Portable, versatile and long-lasting, Asus' new Chromebook Flip C100P is a nice travel companion at a really low price. For just $299, the laptop/tablet hybrid offers a folding design, a nice keyboard and long battery life. It can't run Windows programs, but it still looks like a good option for frequent business travelers whose mobile computing needs are mostly limited to editing documents, checking email and browsing the Web.
[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page ]
Once you feel how light and compact the Chromebook Flip is, you'll want to take it with you everywhere you go. In fact, the Flip is one of the most portable 2-in-1s we've ever tested, weighing just 1.96 lbs. and measuring 10.6 x 7.2 x 0.6 inches. It's noticeably smaller than competing budget systems like the 11-inch Asus EeeBook X205TA (11.2 x 7.6 x 0.6 inches, 2.2 lbs.) and the 11-inch Samsung Chromebook 2 (11.4 x 8.6 x 0.66 inches, 2.7 lbs.), and that's good news if you're looking for a machine that won't weigh you down on your next business trip.
The Chromebook Flip is good for work and play, thanks to its flexible hinge that lets you flip the screen back a full 360 degrees to use it in multiple modes.
For starters, you can fold the screen all the way back to use the Flip like a tablet, which comes in handy for touch-screen Android apps. You can also flip it back partway and use the keyboard as a stand, which makes it easier to use the device in cramped quarters — for example, on an airplane tray table.
Switching among the various modes is simple and satisfying. I do have one complaint, though; The keyboard isn't disabled when you are using the device in tablet mode, which will inevitably lead to errant keystrokes.
Is a 10-inch display too small to work on? It depends on your needs. The Chromebook Flip's screen dimensions are fine for browsing the Web, managing your email inbox and viewing documents. However, screen-intensive tasks like spreadsheet editing feel cramped. Split-screen multitasking is possible but not especially practical. However, I do like that Chrome OS lets you snap apps to either side of the display for a quick split-screen view.
Although it is small, this display is pretty nice to look at. The IPS panel has a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, which is pretty good for a screen this size. Text looks sharp, colors are vibrant and viewing angles are very good. The display is also brighter than the competition, topping out at 283 nits, which beats the Samsung Chromebook 2 (176 nits) and the Acer Chromebook 13 (222 nits). Brighter displays are easier to use outdoors or in direct sunlight.
Although the Chromebook Flip is a great value, its operating system won't meet the needs of every user. The key thing business users need to know about the Chromebook Flip is that it can't run Windows or Mac programs. Like all Chromebooks, the Flip runs on Chrome OS, a lightweight operating system designed by Google. It can only access the Web and run Android applications, so it isn't an option if you depend on a specific piece of software that only runs on a Mac or PC.
As soon as you boot up the Chromebook Flip, you're prompted to sign in to your Google account. Then, you're sent to a desktop that will look pretty familiar to Windows users, complete with a taskbar and button in the bottom-left corner that lets you search your system or browse all your apps.
You can pin apps to the taskbar with a few clicks, making them easily accessible. Meanwhile, icons in the bottom-right corner serve as shortcuts for utilities like battery and Wi-Fi settings.
If Chrome OS seems limited, consider its strengths. The Chromebook Flip boots up in mere seconds — quicker than any other operating system I've tested. And while adopting a new OS might seem intimidating, there's no real learning curve here. There are a few advanced settings to tinker with, and all updates are installed in the background while you work. If you can use a Web browser, you can use Chrome OS.
Of course, an easy-to-use operating system won't do you any good if it can't run the apps you need. But although Chrome OS isn't compatible with Mac or PC programs, you might be surprised by what's available on Chrome OS. For example, Microsoft offers online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which can be pinned to the Flip's taskbar and opened like traditional PC programs. They're not quite as full-featured as their full desktop counterparts, but they're good enough for most users. And because they're online, new and edited documents will be synced automatically to your Office account, so you can access them when you're back in the office.
You can also download Chrome apps like Skype for video conferencing, OneNote for keeping your notes organized and backed up, and Chrome Remote Desktop, which lets you remotely access files and programs on your work PC from your Chromebook. But for the most part, the inability to run specialized desktop programs means that the Chromebook Flip works better as a versatile, lightweight travel companion than as a full-time work machine.
The Chromebook Flip is always listening for your next command. That's because it runs Google Now, the same personal-assistant app you'll find on newer Android phones and tablets. Just say, "OK, Google Now" at any time while using the Flip to activate the voice-command prompt; then, state a request, like "Make an appointment to meet with Steve tomorrow at 2 p.m." When you're done speaking, the event will be added automatically to your calendar. As another example, you can say, "Take a note," and dictate something you want to remember for later.
I like voice commands because they make convoluted tasks easy. For example, manually entering a digital note into a notes app is almost more trouble than it's worth, but using voice commands makes it effortless.
Plus, appointments, reminders and notes saved via Google Now will sync automatically with your Android smartphone, so you'll always have access to them from anywhere.
Keyboard and trackpad
Let's face it: There's just no room on a 10-inch laptop for a full-size keyboard. That means the Flip's keyboard feels a bit cramped, especially if you have large hands.
That said, this is one of the better compact keyboards I've used. The keys are well spaced and offer a good amount of travel, which is a big perk; deeper keys offer a more comfortable, desktoplike typing experience. The keys also feel snappy, offering a good amount of feedback with each stroke.
My average-size hands had no trouble navigating the keyboard and typing at full speed with few errors. You won't want to type on it all day, but this keyboard can definitely do the job when you're away from the office.
There is one glaring omission that's sure to aggravate touch typists: Like all Chromebooks, this one lacks a Delete key. Instead, the Flip's power/sleep button is in the spot where that key would normally be found. It is possible to remap a key combination — such as Alt + Backspace — to serve as a makeshift Delete key, but that will take some getting used to.
The trackpad is nice, with a smooth matte finish that my finger glided over easily. Mousing around felt responsive, and gestures like two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom worked well.
You'll get some seriously long battery life out of the Flip. It lasted 9 hours and 19 minutes on our battery test, which is more than an hour longer than the ultraportable-laptop category average of 8 hours and 4 minutes, and longer than the Acer Chromebook 14 (8:08) and the Samsung Chromebook 2 (7:50). That should easily get you through long business flights.
However, the Flip is not the longest-lasting compact notebook in its price range. The Asus EeeBook X25TA — a budget Windows laptop — ran for an incredible 12 hours and 5 minutes, nearly 3 hours longer than the Chromebook Flip. But with an 11-inch display, the EeeBook is not quite as portable as the Flip.
The Flip provides a decent array of ports for a notebook this size. Those ports include two USB 2.0 ports, a mini-HDMI port for connecting the machine to a larger desktop monitor or projector, and an SD card slot for expanding the machine's internal storage. That's not a bad selection for a device that's essentially a tablet with a keyboard.
Performance and configurations
Asus sells the Chromebook Flip in two different hardware configurations. My $299 review unit was powered by a 1.8-GHz Cortex Rockchip processor with 4GB of RAM and 16GB of flash storage. That's relatively modest hardware, but the lightweight nature of Chrome OS helps the Flip speed along smoothly. I didn't notice any slowdown during my testing period, even when streaming HD video from YouTube with more than a dozen tabs open in the Chrome Web browser.
Asus also sells a lower-end model for $249, which has the same processor but just 2GB of RAM instead of 4GB. Casual users might be able to get by with that much memory, but anyone interested in even moderate multitasking should shell out for the model with more RAM.
Samsung's Chromebook 2 ($249) offers a larger 11-inch display, but it's not as fast or as portable as the Chromebook Flip.
Asus' EeeBook X205TA ($199) is cheaper and has a bigger 11-inch display, as well as slightly longer battery life than the Chromebook Flip. It also runs on Windows, but it's not as portable as the Chromebook Flip, and lacks hybrid functionality.
With a compact design and a lightweight operating system, the Asus Chromebook Flip C100P isn't aiming to be your full-time work machine. But it will be a great travel companion, overcoming its limitations with a solid (if slightly cramped) keyboard and good performance at an affordable price.
If you prize battery life above all else in your mobile workstation or just need to run Windows programs, the ultraaffordable Asus EeeBook X205TA is worth a look. But the Chromebook Flip is more portable, and its folding design makes it more versatile. Before you buy it, though, just make sure it can run the software you need.
[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page ]