Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA review

Want Chrome OS and Android? Asus’ Chromebook Flip offers both on a budget

Versatile and affordable, Asus’ Chromebook Flip C101PA will make you question your need for an Android tablet.
Versatile and affordable, Asus’ Chromebook Flip C101PA will make you question your need for an Android tablet.
Versatile and affordable, Asus’ Chromebook Flip C101PA will make you question your need for an Android tablet.

Highs

  • Highly portable
  • Solid battery life
  • Compatible with Android apps
  • Excellent durability for kids

Lows

  • Unattractive hinge design
  • Rockchip CPU could be faster
  • Limited hard drive storage

There’s a reason why Chromebooks are popular in schools — they’re lightweight, speedy, and secure. Chromebooks don’t rely on apps you download and install, leading to smaller storage capacities, and lower pricing. The Chrome OS operating system is provided free to OEMs as well, making Chromebooks extremely price-competitive in a Windows-dominated laptop market.

Enter our Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA review. This $300 mini-laptop is based on an optimized Rockchip six-core processor, 4GB of memory, 16GB of storage, and a battery promising up to nine hours of use on a single charge.

The Flip C101PA appears to be a smaller version of the Flip C302CA we reviewed in February. That model had an Intel-based processor, a larger screen, a higher resolution, and a higher price tag of $500. Asus, it seems, wants to provide the same 2-in-1 Chromebook experience for less. Like its cousin, the more affordable Flip supports Google Play and its library of Android apps. Does that make it a worthwhile alternative to a tablet?

It’s the best of both worlds

The Flip C101PA is a merging of two worlds — the web-based app productivity of Chrome OS (although some can work offline), and the locally installed apps of Android. All of this is enjoyed on a 10.1-inch screen with touch. Technically, it’s a 2-in-1 device with a 360-degree hinge enabling you to position it in four ways: Laptop, Tent, Stand, and Tablet.

Overall, it sports a rounded metal body with a silver finish. The keyboard area is silver too, complemented by black keys and a black bezel surrounding the screen. There are no sharp edges whatsoever, and you can even see a small, metallic trim running along the sides of the device. The only drawback to this compact clamshell 2-in-1 design is the bulging 360-hinge, and the gaps it creates between the screen and keyboard area.

When closed, the 2-in-1 Chromebook measures just 0.6 inches thin. We did a triple-take when FedEx delivered the unit, as we were expecting something much larger. It’s extremely small – kid-sized, you could say – but it’s a high-quality product in its presentation and overall build.

It’s more than just a tablet

You won’t find a multitude of ports here. The left side merely sports the volume buttons and the power button.  On the right, you’ll see two USB 3.1 Gen1 USB-C ports, one of which is used to recharge the device.

The Chromebook Flip 101PA could easily replace your smartphone as your Facebook-trolling tool.

Other ports consist of a USB 2.0 Type-A port, a microphone/headphone combo jack, and a MicroSD card slot. Video output is handled by the two USB-C ports (HDMI, DisplayPort), so you’ll need the appropriate adapter. You can also cast the screen and its contents using a Google Chromecast device.

Because there’s no Ethernet port, you’re solely relying on a wireless connection. The label on the Chromebook’s box says it provides Bluetooth 4.0 and Wireless AC connectivity, the latter of which relies on a 2×2 setup, meaning it relies on two incoming antennas, and two outgoing. Theoretically, it’s capable of reaching speeds of 867Mbps, but the Android apps we used to monitor the connection all saw a capped speed of 100Mbps no matter what access point we used.

Get bouncy with your typing

We rather liked the keyboard, though it doesn’t provide any backlighting. It spans the entire base from left to right, and there’s no numeric keypad, enabling larger keys for your fingertips to love. Each key feels delightfully springy when pressed, and as with other Chromebooks, you’ll find device-specific commands replacing the typical function keys. These control screen brightness, volume, and help navigate through web pages.

ASUS Chromebook Flip C101 review kybrd
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The touchpad is small, but that’s expected given the size of the device. There are no embedded right and left-click buttons, but rather the entire touchpad area is one large clickable surface. It supports up to three fingers, enabling gesture commands like swiping left and right, drag and drop, scrolling, and sliding. It felt a little jerky at times when moving the cursor across the screen, but worked well enough.

The display gets touchy

Of course, the Flip C101PA shines as a tablet. Once you flip the screen over into tablet mode, the keyboard shuts off.

The 10.1-inch display has a density of 150 pixels per inch, an aspect ratio of 16:10, and an out-of-the-box resolution of 1,280 x 800 (marked as “best”). The device’s settings let you scale the screen as if it were displaying 1,440 x 900, however, this only makes interface elements smaller, so more can be fit on-screen. The display’s real resolution of 1,280 x 800 does not change.

Unfortunately, the specifications don’t state what type of screen technology Asus is using in its 2-in-1 Chromebook, but clearly admits it supports only 50 percent of the NTSC color space. The color depth and richness associated with devices sporting larger, high-resolution displays just isn’t there, but you may not notice unless you physically compare the Flip C101PA’s screen next to an iPad. It does the job, and is plenty bright even in outdoor scenarios.

The audio is best in tent mode

Backing this screen are two speakers mounted on the bottom of the keyboard. The sound is good, given that the speakers are typically pointing away from your ears. The audio punches up through the keyboard, but you can’t help but get a narrow sensation when processing the audio in your brain. This is due to the dampening of the treble as the sound moves through metal and plastic before reaching your ear.

ASUS Chromebook Flip C101 review chrome
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The best non-headphone audio you’ll hear from the Flip C101PA is when the device is set to tent mode. In this case, the keyboard is positioned behind the screen, exposing the two speakers on the bottom which are then pointing in your direction.

While audio quality depends on how the device is used, we are pleased with volume and quality overall. It won’t impress audiophiles – or anyone, really – but it’s at least usable, which is better than many devices in the Flip’s category.

The processor is little, and big

Backing the big audio and 10.1-inch screen is Rockchip’s six-core RK3399 all-in-one processor. It falls within a new classification system called “OP,” which means the chip is optimized specifically for Chromebooks. Given Rockchip’s processor falls under the OP1 umbrella, we assume it’s one of the first to fit into this new classification system.

What’s interesting about this chip is that it’s based on ARM’s processor architecture called big.LITTLE. There are essentially two clusters of processor cores inside the chip: four clocked at 1.51GHz for normal, low-power use, and two clocked at 2.02GHz for high-performance scenarios. All six cores don’t work simultaneously. The two power-sucking cores kick in only when heavy processing is required.

You get the best of two worlds in a compact device — the benefits of an Android tablet, and the security of a Chromebook.

When we loaded up Geekbench 4 to test its performance, the processor scored a mere 1,333 in the single-core test. Because the benchmark is Android-based, the results can only be directly compared to processors running in smartphones. Plus, you should also consider that Android isn’t native to Chromebooks, so we may not see the processor’s full potential using the app. With that in mind, we still think the results are worth discussing.

Rockchip RK3399’s single-core benchmark fell between Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 and Samsung’s proprietary Exynos 7420 chip. It even fell behind the recent Windows 10-based Acer Switch 3, which managed a 1,385 score in Gerekbench using Intel’s Pentium N4200 processor.

In the multi-core benchmark, the Chromebook only scored 3,200, putting it between the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 and Samsung’s Exynos 5433 processor. It fell behind the new Acer Switch 3, which reached a higher 4,502 score in Geekbench.

Of course, for $300, you likely don’t expect the Flip to be a performance monster. It’s fast enough for watching Netflix, writing documents, working on school assignments, and playing low-resolution games. It’s a tablet, not a laptop, at its core.

This flippin’ 2-in-1 lacks space

The model we tested only provided 16GB of space, 6GB of which was consumed by Chrome OS and Android. That leaves around 10GB of available space to use, so you’ll need to rely on the MicroSD card slot for additional capacity. It supports the SDXC standard, meaning you can use MicroSD cards with capacities of up to 2TB (the largest card you can buy right now is 400GB).

That said, Chromebooks are designed for using applications based in the cloud, not installed locally on the device. The specifications show that Asus provides a 32GB version as well, but that’s still not a lot of space given the Flip C101Pa supports Android apps. Then again, 16GB of storage shouldn’t be a surprising amount given the device’s overall cost, and its tablet-based roots.

Android gaming is decent

The Flip C101PA relies on the Mali-T860 MP4 component integrated into the Rockchip processor, which is only clocked at 600MHz. You’re simply not going to run games at a 1080p resolution with this chip, but we benchmarked it anyway, to see what the integrated graphics could do.

For starters, we loaded up Epic Citadel for Android, which consists of various scenes spread out through a castle and its courtyard. It’s an older benchmark, and in 2017 isn’t visually stressful, so we’re not surprised the 2-in-1 managed an average framerate of 60 frames per second using the Ultra High settings. We saw the same framerates using the 1,280 x 752 and 1,440 x 856 resolutions.

ASUS Chromebook Flip C101 review full4
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

In 3DMark, we loaded the Ice Storm benchmark and saw 60 frames per second in the first segment, and 50.3 frames per second in the second segment. Ice Storm only benchmarks the device at 1,280 x 720 resolution, so we decided to give the Sling Shot test a try, which tests at 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. The integrated graphics choked miserably, cranking out a mere 6.9 frames per second in the first segment, and 3.1 frames per second in the second segment. Ouch.

Overall, it seems the Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA can handle some light gaming, but won’t perform well in serious titles. Given its price, though, we think modest gaming performance is excusable.

It’s a great on-the-go clamshell

Overall, you get a lot of bang for your buck for such a small, inexpensive device. The 0.6-inch thick convertible design makes the Flip C101PA highly portable, and it weighs a mere two pounds, so you’re not struggling with a bulky, heavy system. The rounded edges and metal chassis adds to its easy portability, especially for kids who are prone to dropping and bumping their devices.

It’s extremely small – kid-sized, you could say – but a high-quality product in its presentation and overall build.

By comparison, Acer’s $450 Switch 3 2-in-1 measures 0.39 inches thick without the removable keyboard, and 0.64 inches with the keyboard intact. It weighs 1.98 pounds as a tablet, and 2.76 pounds as a laptop. Outside the obvious processor and operating system differences, Acer’s 2-in-1 packs a larger screen at 12.2 inches, making it slightly less portable than the Asus Chromebook.

On the battery front, Basemark’s stressful test drained the battery over 324 minutes. Next, using the iMacro Chrome extensions – which continuously loads websites until the battery dies – the Chromebook lasted 484 minutes, over an hour longer than the larger Chromebook Flip C302CA. The Flip C101PA did a better job in our video loop test too, lasting 536 minutes versus the Flip C302CA’s 485-minute duration. It even outlasted the Acer Switch 3, which managed only 290 minutes.

Recharging the battery takes around 90 minutes.

Nope, no bloatware here

The beauty of Chrome OS is that you don’t have bloatware installed right out of the box. By default, Chromebooks include Google’s web-based applications such as Gmail, the Chrome browser, YouTube, Google Docs, and so on. Non-Google web apps include the “Legends” games from Spacetime Studios, Tweetdeck, Facebook, and so on.

ASUS Chromebook Flip C101 review trackpad
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Google Play is also installed on the Chromebook out-of-the-box. Android apps initially run in a smartphone-like windowed mode. You can maximize these apps to fill the entire screen, but only if you restart the app. Not all apps are optimized for tablet-sized screens — such as Titan Quest, which crammed the viewpoint and interface into one corner of the screen while leaving the remaining space black.

We experienced performance issues while using certain features of Chromebook. For instance, we wanted to check the screen’s brightness level, but the section simply wouldn’t expand to reveal its settings no matter how many times we clicked and tapped. This happened quite a few times throughout our interaction with the device, so we’re not sure if they were related to software, slow processor performance, or a combination of both.

Warranty

The label on the back of the Chromebook indicates a one-year warranty. According to Asus, this covers hardware failure and factory defects for 12 months starting from the time you purchase the product.

Our Take

The Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA is a tablet at heart despite its 2-in-1 form factor, only it’s based on the web-focused Android-loving Chrome OS platform instead of a full-fledged Android install. It competes with similar products such as the Samsung Chromebook Pro and the Acer Chromebook R 11, but serves as a great alternative to similar Windows-based devices as well. It seemingly sets out to replace your tablet and Bluetooth-based keyboard setup, or as a durable, lightweight, secure computing device for the student.

Is there a better alternative?

If you’re willing to spend the extra bucks, the larger Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA model may be a more performance-friendly option. It has the same 2-in-1 “flip” design, but packs a higher resolution and an Intel Core-branded processor to handle the load. You could even splurge on the Acer Chromebook R 13 packing a 2-in-1 form factor, a 13.3-inch FHD screen (1,920 x 1,080), and twice the storage for $400. However, based on our review score, the Flip C101PA may be a better solution than Lenovo’s IdeaPad 100S that costs a few more bucks.

Despite the underlying mobile-focused processor, the Flip C101PA competes with affordable Intel-based 2-in-1s sporting Windows 10, like Acer’s recent Switch 3. There’s a $150 difference between the two, but with Acer’s product, you’re buying into the Intel processor, screen size, screen resolution, extra storage space, detachable keyboard, and Windows 10. Meanwhile, hackers generally don’t target Chrome OS, and given the platform is free, you see lower pricetags on Chromebooks. In the case of the $300 Flip C101PA, you get Android compatibility, too.

How long will it last?

In the smartphone and tablet world, devices are obsolete just months after you buy them. This applies to mobile-focused Chromebooks, too. The device itself is a great long-term product in that it’s durable, remains updated through Google, and is highly secure. But it won’t last forever, as you’ll eventually see Android apps refusing to update because your current hardware is obsolete.

Should you buy it?

If you’re on the market for a lightweight, tablet-like device, then the Flip C101PA is a steal for $300. Despite its limitations, it delivers a good experience at its price point. It’s a simple, function device with no serious flaws, and we think that’s all most budget-conscious readers want.

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