Since our time with the ASUS Chromebook Flip C436 out at CES 2020 in Las Vegas, we’ve all been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new wave of Chromebooks. From the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook to the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook to the aggressively-priced Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5, all the new Chromebooks we experienced at the annual tech show bring new features to the table that we’ve yet to see on Chromebooks to date.
Things like updated connections with Bluetooth 5 and WiFi 6, fingerprint scanners as normal fare, and NVMe storage all look great on a spec sheet and promise to deliver a better end-to-end user experience for consumers on Chromebooks than ever before. With all the hype and excitement around this new generation of Chromebooks (there are plenty more on the way), it is easy and tempting to get the cart before the horse and begin crowning new superlatives without really spending the time to prove those titles out. So, with that in mind, I tried my best to temper my expectations and take the ASUS Flip C436 for a standard testing period just like any other Chromebook, and the results were a bit surprising.
There’s a lot of good here, and some things that are under the hood that may not fully reveal their benefits until down the road. But there’s also some bad as well, and with Chromebooks in this price bracket, I have to admit I’m more disappointed than I expected to be. Let’s dig in to all the parts that make up the first in a long line of next-gen Chromebooks and hopefully help you decide if this is the right one for you.
Right up front, I want to clarify something: this device is clearly the successor to the very-popular ASUS Chromebook Flip C434. They share a ton in common, but we don’t want to get caught up comparing the two. We’ll leave that for later. For now, I’m reviewing this device on its own merits, good and bad.
Something you’ll hear me hit on constantly throughout this review is the Flip C436’s price. The model we’ve tested is the $799 version, but there is a higher-end model coming with improved internals and a $999 price tag. Either one is considered high-end in the Chromebook world, so that means we will be more picky with this device than with others priced quite a bit lower. I don’t mind paying more for a piece of hardware if it delivers in the ways that make sense of the higher price tag, but I’ll also knock it if it doesn’t.
With that in mind as we talk about the build quality, I have a few hangups. Sure it is thin and light, but it feels a tad bit cheap. The majority of the device is crafted from a magnesium alloy and to put it bluntly, it feels like a lot of plastic. There’s a fair amount of flex to the keyboard deck and bottom half of the device that makes the entire package feel a step down from high quality. Compared with the rigidity of something like the Pixelbook or Pixelbook Go, this bit of flex and plastic feel are off-putting. I may be alone in that feeling, but I prefer aluminum or an alloy that retains the firm, rigid feel of aluminum.
There are parts of the construction I really like, though. The hinges feel great with minimal screen wobble in clamshell mode. The stock color is nice and resists fingerprints and other oils exceptionally well, and the thinness (0.5 inches) and lightness (2.4 pounds) can’t go understated. The whole package is sleek and attractive and I do appreciate the attention to little details like a one-finger hinge opening on a convertible Chromebook. It is very hard to get this balance in the hinges for a convertible, so ASUS has done very well in this respect.
Knowing this device will constantly get compared with its CES 2020 rival – the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook – I was really hoping ASUS would deliver a solid upgrade to the screen over the Flip C434. This is another place where ASUS has squarely let me down. The screen is very similar to the older Flip C434 but isn’t quite as bright and isn’t enough for well-lit environments. Colors are good (maybe a bit warm for my liking) and viewing angles are too, but at a peak brightness of 220 nits that I could measure, there were countless times I just needed a bit more from the display. Sat next to the Pixelbook Go’s mediocre screen, it is considerably dimmer. It is at this point I have to repeat that this is acceptable on a $400 Chromebook, but not on one that will approach $1000.
You shouldn’t have to worry about my screen quality on a high-end Chromebook. Period. Colors should be solid, viewing angles should be great, and brightness should be capable for any indoor setting. That is simply not the case with the Flip C436 and I can’t explain how disappointing this is for a flagship Chromebook. I’m sure there are plenty of bright 16:9 14-inch display panels out there at affordable prices. I really wish ASUS didn’t cheap out on this part of the Chromebook as Samsung’s 4K OLED on the Galaxy Chromebook is going to make this look really bad by comparison in the coming months.
On a positive note, the bezels are still tiny and there isn’t much in the way of light bleed around the edges. Additionally, I think 14-inch Chromebooks with small bezels are really the sweet spot. After moving back and forth between this device and the 13.3-inch Pixelbook Go, 14-inch screens just feel like a better fit for the portability-meets-productivity lane. When it comes down to it, I just wish ASUS would have considered the overall quality of display a bit more when putting this Chromebook together. A brighter display with a tad more neutral colors would go a long way towards making the price tag more tolerable.
Keyboard & Trackpad
I feel like this is an area where ASUS really did take some notes and make things better. One of my big nit picks with the C434 was the plastic trackpad. That is gone and in its place is a smooth, wide, glass trackpad and it is fantastic. Everything you want or need to do is easily pulled off by this input device, and I find little fault in it. The surface is great, the size is great, and the click mechanism underneath is great. Well done all around.
The keyboard is less of a step forward and more of a step sideways with a bit more shallow key depth than its predecessor. I found typing to be comfortable and responsive, but I could use a tad more click on each key press. My accuracy was quite good while using it and there’s little to complain about. I won’t put it next to the Pixelbook Go’s stellar keyboard, but it isn’t a bad keyboard by any means. Keys are quiet, too, keeping you from being that person in the office who has the loud, clacky keyboard.
Once place I feel ASUS did not adjust well is in the key colors and backlighting choices. Last year, tons of users were upset by the gray keys and their equally gray symbols. With the backlight level just right, the symbols on the keys simply vanished as they became the same basic colors as the keys themselves. I never had issue with this on the C434 as long as I turned off the backlighting in daylight settings.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with the C436. Instead, the problem seems worst this time around. As I look at my keyboard right now, I can’t make out the symbols on quite a few keys on the keyboard and my backlighting is fully off. Additionally, the backlight isn’t the brightest out there, so even in dimly lit situations I had trouble getting the levels just right. I’m a touch typer, so it hasn’t been a terrible thing, but for those that look at the keyboard a lot, this is a problem. If last year’s C434 keyboard was an issue for users, I fear the C436 will only be worse.
Ports & Speakers
The port selection on the outside isn’t much different than what we’ve seen on other devices lately with the duo of USB Type C ports (one on each side) handling the charging, video output, and data transfer. There is a microSD card slot for memory expansion, a headphone/mic jack, and some interesting speaker grills we will hit on next. While I always like seeing a stray USB Type A port for backwards compatibility, it feels like we’re finally getting to the point where we can start leaving that port off on newer machines.
The speakers are harmon/kardon branded and sound quite nice. Again, putting them up against the stellar speakers on the Pixelbook Go is a bad idea, but on their own, they do sound good. I did notice some rattle at about 80% max volume and can’t tell what part is making the rattle, but that was a bit of a bummer. With the quad-speaker setup that keeps the top-firing speaker always in play whether in clamshell or tablet mode, I was really hoping for some solid sound out of this Chromebook. It is good, sure, but it is not even close to the quality on offer from the Pixel Slate or Pixelbook Go and I really wanted the audio to be in that ballpark.
Internals & Performance
If it feels like I’ve been tough up to this point, I have been. I expect a lot from a Chromebook in this price range and you should too. There is some really good news, though, and that is base performance. This model we are testing is the 10th-gen Core i3 model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal NVMe storage. And it flies. Not surprisingly, there is nothing that this Chromebook can’t handle. Under the stress of my normal workflow with multiple tabs and apps up and running across multiple displays (both physical and virtual), this thing never so much as stuttered. It is just fast.
That’s good news for those not wanting to upgrade to the $999 version that will carry the Project Athena-approved specs. Assuming they keep all the external pieces in place, there’s little reason you’ll need to upgrade the processor, RAM or storage on offer, here. This package delivers in a big way and I can’t overstate how fast this Chromebook feels on a daily basis. Sure, the upgraded Core i5, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of NVMe will be a monster, but most users will never have need of it.
If you were wondering about fans, yes they are there. And, when they do kick on, you can definitely hear them. For the most part, I didn’t have to deal with them, but when they activate, they are not shy. Battery life was as expected, around 8-10 hours of real use. Chromebooks have been in this range for a long time, so that comes as little surprise, but it is worth a mention.
Finally, inside this thing are a few things new to Chromebooks in the form of WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5, and NVMe storage across the board. I personally don’t have a ton of issue with WiFi on older Chromebooks, so I can’t say this new WiFi 6 helps tremendously with connection. I can say that I didn’t have any connection problems the entire time I used this Chromebook at the office and at home, so there’s that. In the same vein, I don’t rely on a ton of Bluetooth hardware, but everything I used connected quickly and stayed connected as long as I asked it to.
The addition of NVMe storage is a quiet speed bump that most users won’t look for but will definitely feel. Moving files around is clearly faster with these read/write speeds and the entire OS benefits form storage that is so much speedier than eMMC that is used in most Chromebooks. I’m glad to see this upgrade for these newer Chromebooks and, like the addition of WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5, I think these internal additions will be things we all enjoy more as time goes on. They aren’t radically changing your use right now, but they go a long way towards future-proofing your device for years to come.
Speaking of future proofing, this device is one of the first to come with that sweet 8+ years of automatic updates with an AUE of June 2028. So, when we talk about internal features that may not make a huge difference today but will certainly matter later, it is worth thinking about the fact that you may have this Chromebook for a very, very long time.
As I said in the intro, there’s both good and bad, here. And it all comes at a very tough time in the current Chromebook story. We’re right at the beginning of a new generation of Chromebooks, so there will be release after release this year to sway your opinion of which Chromebook is the right one for you. Looking only at a spec sheet, it would seem this latest offering from ASUS has it all, but I’d urge you to use a bit of caution.
The new things this Chromebook offers are great, but I don’t know if you’ll immediately feel the differences. Sure, its fast, but so are the last gen Chromebooks. It has WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5, but only certain users with certain hardware will feel that upgrade right away as those are features that will really make a difference months from now. It has NVMe and is faster for it, but I can’t say you’ll really notice.
So, it is tough to recommend you run out and buy the Flip C436 right now even though I think it is a great Chromebook. I like a lot about this device, but I also know about other Chromebooks on the way and I know how good older devices like the excellent Pixelbook Go are. So, if you are coming here trying to decide on whether or not to buy this thing right now, I’d say for many of you, wait a bit. See what else comes out in a similar price range and then make your move. If you need a Chromebook right now and you want something that is solid, future proof, and will get updates for a long time, perhaps this is the one for you. If you don’t find yourself in that particular position, however, you will likely be glad you waited just a bit.