The Commissioner’s Handbook for the Presbyterian Church of America’s (PCA) General Assembly (GA) starts at about 860 8.5 x 11 pages. During GA, the handbook can grow to about 1,000 pages as Committees of Commissioners reports roll in. That makes for a large and heavy notebook to carry around. Add to that the Book of Church Order (BCO) and references like Robert’s Rules, etc., for more muscle building. I’ve been carrying all that around for over a decade of annual GAs. Enough is enough.
So, I wanted to go fully electronic for the PCA General Assembly this year. I looked at tablets, but they are pretty expensive, especially with a keyboard. Laptops are too big and heavy. I did not want to spend big bucks on something that wouldn’t be used very often. I was between a rock and a hard place until I read this article on ZDNet. It recommended looking at Chromebooks. So I did.
After carefully researching the market, I found the best of all worlds – an Asus Chromebook Flip.
The beauty of the Asus Chromebook Flip is that it has a 10.1 inch touch screen like a tablet, a keyboard like a notebook computer, and you can fold it on its hinge all the way around so that it basically becomes a tablet:
When folded back on itself, the keyboard is disabled and it automatically goes into tablet mode. Very cool! I bought the version that has 4 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal storage. It also takes a micro SD Card, so storage shouldn’t be an issue. And, of course, it’s made to work with Google Drive. The Asus runs on a ARM-based Rockchip Quad-Core RK3288C CPU, which will enable it to run most Android apps by the end of the summer, although it can be “hacked” to run some now. I’m running Bible Study by OliveTree‘s Android app right now.
The Flip sports a 10.1″ 16:10 WXGA (1280×800)/Wide View Angle LED Backlit Touch Screen run by a Rockchip Mali T764 GPU, and it looks great. The aluminum case feels very solid, and houses two USB2 ports, one micro-HDMI port, audio jack, proprietary charging port, volume controls, and a power button around its edges. It also has a digital microphone, speakers, and an HD webcam. All that weighs in at a hair under two pounds (.89 kg).
The keyboard is a comfortable size, but the tradeoff is that it doesn’t have all the standard keys. Some missing key functions can be had using shift key combinations, but not all. For example, there’s no home or end key, nor have I found a way to get that functionality. It does have some Chromebook-specific keys for web browsing. The touchpad has no buttons, but right-clicking can be simulated by clicking the touchpad with two fingers.
That brings us to the primary limitation of Chromebooks. They are designed to be connected to the Internet pretty much all the time. The built-in 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth™ V4.0 help with that, but you need a source with which to connect. Providentially, most restaurants, coffee houses, hotels, etc., have WiFi available. You can also store data locally to work with, but even those work through the Chrome browser interface. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is different.
Chrome OS works OK, being a model of simplicity. If you can use a browser, you can use a Chromebook out of the box. Chrome OS is automatically updated on a regular basis. I had a few major updates to install when I bought mine, and then another today. If you have an Android phone with Bluetooth enabled, you can authorize the Chromebook to unlock if it detects your phone in close proximity. That’s very cool, especially in table mode.
For GA, this all worked out fine. I loaded the Commissioner’s Handbook, the BCO, and my supporting documents on the Chromebook. They are automatically backed up on Google Drive so that you can get them anywhere on any device that supports Google Drive. However, you need to “right-click” on each document and select the proper option if you want it locally available. The Chromebook defaults to storing things on Google Drive, not locally, and it’s easy to make a mistake in location.
WiFi in my hotel was fine, but it was pretty spotty at GA. There were a few times that I had to use my phone’s WiFi hotspot capability to get documents on the floor of the Assembly, but that worked fine.
The battery life of the Flip is amazing. Asus claims 9 hours, but that’s conservative. Our longest day went until almost midnight. I used my Flip almost all day and it was in standby the few times that I didn’t have it open. When I returned to my hotel room after midnight, the battery still had 19% left. Incredible.
The only real downside is performance. I like the Rockchip CPU because it is ARM-based and will easily run Android apps, but it doesn’t provide the snappiest performance. The 4 GB of SDRAM helps. A faster processor would provide snappier performance, but also eat more battery. It will also take significantly longer to get Android apps to run on Intel processors. Everything is a tradeoff. The Flip works fine, but doesn’t keep up with my Dell tablet that I have for work. Still, it works well for document work, which is mostly what I use it for.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with my Asus Chromebook Flip. For $249 on Amazon, it was a great deal for the capability. It served its initial purpose very well, and will do so for some years to come. With the keyboard, the Chromebook does more than what a tablet will do at a lower price point, and is smaller, lighter, and less expensive than a laptop or even a standard notebook. Can’t beat that with a stick.