With Android app support moving out of beta and becoming a standard part of Chrome OS this year, Chromebook 2-in-1s are becoming extremely important. The 12.5-inch convertible Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is ready to run Android apps or dozens of Chrome tabs, with strong performance and a sense of style. This $499 bend-back 2-in-1 ($449 to start) sports a classy aluminum chassis, bright full-HD display and a solid Core m3 CPU for multitasking. If you're willing to spend the money for a premium Chromebook, the Flip C302CA isn't just one of the best Asus laptops, it's also the best chromebooks.
The aluminum Chromebook Flip C302CA looks and feels like a MacBook, so it might fool anyone who doesn't see the big Asus logos on the 2-in-1's lid and bezel. The Chromebook's 360-degree hinge feels stable and makes it easy to transition the bend-back convertible among laptop, stand, tablet and tent modes.
Weighing 2.6 pounds and measuring 0.6 inches thick, the Flip is lighter than the Acer Chromebook R 13 (3.2 pounds, 0.6 inches), the Dell Chromebook 13 (3.2 pounds, 0.7 inches) and the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (3.2 pounds, 0.8 inches).
The Flip charges and connects to peripherals via either of its two USB Type-C ports, which sit on the left and right sides. Asus placed the notebook's headphone jack, volume and power buttons on the machine's left side and a microSD reader on the right.
The lack of Type-A USB 3.0 ports signals that Asus is looking firmly toward the future, but that means you better buy adapters if you want to attach older devices. Each of the competing Chromebooks features a USB 3.0 port.
The Flip's 12.5-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel panel provides crisp images, solid brightness and decent color. When I watched a trailer for "The Fate of The Furious," I noted strong red and blue police sirens, a vibrant green signal light, and a warm orange fire engulfing exploding cars. The display also showed off fine details like small beads of sweat on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's head and the glimmer of the glittery brake-pedal of Vin Diesel's muscle car.
According to our colorimeter, the Flip reproduces 76 percent of the sRGB spectrum, a mark that's above the numbers from the Acer Chromebook R 13 (64 percent) and the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (63 percent). The Dell Chromebook 13 (96 percent) and the average ultraportable (98 percent) render more colors.
The Flip delivers relatively accurate color, with a score of 1.6 on the Delta-E test (lower is better), which tops the ultraportable average (2.2). However, the Acer Chromebook R 13 (1.1), Dell Chromebook 13 (1.4) and ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (1.1) did slightly better.
This convertible's panel emits up to 292 nits (a measure of brightness), which is slightly below the average for ultraportables (303 nits). The Acer Chromebook R 13 (254 nits), the Dell Chromebook 13 (270 nits) and the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (257 nits) are all dimmer. This brightness allows for a wide range of viewing angles, as I could clearly see the screen's images at 75 degrees to the left or right.
Keyboard, Touch Screen, Touchpad
The Flip's island-style, full-size, backlit keyboard offers an excellent typing experience. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I clicked my way to 77 words per minute, which is close to my average (80 wpm). The laptop's keys function so well because they provide 1.6 millimeters of travel, within the range of what we prefer (1.5-2mm). We do wish the keys required more than 49 grams of force to actuate, because amounts closer to 60 grams make for a better click.
The Asus Convertible's touch screen tracked my input accurately as I moved windows around the desktop and played some 2048. The display also supports back and forward swiping for navigating the web in Chrome.
The Flip's 4.1 x 2.3-inch, buttonless touchpad enables precise navigation and provides a solid feel to each click. It also supports smooth two-finger page scrolling and three-finger tab navigation.
The Chromebook Flip's speakers blast enough volume to fill a medium-size conference room with a sweet version of Migos' "T-Shirt." The track's bass sounded sturdy, its vocals came through clearly and drum cymbals hit crisply.
Our review configuration of the Flip packs an Intel Core m3-6Y30 CPU and 4GB of RAM, a combination that enables plenty of multitasking. I saw no lag after I split my screen among 15 Chrome tabs (including ones for Slack, Gmail and TweetDeck) and a 1080p YouTube video.
The Flip performed OK on the WebGL Aquarium graphics test, rendering 2,000 fish at a rate of 50 fps. That beats the Acer Chromebook R 13 (20-40 fps) and the Dell Chromebook 13 (48 mps), but the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (60 fps) ran the animation more smoothly. We should note that this benchmark made the Flip emit a slight whirring noise, something we don't often see.
The Chromebook Flip lasted 8 hours and 52 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test. That showing beats the ultraportable average (8:03) and puts the Flip close to the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (9:08). However, the Flip's time falls short of those set by the Acer Chromebook R 13 (11:00) and the Dell Chromebook 13 (13:25).
The Flip's 0.9-megapixel webcam shoots grainy images with mixed color reproduction. When I tested the camera in our well-lit office, it captured the dark blue of my shirt but left our red wall looking orange.
This thin-and-light Chromebook stays cool under pressure. After I streamed 15 minutes of HD video on the notebook, our heat gun found acceptable temperatures, below our 95-degree Fahrenheit comfort threshold. The touchpad measured 81 degrees F, while the center of the keyboard and bottom hit 85 and 87 degrees, respectively.
The Flip C302CA runs Chrome OS, Google's lightweight alternative to Windows, which currently relies on the Chrome Web Store for apps. The notebook will gain Android app emulation later this year, and the 2-in-1 will be able to make the most of those apps, with its touch screen and bend-back design.
Our $499 review unit of the Flip C302CA includes a 0.9-GHz Intel Core m3-6y30 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. For $449, you can get the notebook with a Pentium processor and 32GB of storage, though you might lose some of the multitasking-enabling performance found in the Core m3 model.
There's a lot to like about the Chromebook Flip C302CA, including its elegant aluminum design, sharp screen, solid battery life, strong performance and bend-back design. When the Google Play Store finally rolls out to Chrome OS in earnest, the Flip will be even more compelling than it is today.
You can save $100 and still have access to Android apps with the Acer Chromebook R 13, though that notebook lags behind in speed. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook with Core i5 is much faster, but it costs more, and its nontouch screen means this machine won't be as well-suited to Android apps. However, if you want a powerful Chromebook 2-in-1 that's ready for Android apps, the Flip C302CA should be at the top of your list.
Photo credits: Jeremy Lips/Laptopmag