NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Officially, it's the Asus model number C100 but the world will know it as the Chromebook Flip -- the first-of-its-kind combination notebook and tablet running Google's (GOOG) Chrome software. The new Flip is a blast to use and its quality belies its very low price.
Get the Chromebook Flip on Amazon here.
It's called Flip because it can change from a small Chrome OS laptop to a tablet by flipping the keyboard 360 degrees to a position directly behind the screen. That means you can use the Flip as a notebook computer, fold the keyboard part of the way for a stand-up touchscreen device and all the way back to use as a tablet. Think of it as a cross between Google's flagship Chromebook Pixel and Lenovo's (LNVGY) LaVie Z 360 with the Asus selling for a tiny fraction of the price.
I'm not suggesting that this Chromebook Flip can actually compete with or compare to either of those full-fledged notebook designs but, if any Chromebook can fulfill your portable computing needs, then the new Asus 2-in-1 design would be a bargain at twice the price.
The Chromebook Flip runs on the latest version of the Chrome OS, which is basically a glorified Web browser. You can use a Chromebook to do anything you want as long as it can be accomplished inside a browser window. That means you can't run programs such as Adobe (ADBE) Photoshop or Microsoft (MSFT) Office. But you can use small apps available from the Google Chrome Store and free office programs such as Google Docs (word processing), Sheets (spreadsheets) and Slides (presentations) and then store those files in Google's Cloud. The Chromebook Flip comes with 100 GB of free cloud storage space for two years.
You'll probably be surprised when you hold the new Chromebook Flip. Unlike with most inexpensive devices, the outer shell -- which looks like metal-colored plastic -- is actually lightweight aluminum. Flip has a real metal chassis! On the outer edges, you'll find two full-sized USB 2.0 ports, a micro-HDMI port, a microSD card expansion slot (when you need more than the 16 GB of supplied storage), an earphone/microphone jack, as well as physical volume control buttons for use in the tablet mode. Stereo speakers, behind the keyboard, provide decent sound.
The Flip's touchscreen measures 10.1-inches and delivers 1280 by 800 pixel resolution. The screen looks good in normal use and the touch input operates a lot smoother and more accurately than a number of other tablets we've tested. To keep prices low, Asus has chosen a low-power, quad-core processor made in China by FuZhou Rockchip Electronics. The system-on-a-chip is no great powerhouse, but does allow the Flip to achieve amazing battery life. We've been able to attain 10+ hours of use from a full charge without really trying.
Chromebook Flip is available in two configurations -- one with 2 GB of RAM ($249) and another with 4 GB ($279). Selecting the slightly more expensive model is a no-brainer. Extra RAM allows you to open twice as many browser tabs at the same time before running out of steam. We were able to keep at least 10 or 12 tabs going at a time including constantly updating Gmail, Google Cloud services, Netflix (NFLX), Spotify, Tidal and much more. For $30 extra, you shouldn't even bother with the 2 GB model.
Flip also comes with 802.11ac Wi-fi, Bluetooth and a "built-in, high-definition camera." The physical keyboard is described as "97% of full-sized" which means it's slightly smaller than normal. You might find the keys a little cramped. It took a day or two to get used to them. On the other hand, the keys are fine to type on -- better than the keyboard of Asus's latest, low-cost EeePC running the latest Windows OS. Flip's touchpad is a pleasure to use.
As a tablet, the Flip adds a nice pop-up keyboard which includes handwriting support and voice search as well as a new Chrome button in the lower right-hand corner allowing you to easily switch between open apps in the tablet mode. Web pages adjust quite well when switching from laptop to tablet mode or vice versa.
The Chromebook Flip is not a perfect device. The bezel around the touchscreen is massive. I understand why (you wouldn't want a smaller keyboard) but it does mar what is a great-looking device. And, it would be great if Asus could find some way to hide the keyboard in the folded/tablet mode. It sits, out in the open, behind the touchscreen and seems vulnerable to possible damage.
But, taking all things into consideration, Asus' new Chromebook Flip is a bargain. Fit and finish is high, it's small (0.6 inches thick), lightweight (2 pounds), comes with a full metal jacket and runs like a top. If you can be happy with a Chromebook to handle your computing needs, the $279, 4 GB Asus C100 may be the right choice for you.
Overall Score: 8.5/10