Monday, May 30, 2016

Asus Chromebook Flip

 by Tony Thomas

Since it has been announced that Android apps are coming to the Chromebook this fall, I thought I would celebrate by picking up a Chromebook Flip 2GB.  Although this machine is very similar to my Rockchip-based Asus Chromebook C201, the Flip offers a a lot of additional functionality.  

First of all, the Flip will be one of the first devices to support Android during the alpha and beta test phases which should be launching soon.  So, that will give me the ability to test Android on ChromeOS as soon as it is launched.

Secondly, it is a very light and compact device with a 10.1" touchscreen is capable of double-duty as a small notebook and a capable tablet.  Additionally, you can flip the keyboard under and use it to watch You Tube, videos, movies or even use it for tabletop presentations.  The addition of the touchscreen with pinch-to-zoom and the 360 degree hinge is really a game-changer.

It has a great (although smallish) keyboard, two USB 2 ports, a micro-SD card slot, a micro-HDMI jack and a combo mic/heaphone jack.  Power is supplied by an Asus power brick with the same custom connector used on the C201.  Battery life is excellent at around 9 hours.

Using the Flip

The Flip has a very similar feel to my C201 and it uses the same chip and memory. The Rockchip Quad-Core ARM Cortex A17 (RK3288C) processor with Mali graphics core is up to the task and the Flip runs very fast despite only having 2GB of RAM and a 16GB SSD.   (There is also a 4GB version for those who need more memory for multitasking.)  The keyboard has a decent amount of travel, making it a joy to type on.  The trackpad is smooth and responsive.  The Octane score at circa 7000 is slow compared to most Intel-equipped Chromebooks but is adequate for this kind of hybrid.  A faster CPU usually requires more cooling and battery power (adding weight) and reduces the operating time. 

The touchscreen is very useful on this device as it allows for pinch-and-zoom and when it is flipped to tablet mode, an onscreen keyboard is automatically enabled.  Very slick!  When using it in tablet mode, you need to hold it do that your fingers are not in contact with the keyboard.  Even though the keyboard is inactive in tablet mode, it makes for a strange experience if you press the keys while in that mode.   The fit and feel of the all-aluminum body is superb making it look and feel like a much more expensive device.   The MacBook Air comes to mind.

The audio quality of the speakers is decent and the screen is very sharp when used at the recommended 1280 x 800 resolution.  The front HD camera is adequate for web chats but not much else.  There is no rear camera.

Triple Threat

I installed Ubuntu on the Flip using Crouton and can easily switch between ChromeOS and Ubuntu in real time using a key command.  Having a Linux distro available provides enhanced offline functionality and the ability to run powerful programs like Libre Office,  Gimp, Inkscape, Filezilla, etc.  As soon as this machine has the ability to run all of the Android apps on the Google Play store, it will be a real triple threat!

I believe that devices like the Asus Flip will become much more common as the Chrome/Android marriage comes to fruition.  I expect to see devices with more memory, more storage and even longer battery life.   If you want to get into the game early, the Asus Flip may be a good option.

The Flip has a great keyboard and trackpad

Flip in video viewing/presentation mode

Flip in tablet mode (vertical)

Flip running Ubuntu via Crouton