Asus Chromebook Detachable CM3 review: Duet redux

All in all, Asus’ Chromebook Detachable CM3 is a nice package. It is a 10.5-inch tablet with a magnetically attached fabric cover and stand. At $389.99, as tested, it’s a lot cheaper than a convertible Chromebook of any kind. It’s not the first time I’ve made this comparison, but it’s a slightly more expensive and slightly nicer version of the $269 Lenovo Chromebook Duet that impressed me a lot last year.

I think the CM3 is a slightly worse purchase than the Duet for most people looking for a secondary device or a small Chromebook for students. The CM3 offers some notable advantages over the Duet, but I’m not sure if it’s worth $100. It would be nice to have features like a double-folding kickstand, garage stylus, and headphone jack, but it’s not as central to the device user experience as the processor. $269 is a price you can pay for a tablet with a MediaTek chip, but $389.99 is pushing it.

With all that said, I’m not much Problem With this Chromebook. It’s in a bit of a weird spot.

My test rig includes 128 GB of storage, 4 GB of RAM, a 10.5-inch 1920 x 1200 display and a MediaTek 8183 processor. There is also a 64GB version listed for $369.99. 64GB doesn’t have much storage space (the CM3 doesn’t have a microSD card slot for expansion). So my configuration is what most people recommend.

The most important thing to understand before buying a CM3 is its size. It is small with a 10.5-inch screen. This brings advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, at 0.31 inches thick and 1.1 pounds (2.02 pounds with keyboard and stand attached), it’s very thin and portable. It’s the kind of thing you can easily fit in your wallet.

On the other hand, a 10.5-inch screen is cramped on a desktop OS like Chrome OS (it’s bright enough for outdoor use, thanks to the 16:10 aspect ratio, 16:9 is unbearable for this size). But it was too small to be used comfortably as a working screwdriver. I had to zoom out to see everything I needed in the Chrome window.

That also means there’s just too much room for a cramped keyboard deck. Especially the touchpad is small. But the keyboard itself is wider than the Duet. There is an amazing amount of travel and satisfying clicks. Small keys are a bit of a tweak, but none are too small to be unusable.

Small doesn’t mean cheap, and the CM3’s build is pretty solid overall. The palm rest and detachable keyboard deck feel like plastic, but the tablet itself is aluminum (with “diamond cut edges” according to Asus). The magnetic cover is made of fabric and is very similar to the cover on the Chromebook Duet. The cover is included in the CM3 price, not on some detachables (such as Microsoft’s Surface Go line).

The USI stylus is located in the upper right corner of the chassis. It’s held tight there, so you’ll need a nail to pull it out. The stylus I’ve used is small and not my favorite stylus, but it’s there and it works. The Duet supports the USI stylus but doesn’t come with it, which is one of the benefits the CM3 offers.

What sets the CM3 apart from other removable products is that the kickstand folds in multiple directions. This means that if you’re using a tablet like a laptop, you can fold it lengthwise or flip the tablet upside down and fold the stand horizontally. This is a cool feature I haven’t seen before and it works. I never worried about the CM3 dropping in either direction.

On the other hand, the only real use case I can think of for a horizontal position is video calling where you don’t need to attach a keyboard and the camera is on the side of the screen, which is fine. You can have your own perspective, but I recommend using an iPad or dedicated tablet for this purpose and putting the camera in the right place.

My device had some wear on the edges of the keyboard deck, which was disappointing to see on a new device even at this price. The kickstand cover also fell off the tablet a few times while adjusting the height, which is not what happened with the Duet.

Speaking of convertibility, the CM3 has a 2-megapixel front camera and an 8-megapixel rear camera. Both cameras provide amazingly affordable photos. It wasn’t too faded when I was on video calls outside, and it wasn’t too harsh in dim light. That said, the dual-camera setup is another cool feature that probably isn’t the most practical. The rear camera isn’t good enough for any kind of real-world photography, and the best use case is probably taking pictures. Class whiteboard. Also, since the CM3 takes a few seconds to swap between cameras (which is rarely as fast as on the iPhone, for example), I couldn’t save much time than pulling the camera out. telephone.

The Asus Chromebook Detachable CM3 is closed with the camera facing up.

If you look closely, you can see wrinkles running in two directions.

Asus Chromebook Detachable CM3 Keyboard seen from above.

A magnet on the top of the keyboard attaches to the bottom of the tablet, lifting the deck slightly off the floor.

CM3’s MediaTek MTK 8183 is a hybrid chip primarily used in Android tablets. (It’s a different MediaTek chip than what was in the Duet last year, but very similar to what’s in Amazon’s new Echo Show 8 smart display.) It’s far from the most powerful processor you’ll find in a Chromebook. But that’s by design. Battery life will be a higher priority for many users considering a portable device like the CM3.

In fact, the battery life is great. With regular workloads of Chrome tabs and Android apps, including Slack, Messenger, Twitter, Gmail, Spotify, running CM3, I spent an average of 12 hours 49 minutes of continuous use, with the screen on medium brightness and occasional Zoom calls (over an hour or more). )I did. It was longer than what I saw in Duet with the same amount of work. This is already a heavier load than many people would want their CM3 to be plugged in, so it may take more time between charging. The 45W USB-C adapter boosts the CM3 by up to 40% in an hour, making it significantly faster than Duet’s 10W charger.

But battery life isn’t free, and the CM3’s performance was a mixed bag. For example, it works fine in Chrome, a bit slow when changing tabs and resizing windows, but other Google services like Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar and Meet (12 months free Google One 100GB membership for the rest of the year) . Games are fine too. Flip the legend and monster Whether the CM3 is plugged in or battery-powered, it’s smooth and stutter-free.

I think the tablet mode of Chrome OS supported by CM3 is also pretty good. It uses Android-like gesture controls that help smooth the learning curve for new Chromebook users. For example, swiping up takes you to the home screen and swiping right changes webpages. In particular, access the Chrome version for tablets, where you can easily open, close, and rearrange tabs by dragging, swiping and large buttons. It’s not like using an iPad, but I think it’s a smoother experience than Windows’ tablet mode (especially in Chrome).

To turn tablet mode on and off, simply turn the keyboard on and off. It takes a second, and the windows don’t always go back the way I arranged them when I plug the keyboard back in, but overall it’s pretty smooth.

However, the CM3 didn’t do everything I needed well. Sometimes when trying to use Slack or Messenger on a pile of Chrome tabs, something freezes. Zoom calls were available. That’s more than can be said for some budget Chromebooks, but there was a lag between the audio and video inputs. Slack stopped and crashed frequently, and Spotify crashed a few times as well.

Asus Chromebook Detachable CM3 is open and tilted to the left.  The screen displays a cartoon city scene on a pink background.

Access all kinds of Android apps through the Google Play Store.

Photo editing was the part where I really struggled. Lightroom wasn’t available on CM3 by default, only a few were running in the background. I was trying to edit about 100 photos and was only able to consistently get through a few before the program crashed. I was trying to go to Google Photos, but it eventually crashed and I had to do everything in the gallery. Of course, not everyone edits photos on a Chromebook or pushes as hard as I push these photos, so it’s important to know your own needs.

Speaking of Zoom meetings, the dual speakers are great for Zoom calls, but nothing more. The songs I played had stronger percussion than I sometimes hear on my laptop speakers, but overall they were thin and small. The mic seemed to work fine and I had no problems hearing my voice on calls.

This was a hard product to score. I think the CM3 is a great device. It also offers several advantages that justify its slightly higher cost compared to the Chromebook Duet. If you were looking for a device of this type, you would have bought it directly through the Duet with just the keyboard. The versatile kickstand, built-in stylus, and decent build quality are also good perks.

But “if I’m looking for this type of device” carries a heavy load on that sentence. I’m not looking for a MediaTek device, and there’s a reason it isn’t. The battery life is impressive, sure, but not enough horsepower to handle the workloads you need. And if you’re the right person for this low power processor (and there are a lot of people like this out there in the world), I really think $389 is the best price you’ll have to spend.

Of course, the CM3 has a (decent) stylus, a funky folded kickstand, slightly better battery life, and one extra port. But it’s also on par or slower than the Duet in most tasks I’ve tried and the audio is worse, thicker and heavier. Given all this, I’m not convinced the CM3’s merits are worth $100 for most people shopping in this category.

Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge


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