Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA
You can buy a cheap, bare-bones chromebook for $199, but the Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA ($299) gives you a lot more for an extra hundred bucks. Its aluminum rather than plastic chassis comprises a 2-in-1 convertible that folds from Laptop to Tablet mode, with Lenovo Yoga-style Stand and Tent modes in between. It has a bright IPS touch screen instead of a plain LCD panel. It has two USB-C ports and a Chrome OS-optimized, six-core processor. The big gripe? Its small size. While your arm won’t tire carrying the Asus in your briefcase, your eyes may complain at squinting at its dinky 10.1-inch display for more than a few hours.
In short, though it’s easy to recommend the C101PA for kids, for adults we’re sticking with our Editors’ Choice suggestion of its 12.5-inch sibling, the $499 Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA. But if you’re looking for an affordable and appealing children’s chromebook, or a light-duty traveling companion for grown-ups who don’t need much more than the occasional hour editing documents from an airline seat or checking email from a hotel desk, the little Asus is convenient and versatile.
One Big Bezel
With its silver lid decorated with a centered Asus logo and a Chrome logo in the corner, the Flip’s rounded-wedge styling reminds us of the late 11.6-inch MacBook Air. At 0.6 by 10.4 by 7.2 inches and 2 pounds, it’s dwarfed even by 11.6-inch chromebooks like the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 (0.8 by 11.7 by 8.1 inches), though it’s a bit larger than the Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 320 Windows detachable tablet with keyboard attached (0.4 by 9.8 by 7 inches).
The screen area is arguably big enough for an 11.6-inch display, but settles for a 10.1-inch surrounded by glossy black borders suitable for resting your thumbs while holding the device in Tablet mode. There’s another shiny Asus logo centered below the screen, just above the nearly full-width hinge. The petite machine feels solidly built, with no wobble or flex in the screen or keyboard deck.
The keyboard isn’t backlit, and follows a slightly condensed, standard chromebook layout, with a search instead of Caps Lock key and top row of browser and system control keys such as forward, back, reload, brightness, and volume. The keys are small but sufficiently spaced, with a crisp, pliant feel that makes for tolerable if careful typing. The small touchpad taps and glides smoothly, though we found ourselves mostly relying on the touch screen.
All the ports are on the device’s right side: two USB-C 3.0 ports, both of which work with the supplied AC adapter, bracketing a USB 2.0 (Type-A) port, a headphone jack, and a micro SD card slot. The power button and a volume rocker are on the system’s left edge.
The little Flip’s bottom-mounted speakers produce startlingly loud sound, distorted in the top part of the volume range but perfectly adequate, if short on bass, at less than ear-bleeding levels. The webcam above the screen captures averagely bright, fairly well-focused selfies.
Like other glass-fronted touch screens, the Asus’ 1,280-by-800 display is quite reflective, so its support of very wide viewing angles is hampered by images of walls and objects in the room. But the screen is otherwise first-rate, with ample brightness as long as you stick to the top few backlight settings. Colors are rich and saturated. Fine details look sharp, albeit too small for comfort in prolonged work sessions.
Cute as a Button
The Flip’s 4GB of memory is enough for capable chromebook performance, though its 16GB of eMMC flash storage is only half of what we like to see as a minimum for local documents and downloads (it carries the customary offer of 100GB of Google Drive cloud storage for two years). The CPU behind the curtain is the OP1, Google’s branding of the Rockchip 3399, a chromebook-tailored ARM system on a chip that combines two Cortex A72 cores for high performance and four Cortex A53 cores for low power consumption.
The OP1 also runs Android apps natively, and indeed the C101PA’s experience with Android felt the smoothest and least beta-testy of the chromebooks we’ve sampled lately. We encountered a glitch or two (running one app seemed to disable the search key, for instance), but the process of adding the Google Play Store to the menu alongside the Chrome Web Store was painless, and most of the recent apps we tried ran full screen in portrait orientation in Tablet mode as well as in smartphone-style portrait windows in Laptop mode.
Android apps like Netflix and Microsoft Word ran without a hitch (although while the latter is free for consumers on devices with 10.1-inch or smaller screens, we prefer the browser-based Office Online version that works with chromebooks of all sizes). Overall, we still consider Android support a bonus rather than integral feature of today’s chromebooks, but the Flip is as good a platform as any.
While neither the Asus nor any other chromebook runs our Windows-based benchmarks, the Flip proved a perky performer, launching apps quickly and cruising comfortably with 10 browser tabs open including a YouTube video plus Outlook for Android. It lasted for a respectable 9 hours and 22 minutes in our video playback battery-life test—enough to get you through a workday, although without a lot left over for enjoying an evening with the C101PA as a streaming video player.
Sometimes Size Matters
As we said, our biggest complaint with the C101PA is its diminutive size, which is ideal for youngsters but likely to cramp the style of 6-footers (let alone 6-footers with glasses or contacts). It’s a good value at $299, but we urge adults to check out the abovementioned 11.6-inch Acer Spin 11 or, better yet, the 12.5-inch Asus Flip C302CA.