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.

Lenovo Ideapad Flex 5i ChromeBook Plus Review

Earlier this week I talked about Google’s new Chromebook Plus specification that will be setting a standard for higher performing Chromebooks. In my latest video I review the new IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus from Lenovo, one of the first Plus devices on the market. You can find one here at Best Buy for $499 (compensated affiliate link).

The Flex 5i is equipped with an i3-1315U processor from Intel, 8 GB of non upgradeable RAM, and 128 GB of eMMC storage. The display is a 14-inch IPS running at 1920×1200, which is a 16:10 aspect ratio. Although it supports 45% of the NTSC color space, it might not be the best choice for color-critical tasks like photo or video editing. It is though adequately bright coming in at 300 nits.

The build quality is commendable, with a mix of metal and plastic. It’s a 2-in-1 device, allowing it to be also used as a tablet. The touch display complements the keyboard and trackpad, providing a versatile user experience. However, it’s a bit on the heavier side, weighing 3.57 lbs or 1.62 kg.

Battery life is around the 10-hour mark, depending on usage.

The 1080p webcam is decent, and Chromebook Plus has introduced some new features, allowing users to add blurring and noise reduction directly through an OS level control (more on that in my Chromebook Plus explainer video). There’s also a handy shutter to cover the webcam when not in use.

The keyboard and trackpad are impressive. The keys are well-spaced, and the keyboard is backlit. The trackpad is responsive, and the speakers provide decent sound quality. In terms of ports, it offers two full-service USB-C 3.2 ports, a USB-A port, a headphone/microphone jack, and a micro SD card slot.

Performance-wise, web browsing is smooth. Video playback, especially on platforms like Netflix, is better in the browser than in the app due to some DRM restrictions. For those interested in gaming, while it’s not ideal for Steam games, game streaming and casual Android games work well.

The 5i also supports USI compatible pens, providing a responsive drawing and writing experience. Additionally, it’s compatible with Linux applications, allowing users to run both command-line and graphical applications.

Google recently extended the support life for ChromeOS, with most devices now receiving updates for a full decade from their platform release date. This particular Chromebook will receive updates through June of 2032.

The Lenovo Flex 5i offers good value for its price point. While it’s definitely not the best choice for creative work or heavy-duty gaming, it does well in most other general computing tasks.

What is a Chromebook Plus? Exploring Google’s New Chromebook Specification

When I first heard about the addition of the word “plus” to the ChromeOS brand, I initially feared it might be a new subscription plan. But it’s actually a new hardware specification for a more powerful configuration of Chromebooks.

In my latest video we dive into Google’s new Chromebook Plus specification and how it differentiates from a normal Chromebook. You can see the full line of Chromebook Plus devices over at Best Buy (compensated affiliate link).

To be considered a Chromebook Plus, the device must have a minimum of an i3 12th generation processor from Intel or a Ryzen 3 7000 series processor from AMD. Additional specifications include 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, a full HD 1080p IPS display, about 10 hours of battery life, and a 1080p webcam with noise reduction. If you already own a Chromebook that meets these specifications, it will soon upgrade to Chromebook Plus following an upcoming ChromeOS update.

Price points start at around $399 and on par with pricing for similarly equipped pre-plus Chromebooks.

On the surface, there isn’t much of a difference between a Chromebook Plus and regular Chromebooks. However, Google plans to introduce significant new features involving generative AI. For instance, AI will soon be able to insert text anywhere in the operating system where there’s a text input. Another feature will allow users to change their wallpaper with generative AI suggestions.

One feature I found useful was the ability to synchronize my Google Drive with the Chromebook’s local storage. This means you can carry all of your Google Drive files with you even when offline – provided your Chromebook has sufficient local storage available. Unfortunately there is not currently an option for “selective sync” where the user can specify which files or folders to synchronize vs. others.

The most notable feature is the new OS level webcam and audio controls. Users can adjust background blur, lighting and AI noise reduction from the task bar which ChromeOS then feeds to any app that uses the webcam and microphone. There’s no longer a need to set up these features in each app individually. This is something that exists on other platforms but usually requires third party driver software.

Google Photos on the Chromebook Plus now includes features typically found on Pixel phones, like the Magic Eraser tool. This tool allows you to remove unwanted elements from photos. Another feature lets you create portrait mode photos from regular pictures. Other features are more subtle. One example are the exclusive wallpapers for Chromebook Plus that will change throughout the day.

In addition to helping simplify things for consumers, Google hopes the new tier will also encourage developers to bring higher end applications to the platform. In the past Chromebooks have been a mishmash of processors and configurations – but now with a base performance requirement developers can target a single x64 minimum configuration specification.

Luma Fusion, a video editing app, is one such example. While it’s nowhere near as robust as DaVinci Resolve is on other platforms it did perform well on the Chromebook Plus review unit I received for testing.

So while the differences between a Chromebook Plus and a regular Chromebook might seem subtle now, I anticipate more differentiation in the future. One of the key immediate benefits are consumers being able to differentiate the lower tier of the ChromeOS line from higher performing devices. I will of course come back with more Chromebook Plus feature overviews as they roll out.

Disclosure: Lenovo sent us the Chromebook Plus featured in the video on loan for an upcoming review. This was not a sponsored video nor did anyone review or approve it before uploading.

Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook 12.2 Review

My latest review takes a look at the new Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook. You can see it here. It offers a 2-in-1 design so it can work as both a laptop and a tablet – but there is no pen support available.

The Flex 3i Chromebook is competitively priced, starting at around $349 at Best Buy (compensated affilate link), making it a good option for those in the tablet market. The model I reviewed was the entry-level version, equipped with an Intel N100 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage.

One of the standout features of this Chromebook is its 12.2-inch 1920×1200 IPS display. With a brightness level of about 300 nits, the touchscreen display is great for the price point. The device is lightweight, weighing in at 2.76 pounds, and although it’s made of plastic, it has a solid feel and nice texture.

The Flex 3i Chromebook comes with a 720p webcam, a good keyboard and a very responsive trackpad. It has stereo speakers and a good selection of ports, including two USB-A ports, a full service USB-C port, a headphone/microphone jack, a Micro SD card slot, and an HDMI port. It’s possible to drive two independent 4k 60hz displays using the HDMI port and the USB-C port.

In terms of performance, the Flex 3i Chromebook is impressive. Web browsing is snappy, and it handles Android apps well. It can even support game streaming and run many casual Android games smoothly.

Battery life is decent, with the device lasting between 8 to 10 hours in my testing. Another advantage is that it’s completely silent and fanless, thanks to its power-efficient Intel chip.

The Flex 3i Chromebook also supports Linux applications, allowing you to run command line software and GUI applications like LibreOffice. However, the device’s limited storage and 4GB of RAM might be a constraint for some users.

All Chromebooks come with a fixed expiration date for updates and for this model it’s June of 2031. That date applies irrespective of when the Chromebook was purchased.

All in the Lenovo Flex 3i Chromebook is a great device that offers quite a bit for its price point.

Framework Chromebook Review

Framework is known for their fully modular laptop designs, differentiating themselves as the makers of user repairable and upgradeable computers. We looked at their Windows laptop last year and this week we took their Chromebook out for a spin.

The guts of this are functionally identical to the version that runs Windows and Linux. But like other Chromebooks Framework has locked this one down from running other operating systems in order to earn the Chromebook badge.

Framework does say their Chromebook is compatible with the open source Coreboot firmware but they don’t directly support it. So for those who want to choose their operating system the regular Framework laptop is the better choice. Those looking for ChromeOS on the other Framework can run ChromeOS Flex.

But as Chromebooks go the Framework is by far the most upgradeable and repairable by the user. Loosening a few screws on the bottom of the case is all that’s needed to pop the hood and get inside. Every part is labeled with a barcode that will drop users off at the Framework Marketplace where they can purchase replacements and upgrades.

In my review I was able to bring its base 8GB of RAM up to a whopping 64 GB – the most memory I’ve ever experienced in a Chromebook. Framework’s Chromebook is also one of the handful of machines that works with the natively installed Steam client that’s currently in beta.

Thanks to its i5-1240P processor we were able to download and run the Windows PC versions of Red Dead Redemption 2 and No Man’s Sky at playable frame rates. Steam on ChromeOS uses the same Proton compatibility layer the Steam Deck uses for running Windows games on Linux. It’s a great containerized experience that keeps all of the gaming completely isolated from other parts of the system.

At $1,000 this is a pricey Chromebook. But that said there’s a growing market for higher end Chromebooks and people are buying them. I suspect the experiment here is for Framework to see if this is something they can get in the door of institutions largely running ChromeOS (like schools).

Many educators I know scavenge parts from dead Chromebooks to repair damaged ones. I suspect there would be a lot of interest in a lower priced Chromebook with modular components that could keep fleets intact. In the meantime I can see this Chromebook being issued to teachers and administrators in place of pricier Macs and Windows PCs.