The New Laptop, February 2017 Edition

A couple of months ago I realized I was going to need a new laptop; the Dell XPS 12 I have, while still working perfectly well while plugged in, will only last for a couple of hours on battery — this is what happens to old laptops. I have a Chromebook Flip, which I actually really like, but it’s tiny (a 10-inch screen and a smaller-than-usual keyboard), and while it’s fine for short trips where I don’t have to do much writing, if I do have to write anything longer than an email or a short blog post, my hands get cramped quickly. What I really wanted was a another Chromebook Flip, just slightly larger.

Well, and that’s exactly what I ended up getting. The new laptop is the Asus Chromebook Flip c302, which has a 12.5 inch 1080p screen, a full-sized, backlit keyboard (which is actually hugely important to me), a relatively hefty processor for a Chromebook, good battery life and the ability to fold back into tablet format, all for $500. Like all Chromebooks, it’s largely dependent on one having a full-time connection to the Internet, but the one thing I really always need — a word processing program, here represented by Google Docs — is available offline too, so that’s fine. Also it like its smaller predecessor has the ability to run Android apps, many of which can also be used offline at this point. In short, it’s going to be able to do what I need it to do, nearly all of the time.

I did for a fair amount of time agonize between getting this or the new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which is roughly the same size as this and also has a tablet mode, but also has a more substantial processor and of course the ability to run Windows programs, including Word and Photoshop, both of which I use quite a lot. The deciding factors for me were twofold: One, the way I use my laptops typically doesn’t run toward using heavy-duty programs anyway (if I’m not using Photoshop, for example, I’m editing my photos on my phone, not my laptop), and two, this is two to three times cheaper, depending on which XPS configuration I got. I like that, not only because I’m cheap but because, having once had lost a fairly expensive laptop at the airport, and then (once I recovered it) having it stolen from me at another airport, I’m more comfortable traveling with a computer that I can afford to lose, or accidentally drop, or have eaten by bears, or whatever.

The Chromebook’s general need to be always connected was a drawback five years ago but honestly isn’t much of an issue now. My phone has a mobile hotspot so as long as I’m in the US it’s not like I ever don’t have a connection, and wifi is ubiquitous enough that you really have to go out of your way not to have it (and anyway, as noted above, the one thing I always need has an offline mode). In short, this is a computer that makes sense for how I work today.

Having now had it for a few hours, my general impression of it is pretty positive: The screen is pretty and bright (and 1080p is honestly perfectly acceptable in a screen this size), the keyboard is sufficiently large and easy to type on, and I’ve written pay copy on it, so it’s literally already paid for itself. If you’re a Chromebook fan, I can definitely recommend it (I’ll note I was considering between the c302 and the new Samsung Chromebook Plus, which spec-wise is very close to this computer, at around the same price. But the Samsung apparently doesn’t have a backlit keyboard, and that was the dealbreaker for me).

So, look! My new computer. If you see me on tour next month, you’ll see it too. Be sure to say hello to it.

25 thoughts on “The New Laptop, February 2017 Edition

  1. Thanks for the review! I’ve been thinking about getting something with high cloud/low storage use for when I begin teaching. This sounds like a good fit.

  2. I keep looking at some of these Chromebooks that can run Android apps. My only concern is the local storage. I have had a number of Android phones, but they have all had 32gb or 64gb on-board storage and was able to let me add a 64gb (or larger) microsd card and allowed the apps to run from the microsd card. I keep waiting to see if the Chromebooks that support Android apps will allow that.

  3. If we see the computer on tour, can we give you stickers to put on it? Nice nerdy stickers, nothing offensive. Perhaps a souvenir sticker from a place you’ve never toured before?

  4. I can’t bring myself to use cloud storage or cloud services. I have been using a level-5 raid drive which is hooked up to my in-house network for probably more than a decade. My computers store their software locally, but all data and files and whatnot are stored on the raid drive. The drive is showing its age, and I’m in the process of updating it to a new raid system now.

    One thing I think I’m changing direction on is that I used to buy high end laptops whenever I bought something portable, the best I could afford, to have a good processor and lots or ram and a decent hard drive, so the laptop can keep up with whatever I”m doing. But now I’m thinking of getting a single high, high end server desktop and using cheap laptops to remote log into the server. laptops get a lot of abuse, are rather fragile, and quite expensive. A thin client to a local server would be cheaper, the server woudl get better processing power per dollar, and if a laptop breaks, get a new cheap replacement and install the basic software for remote desktop.

    The end result would be a RAID drive for all data storage and a high end desktop server for computational needs, interfaced through cheap, laptops.

  5. I know jerrycritter kind of beat me to it, but when you said “…or have eaten by bears” my very first thought was “Well, then don’t take it to a Wyoming school!”

    Looks like a nice device. I’ve thought of getting a chromebook, but I just can’t get past the always needs a connection thing, so I’ve stuck with my Surface Pro 3 for when I’m on the move. Though, you make a very good point that I’m probably not being completely rational about that anymore, as I too have a phone with hotspot and there’s wifi pretty much everywhere now.

  6. Looks good! You can break it in by telling folks that you’re in the May 2017 issue of SFX Magazine in the Red Alert section (page 19). Issue came in the mail today (I subscribe) and should be on the newsstands here in the UK very soon. (Issue has a pic of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the cover). There’s also a review of Collapsing Empire in the book section on page 111. (It’s good).

  7. I’ve been thinking about a Chromebook for a while, and my family surprised me at Christmas with the Acer R11. I love it. It’s so nice to have a long battery life and the tablet mode. So far, the Android app compatibility is kind of spotty, but getting better ( Why does Google always release things at about 75% done?). Alas, no backlit keyboard, however.

  8. After you write stuff in google docs, do you have to convert it to docx to get it edited/copy edited/published whatever? I’ve heard that publishers won’t take anything other than word documents.

    Thanks

  9. @Hans – I fine the same challenge, and even docx mode in Google docs is sometimes not good enough. Even after I’ve completed it in docx, I still have to drag it from Drive to my PC OS Win10 and save it as a docx. Only then do some publishers take it.

    Mr. Scalzi: Do you use an external mouse, or are you capable with that pad? The gravity well surrounding my fingers is too deep, and I keep messing things up. Too, what do you do with your old one? (Yes, in the market.)

    I currently use an Acer 8-ish with a bluetooth keyboard (which works surprisingly well!). Have been looking at Chromebooks a lot, mainly because you speak highly of them. A hotspot is definitely in my future (which my spousal entity completely agrees with. YAY me!). But this Acer is starting to lock up on me too much, as well as do other wiggledy-jiggledy things.

    Congrats on the new flurry-tool!

  10. All Chromebooks have an SD slot, so external memory can be added. Most of them also use a standard internal flash drive, so enterprising people can open them up and boost the local storage. Text files are so small, though, that even the smallest Chromebook at 16 GB has plenty of room.

    I very nearly bought a 13″ Dell Chromebook last year. They re-used a lot of the XPS 13 hardware, so they feel and look nicer than their price point. The 20 hour battery life is a draw, too.

  11. I agree with Brad. It’s a good idea to change out the battery whether you take the xps12 with you or not. We have one of those little beasties and my wife uses it constantly.

  12. Brad got an excellent point. The decreased battery life is just the battery wearing out, as batteries do, and $100 worth of new battery will give the XPS a system-life extension.

  13. Re: XPS battery wearing out/replacing it:

    Yup, that was another reason I didn’t go with a replacement for it. However, I am superlazy and it’s an open question of whether I will bother to get a new battery for it.

  14. I haven’t done the battery replace on an xps, but I’ve done it on other laptops before. I doubt the cost of shipping it around is justified, but I could take care of it for you.

  15. I’ve been looking at the new Flip and the Chromebook Plus too, but so far, I’ve convinced myself to stick work my Dell 6410. To keep it interesting, I set it up to dual-boot Windows 10 and Ubuntu, and set up a flash drive that I can boot into Chromium OS so I can see if a Chromebook would work for me.

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