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I tested Google's new Chromebook Plus and the generative AI features blew me away

The $399 Asus Chromebook Plus CX34 is among a growing class of productivity laptops that are supported by robust, generative AI features. Here's how it fares.
Written by Cesar Cadenas, Contributing Writer
Cesar Cadenas/ZDNET

Back in early October, Google announced its next generation of productivity laptops -- the Chromebook Plus series. There's been a fair amount of hype surrounding these machines, as they've been billed as having more powerful hardware compared to last year's models and they include several AI-powered features. The tech giant handpicked a few companies to develop these computers to usher in this new generation of hardware. 

Also: Google's new premium Chromebook certification offers more than just bragging rights

One of these new devices is the Chromebook Plus CX34 by Asus. I must say that if this is what the future holds, then the future looks very bright because this is a great mid-ranger. Everything comes together into a top-performing machine, although I do think some of the hype is a bit exaggerated. Here's the review.

View at Target

Upon opening the CX34 for the first time, you'll notice it has a unique construction; the outside is made entirely from plastic. I was initially worried the laptop would be flimsy, but to my surprise, it's actually quite sturdy. It's a tough plastic, yet it's smooth to the touch. What's more, Asus' machine is lightweight, clocking in at a little over three pounds, so you can carry the CX34 with you wherever you go. 

Also: Google extends Chromebook lifespan to ten years

Beneath the laptop is a port for the heat sink, which allows the internals to stay cool. Normally, this placement would be poor. However, thanks to the way the display opens, this placement pushes the Chromebook up a little for proper airflow. It's a small touch, but much appreciated.  

The keyboard consists of backlit, chiclet keys -- a fitting name because they really do look like chiclets. Typing on the keys felt pleasant on the hands, thanks to their rubber coating and 1.4mm travel distance. The latter enables fast, comfortable typing. The keyboard is also supported by anti-ghosting software, which ensures inputs are sent through, so you can rest easy knowing words won't get randomly dropped.

I should point out that the keyboard encompasses just a small portion of the laptop. It doesn't stretch end to end. Presumably, Asus made this decision so the off-center touchpad takes up more room. I personally prefer a larger keyboard because I find that kind of layout more comfortable to use. The layout of the Asus keyboard isn't so bad, but it took a bit of getting used to.

The upper half of the Chromebook Plus CX34 has a lot going for it, too. The display outputs at full HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) across its 14-inch screen. It has an 80% screen-to-body ratio, meaning the remaining 20% is nothing but bezels. I guess Asus made the decision on bezels to ensure laptop sturdiness. Thin bezels could have made the CX34 more fragile. 

Also: This Chromebook has the longest-lasting battery life I've tested, and it's not even close

I understand the need for product protection, but I would have liked to see the screen make good of the real estate it's been given, instead of stopping short. Fortunately, the screen does look great because of its high resolution. And the display has an anti-glare coating, which lets you use it outside without having to deal with the annoying glare of the sun.

For video calls, you're getting a full HD webcam that makes sure you look good in meetings. The webcam is also supported by several AI-powered features that enhance the camera's performance and cancel any background noise, which means your voice comes through crystal clear. The speakers are fine for video calls, but the lackluster performance is made more apparent when listening to music or watching a movie. There is almost no bass in the output; audio sounds tinny.

Cesar Cadenas/ZDNET

While the webcam houses most of the AI features, there is one AI-enabled feature in Google Photos that I am a big fan of called Magic Eraser. This cool tool can remove unwanted objects in photographs, replacing them with the surrounding background. If there are people standing in the way of a beautiful shot of the sea, you can remove them, and the end result is a picture that's like they were never there.

Also: How to use Magic Eraser in the Google Photos app

I recommend using the Magic Eraser on small stuff in pictures. When you use the feature for objects that take up a large amount of space in photographs, the after-effect can make the image look warped. So, while the tool is good, it's no substitute for Adobe Photoshop. Besides Magic Eraser, Chromebook Plus models now have the nifty File Sync feature, which keeps a copy of Google Drive files on your computer at all times. It's a handy tool that I got a lot of use out of when I was outside away from a Wi-Fi connection.

ZDNET's buying advice

I highly recommend grabbing the Chromebook Plus CX34, especially if you want a laptop that will appreciate in features over time. In the same announcement from early October, Google revealed the Chromebook Plus series will obtain other AI features. One is a writing tool that will be able to improve short-form content. You'll even gain your very own custom wallpaper generator in the settings menu. It's unknown when exactly these updates will roll out, but it will be sometime in 2024

Also: The best Chromebooks you can buy, starting at $312

My review unit came equipped with an Intel Core i3-1215U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a storage size of 128GB. You can purchase this model in Pearl White for $120 off Target's website. Personally, I wouldn't get this model because of its small storage space. Instead, I suggest purchasing the 256GB model.

It does appear there may be a third model down the line. Asus' official product page for the Chromebook Plus CX34 mentions it's supposed to have a touchscreen, but my review unit didn't have that feature, and neither does the 256GB version. It's unknown when the touchscreen CX34 will launch, so keep an eye out for it.

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