Where do you draw the line between a laptop and a tablet?
It's a question that's becoming increasingly difficult to answer as devices -- and even platforms -- take on multiple forms and purposes. On one end of the Google spectrum, we have Android tablets that double as laptops, blending passive recreation with active productivity. On the other, we have Chrome OS notebooks that also act as tablets, adding an entertainment-focused angle into a traditionally productivity-centric environment.
The latest such device to blur the line is the Asus Chromebook Flip, a laptop with a screen that swings back to serve as a stand-supported slate or fully flattened tablet. The Flip is expected to be widely available starting this week for $249 with 2GB of RAM or $299 with 4GB.
I set aside my own personal devices and used the Flip for all my work and play over the past several days. Here's a real-world account of what I discovered.
Body, design and display
The Chromebook Flip makes a fantastic first impression. The device has a metal-based body that feels solid and sturdy and yet still manages to be incredibly light (1.96 lb., to be precise). It's sleek and attractive, too, with a level of design, build quality and attention to detail that's not commonly seen in this price range.
Pop open the lid and you'll be greeted by a 10.1-in. 1280 x 800 IPS display. The resolution isn't great, but it's all relative: You're looking at slightly more pixels per inch than what you'd find in a typical 11.6-in. 1366 x 768 entry-level Chromebook but less than what you'd see in a 1080p device like Toshiba's 13.3-in. Chromebook 2.
The Flip is a tablet as well as a laptop, though -- and that designation opens the door to some less forgiving comparisons. Most 10-in. tablets today sport insanely high resolutions that have spoiled our eyes for anything else -- with 2560 x 1600 at the high end of the spectrum. Compared to that, the Flip's setup looks downright dismal.
So it really all depends on your expectations. It's important to keep in mind, of course, that this is a sub-$300 system while most high-end tablets cost $400 to $500 at a minimum. Practically speaking, the Flip's display is quite passable in day-to-day use and meaningfully better than most Chromebooks in its class. The screen is bright and has vibrant colors -- an important distinction resulting from Asus's use of IPS technology instead of the lower-quality TN alternative used in most comparably priced laptops.
The low resolution, however, is still a limiting factor -- particularly when it comes to clarity. When I viewed text in a document or Web page, for instance, letters weren't completely crisp; instead, I could usually detect pixilation and areas where the fine detail was fuzzy. That's par for the course in a sub-$300 laptop, so it's not a knock specifically on the Flip -- but I'd be remiss not to mention it as part of the discussion.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.