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Chromebooks started life as a low-cost computing option based around Google's web-based apps and services. Some things have not changed much. You'll still get the most out of a Chromebook if it's online, although you can now use it offline for a range of tasks. And some Chromebooks, such as Google's recent £629/$649 Pixelbook Go, are premium devices. The 360-degree convertible Asus Chromebook Flip C436 costs £899, or $799 in the US. You can get a very respectable fully-fledged Windows laptop for that kind of money. So is the Asus offering worth the outlay?
The industrial design and build of the Chromebook Flip C436 is excellent. The white lid looks great, and both it and the underside are made from magnesium alloy rather than plastic. Although I could bend the lid slightly in my hands, it was not flexible enough to cause concern. I would still want to carry this laptop around in a sleeve, but more to avoid scratching the lid's white coating than for extra chassis protection.
The metal chassis does make this a reasonably heavy laptop at 1.1kg (2.42lbs), but it's slim at 1.37cm (0.53in.), and considering its 14-inch screen, the footprint is reasonable at 31.95cm (12.57in.) wide by 20.53cm (8.08in.) deep.
The 14-inch screen uses Asus's minimal-bezel NanoEdge design. The side bezels (in landscape mode) are thinnest at 4.9mm, but the upper bezel housing the webcam is not much larger, and even the bottom bezel with its Asus branding is impressively slim. Asus claims an 85% screen-to-body ratio for the Chromebook Flip C346.
The section between the hinges is occupied by a silver mesh strip which looks similar to the speaker grille on the premium Lenovo Yoga C940. If intended, that's a nice homage, although in fact sound seems to emerge from the Chromebook Flip C436 via the whole of the keyboard section, thanks to an omnidirectional Harman Kardon-branded quad-speaker array.
This results in well-rounded audio that did justice to music videos and TV shows I watched during the test period. When the Chromebook Flip C436 is fully rotated in tablet mode, that grille seems to provide a nice outlet; sound isn't muffled when the device is used on a desk or a lap either.
The screen is a 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) display with good viewing angles but a very reflective finish. Colours are vibrant and sharp, but brightness is a little lacking. Working outside during some warm and very sunny days in mid-May, I found it a little tricky to see what I was doing, even returning inside on occasions. That's a pity for such a premium product.
The screen is touch-sensitive, which makes working in tablet mode feasible for a host of tasks where you might otherwise resort to a separate tablet.
Ideally, I would prefer the keyboard to lock out in tablet mode, because it's vulnerable when resting on a lap, for example. This is the kind of extra detail you might expect from a top-end Chromebook.
The backlit keyboard is large and individual keys are comfortable under the fingers. There's plenty of travel and good bounce, making it possible to touch type at full speed. The cursor keys are a bit squashed, but that's hardly unusual, while the function key row comprises half-height keys that are slightly wider than the QWERTY keys. The top right 'key' in the function key row is a fingerprint reader; registering my print during setup was fast and easy, as was regular usage.
My only complaint about the keyboard is that there's a fair amount of flex in it. As a light-touch typist this didn't bother me, but the heavier-handed among us may not appreciate this. The touchpad is wide, deep, responsive, and a pleasure to use.
There are two USB-C ports, one on each side, supporting both display and power and catering for battery charging. There's also a 3.5mm headset jack and a MicroSD card slot. The on/off switch is on the left edge, and there's a small and slightly fiddly volume rocker next to it, so both are easy to access when in tablet mode. Asus provides a USB-C to HDMI converter. It's a pity there's no USB 3 port though.
For such an expensive Chromebook you should expect high-end internals, and you get them. My review unit had a 10th generation Intel Core i5 10210U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. This is the model on sale in the UK as I write, although other processor, RAM and storage combinations are listed online at the Asus website.
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Not surprisingly, with these specifications I found the Chromebook Flip C436 absolutely flew. But arguably such a powerful processor is overkill for a Chromebook. By their very nature, Chromebooks aren't really designed to run high-end workloads, and the idea that anybody would buy a Chromebook to do computationally challenging work is rather an odd one. A portion of the device's cost has gone to buying the processor, and I'm not sure it's money well spent.
On the other hand, a decent-capacity SSD is welcome. Gone are the days when Chromebook users would expect to work online first and foremost, and a good quantity of local storage is important.
Asus quotes up to 12 hours for the battery life, which should be enough to get most people through a working day with a bit of time to spare. The Chromebook Flip C436 didn't quite live up to these expectations, though. In one test session I worked for four hours writing into web apps, web browsing with bursts of streaming music and video. The battery dropped down to 55% during this time. That 12-hour mark might be achievable, but eight or nine seems more likely in practice.
The Chromebook Flip C436 is a visually pleasing, solidly made and ergonomic Chromebook -- but it's also one of the most expensive.
The lack of a USB 3 port means users will need to either buy a converter or use a USB-C hub. The screen could also do with more brightness if it's to be usable outdoors.
But the main issue with the Chromebook Flip C436 is its 10th-generation Core i5 processor, which is arguably over-specified for this platform. Cutting cost here might result in a premium Chromebook with a less eye-watering price tag.
As it stands, you might want to look a little down the Chromebook line to save some money, or consider any number of more affordable but highly serviceable Windows laptops.
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