ASUS is showing itself to be a competent company at dealing with all the challenges facing traditional consumer tech manufacturers in the post-PC world. It’s released some great smartphones recently, and now it’s just released a fantastic laptop. The Chromebook Flip has won me over.
I’m sure you can imagine, as a tech-reviewer it’s not often I fall for a product just on first impressions alone. But as soon as I picked up the Chromebook Flip, I adored it. The all-metal build looks, and feels fantastic. Its rounded corners and the gentle taper of the back towards the diamond-cut chamfered edges are beautiful. On the bottom, all the edges and corners are rounded, giving it a really friendly look, and making it comfortable to grip.
What’s more, the speakers are hidden underneath two perfectly round grilles made of hundreds of tiny machined holes. But it’s the hinge that makes this unique. The screen rotates 360 degrees, and can be used in 4 different modes: laptop, tent, stand or tablet modes. Because the hinge is so firm, it holds strongly at virtually any angle.
It has a generous number of ports and buttons. On one side there are two USB 2.0 ports, a Micro SD card slot, 3.5mm jack and micro HDMI output. On the other is a volume rocker, the power/sleep button and the power input socket. To have so many I/O options on such a small, Chrome-powered notebook is refreshing, to say the least.
Despite being a very small notebook with a 10.1-inch screen, the keyboard is almost full sized, with the buttons adequately spaced apart to ensure the experience isn’t overly cramped. The six rows of keys span almost the entire width of the Chromebook, and sit in a metal body with a gorgeous brushed metal finish on the surface. All the dedicated function buttons sit on the top row and include keys for boosting or dimming screen brightness, turning the volume up or down and accessing the multitasking UI. In tablet mode, there’s a virtual keyboard on screen and the volume rocker on the side.
Although the 1280×800 display isn’t quite full HD resolution, it’s more than sharp enough. In fact, I was pretty surprised at just how good the screen is. For a Chromebook that costs under $300 for the highest spec model, it’s great. Colors are natural and lively, the glossy finish means you don’t get any of that washed-out look you sometimes find in the matte-finish cheap Chromebook screens. It loses brightness when viewing it from different angles, but overall, it’s a very pleasing panel to look at. Text is crisp and sharp, and video fits almost perfectly in to the 16:10 ratio screen. At just 10.1-inches, it may just be too small for some who want a daily laptop to grind out work on. I would genuinely love to see a 13-inch version of this.
Unlike most Chrome notebooks and computers I’ve used, I didn’t feel like there were any serious compromises or flaws. The built in quad-core Rockchip ARM-based processor does a good job of handling most tasks, along with its 4GB RAM. Even loading up graphic-intensive web pages like Google Maps didn’t cause any worrying delay, and interaction with the touchscreen was responsive enough. There was some stutter here and there when scrolling quickly through pages, or zooming in quickly on pictures, but nothing I couldn’t live with. I don’t expect world-beating performance from an affordable laptop, but I didn’t expect it to be quite this good.
ASUS claims the Chromebook Flip has a 9 hour battery life. Depending on what you’re using it for, you’ll get close to that. Probably more like 7-8 hours in real life use with standby battery drain taken into consideration. Advertised battery performance never really translates to actual real-life usage. But, I would comfortably take this out with me to work for the day and leave the charger at home.
The ASUS Chromebook Flip shows what is capable in the Chrome OS notebook market. You can have a well-made, solid and versatile computer with a sharp screen and not have to pay too much to get one. As long as you can cope with having a small display, the Chromebook Flip might just be the best thing you can spend your hard-earned money on. You can pick them up with 4GB RAM for $279 in the US or £249 in the UK.