If inexpensive notebooks have been dropping like flies at your school, Asus shows you a new way with its $250 Chromebook Flip C100. Well-made and just powerful enough to succeed at school, the Flip gets my vote as the best classroom notebook of the year, even though it’s only August.
The key to the Flip’s longevity is its pressed aluminum case that protects its delicate components better than a plastic case can. Generally reserved for more expensive systems, the dull-gray aluminum skin is gently rounded, looks great and is complemented by sophisticated bright edging. It’s sturdy enough to be grabbed by the screen and should stand up to daily abuse, regardless of whether it stays at school at night or undergoes the rigors of traveling back and forth every day.
Think of the Flip as a jack of all trades in the classroom that can assume four different computing personalities for different tasks. The first convertible Chrome system, it can be a traditional notebook with a mechanical keyboard for student writing assignments and teacher assessments but flip the 360-degree hinge all the way over and it’s a thick tablet with a 10.1-inch screen and the keyboard is disabled. In between the Flip can be a presentation machine for small group work or set up in tent mode.
At 0.6- by 10.3- by 7.1-inches, the Flip is halfway between the size of a small notebook and a 10-inch Windows tablet. Its 1.9-pound weight might seem a bit heavy for a tablet, but is spot on when you factor in the keyboard. It’s powered by a micro-USB cable and comes with a tiny power adapter that gives it a travel weight of 2.1-pounds.
Happily, the 10.1-inch screen is nearly flush with the surface, which makes for easy tapping, swiping and scribbling, although its wide 0.8-inch bezels around the screen are a bit large. It responds to 10 independent touch inputs for everything from marking up an assignment to an art class in finger painting. There’s no active digitizer, although it worked well with an off-the-shelf stylus, but its 1,280 by 800 resolution is second best compared to tablets, like the Surface 3’s full HD imaging.
It has an integrated graphics accelerator that has its own quad-core processor. Its screen is bright at 278 candelas per meter squared, rich and sharp. Unfortunately, its screen tends to wobble too much when tapped or swiped.
Inside is a mid-range computer that’s powered by a 1.8GHz quad-core Rock Chip 3288, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space. Asus adds 100GB of online storage with GoogleDrive for two years; after that it runs about $2 a month.
Around its edge, the Flip has a power switch with a volume control as well as LEDs. There’s a micro-HDMI port for driving a projector or display along with a pair of USB connectors. On the downside, they are the older and slower USB 2.0 spec, not the newer one, but it’s a small price to pay. The system worked with everything from a memory key and LAN adapter to keyboard, mouse and Bluetooth speaker.
Its keyboard has 17.6 millimeter keys that are comfortable to type with, particularly when compared to the on-screen keyboard. The system’s speakers are under the wrist rest and pointed down. To my surprise they sound quite good and get loud enough for small groups. Beyond that you’ll want to use a pair of external speakers that are either connected via the system’s audio jack or Bluetooth
In addition to a micro-SD card slot that can accommodate up to 64GB modules, the Flip has Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11ac WiFi for top wireless connectivity. For those who stay up nights worrying about remote connectivity, the Flip has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM).
While it won’t set any performance records, that misses the point of the Flip system. It should satisfy with the ability to perform most teaching-related tasks. Sure, it can’t run Windows or any of its software, but it was the ticket for browser-based services and the variety of Chrome software is increasing just about every day.
It started up in 8.2-seconds, two seconds faster than Acer’s Chromebook 13 CB-311. The Flip recorded 1,428 and 175 milliseconds on the PeaceKeeper and Sun Spider benchmarks, which puts it slightly ahead of the CB-311, but with about half the performance potential of LG’s desktop Chromebase all in one system. Still it’s more than enough for most classroom use.
There’s no cooling fan to make extra noise and cut into battery life. In fact, the system ran for 9 hours and 20 minutes on a charge. For some it will be more than enough for a full school day of use, but for others it will mean that the Flip won’t need to be charged every day. It was reliable and its video was remarkably strong with smooth streaming and good sound synchronization.
While it has a list price of $250 with a 1-year warranty, the DB01 Flip system that I looked at can be had for as low as $230 if you shop around. There’s also a $279 model with a generous 4GB of RAM. Either way, the Flip is a genuine steal and seems like it was designed from the start for school use.
+ Great price
+ Four computing profiles
+ Full school day plus battery life
+ Bright, rich screen
+ 100GB of online storage
+ Size and weight
- USB 2.0
- Display wobbles when tapped