For a while, computers just kept getting more powerful and more expensive.
Then we realised that we don’t need big powerful machines just to browse the web and some light work.
The new $US250 Asus Chromebook Flip is an inexpensive compact laptop that runs Google’s Chrome OS, and it’s a direct response to that realisation.
What does it do?
Chrome OS only runs the Chrome web browser and nothing else.
Confine yourself to Chrome on your regular Mac or Windows computer, and you’ll get the experience of a Chromebook.
That may sound useless, but Google offers several productivity services, like Docs, Sheets, and Slides, the company’s answers to Microsoft Office apps. These aren’t as comprehensive as Microsoft Office, but it’s totally sufficient for lightweight productivity on the go, which the Flip is also perfectly suited for.
Thankfully, you don’t need an internet connection to access your files in the Google Drive, the online service Chromebooks use for managing most files. Even with WiFi turned off, I could open a Google Docs document and create a new one as those files are stored inside the Flip’s 16GB of storage.
You’d also be surprised by how much of what you do on your computer is based in your web browser. For example, I was using Spotify while writing this review all within Chrome. But if you need to use programs that don’t run from your web browser, you should look elsewhere.
What’s it like?
Despite the cheap price, the Chromebook Flip looks and feels good thanks to its brushed aluminium exterior. It’s also light, so you can easily carry it with you anywhere.
But the Flip’s diminutive size also means a diminutive 10-inch display, which is about the size of the iPad Air. Such a small screen makes it somewhat difficult to see and use full size websites that are generally designed for larger screens, and I often found myself wishing that I could get the mobile version of websites.
The thing is, the screen could have been at least an inch bigger, maybe even two, but the screen has huge black bezels using up the real estate that the screen could have been using. It’s also a little dim, even at its maximum brightness.
The screen is touch-sensitive, which means you can navigate around with your fingers like a tablet. There’s little reason to use the touchscreen when you have a perfectly good trackpad to navigate around the Flip, but as its name suggests, you can flip the screen a full 360 degrees so you can use it more like a tablet.
And don’t worry, the keyboard and trackpad are automatically disabled when you flip the screen around, so you can hold it knowing you won’t accidentally hit any keys.
But there’s little benefit to be had here, as you can’t run apps and you still get the full desktop versions of websites, which aren’t very touch friendly. On a tablet operating system like Android or iOS on the iPad, you’re at least more likely to get the mobile version of a website, which is a lot more touch-friendly.
However, you can flip the keyboard so it turns into a sort of stand that’s good for watching videos.
Is it worth it?
My only grumbles are that the the screen is a bit small, the trackpad can be a little finicky, and it can slow down when you have too many Chrome tabs.
Sure, you could get an 11-inch MacBook Air, which is also extremely compact, has a bigger screen, has an excellent trackpad, performs much better, and lets you use programs outside of your web browser. But it will set you back $US900.
I wouldn’t replace my regular laptop running Mac OS X with the Flip, as it’s more suited for travel or other situations where compact size and light weight matters. But for basic portable productivity, the Asus Chromebook Flip is hard to beat, especially with its incredibly low $US250 price tag.
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