Sunday, February 21, 2016

Asus Chromebook Flip

I've never been a fan of the Chromebook concept. I could never get over the concept of a machine that couldn't run Houdini, and filed it in the i don't find it useful pile. Now several weeks ago, I made plans for a 2 week vacation to the UK to visit some really important landmarks (Broome Bridge, for example), and I like... hey, I'd like to have a small PC with me to properly check emails, not on the phone or tablets.

The first option to come to mind, is a macbook air. Which I promptly threw out the window. Stupid expensive, and I already have a mbp at home. Having a 2nd osx machine makes zero sense. I must admit I was searching through ebay for cheap deals, but nah. I would have no use for it on a daily basis.

Next, I was checking out the Microsoft Surfaces. You know, those are really amazing machines. Superb hardware, good screen and nice keyboard. Sure, I can nitpick it doesn't have a nvivida gpu but I've got a mbp for that.

However, after being introduced to linux and osx, there's absolutely no way I'm going back to windows unless I have to, and I already got a VM with Windows 8 that I've not used in almost a year.

Plus, it's about a grand, which is not something I'd like to bring along on an experimental trip - going to be staying in hostels this time. Finally, as with the macbook, I have zero use for it in day-to-day use.

I then came upon some comments about using Chromebooks for travel: They are highly affordable, no setup drama, compact. More reading also brought up the point that linux could be installed on it, and various google apps (like Docs) run offline, so hey, why not!

After much mussing about, I decided on the Asus Chromebook Flip. It's relatively expensive, almost 400 dollars (cad). I could get an Acer Chromebook for about 250 (cad, before tax). However, several things drew me to the flip:

- Very small size, thanks to the 10in screen. I think it might be the smallest chromebook.
- IPS Screen. Yes please.
- All metal construction.
- Touchscreen!
- Multiple "modes" like the lenovo yoga laptops.
- Looks like a macbook:


So, what do I think about it after a week of use?

Battery life is superb. I've only charged the battery once this week. I've mainly been doing some writing with it using Google Docs, and web browsing in bed and testing various apps and figuring out how to play media on it.

Now the hardware is pretty good; screen's pretty damned good, keyboard is solid. There's a webcam, hdmi out, two usb ports and a headphone jack. I only wish the keyboard is lit - in the dark, it's quite difficult to type.

Chrome is not my browser of choice, but it works and it works very well. I'd daresay it renders webpages faster on the chromebook than firefox on my mbp!!! Google Docs works as it does on osx, and the offline version works fine.

One thing I noted though, is if I created a new document whilst offline, I can't actually find it inside the Docs/Drive app. Only after getting online, can I find it. A bit annoying, but what can you do.

Vimeo, youtube, facebook, gmail, all run as expected. And one really nice thing is that it requests for the full desktop versions of website, not icky mobile versions. This is particularly bad on my ipad mini, it chugs really bad on some websites, and less to be said about my Samsung tablet the better. The chromebook does feel laggy sometimes, but it's usually on sites with an annoying amount of advertisements and videos. And it's usually just a minor stutter when scrolling, it gets up to speed rapidly (Google Docs does this as well when I'm writing, it lags/stutters for a few seconds when it first loads up, then runs smoothly)

The built-in media player doesn't play the videos I've collected very well. Thankfully there is a VLC app for chrome. While it works very well in general, some formats cannot be decoded, and the interface took me awhile to understand. It is also rather crashy, at times, I have to pull up the Task Manager and kill the gpu task before I can start it up again.

I'm probably going to get a 64gb card to fill up with stuff to watch before I head off. I've never bothered attempting to copy the files to the chromebook's ssd as speeds are fine off a sd card, and surprisingly, it reads off my hfs backup drives (osx file system) just fine.

Speakers on the flip aren't very good. Mine is quite soft, around 50%. But going over 70, 75% introduces lots of audio artifacts. Oh well. I still haven't tried the audio jack, should be fine.

The screen is sufficiently bright, with good viewing angles. It _is_ rather small, so increasing the text magnification to 125% seems like the way to go. The resolution is also relatively low, on paper. In practice, I can't say I want or need a higher resolution screen. A lower resolution screen, would actually help battery life in my opinion - less stress on the GPU, and less pixels hopefully means less power draw. I mean, my Z3 averages 4, even 5 days before recharging. The Samsung S6 with its super amazing screen barely makes it to 2. I'm going to get off my "I hated my Galaxy S6 experience" soapbox now.

The touchscreen works quite well, but honestly, I haven't used that mode much apart from quick tests. The keyboard is well sized, only a few % smaller than the keyboard on my 15in mbp. As mentioned before, I wish it was backlit.

Ok, I'm rambling, and I need to sleep shortly as I've been working over 60hrs a week since the new year.

In summary, my chromebook experience as been very positive so far:
- Highly afforable
- IPS Screen
- Lightweight

It's a great fit for my needs; checking email, web browsing, youtube, offline writing with docs. Affordable, will hurt, but not as much as say a surface or mbp if it gets stolen/damaged. Super lightweight, less than a Kg!

I'll complain if I start to hate it. Like a certain famous electronics brand. ;-)

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