When the new cloud-gaming focused Chrombooks arrived last fall, it was pretty easy to spot the one that didn’t quite fit in. While Acer and Lenovo launched devices with big, high-refresh screens, color-changing keyboards, and 12th-gen Intel internals, ASUS chose to show up with a regurgitated device that had an older processor, no RGB lights under the keyboard, and a dim, 250-nit 144Hz display. It pretty quickly became clear that this device was basically the ASUS Chromebook CM5 from the year before with a few changes, and you could tell right away that it was simply thrown into the mix as a placeholder for the Chromebook they really wanted to release.
But this new Chromebook – the ASUS Chromebook Vibe CX34 Flip – is the type of course correction we love to see when manufacturers swing and miss. It’s everything the original Chromebook Vibe CX55 should have been, and on the path to building a great laptop for cloud gaming, ASUS ended up making a stellar Chromebook in just about every category. So, let’s take a deeper look.
Good looks and great build
First off, this new Vibe Chromebook doesn’t look like any ASUS that has come before. After clearly recycling their first gaming Chromebook, I was very glad to see that this was the case at CES 2023 where we first laid hands on this device. The white, outer parts are coated and feel like an eggshell, resisting fingerprints and looking pretty sweet while doing it. I don’t think I’ve wiped this Chromebook off one time since we got it in the office, and I love that: especially in an all-white device.
The rest of this build is substantial and top-notch, too. There’s no creaking or bending in any sense, even though the entire bottom is made of what feels like some sort of plastic. The anti-fingerprint, soft-touch coating continues throughout, and there’s no place this device feels cheap or flimsy. I’ll say it over and over again: I don’t care what the chassis materials are in a Chromebook if the device feels good, and this one feels great. It’s a tad thick at 21mm, but the overall feel isn’t bulky at the just-under-4-pound weight feels much lighter than you would expect on this portable 14-inch Chromebook.
And that little bit of extra thickness makes room for plenty of ports: 2 USB Type C, 1 USB Type A, a microSD slot, full-sized HDMI port, headphone/mic jack and a Kensington lock. It’s the same array we’ve seen on a few devices lately, and it makes the need of a desktop dock unnecessary. I like that a lot. But there’s one other addition ASUS saw fit to add: a garaged USI pen. And the inking experience is quite good with it! While not the most necessary thing, I love seeing stowed pens in higher-end Chromebooks, and it comes in handy from time to time.
Solid keys, trackpad and screen
And the bottom half of that firm, smooth chassis houses a very comfy keyboard, impressive speakers, and a wide, smooth trackpad. I don’t think it is glass, but we’re also at the point where all trackpads don’t need to be glass to be excellent. There are all sorts of materials that make great trackpad surfaces, and this one absolutely nails it. Zero complaints. And the same goes for the speakers: they are loud, full and really enjoyable for content, calls, and games, too.
The keyboard, however, has one aggravating flaw: the backlight. Sure, the keys can turn colors and with the latest changes to ChromeOS, those colors can match your overall theme. But with gray key caps, this device has the same issue that has plagued other gray keyboards in that you need to turn the backlight completely off in daytime light to see anything on the keyboard. Where devices like the Dragonfly Pro get this right with plenty of keyboard backlight, the ASUS CX34 misses the boat, here, and you won’t want to mess with keyboard backlight until you are in a dim lighting situation.
Thankfully that’s not true of the 14-inch 16:10 FHD144Hz display on this Chromebook. It is bright at 400 nits and super smooth when plugged in. Wisely, ASUS chose to pull back the refresh rate when on battery, so the display fires at 60Hz when off the charger to save battery. Thankfully, this display handles that quite well and even though things are animating at a fraction of the 144Hz capabilities, it doesn’t look janky or strange. And with that throttling, the battery stays under control, getting a solid 7-8 hours on a charge with regularity as long as you keep the screen brightness around 60%.
Above that excellent screen is a very poor webcam that I’d avoid using unless necessary. For a Chromebook this nice, I’d expect at least a 1080p camera, but this one is 720p, grainy, and good for only video calls when needed. With most video chats moving to 1080p, this is a pretty big miss by ASUS and one that there’s simply no excuse for. There is a physical camera shutter, so I guess that’s something.
There’s plenty of speed to spare
And, as expected, this Chromebook packs the internals. Our review unit has the 12th-gen Core i5, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of NVMe storage. It’s fast. It’s really, really fast. And the lower config with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage will be crazy fast as well. If fast is what you are after, this Chromebook has it, and as it is being presented as a “gaming” Chromebook, you’d expect that.
And on that front, I won’t get into the whole gaming Chromebook discussion except to say that these devices do make for better experiences on streaming services like GeForce NOW. The bright, high-refresh screens just do better with gaming, and whenever Google does get Steam gaming fully ironed out and delivered to Chromebook users, these devices should theoretically be great at that, too. But we’re not there yet and for most casual gamers – the exact ones that play a lot of games on something like GeForce NOW – the perks you get in a gaming Chromebook are more like small niceties. Great if you have them, but not missed when you don’t.
That’s why it’s great for ASUS that this Chromebook is an overall fantastic device on its own. It’s easily my favorite ASUS Chromebook since the CX5400 from a couple years ago and one that I’d be happy to use as my daily device in most cases. The price – $769 or $869 depending on the spec – is steep, and the limited availability of it means we won’t see too many sale prices. Since it launched, I don’t think there’s been a single discount. And that means you need to love the stuff it does right to justify the price.
If a well-made convertible Chromebook with a bright screen, solid keyboard/trackpad combo, stowed stylus, plenty of power, and great battery life is what you need, I’d say this is a really great option. Normally I’d say to wait for a sale, but that’s just not in the cards for this one anytime soon. Conversely, if you need a good camera or you happen to place a priority on a thin/light Chromebook, this one’s probably not for you. But more than likely that’s a small subset of users, and I’d wager most people looking for a great Chromebook will find a lot to like in the Vibe CX34 Flip. I know I’ve loved it and I think if you are ready to spend the money to invest in a high-end Chromebook, you probably will too.