Chromebooks have come along way from their cheap, plasticky days. In fact, most modern models are attractive in their own right. The Samsung Chromebook 2 introduced a leatherette finish, and who could forget the aluminum-clad Chromebook Pixel 2.
Meanwhile, the Dell Chromebook 11 and Acer Chromebook C740 are battle hardened for school. And even the Acer Chromebook 15 gussies up its plastic exterior with a textured finish. Now, the Asus Chromebook Flip C100 ($249 or about £160, AU$337) is looking to be the first downright stunning cloud-based laptop.
This is by far the sleekest Chromebook yet, with a completely metal shell and thin profile. The Flip also has the honor of being the one of the first fully convertible Chromebooks following the Lenovo Chromebook 11e, both of which you can use as a tablet. There has also been the Lenovo N20p, a Chromebook that could only transform into a display stand.
Internally, this Chromebook also flips the script with an ARM processor from Rockchip when practically every machine before it has used an Intel chip. Despite a few little quirks, the Flip is an excellent machine for the money, and its hybrid features push Chromebooks in the right direction for versatility.
The fully metal construction of this Chromebook is a pleasant surprise given its low, low price. In fact, an all-aluminum chassis is something you wouldn't even expect to find on most Windows laptops.
The metal shell isn't just aesthetically pleasing, it also helps make the machine feel completely solid without adding much bulk to ruin the the Flip's thin profile. As an added touch, Asus's signature chamfered edges make a return to prevent the users from cutting their wrists on the laptop's corners. It's a cue that Google really should learn from to make the would-be Chromebook Pixel 3 an easier machine to work on.
While the Flip is a compact, 10.1-inch device, Asus has fully utilized every bit of space to make way for a full-sized keyboard. Key travel feels deep despite the fact the keyboard sits on a recessed deck, which appears to leave less than 2mm of space between it and the bottom of the notebook.
I wish the trackpad were a bit bigger, but you're running into the physical limitations of the device at this point. Still, the tracking surface is large enough get from one corner of the screen to another without lifting your finger once.
More than meets the eye
The most notable new feature of the Asus Chromebook Flip is its ability to transform into a tablet and other modes. If you've ever used a Windows 2-in-1 notebook, the experience is nearly identical. The display is connected to the main laptop body with an articulating hinge that rotates a full 360 degrees for tablet mode.
This, of course, isn't the first Chromebook to feature a touchscreen, but the Flip seems to be the most optimized device for the added functionality. For example, the screen rotates depending on the Chromebook's orientation.
This enables you to set the Flip on its side for a vertical screen for reading documents and webpages. Alternatively, you could have the laptop sit on its keyboard for a simple touch-enabled display.
There's even a new virtual button on the lower right, which activates an exploded view of all your open windows and apps, plus a virtual keyboard.
The rear hinge tight enough to hold the laptop in place even if it's being propped up at weird angles. Unfortunately, the hinge is also the only plastic part of this otherwise metal machine.
There's also a noticeable gap between the three parts, which seem unsightly when you're just looking at the laptop. You also might be instinctively drawn to holding the hinge, because the gap makes it look like a flimsy plastic handle.
Measuring in at just 0.6 inches (15.6mm), the Asus Chromebook Flip is an astoundingly thin laptop – largely thanks to its fanless design. As a 10.1-inch device, it also has a smaller footprint of 10.6 x 7.2 inches (262.8 x 182.4mm; W x D) along with being a featherweight device at 1.96 pounds (890g).
The Lenovo N20p and Acer Chromebook C740 are both 11.6-inch machines, so naturally they would be larger, measuring 11.6 x 8.34 x 0.70 inches (294 x 211x 17mm) and 11.34 x 8.03 x 0.79 inches (288 x 203 x 20mm), respectively. However, they seem downright fat, with the N20p weighting 3.08 pounds (1.4kg) and the C740 not far behind at 2.87 pounds (1.30kg).
Here is the Asus Chromebook Flip C100 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
- CPU: 1.8GHz Rockchip 3288-C (quad-core, 1MB cache)
- Graphics: ARM Mali T624
- RAM: 2GB LPDDR3 SDRAM
- Screen: 10.1-inch, WXGA (1,280 x 800) IPS multi-touch display
- Storage: 16GB eMMC
- Ports: 2 x USB 2.0, micro HDMI, audio jack combo, microSD card reader
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
- Camera: 720p HD webcam
- Weight: 1.96 pounds (890g)
- Size: 10.6 x 7.2 x 0.60 inches (W x D x H) (262.8 x 182.4 x 15.6mm)
For $249 (about £160, AU$337) the Asus Chromebook Flip offers a pretty snazzy package compared to most of its plasticky competitors. Of course, this Chromebook is a very different beast on the inside as well. Whereas almost every other Chrome OS-powered machines have used Intel processors (with the exception of a few Samsung Exynos-equipped machines), the Asus Flip comes rocking an 1.8GHz Rockchip processor
What you see above is the entry level spec Chromebook Flip. Asus also offers a higher end model, equipped with 32GB of flash storage and 4GB of RAM for $300 (about £193, AU$407). The storage bump might not make much sense when practically all your data will live in the cloud, but double the memory will be well worth the extra 50 smackers.
Acer's latest Chromebook 11 C740 costs a bit more, at $279 (£180, AU$379), and, for your money, you're getting a bit more screen real estate with this 11.6-inch rig. It also comes equipped with a new Broadwell-generation, 1.5GHz Intel Celeron processor – plus 4GB of memory from the get go.
The Lenovo N20p Chromebook first hit the block at a heady $329 (£249, AU$380) price tag, but thankfully the retail price has since dropped to a more standard $229 on Amazon (opens in new tab) in the US. For the money, you'll get a rig powered by an older-generation, 2.16GHz Intel Celeron chip. It also comes with an 11.6-inch touchscreen that matches the Acer C740's 1,366 x 768 display resolution.
Just by going build quality and processor power on paper, the Asus Flip has a leg up on its competition. Knowing specs can only tell us so much, let's have to look at the benchmark results to see how this hybrid Chromebook actually performs.
Despite my apprehension over the rather untested ARM processor from Rockchip, I was pleased with the Chromebook Flip's performance – mostly. The notebook had no problems keeping up with my usual browsing tendencies, including keeping 15 tabs open and Google Music streaming in the background.
However, at times media rich social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, send the Flip into a crashing fit of hanging screens. Similarly, data-heavy Google Sheets would also sometimes throw a wrench into the Chromebook's gears; causing the laptop to halt and prompt the screen to go completely black before resuming its original task.
A full system reboot, which also flushes the memory, would often help alleviate these issue. So, upgrading to 4GB of RAM may be all but mandatory. It's also worth noting that these issues cropped up sparingly, and for the most part, the Asus Flip ran splendidly without incident.
Here's how the Asus Chromebook Flip performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
- Octane: 6,795
- Mozilla Kraken: 5,447
- Sunspider: 686
Again, the Flip holds its own. Benchmarks from other outlets have shown that this particular Rockchip processor can wipe the floor even with Intel Atom processors, and our results seem to reflect this.
Unfortunately, at the time of review, we were not able to fully test the Lenovo N20p. However, other outlets put this multi-mode Chromebook's performance between the Flip and C740. For instance, the N20p Sunspider test results fall in the range of nearly 500 points and a Octane score of approximately 8,000 points.
Unfortunately one of the Flip's biggest faults are the massive bezels. You can't miss them running around the perimeter of its 10.1-inch display, and they're a huge detractor (as well as a distraction) from the laptop's otherwise excellent screen. The display get's awfully bright to combat any screen glare – and viewing angles are decent.
While the colors on this display aren't as eye popping as the vibrant WQHD display on the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi, the Flip avoids the dull visual problems that most Chromebooks are saddled with.
The Asus Flip even rocks out with a decent set of cans for listening to tunes and watching media. However, there is a minor issue with their placement on the laptop's bottom front edge, which only directs sound to your ears when you using the Chromebook as either a laptop or a tablet.
Lasting power is also excellent on the Chromebook Flip at 8 hours and 10 minutes. I used the laptop throughout a long work day with over 10 Chrome tabs open at time, typing up this review in Google Docs, playing songs on Google Music, streaming a feature film plus a processor crunching Google Hangout video call that spanned one hour.
On the weekend, I also used the laptop to play two movies and browsed the web for another three hours afterwards. Despite using the machine for seven hours straight, I was still left with more than 50% battery life. If you're looking for a long lasting machine, the Flip will easily give you more than a full day of use.
The Lenovo N20p proved to offer just as good battery life, ranging between six and 8.5 hours of usage. Meanwhile, the Acer Chromebook C740 can easily run for more than nine hours, whether you're just streaming video or tackling a day's worth of tasks.
Judging the quality of plastic Chromebooks has always come with added condition of their affordable price. The all-metal Flip, however, is a refreshing surprise and an amazing package for what you pay. You'll be hard pressed to find another Chromebook that's as sleek and slim as the Asus Chromebook Flip.
The metal body feels premium to the touch, leading you to think it's a flagship laptop rather than a cheap little Chromebook. Nothing at it price point will feel as solid and more than likely will be made of plastic.
In one of its first outings, the Rockchip processor also proved itself with gusto. The internals took on almost everything to task while offering up incredible battery life.
While performance is good, there are still a few kinks to work out when the Flip will intermittently crash on you seemingly at random. A new update seems to have fixed most of the problems, but it's an issue to look out for. The large screen bezels are also another issue, which you may find especially annoying since it looks like Asus could have fitted a larger 11.6-inch display.
The Asus Chromebook Flip isn't perfect, but it's an excellent little piece of kit. And for $249 (about £160, AU$337), it's so temptingly affordable that you might want to pick one up just to have a Chrome OS device on hand – even if you already own a MacBook or Windows laptop. I sure as hell want to.
Aside from the alluring price tag, the Flip is one of the best built Chromebooks to pave the way forward for more convertibles. Touchscreen functionality feels a bit more thought out, with a screen that actually rotates for once.
All the while, the Flip meets all the core tenants of an excellent Chrome OS machine, including stellar battery life. If you've been ho hum on Chromebooks before, this is definitely one to ... flip out about. (Sorry.)