Between features like Android apps running on (some) Chromebooks and steady gains in the education sector, Chromebooks are experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now. To go along with this, manufacturers are stepping up and releasing new Chromebooks specifically designed around touch and tablet use. Three of these, the long-rumored Samsung Chromebook Plus, Samsung Chromebook Pro and the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 were announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2017. The Chromebook Flip C302 went on sale right away, while the Samsung Chromebook Plus did not go on sale until mid February, and the Chromebook Pro does not go on sale until April.
I’ve been using the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 since January 18th, and it was my main laptop for a month. I played games on it, browsed the web, and did my homework. The Chromebook Flip I’ve been using is powered by an Intel Core m3 processor, 4 gigabytes of RAM, and features 64 gigabytes of storage. Asus seems to keep going back and forth on whether a higher end Core m7/8GB RAM/128GB storage option will be available. The RAM is soldered in, so it will be nearly impossible to upgrade. There is also a lower end Pentium model that Best Buy was selling for the same price as the Core m3, but that has been removed from their site. The Chromebook Flip is sparse on ports, featuring two USB-C ports — one on each side — that both support charging, data transfer and video out, as well as a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the left of the device and a Micro-SD slot on the right. The power button and volume rocker also live on the right side, making them easy to reach while using this device in tablet mode. There are no larger USB-A ports or dedicated HDMI out ports, so adapters will be needed. Being able to charge the device or output video from either side is fantastic, and really helps when charging in crowded coffee shops or airport terminals. The keyboard is the standard ChromeOS layout, and is even backlit.
The Chromebook Flip is made out of a nice aluminum that is both sturdy and lightweight. At 2.65 pounds, I can carry it in my backpack for a long time without straining my back and shoulders, though it’s just heavy enough to be unwieldy as a tablet — more on that later. The speakers are located on the sides of the device, which is genius. No matter if it’s being used as a laptop or tablet, the speakers don’t get blocked at all. This is something that sounds obvious, but I can’t think of any other 2-in-1’s with a similar arrangement. The speaker quality is great too, with almost no distortion at maximum volume. The webcam records video at 720p, and the onboard microphones capture sound just fine. The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections are nice and strong, and I had no issues using my Bluetooth keyboard or Bose QC-35 headphones.
The main difference between the Chromebook Flip and Samsung’s new Chromebooks is the aspect ratio: the Chromebook Flip uses a traditional 16:9 layout, while Samsung’s Plus and Pro Chromebooks use a more tablet friendly 3:2 aspect ratio. The means the Asus Chromebook has more horizontal space than the Samsungs, and video and websites display just as you’d expect. On the other hand, the extra horizontal space means the device is taller when flipped around in tablet mode. In addition to the weight, this contributes to the Chromebook Flip being cumbersome to use as a tablet, as least in the long term. Having said that, I still appreciate the option of bending the keyboard back, especially when I’m docked at home.
Asus claims the Chromebook Flip will get 10 hours of battery life, but in my use I found it was closed to 8 hours. This isn’t as much as the ludicrous battery life on the Acer Chromebook R13, but it’s enough for a day trip. Being able to pack one charger for both my phone and laptop definitely helps, but the battery requires too much juice to be charged from my portable charger. A portable charger will slowly charge the battery while the device is being used (in reality, it will just prevent the laptop battery from draining), but is a nice way to top up when the laptop is turned off. On an average day, I’d have the brightness set around 60% and either remoting into my home server with Chrome Remote Desktop, or writing out discussion posts on my school’s website. I didn’t have an opportunity for a similarly long day trip as I did on New Year’s Eve with the Acer R13, but the Asus Chromebook Flip never let me down on the few times I took it out.
The first two weeks I owned the Chromebook Flip, I used it in the beta channel of ChromeOS to access Android applications. Once the Play Store was released in the stable channel for the Chromebook Flip, I reset the device and moved back to that branch. Even in the beta channel, I never had any issues using the device, and everything worked smoothly. The Core m3 processor kept things running smoothly, even when I had 20+ tabs over five windows open for some of my assignments and I was pushing a second display. I was originally drawn towards the higher specced (and apparently mythical) core m7/8GB RAM configuration just to cover my bases, but I can’t see many people needing that. If someone wanted a device to load a different version of Linux onto, then the m7/8GB RAM/128GB storage option might make sense, but the standard m3 will be more than sufficient for most people.
The official price of the Asus Chromebook Flip is $499, but the price on Newegg and Amazon have been bouncing around since the release. At that price (and maybe a little more depending on a person’s patience), it’s a steal. The build quality is great, it’s fast, there’s plenty of storage for downloading movies or Netflix episodes, and battery *should* be enough to make it through the day. I did pick up the Samsung Chromebook Plus to give that a try, and the more tablet-friendly layout of the Samsung won me over. I sold my Asus, but don’t let that sound like I disliked the device.