Asus Chromebook Plus CX34 Review

My latest video is of the Asus Chromebook Plus CX34, the second Chromebook Plus we’ve looked at since the new Plus standard was announced by Google.

The Chromebook Plus CX34 is part of Google’s initiative to define a new hardware specification, ensuring that devices carrying the ‘Chromebook Plus’ label offer more than just basic functionality. This includes mid to upper-range performance and the promise of future OS updates incorporating generative AI features, which are not available on lower-end models.

Priced at around $399, with occasional discounts bringing it lower, the CX34 is an entry-level Plus configuration featuring an Intel i3-1215U processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. The display, its standout feature, is a 14-inch IPS panel with a matte finish. It offers a 1080p resolution at 250 nits of brightness, delivering a satisfactory viewing experience for its price range. However, it’s important to note that it covers only about 45% of the NTSC color gamut, making it less suitable for creative professionals.

The build quality of the CX34 is decent, with a plastic body that feels sturdy enough for everyday use. The pearl white color is enhanced by a speckled finish. Although it’s not a two-in-one device, the laptop’s display can fold flat, offering some flexibility in how it’s used.

The keyboard and trackpad are surprisingly comfortable for a device in this price range. The keyboard is backlit although the backlight can sometimes wash out the keycaps in brighter settings. The trackpad is responsive and supports smooth navigation.

In terms of connectivity, the CX34 is well-equipped. It features two USB-C ports (one on each side of the laptop), USB-A ports, an HDMI output, and a headphone/microphone jack. The USB-C ports support power delivery, display output, and data transfer, although at a lower speed of 5 Gbits per second, which is adequate for a Chromebook.

The webcam is compliant with the Chromebook Plus requirements, offering 1080p resolution and operating system-level image enhancement features, such as blurring and lighting adjustments. These enhancements are compatible with various applications, including Zoom and Google Meet. However, the device lacks facial recognition and fingerprint sensors for quick unlocking.

Audio quality is average, with downward-firing speakers that provide decent stereo separation but are not exceptional, especially for music. Battery life is reasonable, with about 8 hours of usage on basic tasks like web browsing and video watching.

Performance-wise, the CX34 handles web browsing and media playback smoothly, thanks to its Wi-Fi 6 capability. It scores well on browser-based benchmarks, indicating its competence in handling everyday tasks. However, it’s important to note that streaming services like Netflix or Disney Plus should be accessed via the web browser for optimal resolution, as the Android versions on Chrome OS are limited to DVD quality.

For gaming, the CX34 is not a powerhouse but can handle Android-based games like Roblox and Minecraft satisfactorily. It also supports game streaming services like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, offering a way to enjoy high-end games without the need for powerful hardware.

In conclusion, the Asus Chromebook Plus CX34 represents a solid choice for those seeking a mid-range laptop. It balances performance, build quality, and price, making it a viable option for everyday computing needs, from web browsing to light gaming. While it may not satisfy the demands of power users or creative professionals, it stands as a competent and affordable option in the Chromebook market.

ASUS ROG Ally Review: A Powerful Handheld Gaming PC with Room for Improvement

I explore the ASUS ROG Ally in my latest review, the first handheld gaming machine produced for mass market retail. It’s currently a Best Buy exclusive (affiliate link) selling for $699. Despite its rough edges, the Ally’s performance is undeniably impressive, thanks to its AMD Z1 Extreme processor.

The Ally’s standout feature is its ability to run games at 1080p with decent frame rates, something that sets it apart from competitors like the Steam Deck that run at 720p. The 7″ display runs at 1080p 120hz with freesync support at 500 nits of brightness. The display looks great with vivid colors. But its rather slow 7ms response rate negates some of the advantages of the fast refresh rate.

I tested several games, including Forza Horizon 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Death Stranding, all of which ran smoothly at 1080p. The device also handled emulation well, running GameCube games without any hiccups.

I found the sweet spot is to run the games at 720p on the native display which will deliver greater than 60fps performance in most games. Most of the 1080p detail is lost on a small display like this so not much is sacrificed turning the resolution down. But it’s nice to know it can deliver decent 1080p performance when connected to an external dock through its USB-C port.

Because it runs Windows 11 as the underlying operating system it is compatible with a bulk of the Windows games on the market including compatibility for nearly all popular gaming platforms – including Xbox PC Gamepass downloads.

The Ally isn’t without its drawbacks, however. The device’s control surface feels clunky with huge dead zones on the analog sticks and the triggers. The directional pad is even worse, registering false diagonals and feeling a bit cheap for the price point.

While it has a full service USB-C port, it’s running on the older USB 3.2 Gen 2 standard vs. a USB 4.0 port that would allow for Thunderbolt device compatibility. Asus opted instead to use their own proprietary expansion port designed for their mobile GPU product. Those mobile GPUs start at around $799 – more than the cost of the Ally itself! USB 4 would have been much better as just about any PCI Express card could be used in an expansion box. See more about that USB 4 Thunderbolt compatibility in this video.

And of course the Windows 11 operating system isn’t ideally suited for a handheld gaming device. Asus attempted to compensate for this with their Armoury Crate software and launcher, but it often has to dump the user back to a Windows interface for accessing gaming platforms and other configuration items. Users will also spend a lot of time updating the device, having to do so in Armoury Crate and Windows Update to get it working at peak performance.

The Ally also fell short on the 3DMark Stress Test, indicating potential throttling issues under heavy load. But I didn’t notice any significant slowdowns during gameplay.

Despite these issues, the Ally is by far the best performing PC handheld on the market. Nothing comes close. If performance is all that matters to you I’d choose the Ally over the Steam Deck. But the Steam Deck feels like a much more cohesive product overall despite the Ally’s performance advantages.

I Preordered a ROG Ally

I pre-ordered an Asus ROG Ally (compensated affiliate link), the new Asus gaming handheld today from Best Buy.

This looks to be a device targeting the Steam Deck and differentiating itself by running Windows and not Linux. For those subscribed to the Game Pass PC or Ultimate Edition, the Windows 11 powered Asus handheld will make it a lot easier to access PC game downloads vs. Valve’s device.

The Ally is slightly more powerful vs. the Steam Deck but I don’t think the performance differences will be significant enough to designate it a “Steam Deck Killer.”

That said, the Ally may have some legs given their retail distribution strategy and marketing push. It’s exclusive to Best Buy stores upon its initial release meaning it will be available for hands-on demonstrations at hundreds of retail outlets throughout North America. This will undoubtedly drive some consumer interest that many of the lesser known brands can’t afford to do from a marketing perspective.

I’m sure Microsoft will give it a marketing boost too as it runs Windows and is a great solution for portable Gamepass downloads. In fact my friend and Xbox community manager Larry Hyrb (aka Major Nelson) got an early unit for an unboxing on his podcast.

But if pre-orders are any indication it’ll take some time to build up consumer awareness and interest. Pre-orders began on May 11 here in the US and units are still available on release day both for shipping and local store pickups at Best Buy. By comparison I had to wait months for my Steam Deck!

I’ll have more on this once my unit arrives next month. Stay tuned!