The story of ASUS’ 16-inch Chromebook – the CX5601 – is a bit of a strange one. From a surprise announcement one year ago at CES 2022 to a delayed arrival in stores and a lukewarm reception upon arrival, this Chromebook has made me wonder time and again just why ASUS made it in the first place. As what amounts to a slightly-larger CX5 – a Chromebook I liked a lot from the year prior, by the way – this big Chromebook isn’t exactly the upgrade we were hoping for. Let’s talk about it.
Start with the good stuff
Let’s start with the positives. I like the overall build quality, look and general feel of the CX5601. It ditches the velvety interior from the CX5, but retains the firm chassis, making the all-plastic lower section feel sturdy and confident despite the tendency of large laptops to feel a bit flimsy. The black aluminum lid looks great, too, and when all closed up, this oversized Chromebook feels very rigid and not overly thick. At just under 5 pounds, it isn’t light, but for a 16-inch device, I feel like the weight is acceptable.
And just like with the CX5, I enjoy the backlit keyboard a lot on this Chromebook. It is crisp, clicky, well-spaced, and comfortable to use. The addition of the numeric keypad is helpful, though the number keys are still on the small side for some odd reason. With this size of a chassis and no side speakers up top, I’m not sure why that is the case.
The port selection is also a nice benefit, giving you a USB Type C on either side, a full-sized HDMI port, USB Type A port, microSD card slot and a headphone/microphone jack. Flanking those ports are two of the four total speakers on this Chromebook and – just like we all loved on the CX5 – they deliver great sound. Everything has a rich low end, full mids and crispy highs to make spoken word, music, and even game audio sound fantastic. No complaints here.
The internals are nice as well, giving you a 12th-gen Core i3 paired up with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. While not the fastest Chromebook on the market, this thing gets by just fine and I had no issue whatsoever pushing my QHD 120Hz external monitor all day long. Just like any 12th-gen Intel-powered laptop, there’s a lot of headroom here for anything you want to do on a Chromebook.
Do keep in mind, however, that the Core i3 comes without the upgraded Iris Xe GPU, so it won’t be the best fit for those wanting to play Steam games down the road or edit larger videos with something like LumaFusion. And this is where we start running into some of the real issues facing the ASUS CX5601. Usually, bigger devices pack in bigger specs and more of everything, right? Sadly, that’s just not the case, here.
Now for the bad stuff
My biggest and most-critical gripe with this 16-inch Chromebook is by far the screen. I was turned off by it in our initial hands-on and unboxing, and I never got used to it. At 16:10, this 16-inch screen could be a fantastic productivity companion, but it fails in a few key areas. First off, it is only 1920×1200, so that means pixelation is visible on a lot of the screen elements. With a 16-inch measure, QHD is called for and the lack of it is felt all over the place.
But to make matters worse, ASUS opted for a paltry 250 nits of brightness on this Chromebook, and that just makes everything about this screen more painful. It struggles a bit near the window in our office where there’s no direct sun and in brighter environments, it simply cannot keep up. For some odd reason, the color temperature is incredibly warm, too, so even when looking at something like an all-white website, the brightness struggles to ward off glare. While maybe not the yellowest display I’ve ever seen, I’d wager it is close, and there’s nothing about this display panel that I like looking at. It is USI compatible, so I guess that’s one good thing, right?
The 1080p webcam above this poor display is equally middling, producing very soft images and sub-par dynamic range compared to more modern Chromebooks. Even on less expensive Chromebooks lately, the webcam can adjust well to different lighting scenarios with solid dynamic range. The webcam on this CX5601 seems exceptionally poor at this for some reason, and I’d be looking elsewhere if you happen to be on video calls with any sort of frequency.
We could talk about the trackpad being cheap feeling, too, but that might just be this particular device. It looks and feels like other ASUS Chromebooks over the past couple years, and all of those have fantastic trackpads, so I’m tempted to give this one a pass. It works fine and is really smooth, but the click is hollow and cheap feeling and has been that way since our initial hands-on and unboxing. It’s not a deal breaker; it’s just an annoyance.
And I think that’s where I am with the CX5601: annoyed. This Chromebook has room for ASUS to have made the quad speaker system the best in a Chromebook ever. The 16-inch screen size left room for a bright, high-res panel and instead leveraged one of the worst screens I’ve seen on a mid-range Chromebook in a long time. And the internals could have easily been used to provide a top-notch productivity experience, and instead are just good enough.
When a company makes a device that looks similar to an older one and simply increases the size a bit, you just expect the largeness to make room for better hardware. In this case, it just didn’t. I’d seriously doubt anyone would notice a performance bump over the more-attractive black and white CX5 and I know for certain that the keyboard, trackpad and speakers are all just as good in that model as well. In the end, this Chromebook just feels like a sidestep and in this price range – $649 MSRP – there are simply better devices out there to buy. Yeah, it gets updates until June of 2030, but that’s true of a bunch of Chromebooks out there. For this one, I’d tell you to skip it unless you are really into ASUS Chromebooks or really wanted the CX5 and can’t find one anywhere. Everyone else should probably keep looking.