I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days with an ASUS Chromebook Flip, a new entrant from ASUS to the Chromebook family with a couple interesting twists. The Chromebook Flip comes with a $249 price tag for a 2GB version and $279 for the 4GB version. Stores close to me rarely have Chromebooks actually in stock and the couple that do have tend to be low-end, bulky units that remind me of some cheap netbooks I had purchased for my kids a few years ago. The Chromebook Flip is a far cry from those units despite its small size and may be an enticing buy for consumers looking for a sleek Chromebook.
The Chromebook Flip gets its name from the double-hinge design connects the screen to the body. This double hinge means the screen can be flipped all the way back on the unit. The Chromebook Flip can be used in a conventional laptop configuration, or made into a “tent” or with the screen standing up while the keyboard is tucked away in the back for distraction free viewing, or effectively turned into a tablet device. Yes, versatility at its finest.
The flexibility of the hinges and configurations available will likely be welcomed by some users; however, I found use of the device in “tablet” mode difficult since Chrome OS is not optimized for a tablet interface. Although, the operating system did handle being flipped into a portrait orientation quite. I found myself spending most of my time with the device in a traditional laptop configuration even when just sitting around surfing the web while watching some TV.
In addition to the double-hinge design, ASUS manufactured the Chromebook Flip out of a lightweight metal for the chassis. This means the unit is thin and light. The Chromebook Flip measures 262.8 x 182.4 x 15.6mm and weighs 1.96lbs. It will not be mistaken for a tablet device, but compared to a traditional laptop it is quite portable and easy to hold at under 2 pounds.
The keyboard is comprised of a nice set of island type keys similar to what you would find in other laptops constructed with a metal frame. Some users may find the keys a bit on the small side, but I had no problem with them. The trackpad is constructed so it can be clicked along the bottom edge emulating a left click on a mouse. To perform a a right click though, you have to use a two-finger tap on the trackpad. That took some getting used to since I normally use trackpads that have the bottom edge split in half to detect left and right mouse click actions. The two-finger tap worked well but it may take a user some time to retrain their muscle memory to do this.
The Chromebook Flip features a 1280×800 (WXGA) touchscreen display behind an LED 10.1-inch LED panel, Rockchip quad-core processor, 2GB or 4GB of RAM, HD webcam, 16GB or 32GB of storage, microSD card slot, two USB 2.0 ports, and one HDMI port.
One of the contributing factors to the easy portability of the Chromebook Flip is the 10.1-inch screen. This is on the small side for a Chromebook and harkens back to the earliest Chromebooks and netbooks that were typically 10 to 11 inches in size. Interestingly enough, ASUS probably could have bumped the screen size up a bit without impacting the overall size of the device as the bezels are quite large.
The screen itself runs at a 1280×800 resolution, so it is not a true HD experience. The screen is acceptable and on par with typical laptop screens I’ve used. It is an LED panel and cranking the brightness up provided plenty of illumination. ASUS also stepped things up by making it touchscreen. That is obviously needed for when then unit is folded back into any of the configurations other than traditional laptop. The touchscreen was accurate and often used it even with the keyboard out and its built-in trackpad as it was easy and convenient to just flick the screen with a finger as I was surfing a web site or scrolling through emails.
ASUS gave the Chromebook Flip a nice assortment of connections. You will find an audio jack that can handle a combo unit with a built-in microphone, a pair of 2.0 USB ports for connecting peripherals, a micro HDMI port if you want to hardwire an external display to the unit, and a microSD card slot. Users will also find a power button and a volume rocker along the side of the unit. The device also has an HD camera installed for users wanting to videoconference and it comes with support for 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1.
For sound, the Chromebook Flip has two speakers built into the bottom of the unit. This does not seem like it would be effective, but the location did not seem to hinder the sound. The speakers are small, but as far as built-in speakers go, they are adequate assuming expectations are not set too high.
Since this is the first Chromebook I’ve spent any significant amount of time with, assessing performance is a bit of a challenge. Compared to other laptops with other operating systems I have used, I found the Chromebook Flip to perform in a similar manner. Thanks to the Chrome OS, turning on the unit only took a matter of seconds. I did not experience any lag like you might get when using a traditional tablet running Android. All of the apps I used during my testing performed as expected and loaded quickly even with this being the 2GB version.
The touchscreen was responsive and easy to use with nice accuracy on taps and selections. One of the factors that has kept me from purchasing my own Chromebook is a desire to stick with a Full HD (1920×1080) screen. Although the Chromebook Flip does not meet that requirement, I thought the screen was very good looking and I did not notice it was not Full HD. The fact that the Chromebook Flip’s screen was good enough to get me to reconsider whether I really need to hold out for Full HD may give you an idea of how good the display is.
The one problem I had with the Chromebook Flip was a propensity for the screen to lockup on occasion. I could never figure out what may have been causing this. When I received the unit, it was set for the Chrome OS beta channel, so I switched to the stable channel about halfway through my testing of the unit and that helped although I still experienced at least one lockup after that switch. Just about every time this happened, I had to wait for about a minute for the unit to briefly turn off the screen then turn itself back on. This would restore functionality.
Since most design decisions involve tradeoffs, the choice of a 10.1-inch screen comes with some other benefits as well. One of those is power consumption where the Chromebook Flip excels. The official position from ASUS is that the device should last around 9 hours in typical use and some testers have pushed the device to close to 11 hours of use. I had no trouble making it through a day of normal web surfing and the occasional use of Docs or Sheets before needing to hook up the charger. After leaving the unit sitting for a couple days, when I opened it back up I found it was still reporting 85% charge left on the battery.
If you are looking for a Chromebook to supplement your current collection of devices, the ASUS Chromebook Flip seems like it should definitely be under consideration. The materials and finish are very nice and the unit is solid. The double hinge makes it flexible to use in different situations. The inclusion of a touchscreen is convenient and having a keyboard with touchpad available means it can handle some moderate work demands to help keep you productive.
The 10.1-inch screen and small size will likely keep it from serving as a full-fledged laptop, but it may keep you from having to break out your big computer if you do not expect to have to work for very long. I think the ASUS Chromebook Flip could also serve as an alternative for users shopping for a tablet device. You may give up a touch optimized interface like Android, but otherwise the Chromebook Flip worked well in situations where I might normally use a tablet and the price is attractive compared to many higher end tablets.