It’s been a long time coming, but we need to talk about the ASUS Chromebook CX9. When it was announced just over a year ago at the oddly online-only CES 2021, we thought ASUS had done it. We thought they’d built the Chromebook of our dreams with no caveats, no shortcuts, no cut corners. And while they did manage to build a great Chromebook for sure, it’s not my favorite, and the reasons -unfortunately – are a bit hard to quantify. But I’m going to try to, anyway.
We unboxed this one quite some time ago, and the early impressions are – unsurprisingly – really great. I mean, c’mon: this thing is packed to the gills with specs, it’s well built, and has nearly all the features you could ask for in a Chromebook at this point. Of course it impressed me!
But as time went on and I really dug into using it for a prolonged period – tons of stuff happened from the time it arrived until now that kept pushing back our review – for me at least, something just wasn’t clicking. I don’t know why that is, and the feeling is shared by others in the office as well, but there’s something less than gravitational with the CX9 that defies logic a little bit.
Specs and features galore
We covered the specs in the unboxing video and we’ve talked about this Chromebook a lot over the last few months, but let’s cover that stuff real quick. The CX9 comes with up to an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of RAM, up to 512GB of NVMe storage. This all gets housed in a device that is made from aluminum-alloy, weighs only 2.3 pounds, is well-constructed and with military-grade toughness and durability. You get a huge, glass trackpad, backlit keyboard, fingerprint scanner, 2 Thunderbolt 4 USB Type C ports, a USB Type A port, a full sized HDMI port, headphone/mic jack, and micro SD card slot, too. Add to that a 14-inch 400 nit full HD screen and I’d wager there isn’t much left on your wish list.
Frankly, when I see this spec list, there are only a few things missing. While it is true that it has USI support, there’s no pen in the chassis or in the box. And the limitation of the standard clamshell hinge is a bummer sometimes, too, but those are pretty small potatoes. As a production device that exists to move fast and get things done, you can’t really fault the CX9 in any legitimate way.
And I’ll be the first to say that this screen is fantastic, the keyboard is very, very good and the trackpad is equally well-made. The click is good, the surface is smooth and fast, and it even has a numeric keypad hiding under the trackpad surface that you can call up when needed. I admittedly found it to be a bit gimmicky in real use, but it’s a cool trick and a first for Chromebooks. Oh, and the battery life is solid as well, getting 8-10 hours of use on a charge if you don’t blast the screen to full brightness the whole time.
With all these specs and all this power I never thought in a million years that I’d be “meh” about a device like this. And yet, here I am. The truth is all of us in the office like the ASUS Chromebook Flip CX5400 better all around even though the spec sheet isn’t quite as stuffed as it is on the CX9. Why is that? Why is a Chromebook that looks this great on paper not my absolute favorite right now?
The X Factor
I wish I could put my thumb on it, but I just can’t. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this Chromebook and if you are thinking about buying one and love the look of it and want all the power you can get right now, I’d 100% say you should go get one. It is well made, it is very fast, and is a great overall Chromebook. It is expensive at $1149, sure, but you’re clearly paying for the highest-end stuff you can cram into a laptop running Chrome OS at this point.
For me, though, there’s just something missing. Sure, the CX9 picks up fingerprints worse than any Chromebook I’ve ever used, but I don’t think that is it. It isn’t the thinnest device out there at , either, but that isn’t a huge deal to me at the end of the day. Maybe its the fact that I wish it would be a convertible when I need it or I wish it was easier to use a pen with. Maybe it’s the disappointing speakers, the angular, boxy design or maybe it’s a combination of all of that stuff.
Again, I can’t put my thumb on it, but I keep drawing comparisons between this and the Pixelbook Go as both are both very well-build clamshell-only Chromebooks – and I love the Pixelbook Go still to this day. The experience of using it feels inviting and cohesive where the CX9 simply feels a tad disjointed to me. Again, I don’t know why that is: I just know that’s what it feels like to me.
I wish I could tell you that it is the best Chromebook experience I’ve ever had, but it simply isn’t. Is it the best Chromebook you can buy on paper? It absolutely is, but just like I said with the ASUS Flip CX5400, there are spec sheets and then there are user experiences. The Pixelbook Go is a perfect example of a device that doesn’t blow anyone away with it’s spec sheet, but once you lay your hands on it, you fall in love with it.
For me, that simply didn’t happen with the ASUS Chromebook CX9. I wish I had a better way to quantify it, but I simply don’t. If you want a Chromebook that absolutely nails the specs and never makes you think there’s something more powerful out there, this is the one may be for you. If you want something that compromises on nothing from a performance standpoint, this could be the one for you. But if you find inherent charm in devices like the Pixelbook Go and don’t necessarily need the fastest processor to enjoy your Chromebook, you may want to look elsewhere. Somewhere in the process of cramming nearly every spec you could ask for into a single device, something was just lost. Maybe that sort of thing doesn’t matter to you, but I know it does to me, and I wanted to let you know about it before you spend over $1000 on a Chromebook.