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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Converts into multiple forms
Strong battery life
Crisp, colorful touchscreen
Keyboard feels great
Screen’s a bit dim
Some app and game limitations
Exterior attracts dirt/smudges
Don’t spend four figures on a laptop if you don’t need all the bells and whistles. The $500 Chromebook Flip is a convertible delight that might convince some Windows and Mac die-hards.
Google has disrupted the old-guard tech world, from its software and services to the rise of Android in the mobile space—and it has done much the same in the laptop market with its Chromebook concept. Typically priced well below the competition while delivering strong core services and functionality, the Chrome OS-powered notebooks have become the affordable device of choice for many students, schools, and other budget-minded buyers.
Launched in early 2017, the Asus Chromebook Flip (C302CA) 12.5-inch laptop has been one of the most popular options, and more than two years later, it’s still on the market. Can this convertible laptop/tablet hybrid really supplant ultraportable Windows and Mac laptops at a fraction of the price, or are the compromises too significant to overcome? We spent a week with the Chromebook Flip to see how it compares to today’s competition.
Just as Chromebooks are conceptually designed as budget laptops, the Asus Chromebook Flip is physically built like a budget MacBook. It has the same kind of minimal aesthetic, albeit not to quite the same level of premium visual polish. From the hinge design to the materials and tiny nuances, the Chromebook Flip doesn’t look like a $1,000 laptop.
That’s not a complaint, just an observation. With a solid silver aluminum core and durable construction, the Chromebook Flip thankfully doesn’t feel cheap. It feels like it’s built to deal with the daily stress of usage, but at a weight of just 2.65 pounds, it’s very light and easy to carry around. It does seem to attract dirt and smudges more than a lot of other aluminum laptops we’ve used, although it’s not difficult to rub them away.
The 12.5-inch touchscreen is a smidge smaller than the common 13-inch laptop screen size, but due to a lot of bezel around the display, the laptop’s overall size is nearly identical to an Apple MacBook Pro (albeit a little thicker). The excessive bezel and large Asus logo do signal the less high-end experience, however.
With a solid silver aluminum core and durable construction, the Chromebook Flip thankfully doesn’t feel cheap.
Of course, as the name suggests, the Chromebook Flip does something that no MacBook can: it’s convertible, allowing you to fold the screen all the way back into a tablet form, or use a tent-like design to prop the device up and watch videos. The hinge feels sturdy in any position, thankfully, so you don’t have to worry about the tent falling flat, or the screen flopping around in any mode.
We’ve been using the Chromebook Flip in the tent mode to watch Twitch streams or YouTube playlists while washing dishes or making dinner, or having it run in the corner of a desk while doing other work. It’s super handy to have around as a portable, self-standing streaming display. And in the tablet format, with the screen fully folded back, it’s totally useful. It feels a bit odd to press your fingers against the keys while holding it, but don’t worry: they’re disabled in that form.
Like current MacBooks, the Chromebook Flip is all about USB-C ports; it puts one on each side and skips full-sized USB-A ports entirely. You can charge the laptop from either of those ports, and that versatility is appreciated. However, there’s also a microSD card port on the right, which is handy as the 64GB internal storage on this model is pretty slim (there are 32GB and 128GB versions available, as well), along with a 3.5mm headphone port on the left side.
The Chromebook Flip’s keyboard feels great in action. The one-piece chiclet keyboard has a scissor-style key design with 1.4mm of travel, which gives it a more satisfying feel than the latest MacBooks’ keys (which have very little travel), and the keys are responsive and not especially loud in usage. It’s also brightly backlit, which isn’t always the case with Chromebooks. The touchpad below is nicely sized and wider than some we’ve seen, although not nearly as large as Apple’s luxurious trackpads of late.
Setting up a Chromebook is incredibly easy. Just power it on (the button is on the left side), connect to a network, accept the terms of service and choose from any options that you’re prompted to, and then plug in your Google account info. If you do already have a Google account, then any bookmarks, Chrome extensions, and apps will automatically be added. If you don’t have a Google account, then you’ll need to sign up for one to use the Chromebook. In any case, this whole process shouldn’t take more than a matter of minutes to complete.
As mentioned, the Chromebook Flip’s 12.5-inch, 1080p screen is a little smaller than you’ll see on some rivals, but that doesn’t take away from its usability. It’s colorful and nicely vibrant, and text and graphics typically look crisp. It’s not one of the brightest screens we’ve seen, with a listed brightness of about 300 nits, but that’s pretty common amongst laptops. It’s a little dimmer than we’d like, admittedly. Visibility is impacted in direct sunlight, but in most situations, it’s hard to complain too much about this screen.
It also acts like an extra-large tablet screen since it’s a touchscreen with 10 points of interaction. It felt just as responsive as any tablet we’ve used.
You really can’t pit the Chromebook Flip against pricier Windows and Mac laptops in terms of sheer processing power because Chromebooks aren’t built to be beasts. But they don’t really need to be: the highest quality of graphics processing it’ll need to handle are mobile-quality games, since the Chromebook Flip can run Android apps from the Play Store, and you’re not able to download high-end games from Steam or the Epic Games Store.
The version of the Chromebook Flip we tested came with a 2.2Ghz Intel Core M3-6Y30 chip, although you can get versions with a Core M7 or Pentium 4405Y chip for more power. Paired with 4GB RAM, we found the device to be plenty speedy getting around Chrome OS.
Compared to rival laptops like the MacBook Air or Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, you’ll save a huge amount of money while still being able to complete a wide array of tasks.
Given the access to the Play Store, we benchmarked the Chromebook Flip using the same tests we use for Android phones, with a score of 8,818 on the PCMark 2.0 Work test. The Intel HD Graphics 515 integrated graphics, meanwhile, delivered a frame rate of 12 frames per second in the Car Chase demo and 53 frames per second in the T-Rex demo. Essentially, the Chromebook Flip seems comparable to an upper mid-range Android phone.
That comparison held up when playing Android racing game Asphalt 9: Legends, which ran at a pretty smooth clip but definitely looked fuzzier than usual thanks to being blown up for the larger screen. Online battle royale shooter PUBG Mobile also ran solidly, although the keyboard and trackpad combination didn’t feel right. We folded the screen back entirely and just used the touchscreen, which worked fine.
The tiny speaker grates on the left and right side of the Chromebook Flip don’t look too promising, but the playback quality was better than expected. Music output isn’t big and bold, but it’s pretty clear and it can get loud without getting too muddled. Video playback via YouTube and Netflix was sometimes too quiet at full volume, however.
The Chromebook Flip has dual-band Wi-Fi that can connect to both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks, and we had no issues with either during our testing. We went online at a home network and a Starbucks Google network alike, and things were routinely speedy. On the home network, we saw speeds of about 33Mbps and upload speeds in excess of 10Mbps—essentially the same as we’ve seen with other laptops and smartphones.
Even with a budget-friendly price, the Asus Chromebook Flip 12.5-inch doesn’t skimp on battery life. The 39Wh battery cell is rated for up to 10 hours, and while that estimate is ambitious for everyday use, we typically saw seven or more hours of mixed usage with the screen at full brightness. That’s for our usual workflow of surfing the web, typing out documents, watching some YouTube videos, and streaming music from Spotify.
Even with a budget-friendly price, the Asus Chromebook Flip 12.5-inch doesn’t skimp on battery life.
Our laptop video rundown test, which streams a Netflix movie over Wi-Fi while at 100 percent brightness, delivered a similar result: it lasted 6 hours, 57 minutes before the Chromebook Flip shut down. In both use cases, we were pleasantly surprised by the battery performance of the device—it even beat the 2018 MacBook Air.
ChromeOS delivers an experience that’s halfway between a desktop PC and an Android tablet. It’s a much simpler approach to PC usage, focusing only on essential features and functionality. The interface has a PC-like bar at the bottom, but it’s really more like an app dock on your phone or tablet. Unsurprisingly, the experience is built around Google’s own apps, coming preloaded with the Chrome web browser, Google Docs, YouTube, Google Photos, Google Maps, and more.
Since the Chromebook Flip’s original release, Google has added the ability to run Android apps downloaded from the Play Store. This is the same Play Store found on scads of smartphones and tablets the world over, offering access to a wide array of games and apps. Not every app looks or acts perfectly on a larger screen, but we mostly had success: business chat app Slack looked like the desktop version on PC and Mac, as did Spotify. Twitch’s interface just looked like it was stretched out from the phone app, but video still played perfectly.
The Chromebook Flip offers an ideal middle ground between quality and price in the Chromebook department.
Anyone looking for a familiar PC or Mac experience, or a device that can run familiar PC and Mac apps and games, might struggle with using a Chromebook. It’s really meant for casual usage—things like web browsing, watching media, writing, and lightweight game playing. Need a device primed for high-end, professional creative software? Need something capable of playing the latest and greatest games? That’s not a Chromebook.
Luckily, the Chromebook’s reputation as an online-only device isn’t true. For example, Google Docs can be used offline, you can view and edit photos, watch locally-stored media, and play games that don’t require an online connection. It’s really not that different in approach to other PCs, but the overall feel and flow of the experience varies in some key ways.
Here’s where the Asus Chromebook Flip really makes its biggest impact. As mentioned, it’s a capable computer for most everyday tasks, it has a very good screen, and the battery life is stellar. Best of all, it’s priced at $499, although you can find it for a little bit less (we’re seeing it around $400-450 lately). There are cheaper Chromebooks out there that skimp on features and functionality, such as skipping the convertible hinge or touch functionality, or using a lower-end processor. You can spend a lot less and still get a solid laptop.
But the Chromebook Flip offers an ideal middle ground between quality and price in the Chromebook department—and compared to rival laptops like the MacBook Air or Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, you’ll save a huge amount of money while still being able to complete a wide array of tasks.
On paper, these laptops shouldn’t be comparable. At $1,099 or more, the MacBook Air is one of the most polished and premium ultraportable laptops you can buy today. The perks are obvious: it has a sleek and refined build, the brighter and higher-resolution 13.3-inch display is gorgeous, and the touchpad is excellent. It also runs macOS, a more robust operating system that still manages to be easy to use.
However, if your computer needs are pretty basic—browsing the web, watching videos, and typing up documents and filling out spreadsheets—then you don’t need a higher-end computer. And the Chromebook Flip has better battery life than the MacBook Air while delivering comparable functionality in many key ways. No doubt, the MacBook Air is the higher-quality option, but at $600 more, we’re not sure it’s worth it for most users.
It’s an excellent, affordable laptop.
Just as the recent crop of cheap, strong mid-range phones has made many flagship smartphones seem excessive and unnecessary, the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA does much the same for laptops. This is a seriously impressive and versatile notebook without any major deficiencies, and it’s priced at just $499—less than half the price of the cheapest Apple laptop right now.
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