Google reveals budget Chromebooks including a $249 ASUS convertible

Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for some new Chromebooks. Yep, Google has just announced four new Chrome OS laptops, all of which lean toward the budget-friendly end of the spectrum. They are the ASUS Chromebook Flip, the ASUS Chromebook C201, the Hisense Chromebook and the Haier Chromebook 11 (This also comes in an educational version dubbed the 11e). Though it's the priciest model at $249, the most notable one by far is ASUS' Chromebook Flip. Not only is it the slimmest of the bunch with a thickness of only 15mm, it has a 10.1-inch touchscreen IPS display that can be flipped (hence the name) 360 degrees around.

I didn't have much time to get a real feel for the Flip, but it does remind me a lot of ASUS' other flipping laptop, the ASUS Transformer Book Flip. The Chromebook flip is very lightweight at less than two pounds and I was able to hold it with one hand quite easily. Thanks to an internal accelerometer, the screen orientation changes depending on how the laptop is positioned -- as you can see in the image here, it's rotated 180-degrees when in the upside-down teepee formation. In this converted state, the software in the Chromebook Flip is smart enough to bring up touch-centric controls like a virtual keyboard and handwriting recognition whenever you tap an empty text field. Flip it around to regular laptop mode, however, and these extra modes will disappear, as it recognizes that you now have a full keyboard at your disposal.

The Haier and the Hisense laptops, on the other hand, are decidedly less glamorous. Instead of a sleek all-metal frame, the Haier and the Hisense models are clad in utilitarian black plastic. Still, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Hisense in particular has a pleasant pebbled texture that contributes to a firmer grip and I quite like the feel of the metal palm rest. They both have almost the same dimensions -- the Hisense is 11.7 by 8.8 by 0.6 inches and weighs about 3.3 pounds while the Haier is a touch smaller at 11.4 by 8.1 by 0.71 inches and 2.54 pounds. Both have 11.6-inch screens with 1366x768 resolution and 200 nits of brightness. I wasn't too impressed with what I saw of the displays -- the colors seem washed out and rather lackluster -- but for low-end budget models, they're perfectly functional.

I was also a fan of the Haier 11e educational Chromebook. It's a lot more durable against everyday wear and tear and is water- and spill-resistant due to tiny drainage holes in the chassis. Unlike the regular Haier Chromebook 11, the 11e has a removable battery along with a built-in handle, presumably so kids can easily carry it from class to class. ASUS' Chromebook C201 is a bit of a mystery as I wasn't able to handle it myself, but Google tells us it has a 11.6-inch display and the internals are about the same as the rest.

ASUS Chromebook C201

As for those internals, well, all of the above Chromebooks come equipped with a Rockchip 3288 SoC with 2GB of RAM and 16GB flash memory (eMMC). They all also have 802.11 ac WiFi, a 720p HD front-facing camera, two USB 2.0 ports, a microSD card reader, Bluetooth 4.0 and an ARM Mali 760 quad core GPU. Battery life fluctuates from model to model -- the Flip promises up to 10 hours, the Hisense has 8.5, the Haier has 10 while the Chromebook C201 promises 13.

The main draw with all of these, of course, is price. The Flip will be available for $249, the C201 starts at $169, while both the Haier and the Hisense models will cost $149 each. The Flip should be out later this Spring, the C201 will be on Amazon in May, and both the Haier and Hisense models are avaiable for pre-order today. The Haier is available through Amazon while the Hisense can be purchased through Walmart.