I've never been a fan of buying expensive laptops, even once I could actually afford them. Just like with smartphones, there's a certain point where the added features can't justify the $1,000+ prices, unless you are doing heavy productivity or gaming. My first laptop was the ASUS Eee PC 1001PXD netbook, which I was pretty happy with at the time (now the 1024x600 screen sounds atrocious), but the casing eventually started to crack apart. I later switched to the original Dell Chromebook 13, but the limitations of the browser-only environment were too much to bear, so I bought a Surface Pro 2.
The Surface Pro ended up having a pretty terrible battery life, so I bought a Dell Latitude 3340, which was fine - until I started working for Android Police. The 1366x768 display didn't give me much real estate for writing and researching posts, and the bulky design didn't help portability. So once again, I was left with a choice - do I spend an outrageous amount of money for a premium laptop, or roll the dice with another mid-range or used computer?
After the addition of Android app support, Chrome OS once again looked like a viable option for me. Eventually, I settled on the ASUS Chromebook Flip C302CA (great name, I know). Even after almost a year of constant use, it's still holding up very well, and I think it's the best value Chromebook you can buy.
|CPU||Intel Core m3 6Y30|
|Display||12.5" 1920x1080 IPS|
|Software||Google Chrome OS with Play Store support|
|Dimensions||11.9 x 8.3 x 0.6 inches (Touchpad is 4.1 x 2.3 inches)|
|Connectivity||802.11ac dual-band 2x2, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0 Type-C, headphone/microphone combo jack, microSD card|
|Price||$465-$499 (depending on retailer)|
Almost every Chromebook (Pixelbook excluded) falls into one of two categories - cheap machines that are unapologetically cheap (like the ASUS C101PA), and mid-range laptops that feel like premium ultrabooks. There are only a handful of models that fall into the latter category - including the Samsung Chromebook Plus/Pro, the ASUS C302, and Acer Chromebook 15.
On the outside, the C302 looks like almost every other ultrabook on the market. It has a unibody aluminum design, with a 360-degree hinge that allows the screen to be flipped around. On the back, there's a subtle ASUS logo at the center and Chrome branding at the top left. It looks quite similar to a MacBook Pro.
The left side of the laptop has a USB 3.0 Type-C port, charging indicator, volume rocker, power button, headphone/microphone combo jack, and one speaker. The other side has a microSD card slot, another Type-C port, and another speaker. Like many other recent Chromebooks, the C302 uses Type-C for charging, so you don't have to deal with a proprietary power cable. Both ports can be used for charging, and both support video out (if you have the right adapter).
I'm still not a fan of any laptop ditching regular USB ports, but how much of an inconvenience this is depends entirely on your workflow. I almost never use flash drives in the first place, and my MX Master mouse connects over Bluetooth. Once I bought this HDMI adapter (for connecting the C302 to my projector) and a few Type-C-to-A dongles, I was set.
The C302 is a convertible laptop, meaning you can flip the display around to use it as a tablet. In tablet mode, the keyboard and screen are held together using magnets. The large bezels surrounding the screen make holding the C302 in this manner very comfortable.
While the C302 does feel more premium than the price tag suggests, there are a few signs that you're not using a $1,000+ laptop. The lid flexes a bit when you press down on it, and the touchpad is a bit wonky (more on that in the next section). But overall, the C302 is built well and looks great.
Keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard on the C302 was the deciding factor when I chose which Chromebook to get. I went to my local Amazon showroom Best Buy to check out the Samsung Chromebook Plus/Pro (they have an identical design), and even though I liked the taller screen and stylus support, the keyboard was perhaps the worst part of the machine. The backspace key was absurdly tiny, and the keyboard was not backlit.
I tried out the Samsung Chromebook Plus in person and WHY IS THE BACKSPACE KEY SO TINY pic.twitter.com/hiilsRHeDd
— Corbin Davenport (@corbindavenport) May 20, 2017
My job involves quite a lot of typing, so the Chromebook Plus/Pro was a non-starter for me. Fortunately, the C302's keyboard is very good. Typing feels great, the layout is comfortable, and the keys are clicky and responsive. Unlike the Samsung Chromebook Plus/Pro, the whole keyboard is backlit.
Like just about every Chromebook, the top row contains keys for media and browser navigation, instead of traditional function buttons. There's a power key on the top right, which sounds awful at first, but Chrome OS requires that you hold it down for several seconds before the laptop shuts down. There's no chance of accidentally turning off the C302.
Overall, I can't think of a single problem I have with the C302's keyboard, except that it doesn't have the Pixelbook's Assistant key. On that note, the Pixelbook is still the only Chromebook with Assistant.
The touchpad is a bit of a different story. It's not particularly large, at four inches across (4.5" on the diagonal), but it's still perfectly usable. My main complaint is that it just feels cheap. For reasons unknown to me, clicking on the sides or top will sometimes sound like I'm breaking the whole mechanism.
Maybe it's just my unit, but regardless of that problem, the C302's touchpad isn't anything particularly special. Then again, that's to be expected from anything that isn't a MacBook.
The C302 has a 12.5-inch 1080p IPS screen, which is a massive upgrade from the 1366x768 Latitude laptop I was using previously. Even though 1440p and 4K laptops are becoming commonplace, I think the C302's screen is just fine. By default, Chrome OS will scale the interface to 1536x864, providing a good balance between readability and screen real estate.
Occasionally, I'll set Chrome OS to 100% scaling when I'm working on some projects, but for the most part I leave it on the default. The bezels around the screen cause the laptop to look a bit dated compared to the Dell XPS 13 or Huawei MateBook X Pro, but the C302 is half the price of those laptops. The bezels also make the C302 easier to hold in tablet mode.
My only real complaint with the display is the aspect ratio. Most laptops in recent years have used a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is great for media playback, but not the best for productivity. The Pixelbook, Samsung Chromebook Plus/Pro, and other laptops use 3:2 screens. I'd love to have a taller screen for working.
On a final note, the C302's screen brightness should be just fine for most people. You probably won't be able to read much in direct sunlight, but I've never had a problem getting work done inside or in the shade.
I have the m3 C302, with an Intel Core m3 6Y30 processor and 4GB of RAM. That CPU was released in 2015 and is based on Intel's Skylake architecture, so it's not cutting-edge tech by any stretch of the imagination. For context, this is the same chip used by the low-end Surface Pro 4, Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, and the early 2016 12" Apple MacBook.
The main advantage of this processor is that it doesn't require any kind of active cooling, so the C302 has no fans at all. The laptop is completely silent, but just like with smartphone and tablet processors, it will thermal throttle (become slower) under heavy load to avoid overheating. This isn't really an issue though, unless you're playing 3D games for an extended period of time.
So how does it perform in real life? I have no complaints. It boots up in about five seconds, multi-tasking works fine, and animations are smooth. At most, I usually only have about 20 tabs open (plus an Android app or two), so the 4GB RAM has never been an issue for me. Chrome OS is generally more lightweight than Windows or macOS, so the lower amount of RAM goes farther on Chromebooks.
Speedometer test on the Chromebook Flip C302
If you're interested in benchmarks, my C302 scored 52.7 on the Speedometer test. Here's how it stacks up against other popular Chromebooks:
- ASUS Chromebook Flip C100: 22.6
- ASUS Chromebook Flip C101: 34.57
- ASUS Chromebook Flip C302: 52.7
- Samsung Chromebook Plus: 36.9
- Toshiba Chromebook 2 (2014): 25.5
On Geekbench 4, the C302 received a score of 2,707 for single-core performance and 5041 for multi-core. On 3DMark's Sling Shot test, the score was 4,520.
ASUS has also released other versions of the C302 that use a Pentium, Core m5, or Core m7 processor. In my opinion, the pricing for these other models doesn't make any sense. Best Buy is the only retailer in the US selling the Pentium C302, but it's only $16 cheaper than the more powerful m3 model from Amazon. The C302 with a Core m5 costs over $100 more than m3 model, but still has 4GB of RAM. Finally, you have the m7 model with 16GB of RAM for a whopping $900. For that price, you could just get a Pixelbook (which has a modern Core i5 processor, and is better in almost every regard).
The battery life of the C302 is also pretty great. Not only is the Core m3 chip very power-efficient, but Chrome OS has a knack for lasting longer than comparable Windows laptops. In my experience, the C302 usually tops out at 6-7 hours of usage. Again, this can vary greatly depending on your workflow.
The aspect of the C302 that surprised me the most wasn't the performance, build quality, software, or even battery life - it was the charging speed. Every laptop I've ever owned always took hours to fully charge, and the C302 blows all of them out of the water. The included charger has a maximum speed of 20V/2.25A, which tops off the laptop's battery at blisteringly-fast speeds. Thanks to the C302's power efficiency, even the charger from my 2016 Pixel can top up the Chromebook at a decent rate.
Just 30 minutes of charging can usually get me two hours of work time, something that no other laptop I've owned could pull off. The C302 isn't necessarily alone in this regard; David said the Pixelbook was "probably the fastest-charging laptop I've ever used, by a long shot."
There's really only one aspect of the C302's battery life that I'm not happy with - standby. If I leave it alone for more than a day or two, it will be dead (or nearly dead). This isn't a massive problem by any means, as long as you remember to shut down when stowing the C302 away, but it's still something to keep in mind.
Chrome OS is an interesting operating system. It started off as nothing more than a full-screen Chrome window, and while it's still centered around web browsing, the continuous UI improvements and addition of Android app support have made it pretty great. Web apps still provide the best possible experience, but the entire Play Store is at your disposal if something can't be done in the browser.
As much as it has grown, I think most Chromebook owners will still agree that Chrome OS is about compromise. There aren't any video editors or (good) Photoshop alternatives. As a web developer, I'm still annoyed that there is no way of installing Visual Studio Code or Git on a Chromebook, short of enabling Developer Mode and running Linux. You also won't find any desktop games available for Chromebooks, and very few Android titles support keyboard input.
That being said, the majority of tasks I use a computer for can be done on a Chromebook. I can write Android Police posts in Chrome, message people through Hangouts (including SMS, since I'm on Project Fi), watch movies, chat on Slack and Discord, edit photos with Lightroom, check social media, and manage remote computers/servers through Microsoft Remote Desktop and JuiceSSH.
For me, Chrome OS is attractive mostly because it's the least terrible desktop operating system I've tried. Windows is a mess of legacy bulk, poor design, and wrong priorities (no one cares about Paint 3D, Microsoft). macOS looks great and is built on a solid Unix core, but the hardware is costly and you're pushed into the Apple ecosystem. Linux is customizable and works on everything, but still lacks many of the applications I need on my desktop - not to mention my favorite games.
Chrome OS, in my opinion, is an almost-perfect secondary OS. When I just want to watch YouTube in bed or write posts from the park, I don't need fifty programs running in the background. All I need is a web browser, some Android apps, and kick-ass battery life. Chrome OS delivers on all three. When I need to edit an image in Photoshop, work on a website, or play a few Overwatch matches, my Windows desktop is ready and waiting.
There are definitely a few remaining quirks with Android apps on Chrome OS. Accessing external storage (including the laptop's microSD slot) doesn't always work, and you'll still run into older apps that can't be resized without the re-launching. But the functionality gap is becoming smaller and smaller. For example, Chrome OS recently added support for Android VPN apps. In other words, when you start an Android app that creates a VPN connection, both Android apps and Chrome will use that connection.
Chrome OS is still rapidly improving, especially when it comes to touch screen usability. I'm especially excited for the upcoming Linux container and improved PWA support.
Are Chromebooks for everyone? Absolutely not, but they don't have to be. The ASUS Chromebook Flip C302 is a great laptop for people that can do without legacy desktop applications, or anyone looking for a secondary computer. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of more expensive laptops, but it's fast and has great battery life. It's also built to last - I should know, I've had it for a year.
While the Pixelbook is still unquestionably the best Chromebook money can buy, the C302 is perhaps the best value Chromebook. More than that, it might be one of the best value laptops period.
If you want to buy a Chromebook Flip C302, you can do so from the links below. As stated above (in the Performance section), I only recommend the Core m3 model and not the Pentium, m5, or m7 versions.