1GHz, which is about par for the course when it comes to education-focused notebooks.
This is paired with 4GB LPDDR4 RAM and choices of either 16GB or 32GB onboard storage. As such, things have been kept rather spartan here, but once again, it’s to be expected given the environment that the C204MA is designed for.
While the specs list is not going to excite, the Chromebook showed no signs of lagging or struggling while we were multitasking.
Looking at what else Asus has kitted out the C204MA with, the notebook is not short of ports. This as a combination audio jack, two USB Type-A, two USB Type-C and single microSD ports are available onboard.
The one area where the C204MA is a little lacking, or rather could use an improvement, is the 11.6″ HD (1366×768) display up front. Regardless of the minimal real estate on offer, things can look a little dull at the 50 percent screen brightness setting.
You’ll likely find yourself upping that to around the 75 percent to 80 percent range most of the time, which consequently east into the battery life on offer from the 50Wh battery found internally. As such, you may find yourself plugging in to charge a bit more than expected.
It’s not a deal breaker, but much like the reliance on connectivity, is something to consider.
The Asus Chromebook C204MA performs as expected, which is precisely what you want from an education-focused notebook. The fact that it touts military grade design elements and a ruggedised body also makes it perfect for the classroom environment.
That said, it’s not for all grades, however, and is best put to use in a Primary School setup where connectivity is not an issue. As a starter notebook then, it is well appointed and relatively inexpensive.
If you’re wanting something with a bit more oomph, or not dependant on an internet connection to work to its full potential, it may be worthwhile looking as some of the other entry-level devices out of Southeast Asia.
If the C204MA is going to be tethered to power in a computer lab though, it should definitely get the job done.
SCORE: SIX OUT OF 10.
Asus Chromebook C204MA
The Asus Chromebook C204MA performs as expected, which is precisely what you want from an education-focused notebook. The fact that it touts military grade design elements and a ruggedised body also makes it perfect for the classroom environment. That said, it's not for all grades, however, and is best put to use in a Primary School setup where connectivity is not an issue.