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Review of the Asus C434 Chrombook

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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I am lucky enough to have the chance to test a tone of devices every year. Chromebook testing is an interesting endeavour because the higher end units usually are fantastic to use, while the cheaper products are slow and clunky. Chromebooks that live in the middle ($500-600) typically inherit the bad characteristics from both categories.

The mid-priced ($600) Asus C434 doesn't fall into this typical model.

Build quality

Most (non-premium) Chromebooks feel cheap and flimsy. They creek and crack when you grab them from an edge.

The Asus C434 is an all-aluminum design that looks and feel premium. The design includes chamfered edges that give it a more premium feel. Even the hinges are chrome covered, which adds to the premium look and feel.

When used in laptop mode, the hinges slightly raise the screen end of the keyboard which makes typing slightly more pleasurable.

It feels like Asus has crammed a 14-inch device in the body of a 13-inch device without sacrificing usability.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the design of the Asus C434 is wonderfully tough-out and makes using the device a joy.

The screen

My everyday personal use device is a Pixelbook. I love my Pixelbook, but it's enormous bezels make it feel dated. Although the Asus C434 isn't breaking any new bezel records, its design is noticeably modern (87% screen to body ratio). It has a very good 14-inch Full-HD screen (1920x1080) IPS panel that has good viewing angles, good colour reproduction and respectable (300 nits) brightness.

The Asus C434 screen isn't class leading like the Pixelbook or Samsung Pro but isn't a slouch either. Most users will find the screen amazing and a pleasure to use.

The keyboard

Keyboards can make or break a device. Look at the thousands of vocal Macbook fans on Reddit that have jumped ship to Windows because they can no longer deal with the horrible butterfly keyboards included in most new MacBooks.

So a lousy keyboard can kill even the best most thoughtfully designed laptop. Luckily the Asus C434 does reasonably well in the keyboard category. For users coming from an HP x360 or a Pixelbook, the keyboard doesn't feel as good, but for most users, this thing will be a joy.

Asus chose a non-glass trackpad which makes using it a bit more of a chore. The included trackpad is acceptable, but the device does suffer a bit from a less usable trackpad. Remember that I am comparing the Asus to the premium end of the market. If you compare this to a $500 windows laptop or other similarly priced Chromebooks, you will not be disappointed by the trackpad’s performance.

The ports

I regularly curse at my Pixelbook for not including at least one USBA port. Sure I love all things USBC, but I still have a tone of useful accessories that are USBA, and I seem to forget my dongles when I need them most.

This is where the Asus C434 beats my Pixelbook; it has a tone of ports. The Asus C434 has USBC ports on either side but also a USBA port, a headphone/microphone port and a microSD card slot.

The Asus C434 has the ports you need to get your job done without worrying about dongles or adapters.

The Internals

Most reviewers based their tests on the Core m3 (m3-8100Y) device with 4GB of RAM. While 4GB is good enough for the casual web user, it isn't enough to load a tone of Android apps and to comfortably run Linux apps.

The Asus C434 comes in the m3, i5 and i7 varieties and power users will probably opt for the mid-tier i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage.

As I write this review, most sites still don't offer the 8GB/128GB version of the unit (Amazon, B&H, etc.) but it is coming. Unless you need a device right away (then get the 4GB/64GB), I would wait a couple of weeks to pick up the more powerful model.

VPN Support coming to Linux apps on Chromebooks

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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It seems everyone has jumped on the VPN bandwagon these days. On Chromebooks, we can use VPN extensions, but these don't protect Android apps. We can use Android VPN apps, which protect the entire ChromeOS (including Android apps but not Linux apps).

So what happens today? Even if you have an Android VPN running, the Linux apps go our via your origin IP bypassing the VPN network adapter. If you need to use a VPN with the Linux container today on ChromeOS, you have to install a Linux VPN client in the container itself.

In Chrome 76, Google will finally fix this issue and app Linux traffic will also flow through the VPN (extension of Android app). You can test this today if you have the developer or Canary versions of ChromeOS installed on your Chromebook.

We expect ChromeOS 76 to be released to the Beta channel June 13-20 and to the stable channel around July 30.

Other cool features coming with the ChromeOS 76 release will be

  • "Picture In Picture" support for most video platforms

  • "Web Share Target Level 2" which will allow any installed application to receive a file share (using a manifest)

Exciting new multi-monitor feature coming to Chromebooks

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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Every professional understands the power of a dual screen setup. The additional real estate enables a more fluid and productive work process.

I use a tone of platforms (mainframe & mini to Mac, Windows and Linux) and I find that ChromeOS handles multi-screen setups with ease and grace. Every time I have hooked an external display to a "good" Chromebook (something that costs $500 or more), it has worked flawlessly immediately without having to fiddle or fine tune.

I have successfully connected 2 external monitors to my Pixelbook at work using a Lenovo USB hub but this isn't something most people will have access to and therefore the 3 monitor option normally isn't used.

We know the sultan of search, El Goog, is working on an elegant solution to solve this 2 external monitor issue using a technology called display daisy chaining. This is something that is known in the industry but not currently supported on ChromeOS. The idea is to connect one USBC monitor to your Chromebook and then connect the second USBC monitor to the first one (as long as the monitor supports it).

This means you can connect (eventually) one cable to your device and everything just works. Technically this daisy chaining will be able to go beyond 2 external monitors to a larger number (as long as your device hardware can push the required number of pixels).

This is a request we have regularly seen in the Chromium forums

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How do we know it is coming? We know it is coming because we can see a commit for Multi-Stream Transport Support or something called Hatch.

The commit enables a chip to support the Multi-Stream flow and there is a good chance this won’t be enabled on existing older Chromebooks. We know that generically Multi-Stream required DisplayPort 1.2 and a handful of Chromebooks already have it so… There is hope for existing customers. We will just have to wait and see.

Many of you know I love my Pixelbook and may be wondering… “Does the Pixelbook support displayport?”

The answer is that the Pixelbook does support Displayport. The USBC ports on the Pixelbook are of type 3.1 Gen1 and support PowerDelivery (PD), DisplayPort (DP) and HDMI.

We don’t know which version of ChromeOS this will be enabled in yet. That’s all for this article dear readers. Stay tuned for more cool tech news as I find them.

Google's new Pixelbook ad is a hard jab at Windows

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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Windows is the most popular operating system in the world and Google will naturally target it, in an attempt to win new customers for its upmarket Pixelbook offering.

Statistic: Global market share held by operating systems for desktop PCs, from January 2013 to January 2019 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

January 2019, according to Statistica:

  • Windows market share 75.47%

  • MacOS market share 12.33%

  • Linux market share 1.61%

  • ChromeOS market share 1.17%

Google released a one-minute promo video entitles “If you want a laptop you can count on. You Chromebook. “ .

Truth be told the latest version of Windows 10 has been incredibly stable but this ad will be fun to watch for any Windows user annoyed with constant forced patches, badly designed progress bars and the infamous Blue Screen of Death.

This is an exaggeration of issues users experience but does highlight the main reason why many security professionals have moved to Chromebooks. Patching is almost seamless, the device is normally very stable (except v 72.x has introduced some bugs Google does need to fix) and security is on by default.

Current belief is that on a Chromebook, you have no regular maintenance, no need for an antivirus, no big bang updates that take 30-45 minutes to complete, etc.

Let’s just say Google got even with Microsoft for running the Scrooggled campaign years ago.

Chromebooks are great and here are some myths you might believe

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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Anytime I pull out a Chromebook in a professional setting, colleagues and friends are dumbfounded how a tech geek like me would "settle" for a browser only thin client. People are downright shocked when I pull out my $1200 Pixelbook. 

Why would I buy a "browser only" device when I could use a Windows or Mac device that can run the Chrome browser but do so much more?

Chromebooks can't run apps

If you are reading this article, there is a good chance you are not a millennial that grew up with iPads and smartphones. For you, a personal computing device (Windows, Mac or Linux) needs to run native apps. I'm here to shock you but Chromebooks (ChromeOS) devices do and do it without requiring dual-booting.

Chromebooks run Android apps. Most modern Chromebooks can easily install and run most Google Play store Android apps. The list of Android app capable devices is extensive and growing daily (list).

The most common Microsoft Office apps for Android (Word, Excel and Powerpoint) run surprisingly well on Chromebooks. 

Chromebooks will run Linux apps. VentureBeat first reported this and it was later confirmed during Google IO 2018. Goole's Chromebooks will be able to run native Linux applications using the built-in container technology (without dual-booting or emulation). 

Chromebooks will run Windows apps. CrossOver has a Chromebook app that will allow users to run Windows-only apps (like Quicken and Microsoft Office) on a Chromebook without needing to install Windows. 

Truth is that most users, will not need any of these functionalities most of the time. With a little updating of your work structures, you will likely be able to work on a Chromebook 98% of the time without needing to run Windows or Linux apps, but it's nice to know you can.

As an example, I switched to Polarr for my photo editing and it does everything I need. It is affordable, cross-platform and worth like a charm on Chromebooks. If you are looking for a very good password manager, you can use the Steve Gibson approved LastPass

Chromebooks are slow

You get what you pay for. When you compare dollar for dollar a Chromebook will always be fast, more reliable and more secure than Windows, Mac or Linux. The comparison most people late is a $1000 Macbook to a $250 Chromebook. That simply isn't a fair comparison. Chromebooks have become the defacto educational devices because they are very functional even at the low end of the scale. 

When comparing machines with comparable pricing, the Chromebook will always be faster.

I bought a $350 Acer C720P in 2013 (5+ years old) and it :

  • is still fast when running Chrome
  • receives regular updates from Google
  • is always kept secure by Google

I have 3+-year-old ($600-1000) Dell, HP and Lenovo Windows machines that have become slow and painful to use. 

My Pixelbook goes from powered off (not sleep but totally off) to ready to log in, in 5 seconds. 

Chromebooks are useless without an internet connection

I am convinced much of what you do (on your PC, smartphone or tablet) is internet based. As an experiment, try turning off WIFI (or cellular connectivity) for 1 day and see how dependent you really are. 

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When the CR-48 came out (first Chromebook test unit from Google), it was nothing more than an internet connected thin client. This hasn't been true for a long time though. 

Google's most popular services (Gmail, Calendar, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc) are all offline enabled. The Google Chrome Web Store even has a page dedicated to offline apps.

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Add to these the millions of Android apps and you can do just about anything offline these days. The Chromebook actually has an advantage over competing platforms here (Windows or Mac). As an example, on a traditional laptop, I can't download Netflix content for offline consumption whereas I can with the Android Netflix app running on a Chromebook. Since Chromebooks are power efficient, this becomes an excellent offline and disconnected media consumption platform (aka planes).

Chromebooks barely run Android apps

For better or worse, Google makes many of its experiments public. It is true that Google has made multiple attempts to bring Android to Chromebooks (ChromeOS) and that most have failed. If you tried running Android apps on a Chromebook even a year ago, you may have thought it was a slow and painful experience but not anymore. It still isn't perfect but for those unique occasional needs, the current setup more than satisfies that functionality itch. 

I have tested Android apps on a Google Pixelbook, Acer Chromebook Flip C302 and a Samsung Chromebook Pro and the apps worked great on all of them. 

Chromebooks have no local storage

Not sure how this started but all Chromebooks have local storage. My Pixelbook comes with 250GB of lightning-fast SSD storage (similar storage capacity to my  MacBook Pro Retina). For content that is only occasionally accessed, you can store it in the Google Drive cloud and access it as you would a local file. The Chromebook "file explorer" integrated Google Drive for easy access. 

Chromebooks can't print

Chromebooks support both local and network-based printers. For most users, you will plug in your local printer via USB and it will automagically work (if it is a recent printer). When shopping for a new device, why not opt for one that is Google Cloud Print ready? All major manufacturers support Google Cloud Print, including but not limited to : Brother, Canon, Dell, Epson, HP, Kyocera, Lexmark, Sharp, Toshiba, Xerox and more.

Chromebooks don't have any antivirus protection

This comment comes from Windows users that have been trained to install antivirus products on all of their devices. 

Remember that ChromeOS (the operating system powering Chromebooks) was designed to be secure from the start. As an example, it uses techniques like process isolation to keep you safe. Most manufacturers say that Chromebooks do not need antivirus products because : 

  • ChromeOS is updated every 6 weeks
  • ChromeOS is designed with an application and process sandboxing framwork
  • All data on a Chromebook is encrypted by default
Sample support page from Toshiba

Sample support page from Toshiba

So let's extend the question and talk about Chromebook (ChromeOS) security. Why do most security professionals choose Chromebooks as their personal device of choice? Why do security professionals bring Chromebooks to the world's most tech hostile conferences (blackhat, defcon, shmoocon, etc)?

The answer is that Chromebooks are more secure than any other traditional computing platform (including MacOS). How?

  • Automatic updates - Google pushes a ChromeOS update every 6 weeks that all devices receive immediately (regardless of where you bought your Chromebook from and the manufacturer of the Chromebook). These updates add functionality but more importantly they fix security issues.
  • Sandboxing - Each web-page and application on a Chromebook is isolated from every other web-page and application using a technique called Sandboxing. If you visit a malicious web-page, the malware cannot infect other tabs or the computer itself. 
  • Verified Boot - If magically threat actors manage to exploit a vulnerability and "jump" out of the sandbox to infect the boot process (to ensure they infect the device every time it restarts, The verified boot process will detect this and it will automatically repair itself. Every time a Chromebook boots, it checks itself and if it detects that the boot process has been tampered with, it fixes itself without any user intervention. 
  • Data Encryption - Using tamper-resistant encryption (a local TPM chip), all local data is encrypted with a user key which means it cannot be accessed by other users or by threat actors if stolen.
  • Recovery Mode - If anything does go wrong with your Chromebook, you can use a special keyboard combination (differs by manufacturer to enter a special recovery mode that brings back a fresh, clean version of ChromeOS in minutes and with no user intervention. All your data and settings are stored in the cloud so as soon as you log in, your personalizations and settings will all automagically come back.

Conclusion


This article could have easily been 5 times longer, but I believe I captured the most important concepts. If you haven't tried a Chromebook in a while, I encourage you to take a look. Remember that no single device meets everyone's needs, and a Chromebook is no different. I believe Chromebooks are THE alternative for most general computing users and even some individual edge cases (like us crazy security people). 

Remeber that you get what you pay for. Don't expect a $200 Chromebook to perform like $1200 MacBook. Compare a $1200 Google Pixelbook to a $1200 MacBook, and now you have a fair comparison.