The ASUS Flip C302CA – A Budget Friendly Power Chromebook Option

Chromebooks have come a long way these past six years both in overall design and function as well as Chrome OS itself.  While there are still plenty of budget friendly, sub-$200 options out there, there are also more powerful devices out there aimed at being your daily driver of a laptop.  The pinnacle of this is, of course, the Google Pixelbook.  But at a base price of $999, it is out of the reach of some who still need something as powerful or close to it.  That is where the ASUS Flip C302CA could prove to be a viable option.

The base model of the C302CA is price at $449 with the top-end, Intel m5 equipped model topping out at $609.  While the mCore processors don’t have the same grunt as the iCore processors, for the majority of users it will get the job done.  Is it also lightweight, has an excellent screen and solid, all day battery life.

I was recently sent an ASUS Flip C302CA to review and having used it as my primary laptop device for the past couple of weeks, I believe it is the second best option out there in the current lineup of high-end, power Chromebooks behind the Pixelbook.  Yes it has some compromises but I do not think they are deal breakers for the majority of people reading this review.

Specifications & Form Factor

The ASUS Flip C302CA is an all aluminum chassis that measures 11.9 x 8.3 x .6 inches.  That is 302.3 x 210.8 x 15.2 mm in new money with a weight of 1.18 kg (2.6 lbs).  It is a 2-in-1 design (or as Google likes to now call it, 4-in-1) that can be used in a tablet mode, a tent mode, a viewing mode and a laptop mode.  That means that the hinge that holds the display to the base is a 360° hinge to get you into these various form factors.

Internally, the C302CA is powered by either the 6th generation Intel m3 6Y30 Processor or the m5 6Y75 Processor.  The m3 processor can burst up to  2.20 GHz while the m5 can burst to  2.80 GHz.  This is coupled with the Intel HD Graphics 515 for display output.  Onboard you will have 4GB of non-expandable LPDDR3 RAM along with 64GB of onboard eMMC storage.  RAM and storage are the same regardless of which processor configuration you select.  For this review, I was sent the C302CA with the m5 processor.  If you are reading this review from Europe, you have the option of going up to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.  That options is not available in the US.

The display is 12.5″ LED backlit Full HD display that natively renders at  1920×1080.  That gives you a 16:9 ratio.  It has 178° of view angle so it is easy to see it from almost any seating angle in front of it.  The screen is 10-point touch compatible which is great when you are running Android apps on the C302CA.  In the center above the display is where you will find the 720p webcam for video calls and Hangouts.  You can also take selfies with the camera via the built-in camera app.

Connectivity is handled by the 802.11AC WiFi antenna that is a 2×2 Dual Band MIMO.  Bluetooth 4.0 is also supported to tether the Chromebook or connect other devices like a mouse.

Powering all of this is a non-user replaceable 2-cell, 39 Whrs battery that provides, according to ASUS, 10 hours of battery life.  In my testing, it is more like 9 hours but should be enough to get most people through the day.

The keyboard is a chicklet style full size QWERTY board that has a comfortable and satisfying 1.4mm of travel on the keys.  The keyboard is also backlit for using it in low light situations.  Just below the keyboard you will find the 104.5mm x 61mm (4.1 x 2.3 inches) touchpad which is quite big by Chromebook standards.

Ports on the ASUS Flip C302CA are kept to a minimum.  On the left side of the base you have one USB 3.1 Type-C port, the volume rocker, power button and a 3.5 mm headphone port.  You will also find one of the two speaker grills which has a total output of 87 dB of high fidelity audio.  On the right side you will find a second USB 3.1 Type-C port as well as the MicroSD card slot for additional storage or file transfers to & from the Chromebook.  The second speaker grill is also located on the right side of the device.  Charging of the 302CA can be done through either of the USB Type-C ports which is convenient depending on your desk or workspace configuration.  The lack of USB-A ports or a HDMI port will put some off but the reality is most midrange to high end Chromebooks are ditching ports in favor of hubs and dongles as well as to keep the size of the device to a minimum.  The reality is we live in a “dongle world”.

Finally, with the hint in the name, the Flip C302CA runs on Chrome OS.  For this review, I am running build 63.03239.140.  I’m not going to go into great detail in this review of Chrome OS itself.  I’m assuming that if you are reading this, you are comfortable with what it offers and are familiar with it.  I will say that if you aren’t familiar with Chrome OS, it is constantly updated and one of the more secure platforms out there.

Overall Performance

Simply put, there is very little to whinge about when it comes to the overall performance of the ASUS Flip C302CA.  The mCore processors are more than capable of handling the day-to-day tasks that most of us need but also can handle complicated tasks too.  During my testing for this review, I had no problem with bogging down or lag with up to 20 Chrome tabs open, with one of those tabs open to a Google Sheets file that had a lot of complicated formulas in it.  For more specific information on performance, I’ll cover key areas in more detail below.

Display & Touchscreen Performance

Overall I’m happy with the display on the C302CA although it could be a bit brighter.  The 16:9 ratio makes view of apps and site easy and the high resolution is crisp.  In bright sunlight situations, there is a bit of glare to contend with and that lack of super brightness will make it difficult to read the screen.  However indoors in a well lit room or dark room is no problem.

The touchscreen built into the display is excellent.  I found it to be quick and responsive when I used it to manipulate Android apps (Alto’s Adventure, Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc.) as well as when I was using web-based apps like the G Suite apps.  Truthfully it has sped up my computing a bit, especially when I’m working with spreadsheets – which is a big part of my day.  Tapping a cell on the screen is quicker for me than moving to it via the trackpad.  In fact, I’ve found that when I move from my C302CA to a non-touchscreen device like my Acer Chromebook 14, I end up tapping the screen a lot by accident.  Having a touchscreen just feels natural and having a responsive one like the one you will find on this Chromebook makes it that much easier to use – and to become that much more dependent upon.

Keyboard & Trackpad Performance

The keyboard on the ASUS Flip C302CA is a very pleasing experience.  In fact, it may well be the best keyboard I’ve used on any Chromebook and the best I’ve used since a MacBook Pro was my primary laptop.  It is shockingly good.  The keys are a scissors-cut style construction with a pleasing 1.4mm of travel.  This gives you the tactile feedback of knowing you have pressed a key.  The chicklet keys are appropriately sized too so you won’t feel cramped when using this keyboard.  The keyboard is also backlit which is something that, unfortunately, it still a rarity for Chromebooks these days.  The keyboard brightness is suitable for low light conditions without being too bright to the point of distraction.

Equally, the touchpad is smooth and accurate on this Chromebook.  Truthfully, it reminds me a bit of the trackpad on my old MacBook Pro as well.  It was accurate in my finger movements but also taps to right-click or to highlight text.  Even better, it is a big trackpad.  Not as big as the ones on the new MacBooks but certainly larger than what you find on most Chromebooks.  Having that extra “space” to work in comes in handy at times.  The trackpad also has palm detection so you won’t accidentally get random cursor movements or false touches thanks to it.

Battery Performance

Asus states in the Flip C302CA’s documentation and on the product site that you will get up to 10 hours of battery life.  Readers know that those estimates are generally under optimal conditions with minimal brightness on the screen, etc.  But this device is pretty close to the mark.

Using the Chromebook in my normal, day-to-day I was able to get just over 9 hours of life out of the battery.  That included heavy use of the Android apps for G Suite, Gmail and a few games like Angry Birds 2 and Alto’s Adventure.  It also included me streaming Google Play Music in the background (from the web) and streaming of an episode or two of a television show from Netflix.  For my eye comfort, I tend to keep the display at about 80% of brightness throughout the day.  Ultimately, for me it proved to be plenty of power to get me through the day with some time to spare.

Sound Performance

If there is one disappointment beyond glare that you can get on the display in bright light conditions, it is the sound quality out of the ASUS Flip C302CA.  It is mediocre when playing through the speakers built into the device.  The sound is flat and tinny but, given that you are dealing with some small laptop speakers, it shouldn’t be surprising.  ASUS did not build this as an audiophile’s dream.  That said, the sound quality out of the 3.5mm headphone jack is excellent.

As to if this is a deal breaker for you, I can’t answer.  Personally, when I’m at my home office, I’m listening to music from my Google Home.  The only time I play sound from the device speakers – on any laptop – is if I’m catching a quick video from YouTube.  If I’m on a video call or out of the office working at my local coffee shop, it’s headphones all the way for me.

Android App Performance

The ASUS Flip C302CA was one of the first Chromebooks to be able to natively run Android apps.  That is mostly because it is a natural fit to run them.  With the built-in touchscreen, it lends itself to Android apps and it makes them easy to interact with them.  Indeed I have found that I use far more Android apps in my day-to-day workflow than web based apps such as Google Docs, Google Sheets and Evernote.

Of course, with any Android app on Chrome OS, your mileage will vary on if that app is optimized to run on the larger screen of a Chromebook.  In the case of the ones I mentioned above, they work great but I’ve found a few apps (Instagram) that really doesn’t render well.  So experiment but keep in mind that Android app issues may not necessarily come down to the C302CA itself.

Secondly, also keep in mind that at the time of this review, I’m running the Chromebook on Chrome 63.  Chrome 64 will bring many improvements to how Android apps are handled, specifically allowing them to run in the background when they are not in focus (the top app on your desktop).  This will make performance of Android apps on any Chromebook improve exponentially.

Different Modalities

One of the benefits of the Flip C302CA is the different form factors you can use with this single device.  As mentioned before, you can use it as a traditional laptop, a tablet, a tent for content viewing, or a panel viewing mode (with the keyboard facing down on the desk or your lap).  The Chromebook is very good at detecting what mode you are in so you don’t have to worry about errant keyboard taps in tablet mode or viewing mode for example.

Setting aside the laptop mode which, let’s be honest, is why you would have this device, I found that I used viewing mode the most.  It was comfortable for watching Netflix or YouTube while on my lap or on a desk.  I also liked that mode for using the Google Keyboard in a tablet-esque mode as it was a natural stand for the “tablet” of the display.  Tent mode is great for viewing movies while I’m laying in bed (a habit, bad or otherwise, that I have when I’m traveling) and where I found myself using that modality the most.

Off all of these different modalities, I find the tablet mode the most difficult to use.  Not because the C302CA doesn’t do a good job.  Rather, it is just too heavy.  2.6 lbs doesn’t sound like a lot until you try to hold it up in a table mode to play a game like Real Racing 3.  That game, a racing sim if you aren’t familiar with it, has a mode that allows you to tilt the device to steer the car you are racing in.  It works great on the tablet but your arms get really tired holding up the device in this way.  It also feels a little thick in your hands.

Given that the Pixelbook is only 2 ounces lighter, I’m not sure if it would be better suited for using it in tablet mode although the thinness of the device would lend itself better to it.  The bottom line here is that if you are wanting to replace an Android tablet or even and iPad with the C302CA… you may want to rethink that process.  For me, while the device overall does the job, the weight of holding in that position for a period of time gets uncomfortable.  Or maybe I need to skip leg day and work on arm day.  Who knows?

Conclusion & Recommendation

Despite the lackluster audio and a screen I wish was a little bit less glare attracting, I have no problem recommending the ASUS Flip C302CA to anyone who is looking for a more powerful Chromebook but doesn’t want to fork over the cost of a Google Pixelbook.  It is an excellent device with great build quality, a fantastically comfortable and responsive keyboard and a battery life that will get you through the day without much trouble.  For what you are getting for the price, this Chromebook is tough to beat.

The Flip C302CA with the Intel m3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage is $449 on Amazon at the time of this writing.

The Flip C302CA with the Intel m5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage is $609.99 on Amazon at the time of this writing.