The Chromebook Flip C436 has big shoes to fill. Asus is known for producing solid Chromebooks, but last year’s C434 was the top of its class. It had a thin-bezeled, slim and light chassis, excellent performance, and a 360-degree hinge with a starting price of just $569. We called it the best Chromebook you could buy in 2019.
This year’s C436 is considerably more expensive, starting at $799. Because of the price point, Asus says it’s not to be compared with the company’s previous Chromebooks, to which I say: good luck with that. It’s necessary to compare any new release to the C434, simply because the C434 (which Asus has no plans to discontinue) is the Chromebook to beat. And if there’s one company I trust to put out a sub-$900 device that could unseat the C434, it’s Asus itself.
At $800, we should expect this Chromebook to have significant advantages over Chromebooks in the $550-$650 price range. And there’s certainly a lot to like about the C436. But the device’s greatest weakness — its battery life — is a significant mark against it. Meanwhile, alternatives like the Pixelbook Go and Asus’ own C434 have lower-powered processors, but still offer good performance and much better battery life at a lower price. If the C436 were cheaper, it might be in the mix. At this price point, I don’t think it is.
Cover up the Chrome logo, and you could easily fool observers into thinking this was a Windows Ultrabook. Like its predecessor, the C436 makes use of small bezels (4.9mm on the side and 6.5mm on the top; Asus claims an 85 percent screen-to-body ratio) to pack a 14-inch screen into a chassis the size of many 13-inch models. The magnesium alloy body feels quite sturdy, and the 360 hinge is stable. And it’s all fairly portable, at 2.4 pounds and 13.7mm thick — that’s not as thin as Samsung’s premium Galaxy Chromebook, but it is slimmer than most of its peers. It’s available now in silver, and white is coming later this month.
Open this up, and you’ll arrive at my favorite part of this Chromebook: the keyboard. It’s clicky, snappy, and comfortable; even though I didn’t surpass my usual typing speeds, I felt like my fingers were flying. I always find Asus’ keyboard font a bit quaint, but it’s clearly legible with or without the backlight on. There’s also a fingerprint reader for logging into Chrome OS in the top right, which was quick, accurate, and something you won’t find on Google’s Pixelbook Go.
The keyboard is my favorite part of this Chromebook
The touchpad is similarly smooth and responsive, but I had some hiccups with the clicking. There was some resistance when I pressed lightly, but the actuation point was much higher than the initial resistance. In other words: every click felt like it involved two clicks. I got used to that, and I still prefer it to a touchpad that’s really stiff, but it still made the whole experience feel a bit clunky. Artists and note-takers can also add on a stylus, though that didn’t ship with my review unit and I wasn’t able to test it.
Port selection is okay, but unexceptional. You’ve got a USB-C on each side (no Thunderbolt 3, of course, because this is a Chromebook), a 3.5mm audio jack on the left, and a microSD slot on the right. I would like to see a USB-A, especially at this price point — plenty of other manufacturers have managed to work that into similarly slim form factors.
The webcam is also serviceable, presenting a picture that was fairly dark (even in bright settings) but crisp and defined enough that fellow Zoom-meeting participants could easily see my facial expressions and details of the room around me. And I had no problem with the Harman Kardon-certified speakers — there are two built into the hinge and one into each side of the cover. Their sound wasn’t quite as clear as that of a good external speaker, but it was certainly better than what you’ll generally hear from laptops with downward-firing audio, and it had a decent surround quality.
A big reason for C436’s price jump from its predecessor is that we’ve gotten a processor bump from the C434’s entry-level Core m3 chip. My test model (the base model, priced at $799) has a 10th Gen Intel Core i3-10110U processor coupled with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage — a generous amount as far as Chromebooks go. That chip would be underpowered among Windows laptops, but Chrome OS is a more efficient operating system and an i3 more than gets the job done here.
You can also get a configuration with 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a Core i5-10210U for $999. I can’t imagine most people need that upgrade, unless you plan on installing Linux and using it for development work. The Core i3 performs just fine for everyone else.
Chrome OS was a smooth experience on this device, and flipping in and out of tablet mode was seamless. I won’t get into the weeds about the state of Google’s operating system because the software experience isn’t specific to the C436, but the usual caveats apply. The boot time is fast, the interface is intuitively simple, and you don’t have to restart for system updates every five minutes. But Android apps — a big draw of the ecosystem — continue to be a hit-or-miss experience, and opportunities to run anything more demanding than Lightroom (for non-Linux users, which is most people) are limited.
Chrome OS was a smooth experience
Most top Android apps ran great on the C436 (Solid Explorer, Podcast Addict, LastPass, 1Weather, Kaspersky), while some were usable but slower than their browser equivalents (Facebook, Slack, Maps, Drive, Find My Device), and a couple have serious problems (Call of Duty Mobile crashed every time I tried to play, CamScanner doesn’t connect to the webcam, I had to uninstall Messenger because Chrome crashed whenever I got a notification).
I got all the browsing I needed done, flipping between a dozen Chrome tabs and several Android apps at a time, and occasionally streaming some Spotify, downloading from the Play Store, or hopping on a Zoom call. No stuttering, no freezing or crashing. In Chrome browsing, the C436 was just about as fast as the i5-powered Galaxy Chromebook. The only place I noticed a difference was in demanding programs like Lightroom, where some processes took a few seconds longer. Most serious photo editors aren’t going for a Chromebook, so I’m not too concerned about that.
But the biggest price you’re paying for this performance — aside from the actual sticker price — and the reason I don’t think the C436 quite beats its competition is in the battery life. Asus put a 42Wh battery in this notebook, a downgrade from the 48Wh brick that powered the C434. Throw in the upgraded processor and it’s not surprising that this thing burns through juice pretty quickly. In a day of browsing with a combination of apps and Chrome tabs (running Twitter, Slack, Zoom, Gmail, Reddit, Docs, Sheets, and the like) I got about five hours to a charge (and I could hear the fan most of the time, though it wasn’t terribly loud). Five hours isn’t enough to power through a work day, and it’s dwarfed by more affordable competitors like the Pixelbook Go, which pushed eight hours in our testing.
When I just left video running, I got almost twice that — I suspect that Google is pushing clocks down during video playback, and browsing is causing the i3 to hit load through some mixture of app and webpage optimization. Most people buy Chromebooks intending to browse with them, though, not to loop 1080p video all day, so the browsing number is the one you should care about more.
The strongest argument in favor of the C436 is its build; it’s impressively compact for a 14-inch convertible, and the keyboard is a standout. It looks like it could be a Zenbook, Asus’ line of premium Windows laptops. Show it to anyone who still thinks Chromebooks are cheap gags for students, and they’ll probably be convinced otherwise. And there’s no reason to be turned off by the Core i3 sticker: this thing is elegant and speedy, and the fan, while audible, effectively keeps it from frying, unlike Samsung’s fanless Galaxy Chromebook.
That’s why I’m so disappointed by the battery life, because I think it turns a Chromebook that could’ve been the best in its class to one that is just okay. Starting at $649, you can get the Pixelbook Go, which has a lower-powered processor but also performs quite well and has a much better battery life. You’re mostly giving up the convertible design and the fingerprint sensor, and I’d be hard-pressed to call those upgrades that are worth $150 and a few hours of juice. If you’re not wed to Chrome OS, you can also get quite good Windows convertibles close to this price, including the Lenovo Yoga C740. Fortunately, Asus is still going to be selling the C434, which offers a similar build, the ability to flip into a tablet, and some of the best battery life you can get in a Chromebook.
There’s a lot that I like about the C436. I just like the competition a little bit more.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge
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