Google’s midrange ‘Chromebook Plus’ cohort is off to an excellent start.
In 2017, Samsung released a product called the Chromebook Plus. The Chromebook Plus was more than just a single Chromebook model; it was marketed as a new vision for what ChromeOS could be. It was $450 — quite pricey at the time. A Chromebook running a desktop-class operating system. A Chromebook that might compete with the Windows laptop.
That vision wouldn’t quite come to pass. Android apps on the Chromebook Plus were full of glitches and bugs. Windows wouldn’t resize. Everything was crashing everywhere, all the time. The Plus’ stylus barely worked. The dream was real, but the software wasn’t ready.
Six years later, ChromeOS is much more stable, and Chromebooks are a mainstream staple. Their sales skyrocketed in 2020 as many classrooms moved online; they’re in every student’s backpack and occupy flashy display tables at Best Buy. And a new Chromebook Plus is making the rounds. It’s not a single Chromebook this time but an OEM partnership program: any model that meets a short list of criteria can receive the “Plus” label. “Plus,” this time, does not seek to redefine the Chromebook so much as it does to direct the public’s attention to a specific category of models amid a crowded and diverse field.
I’ve been using the $399 Asus Chromebook Plus CX34, one of the first Chromebooks to carry the Plus branding. It’s great, and it’s a good representation of the sort of device Google is trying to promote with this program — not the fanciest or most groundbreaking product (as the 2017 Plus was positioned) but rather the affordable option that offers excellent value.
Excellent $400 Chromebooks are nothing new — the Lenovo Duet has been available for years, after all — but it’s exciting to see Google itself looking straight at customers and saying, “These are the ones to buy.” Whether this Plus initiative will convert any buyers from Windows to ChromeOS, I truly don’t know. But I do think it will help Chromebook buyers find capable systems without spending more money than they need to. And that seems like a very good thing.
Chromebook Plus CX34
- Excellent look and build
- Sharp 1080p display
- 1080p webcam with AI features and physical shutter
- No touchscreen option
- Stiff touchpad
- Battery life could be a bit better
The Asus Chromebook Plus CX34 is the most affordable of the Plus bunch, with its Core i3 / 8GB / 128GB base model (which is what I have) priced at just $399. The rest of the gang is in the $400–$800 range, with various models from Acer, HP, and Lenovo. I assume pricier ones will arrive in due time.
I won’t dive too deeply into what the Chromebook Plus certification is — I wrote a whole separate article you can read for that. In short, Chromebook Plus is a badge that a Chromebook model can receive if it meets a (fairly short) list of minimum requirements: at least 12th Gen Intel Core i3 or a Ryzen 7000 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, 1080p display resolution, and a 1080p webcam. The idea is that if you are wandering around Best Buy looking for a new Chromebook, the Plus logo will essentially tell you, “Hey, this is a good one to buy.”
Asus Chromebook Plus CX34 specs (as reviewed)
- 14-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS panel, 250 nits, non-touch
- 8GB RAM 4800 MHz
- 128GB UFS storage
- Built-in microphone
- 1080p FHD camera, webcam shield
- Wi-Fi 6(802.11ax, Dual-band 2*2, Bluetooth 5.2 Wireless Card
- Tso USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C (full function), two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-1, one HDMI 1.4, one 3.5mm audio combo jack
- Backlit keyboard with anti-ghost and 1.4mm key travel, spill-resistant to 60cc
- 12.9 x 8.4 x 0.74 inches (32.64 x 21.44 x 1.87 cm)
- 3.17 pounds (1.44 kg)
- 50 Wh battery, 3-cell, Li-Polymer
- Intel Core i3-1215U processor, Intel UHD graphics
If that Plus branding drives more people to look at the CX34, I’ll be ecstatic because it’s a really solid package for $399. The chassis, while plastic, has an incredibly durable feel and a smooth, comfortable texture. Using it feels quite a bit like using the larger Chromebook Flip CX5, which is — and I will die on this hill — one of the best Chromebooks ever made. The palm rests and lid have a unique marbled pattern to them that gives the device a neat but understated sort of look. And it’s all a fairly portable package, weighing in at just over three pounds.
The 14-inch 1920 x 1080 non-touch display is quite sharp and kicks back no glare. (Asus claims that there will be a touchscreen option as well, though I haven’t been able to find that for sale yet, so I don’t know how much more it will cost.) The 1080p webcam has a physical shutter, and it’s actually one that’s easy and comfortable to slide back and forth rather than a minuscule one that you have to pry with your fingernail. Connectivity is excellent, with two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type C ports, two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, one HDMI 1.4, and one audio combo jack. Honestly, the only real complaint that I have about the system is the touchpad — it’s got a bit of a stiff click. That’s really it.
This keyboard, which I love, is spill-resistant to 60 cubic centimeters, according to Asus’ testing (and I love that they test this).
When it comes to performance, there’s also little to complain about. Both CX34 models are equipped with an Intel Core i3. It flies on my test model. Bouncing around between 12 to 15 apps, even with downloads or updates running in the background, was no problem; I felt no heat, and the only time I heard the fans come on was when I was calling in Google Meet or using Magic Eraser (which I’ll explain further down). Benchmark scores were impressive, coming out well ahead of premium competitors like the Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook on Geekbench 5. I don’t imagine that a school or work ChromeOS user would hit this processor’s ceiling, even working on battery.
Speaking of battery, it’s also okay. I averaged just over seven hours of continuous use to a charge (a mix of 12–15 Chrome tabs, Android apps, and PWAs for office productivity use with the screen at half brightness). That’s better than I’ve seen from other 14-inch Asus devices like the Chromebook Flip C436. I do think it would make sense for the Plus certification to have a battery life requirement (Intel has one for its similar Evo program for Windows laptops), but perhaps that would exclude more Chromebooks than Google would like.
That’s the laptop itself in a nutshell. Let’s talk about that “Plus” moniker.
Imentioned that Chromebook Plus is similar to Intel’s Evo standard, and Evo is likely the closest analog. But Chromebook Plus differs from Evo (and other similar fare, like the AMD Advantage platform) in that qualifying products receive more than a fancy badge. They also receive some exclusive features from Google. Some of these are, like, Adobe free trials and stuff. But some of them seem neat, and while I don’t know that they’ll be central to any Plus user’s experience, they’re differentiators that Google, uniquely, can provide.
The one that has really blown my mind is Magic Eraser. For those unfamiliar with the Pixel line, Magic Eraser is a tool in Google Photos that does what it sounds like it might do — it automatically erases things from photos.
Now, I need to make clear that I am not a photo professional in any capacity, and so seeing anyone do pretty much anything with Photoshop looks like wizardry to me. Nevertheless, I was simultaneously impressed and a little bit afraid for humanity after playing around with this tool. I would open up Google Photos, I would click on a photo, I would click the Magic Eraser button, and gray outlines would appear around various people in the photo’s background. If I clicked one of the outlined people, that person would just disappear from the photo. Entirely. And instantly. Like, maybe it takes a couple milliseconds or whatever. But the process is very, very fast.
Here’s a photo of me on a ski slope. Magic Eraser nixed those three people from behind me on the left. If you look closely, you can kind of see that the one person’s poles are still there, but the other two are seamlessly gone. So there, people!
Now, I know that Pixel (and other Android) phones have had this feature for ages, but Pixel phones, as Google tells it, also have special chips inside them made specifically for this AI business. What boggles my mind is that a feature like this is running on a 12th Gen Intel Core i3. On a laptop that costs $399.
You’ll be able to have ChromeBook Plus devices generate wallpapers for you based on text prompts, but that’s coming down the line.
Next thing: there are some very neat Plus-exclusive wallpapers. They’re dynamic, and the time of day that they reflect changes based on the actual time of day in your time zone. There are only two of these available at the moment, but it’s a neat idea that seems, in retrospect, like an obvious thing that people might want. It’s also fitting to have these available now for ChromeOS since Apple just released a whole bunch of stunning dynamic screensavers for its Macs.
It’s a fairly portable laptop, weighing just over three pounds.
The feature that’s a bit less jazzy but does actually intrigue me is Offline File Sync, which automatically downloads files from your Google Drive account as a background task. Turning this on is a little bit tricky; you have to dig through your Advanced settings to toggle it on. Now that I’ve done this, whenever I dive into my Google Drive files through the Files app, I can see a little checkmark next to each of my items indicating that it’s available offline.
This feature seemed kind of boring when it was demonstrated at the Chromebook Plus launch event, but I’ve had all kinds of use cases pop up for it since then. Sure, I have Offline Sync enabled for my personal Google Drive account, and it’s not like I couldn’t edit files offline before. But there’s something about having them all laid out there, with little checkmarks, that just feels right and gives me comfort. (I also see no reason why this couldn’t be on non-Plus Chromebooks, but perhaps it will make its way there as time goes on.)
And then there is AI video calling stuff. I, frankly, am weary of AI video calling stuff. As someone who writes about new laptops for a living, I have been hearing about AI video calling stuff nonstop for this entire year. But Google has done something with its version that I really appreciate: it’s made it really simple.
When you are on a video call, some buttons pop up on the bottom of your screen. One reads, “Improve Lighting”; click it, and the lighting on your face improves. Another says, “Cancel Background Noise.” Other buttons allow you to blur your background to two different levels. That’s it.
These features are built in to the platform level, which means they’ll work with Meet, Zoom, or whatever app you’re using. I did run into one complication, which is that the Plus controls don’t always seem to be communicating with meeting software’s local controls. During one video chat, I instinctively used the blur setting within Google Meet to blur my background. I wasn’t then able to un-blur my background from the Plus menu; I had to do that in the Meet app.
Still, this is a much easier process than I’m used to. On many laptops, you have to dive into some not-very-good app and choose between a dizzying assortment of different lighting and microphone settings in order to achieve these same ends. But if there’s one thing ChromeOS is really good at, it’s simplifying.
Acer Chromebook Plus CX34 Accessibility
- The letter keys are 0.6 x 0.6 inches with 0.1 inches between them. The keyboard is backlit but has no indicator lights. The power button requires little force to depress. The volume keys are 0.75 x 0.4 inches. The keys are gray with black text and take a small amount of firm force to depress.
- The speakers reached an average of 80 decibels in my testing, which is equivalent to a standard external speaker.
- The laptop requires two hands to open. It can be opened flat to 180 degrees.
- The touchpad is 5.1 x 2.9 inches and takes somewhat firm force to depress.
- The Chromebook does not support fingerprint or facial logins.
- ChromeOS includes a built-in screen reader (ChromeVox).
- ChromeOS supports dictation, accessed in Settings.
- High-contrast mode can be toggled with Ctrl + Search + H.
- Captions appear in the bottom center of the screen. The following caption features are adjustable: size, font, color, opacity, shadow, background color, and background opacity.
- The following keyboard keys can be remapped: Search, Ctrl, Alt, Escape, Backspace, Assistant, and Caps Lock. The top row can be remapped to act as function keys.
- The following keyboard features can be toggled: sticky keys, onscreen keyboard, highlight object with keyboard focus, highlight text caret when it appears or moves, navigate pages with text cursor, and switch access.
- The following cursor settings can be adjusted: color, size, speed, click strength, and haptic feedback. The following can be toggled: mouse acceleration, reverse scrolling, tap dragging, tap-to-click, touchpad acceleration, and automatic click.
- ChromeOS includes a Snap Layout feature, accessed by pressing and holding the Maximize button on an open window.
n the past, when I’ve reviewed Chromebooks, I used to put a “current state of ChromeOS” section in each one. I’ve gradually stopped doing that over the years because I’ve stopped having interesting things to say.
Some Android apps have improved from the mess they once were, others remain a mess, and others have been pulled from the platform altogether. Browsing the Google Play Store still feels a bit like browsing a graveyard, with “Not Available For This Device” stamped across a whole mess of applications. The platform does, increasingly, have native support for other Windows apps that were previously unavailable through things like Linux and virtual app delivery — but those still aren’t widely seen as accessible solutions for the average consumer.
Which is why I’m glad that Google is trying this other niche instead. And I view this Plus label — and the makeup of the cadre of products that’s been announced with it — as a glimpse into the company’s mindset more than anything else. In this moment, Google’s focus is not on luxurious and wildly expensive Chromebooks that purport to do everything that a high-powered Windows workstation can. Instead, it’s targeting the price-conscious consumer, and it’s focusing not on the ways that ChromeOS is like Windows but rather on the ways in which it can be different. Google is selling Chromebook Plus models (including Asus’ excellent one) by leaning into two things it’s very good at: AI and simplicity.