Asus Chromebook C523 review: a big Chromebook on a budget

asus chromebook c523
You might be looking out for a good budget device, the Asus Chromebook C523 packs a wonderful keyboard, a plethora of ports, solid build, and long battery life. Our review unit’s Intel Celeron N3350 processor struggled to keep up with heavy multitasking, but still easily cut through daily duties. Its excellent value is only marred by its terrible display and subpar trackpad, which can be remedied by upgrading to the 1080p model and connecting an external mouse. Then again, I couldn’t ask for more from a $300 laptop – that would be too greedy because the specs here are all good for a device like this.
Pros:

  • Very durable for a budget device
  • Relatively portable for a 15.6″ laptop
  • Tons of ports
  • Long lasting battery life
  • Silent and cool
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Expandable storage
  • It’s Affordable
Cons:

  • Borderline unusable display on the base model
  • Trackpad could be better
  • Blotchy webcam
  • Low multitasking performance
  • Chrome OS’ Android app support isn’t that perfect

Asus Chromebook C523 at a glance

Device Asus Chromebook C523 Review unit
Processor Quad-core Intel Pentium N4200 Dual-core Intel Celeron N3350
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 505 Intel UHD Graphics 500
RAM Up to 8GB LPDDR4 4GB LPDDR4
Storage Up to 64GB eMMC 32GB eMMC
Display 15.6″ 1080p TN touchscreen 15.6″ 1,366 x 768p TN non-touch
Ports 2x USB-C USB 3.1 Gen 12x USB A 3.1 Gen 1

1x headphone jack

1x microSD card reader

2x USB-C 3.1 Gen 12x USB A 3.1 Gen 1

1x headphone jack

1x microSD card reader

Weight 1.69 kg 1.69 kg
Colors Platinum Platinum
Price Starts at $313.75 (on Amazon)

Chromebooks are analogous with budget computing. Developed by Google, Chrome OS’ compatibility with low-end hardware enables manufacturers to create extremely cost-effective devices. It’s continuously getting attention, too; Google recently released its new Chrome OS devices lineups late last year, and more recently, AMD announced new Chromebook-specific chips at CES 2019.

Asus is not new to Chromebooks, and the 15.6″ Asus Chromebook C523 is the largest that it’s made. Interestingly, its display starts at a paltry 1,366 x 768 resolution – quite subpar for 2019 even in the budget end.

Design

Made in a plain platinum coat, The Chromebook C523 dons a down-to-earth feel. Its plastic chassis doesn’t have any of the embellishments of Asus’ premium and mainstream lineups. Asus doesn’t even bother to add its signature swirl pattern on its lid, perhaps as a means to visually distinguish the Chromebooks from its Zenbook series.

asus chromebook c523 top

Display

asus chromebook c523 display

The display is the Asus chromebook C523 great weakness. My review unit uses an underwhelming 1,366×768 LCD display. Its low pixel count distributed across a large area gives a noticeable “screen-door” effect where gaps between pixels create a mesh-like feel. Its terrible contrast doesn’t earn favors either, with colors appearing flat and washed out. Furthermore, when viewing the display off-axis, colors would become so distorted that I had to adjust screen positions just to sharpen content at the bottom half of the screen. You should not expect a solid entertainment experience from the Asus Chromebook C523. Its only saving grace is that it’s adequately bright and features a matte finish that fends off glare well.

Performance

This review was carried with the dual-core Intel Celeron N3350 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of eMMC storage. If these specifications are too low, then you will have to configure your device to have a quad-core Intel Pentium N4200 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. A 1080p touchscreen option also exists as well.

Software and features

The efficient Chrome OS is the primary reason for the Asus Chromebook C523’s fluid experience.

asus chromebook port right side

When Google added Android apps to Chrome OS, it finally reprieved the users’ dismay for the barren Chrome Web Store. While compatibility is improving everyday, it isn’t seamless just yet. Many applications still do not stretch to full screen, while others the vice versa. My review unit doesn’t have a touchscreen, so experiences in some apps aren’t as convenient as they are on smartphones. Furthermore, a few applications like Feedly totally ignore mouse clicks.

NOTE, though, that when you enter a Chromebook ecosystem, you’ll be locked into whatever’s available in the Google Play Store. That means that full versions of Microsoft Office, apps from external third-party, and proprietary business applications are out of the deal. Just as I had said in my Google Pixel Slate review, Chromebooks can’t replace a Windows PC if you’re an enterprise worker, but can act as an excellent temporary workstation for mobile work.

chrome os task manager

The C523, like other Chromebooks, includes a free 100GB Google Drive subscription to supplement the abysmally limited on-board storage. The Google Drive subscription lasts for two years, which is probably how long this device will last anyway. Additional storage needs can be added through the MicroSD card reader.

Because our review unit uses a modest 6W processor, the fanless passive cooler can adequately dissipate its heat. A fanless design also enables noiseless operation, perfect for a long, lonely overnight shift at the office.

Camera

The C523’s lousy webcam can display the contours of the subject and not much else. Its grainy images are plagued by an awkward blue tint, possibly due to poorly configured white balance. The dynamic range is very narrow too, which produces extremely contrasty, blob-like images.

Battery life

To be very honest, I was expecting more endurance from the massive 76Wh battery, especially factoring in the low-end hardware. That isn’t to imply the battery life isn’t impressive; going through my daily chores involving a mix of word processing, browsing, media streaming, and several Android apps, the Chromebook C523 lasted 9 hours and 50 minutes. The superb 45W charger brought the laptop from dead to 70 per cent in around 40 minutes.

Pricing and competition

The Asus Chromebook C523 is one of the rarer breeds of 15.6” Chromebooks. Other Chromebooks in the same price range either have lesser specs or a much smaller screen. It’s welcoming to the see a larger display option for under $400.

The Acer 15.6” Chromebook matches the Asus Chromebook C523 spec-for-spec and excels where Asus fails: the display. Its 15.6” 1080p IPS display provides a much more comfortable viewing experience than the C523. Then again, it’s also twice the price, so whether the display is worth it is up to you to decide.

In my opinion, Windows PCs below $400 deliver too poor of an experience. Their basic Celeron and Pentium processors are too lackluster to drive Windows 10. Although Microsoft does offer the heavily-trimmed Windows 10S for basic performance, app selection and quality in Windows Store is too subpar for daily use.

Read also: Samsung Galaxy A7 (2018)- Full Phone Specification

Conclusion

Going for $313.75, it’s worth considering for those who need the bare minimum. These are users like kids, teachers, or any businesses that need to equip their offices on a budget. They’ll need to be replaced the moment the user’s needs grow beyond that envelope.

If its Zenbook series is any indication, Asus has always been acute of the latest design trends, and its acumen has seeped into the Chromebooks. Although it’s just $313.75 on Amazon, the C523 looks way above its price class.

Regardless of how it looks, being in the budget category is directly indicative of its performance. The base model C523’s dual-core Intel Celeron N3350 processor can only drive the most essential daily tasks, and heavy multitasking feels like dragging my brain through molasses. Gaming is fine as long as you stick to lighter titles like 2048 and Piano Tiles.

But some may not even get to experience these problems as the Asus Chromebook C523 bad display may immediately turn them off. If you’re looking to purchase this device, do yourself a favour and upgrade to the 1080p display, at least then you will be able to mitigate the trequent screen-door effect.

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