Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA review

Sleek and quick, Asus’ Chromebook Flip digs Chrome OS out of the bargain bin

Asus’ versatile Flip C302C is a great Chromebook, and a solid 2-in-1.
Asus’ versatile Flip C302C is a great Chromebook, and a solid 2-in-1.
Asus’ versatile Flip C302C is a great Chromebook, and a solid 2-in-1.

Highs

  • Excellent build exudes quality
  • Small and light enough to use as a tablet
  • Great performance that’s ready for Android apps
  • Solid battery life
  • Display has nice colors, contrast, and white point

Lows

  • The display could be brighter
  • Spongy keyboard feel
  • Pricey, for a Chromebook

One day soon, Chromebooks are going to gain wide access to over a million Android apps. While Android apps aren’t quite the same as full-featured applications running on Windows and MacOS, gaining access to the Google Play Store will significantly improve what users can do with Google’s Chrome OS.

That’s particularly true for Chromebook 2-in-1 devices, because running Android apps on touch-enabled devices in tablet mode is a much more natural experience than using a touchpad or mouse on a standard notebook. Google has guaranteed that every Chromebook released in 2017 will receive Android app support, and so we’re likely to see a greater number of manufacturers design machines that can best take advantage of the dramatic increase in apps.

Asus has released a new Chromebook, the Flip C302CA, that makes for a solid entry in the Chrome OS 2-in-1 space. It’s solidly built with a nice screen and decent components, including either an Intel Core M3 6Y30 or Pentium 4405Y processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB or 64GB of eMMC storage. But does it justify its $500 price tag?

Great build quality mated with a convenient 2-in-1 design

The Flip C302CA has an all-aluminum build that exudes quality, and thanks to the low-power processor and fanless design, it’s solid, without any vents to break up the clean look. It’s also a 360-degree 2-in-1, meaning that the display flips around from a standard notebook to a tablet, with tent and presentations modes in between.

The hinge does a good job of keeping the screen in position, with little to no wobble. And although the Flip C302CA is light enough at 2.64 pounds that it’s comfortable to use as a tablet, its solid build lets you use it as a tablet without feeling like you need to coddle it. As is always true of 2-in-1s (so far), this is not a straight replacement to the iPad Air or an Android tablet. But it’s close enough that people who use tablets only occasionally will see no issue.

An unfortunate dearth of connectivity options

As seems to be the trend lately, the Flip C302CA is equipped exclusively with USB Type-C connections. No dongles are included in the box, so if you need to connect to a legacy USB device, you’ll need to buy an adapter. The USB Type-C adapters don’t support Thunderbolt 3 either, topping out at 5Gb/s data bandwidth, but both do provide power to the machine.

The Flip C302CA has an all-aluminum build that exudes quality.

A microSD slot is also included for some expansion capabilities, and to make it easy to transfer files, providing up to SDXC support. The only other wired connection is a headphone jack.

Wireless connectivity is provided by 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Range and stability were excellent throughout the testing period, with the Flip C302CA connecting to the test environment’s router and maintaining solid throughput. Bluetooth headphones connected and streamed music without issue and with the expected quality.

A lot of function in a small size

The keyboard is full-size, so the machine’s diminutive form wasn’t a detriment to the typing experience. The keys are of comfortable size with good spacing, and follow the typical Chromebook key layout that includes the search key where many people might expect a Caps Lock key.

Key travel is a little shallow, however, at 1.4mm, and a little spongier than is optimal for a touch typist. Still, the overall typing feel was acceptable. Getting up to typical typing speeds shouldn’t take long. The keyboard is also backlit, with uniform lighting to make it comfortable to use in darker settings.

ASUS Chromebook Flip C302CA review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The touchpad is on the small side, but that’s to be expected given the Flip C302CA’s small size. It’s responsive, however, with multitouch gestures supporting the usual pinch-to-zoom and scrolling functions. The integrated left/right click buttons are easy to activate, and have a nice click without being too loud.

Tap the screen, which supports up to 10 multi-touch inputs, and you’ll find it responds accurately to input. Swiveling the Flip C302CA into tablet mode provides a responsive experience that should work well with Android apps. Located above the display is an HD webcam that provides a decent enough image for videoconferencing.

A sharp and colorful display that could use another notch of brightness

The Flip C302CA has a 12.5-inch display running Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution at a moderately sharp 176 pixels per inch. Strangely, the machine came with a factory preset resolution of 1,536 × 864, which some users might find more comfortable because it effectively increased the size of all text. Switching to the highest resolution available was a simple toggle in Chrome OS settings, and doing so provides a sharper image, albiet with significantly smaller text and user interface elements.

In terms of display quality, Asus picked a good, but not great, panel for the machine. Colors were attractive without being over-saturated, contrast looked solid, and the white point didn’t appear particularly warm or cool. Brightness was a bit low at around 250 lux, however, and the glossy screen did reflect some overhead lighting. An ambient light sensor is packed onboard to keep the display adjusted based on the conditions.

Display quality is still mixed on Chromebooks, given some are very expensive. Overall, the C302CA is certainly above average – though you’d expect that for the price. Importantly, it also generally exceeds what you’ll find on a $500 Windows laptop. Quite a few now offer 1080p, but the panels available at this price point usually aren’t as vibrant.

Make sure to keep your headphones handy

A small side-firing speaker adorns each edge of the Flip C302CA, toward the front of the machine. The speakers aren’t particularly loud, though, and so you’ll want to use headphones if you’re planning to watch a movie in a room with any kind of ambient noise. You’ll also want to use an external speaker if you need to share your music with anyone else who’s not sitting right next to you.

More than fast enough for Chrome OS

Our review unit was equipped with a Core m3 6Y30 processor, which is a dual-core CPU running at 900MHz with a maximum Turbo frequency of 2.20GHz. While that processor would provide decidedly mixed Windows 10 or MacOS performance, it’s more than powerful enough to make for a smooth and hesitation-free Chrome OS experience.

That puts the Clip C302CA at an advantage, given that Chromebooks are often equipped with lower-end Intel Pentium and Celeron processors. Intel’s Core processors offer a few higher-end features, including Hyper-Threading to boost performance in running parallel applications, Turbo Boost for higher peak performance, and Intelligent Power Management for better balancing of battery life with performance. By including Intel Core processors as options, Asus has given the Flip C302CA a leg up.

In short, no matter what was thrown at it, the Flip C302CA handled it with aplomb. That’s not going to change much with the upcoming onslaught of Android apps, either, none of which are likely to stress the processor. As mentioned earlier, the machine is fanless thanks to the low-power processor, and at no time did the chassis get uncomfortably warm.

We’ll note here that the upcoming Samsung Chromebook Pro uses roughly the same specifications – Intel Core m3-6Y30, 4GB RAM, 32GB eMMC – and we had a chance to give it a hands-on treatment. That machine is optimized in some ways for Chrome OS touchscreen support, and it will ship out of the box with Android app support enabled (it’s not yet available for sale). From a pure performance perspective, The Chromebook Pro ran Android apps very well indeed, even with a higher resolution (2,400 x 1,600) display.

The eMMC drive is no SSD, but you won’t be notice a difference

The Flip C302CA comes with a choice of 32GB or 64GB eMMC flash storage. That technology’s not going to set any speed records compared to the modern SSDs in Windows 10 and MacOS notebooks, but again, Chrome OS is far more forgiving. Most Chromebooks come with eMMC flash storage as their only option, and so Asus is simply keeping up with the competition here.

As expected, the machine boots quickly, and apps open without hesitation. Files open and save quickly with no notable delay. You might notice a speed difference if you were working with large files, but Chrome OS wasn’t designed for that, so it never becomes an issue. Anyone seriously interested in editing photos and video should stick with a Mac or Windows rig.

The graphics are probably fast enough for Android gaming

It’s beginning to sound like a broken record, but once again Chrome OS’s very modest requirements mean that the Flip C302CA’s Intel HD 515 graphics were more than sufficient for whatever you might want to do with machine. Running the usual Chrome OS games, certainly, wasn’t an issue.

Swiveling the Flip C302CA into tablet mode is great for Android apps.

As we noted with processor performance, the Samsung Chromebook Pro serves as a good benchmark for Android app performance. And again, even with a higher resolution screen, the same GPU as used by the Flip C302CA ran Android games at the highest resolution. The Samsung does make for a better gaming machine despite the similar specs, given its inclusion of an accelerometer for more natural Android game controls.

For everything else you’re likely to do with the Chromebook C302C, including watching HD video streams, the Intel HD 515 graphics should perform more than well enough.

A light machine that’s comfortable to carry as a tablet – and it has a decent battery

The Flip C302CA is a relatively small machine at 11.96 x 8.26 x 0.53 inches, and it’s reasonably lightweight at 2.64 pounds. Carrying it from place to place isn’t much of a burden, and using it as a tablet in the crook of your arm is possible for reasonably long times – it’s not an iPad, but it’s not as heavy as some larger 2-in-1 devices with 13-inch and bigger displays.

The machine comes equipped with a 39 watt-hour lithium ion battery that’s well-sized for the machine’s overall diminutive form and power-sipping Core m3 CPU. Applying our usual tests showed the Flip C302CA to be a relatively long-lasting machine.

ASUS Chromebook Flip C302CA review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Using our most demanding Peacekeeper test, the battery lasted six hours and 18 minutes. This compares to the seven hours and 31 minutes experienced with the Acer Chromebook 14, which uses a lower-power Intel Celeron CPU, 14-inch display, 4GB of RAM, and otherwise similar specifications. The Acer Chromebook R 11, also with a Celeron processor and a smaller display, ran for six hours and 33 minutes. Finally, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 that we reviewed with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, larger 13-inch Full HD display, and larger 42 watt-hour battery petered out after four hours.

On our looping Chrome web macro test, which puts a little less stress on the display and processor and likely leverages the efficiencies of Chrome OS, the Flip C302CA lasted for a reasonable seven hours precisely before powering off. The Acer Chromebook 14 kept going for nine hours and 29 minutes, while the Acer Chromebook R 11 lasted six hours and 35 minutes. Again, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13’s more robust processor limited its battery life by comparison, to five hours and 38 minutes on this test.

Finally, if you’re wanting to watch HD movies and TV shows on your Chromebook, then you’ll get roughly eight hours and five minutes of viewing time.

Warranty information

Asus provides a standard one-year warranty with the company’s Accidental Damage Protection (ADP) coverage included, which is a nice bonus in case you ever drop your Flip C302CA or spill a cup of coffee on it.

Our Take

The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA proves that it’s possible to make a quality 2-in-1 with a luxury feel for a reasonable amount of money. Chrome OS helps, in that a relatively low-end CPU can provide outstanding performance for most tasks, and Chromebooks are gaining a real boost in value with the upcoming addition of millions of Android apps. For $500, the Flip C302CA provides a great experience for anyone who can live within the general constraints of Chrome OS.

Is there a better alternative?

Comparable alternatives include Lenovo’s ThinkPad 13 at around $400 and the HP Chromebook 13 at $600 with a 13.3-inch QHD (3200 x 1800) display to go with similar specs — Core m3 processor, 4GB RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage. Indeed, the Flip C302CA falls right in between the two, with a lot more storage and equal or better components – and neither of those machines are 2-in-1s. Unless you need a larger display, the Flip C302CA is a great compromise and provides a tablet mode to boot.

Another newer option is the Acer Chromebook R 13, which offers a 13.3-inch Full HD display, MediaTek M8173C quad-core processor, 4GB RAM, and 32GB of eMMC storage for $400. The Chromebook R 13 is also a 2-in-1 form factor with a touchscreen, and so will also fair well when Android apps are released. It’s also about half a pound heavier than the Flip C302CA and a bit larger, and so Asus’s model provides more portability for about $100 more.

If you were going to wait for any new machine, you could see how Samsung prices its Chromebook Pro. The ARM-based Chromebook Plus will be priced similarly at $450, and so the Pro version will likely come in at the higher end of the Chromebook market. Whether that machine’s touchscreen and Android app optimizations are worth the extra money remains to be seen.

How long will it last?

The Flip C302CA is equipped with USB Type-C connections, which means it’s in keeping with one of today’s most dominant trends. The Flip C302CA is also equipped with sufficient components and a 2-in-1 design that should make it particularly well-suited for the Android apps that it will soon be able to run. Taken together, these attributes alone make the C302C a great Chromebook option for the long term.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Asus Chromebook C302CA is the cream of the current Chrome OS crop. We’d only suggest you wait if you’re eyeing the Samsung Chromebook Pro, which will boast even better Android support and a higher screen resolution – though it’ll also set you back another $50, and won’t be available until late February.