James Cridland

24 hours with an Asus Chromebook Flip

This isn’t my first Chromebook (I use a fanless 4GB Toshiba Chromebook 2, my partner uses a 2GB Google-design HP CB11); but it is the first 24 hours I’ve spent with the Asus Flip. I bought it from Amazon, and it was delivered from the US to Australia over a week earlier than Amazon’s estimate, which was a good start.

This is amazingly well built. I was expecting a device as bendy and creaky as the Toshiba Chromebook 2; but it isn’t, with brushed aluminium almost everywhere (the hinge is plastic), and shiny bevelled edges. It feels really good quality: solid and creak-free.

The large bevel for the display (in laptop mode) isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And it’s definitely useful in tablet mode; otherwise you’d be holding the screen itself. The bevel is roughly similar to the iPad. The screen feels a little less slippy under the finger than my Nexus 7’s screen, and appears not to be too much of a finger magnet. The screen itself is pretty good, and isn’t anywhere near as small as I feared it might be. It isn’t uniformly bright, sadly; the top of the screen (in desktop mode) is noticeably dimmer than the rest.

The size (again, similar to an iPad) is pretty good. I notice it fits into an iPad-sized compartment in an old iPad bag that I have, so that’s pretty good. It’s most certainly the right size and weight to sling into a bag, and the build quality makes me relatively confident that it’ll survive, too.

The charger is annoying. A proprietary almost-a-USB-C-but-not-quite plug, connected to a big black block with US-style mains pins. Of course, it needs an adaptor to work in Australia (I’ve plenty), but I’d rather it was a charging block in the middle of two leads (like most others are), rather than a wall-plug which is much harder to ‘fix’ (and, in US sockets, tends to fall out anyway, if my experience with the Mac charger is anything to go by). The charger is easily the most irritating thing about this product.

The keyboard isn’t full size but nearly is, and it’s relatively easy to adapt to. I find the keys a bit too slippy, but I’ll get used to it. They keyboard’s pretty good, and the trackpad is good albeit a little small and loud to click.

Interesting to see the additions for tablet mode: a “lock orientation” setting is in the main user menu, with a hideous icon that looks nothing like the Android equivalent. In tablet mode, the keyboard and trackpad stops working, which is good because when you hold it, you’re essentially pressing random keys. A pop-up keyboard like the standard Android Google Keyboard appears when you need one; it supports gesture typing and is okay. As others have said, ChromeOS (and, more importantly, most desktop websites) aren’t really built for touch, and sometimes you find yourself hitting very small touch targets. Update: I’ve actually discovered quite a few nice touches in ChromeOS for touch — including Chrome itself, in which you can swipe ‘back’ quite easily.

Android apps are available if you switch to the beta channel. I’m not a big gamer, and the only Android app I’ve installed, so far, is the Google Play Books app (because the web app is relatively awful). Immersive mode doesn’t happen automatically: instead you need to hit the full-screen button. Play Books appears to simply not work in tablet mode, crashing Chrome or even forcing a reboot. It does work in desktop mode, and looks pretty good. I can’t, to be honest, think of anything on Android I actually want on a desktop other than this; but we’ll see. Update: A few weeks (and updates) later… Play Books now works in portrait, and I’ve installed Facebook Messenger. I still can’t think of anything else.

When sticking to ChromeOS, the machine’s fast, and glitch-free. The touch screen works very well, and I find myself hitting the screen rather than fiddling with the touchpad.

The unit also has a micro SD card slot (and I happen to have a fast 4GB card). This might be useful for putting media on for a long trip, possibly, though I tend not to watch too many movies. The micro SD card fits fully inside the unit. Of note: it doesn’t irritatingly pop-up a message saying that it’s detected the card on every boot, which I remember ChromeOS doing a year or so ago with my Toshiba.

The only other thing I’ve spotted which I found a little strange is a pre-installed Asus shortcut in the app launcher, which takes me to a registration page. I wasn’t aware that ChromeOS allowed bloatware (not that is particularly bloaty).

Anyway, as a relatively cheap machine, I’m delighted with this so far. It’ll be interesting to see how Android properly works on it once it reaches stable; and to properly evaluate the battery.