First look: ASUS Chromebook Flip

ASUS Chromebook Flip
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

Move over iPad, I just might ditch you for the ASUS Chromebook Flip

A nice FedEx guy delivered the ASUS Flip Chromebook from Amazon today and I have been playing with it since this morning. It was initially intended for my wife, but it looks like I will keep it for myself to replace my iPad Air 2. Now why would someone replace the iPad with a Chromebook? Isn’t that insane? It’s not. Stay with me and you might understand.

The hardware: great build quality

The ASUS Flip is a well built and well designed device that feels premium and solid in your hands. The first thing I check on such devices is hinges, and most of the time I am disappointed, but Chromebook Flip is an exception.

asus flip quality 1 Swapnil Bhartiya

Premium and solid design!

One of the most important components for me, as a writer, is the keyboard (I have many sub-standard keyboards sitting in the ‘rest in peace’ closet). I love chiclet keyboards and ASUS has done a great job with the size of the keys and spacing between them.

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Macbook Pro Retina and ASUS Chromebook Flip keyboards, side-by-side.

The screen is gorgeous

OK. It’s not a retina screen. And I kind of like super high resolution screens after using the Nexus 6, Retina Macbook and the iPad. But for the $250 this device costs, the screen is gorgeous.

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ASUS Chromebook Flip next to the iPad Air 2

ASUS has once again done a great job with the multi-touch, IPS screen, which has recommended resolution of 1280x800 though you can go up to 1440x900. Scrolling, pinch to zoom, etc. are as smooth as you would see on the iPad Air 2. I didn’t notice any lag or difference whatsoever.

I do wish there was less bezel, though. Android devices have spoiled me there.

Connectivity and Ports

The flip comes with two USB 2.0 ports, one micro SD card slot (I plugged in a 32GB card to expand the storage); a micro HDMI port so you can add an additional monitor for work, connect it to an AV system or TV monitor for entertainment or a projector for presentations.

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More ports than any 'tablet'.

Multimonitor bliss

Speaking of the HDMI port, I must add that Google has done an incredible job with multimonitor set-up. You can choose the location of the second monitor from the monitor setup window and arrange the monitors for better workflow. You can also easily choose the audio output -- the HDMI connected device or the Chromebook’s built-in speakers.

The iPad Killer

One of the coolest features of this Chromebook is its ability to flip the keyboard 360 degrees, turning it into a tablet. Two interesting things happen when you flip it all the way: 1) The physical keyboard is disabled and you are presented with a virtual keyboard, similar to what you would see on a tablet. 2) ChromeOS transitions to full screen mode, just like on a tablet, and you can now use one app at a time. Very smoothly, the entire UI transforms in front of your eyes. An additional soft button is added at the bottom right corner that works as an app switcher. Since the physical keyboard is disabled you can use the volume keys to increase or decrease the volume.

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Virtual keyboard!

It simply transforms into a tablet without all those limitations that ‘app infested’ tablets like the iPad have.

Pitting it against the iPad

It seems like an unfair comparison to put the $249 Chromebook up against my $800 iPad Air 2. And I agree. It is.

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As thin as the iPad with case!

Swapnil Bhartiya

But I really feel suffocated on the iPad, being locked inside the airtight container created by Apple: Each app is locked out from the storage available on the iPad; two apps can’t talk to each other; I have to make multiple copies of the same file if I want to work on them from different apps. By comparison, on the Chromebook once I mount a networked drive I can save files directly to that location; I can open files from the shared directories. None of that possible on the iPad.

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iPad breaks my workflow!

Writing. As much as I love the iPad as a ‘consumer’ device, I despise it as a device for creating content. When I bought the iPad I was excited about having a ‘portable’ device for my writing, I was wrong.

Only after using it did I discover that writing stories was a pain, thanks to extremely restrictive apps like iWriter and Byword.

I composed this very article on Sublime Text editor on my Arch machine running on my desktop PC. I had to move out of the office due to some work, so I took my Macbook with me and opened the same file on Macbook and continued working. I can’t do that on the iPad.

To access the document on the iPad, I'd need an app like Documents that can access the server. Then open the file through the app, which will make a copy of the file on restricted storage space of that app, and then open the file from that app into the iWriter app and continue the work. Then the work would be saved locally on the iPad on the iWriter app. I couldn't just close the iPad and resume work from my PC. I would have to again ‘export’ the file to the ‘Documents’ app, which would create a second copy of the same file and then copy the file back to the sever. It’s a mess. Some apps like Byword won’t even let you export a file.

On the Chromebook, however, once I mounted the file server, I can work on files directly from this central location using apps like ‘Text’.

At times I do use Google Docs (and some use Microsoft Office) but the iOS apps lack many features that you would find in their web interface. You can’t use the full-fledged web interface on the iPad as it will force you to use the mobile version, which once again lacks many features. I don’t really care if it’s an app or a service running in a web browser as long as I get the best and uncompromised experience. On the Chromebook I can simply open Google Docs or Office Online and get an undiluted experience.

Image Editing. Imaging editing is actually fun in Chromebook using apps like Pixlr or Sumo Paint. And you also have access to the great Google Photos and many online image editors. Soon Photoshop will be available on Chromebooks, which makes iPad less attractive for me.

Entertainment. I have a Plex media server running on a Ubuntu server at home. I can access Plex from my Chromebook, no need to install any apps. Then I have mounted my networked drive using the SFTP app so I can play music and movies directly from there. On the Chromebook I can play a folder and it will play all the files there, which is great when I want to listen to a whole album or want to watch all episodes of a TV series. (On the Plex app of the iPad that’s not possible and you have to manually create playlists which is quite painful.)

If I am having a party I can put the Chromebook in tablet mode, open Plex and stream the music to the Chromecast connected AV system, or if there is no local network then I can stream it using the HDMI cable. The ability to autoplay all files in that folder is an additional bonus.

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Final words

After using the Flip I have started to think that Google should ditch Android and use Chrome OS for its tablets and even smartphones. Chrome OS, with its open-ness, will do a better job than iOS or Android, which are infested by ‘apps’.

As a Linux user, while I may be tempted to install another Linux distribution on it (just because I can), I will stick to the Chrome OS as it’s well suited for my needs. Storage won’t be an issue for me as I can buy a 128GB MicroSD card for around $78 and will have more space than my iPad Air 64GB and will still only be about a $320 investment.

If you are looking for an affordable tablet that can double as a laptop, Chromebook Flip is for you. There is just no reason for you to throw hundreds of dollars at the iPad. The biggest argument in favor of Chromebook Flip over iPad is that you get the uncompromised ‘desktop’ experience on a tablet with much more flexibility.

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