The largest Chromebook that Asus sells serves up a big screen for little money. Many Chromebooks suffer from cramped panels and thick bezels, but the Chromebook C523 flips the script and delivers a roomy 15.6-inch touch display inside a sleek chassis with pleasingly thin bezels—and it does so for well south of $ 400. Add in its aluminum lid, and it looks and feels like it should cost a bunch more. Asus sells two Chromebook C523 models. The $ 269.99 lower-end model features a Celeron CPU, 32GB of flash storage, and a 1,366-by-768-pixel non-touch display. Our review unit is the upper one, C523NA-IH24T, which lists for $ 379.99 and features a quad-core Intel Pentium N4200 processor, 64GB of flash storage, and a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel (1080p) touch panel. It earns a strong recommendation for its stellar design, sufficient specs to comfortably power Chrome OS, and reasonable price.
A Big Screen Inside a Tiny Bezel
The Chromebook C523 boasts a thin profile and a brushed-aluminum finish. While it’s an unquestionably thin laptop—particularly one with a 15.6-inch screen—its aluminum looks are a bit deceiving. The bottom half of the system is plastic; only the lid is aluminum.
The lid has a sturdy, rigid feel to it, and the plastic keyboard deck feels impressively solid, as well. I note hardly any flex in the palm rest and underneath the keys themselves, despite Asus opting for plastic instead of metal. The only time the keyboard deck gives a little is when I pick it up by one of its front corners with one hand. The weight of the display results in the front of the keyboard deck bending a bit. At this Chromebook’s low price, however, I’m pleasantly surprised to see any metal used in its construction.
The Chromebook C523 measures 0.6 by 14.1 by 9.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.8 pounds. That’s less than half a pound heavier than the 13-inch, 3.3-pound Acer Chromebook Spin 13, and it’s lighter than the 14-inch, 4-pound Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 2-in-1 (7486).
With its black keys sitting in the center of a sea of silver, the Chromebook C523’s looks mimic those of the way-pricier 15-inch MacBook Pro. Like that illustrious Apple, the Chromebook C523 has theoretical room for a dedicated number pad but opts against including one.
The result is a luxuriously roomy keyboard with no stunted keys. If anything, some of the keys (both Shift keys, and the left Ctrl key) feel extra-long. The keys offer 1.4mm of travel and have a snappy, responsive aspect to them. The only thing missing from the keyboard is backlighting, an understandable but still disappointing omission on an inexpensive Chromebook.
The touchpad feels responsive, too. It’s big enough for comfortable mousing and swiping gestures, but it looks a tad undersized sitting, as it does, in the middle of the vast expanse of the wide palm rest…
Still, it tracked my mousing motions accurately, and it performs clicks quietly and effectively, too.
I’m a Tad Top-Heavy
As I noted up top, the 15.6-inch touch display features a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel native screen resolution in the test model I have here. The 1080p picture is sharp, and the touchscreen feels accurate and responsive, but the glossy coating does a poor job of fending off glare and reflections. (The non-touch, 1,366-by-768-pixel display on the lower-end C523 has an anti-glare matte finish.)
The glossy screen coating also adds to the lid’s heft, making the Chromebook C523 feel a little top-heavy. The display is held into place by two wide, sturdy hinges that let the display rotate back 180 degrees, to where the display is completely horizontal. I’m not sure how many usage scenarios will find you in need of such a posture, but it’s there if you want it. Despite the flexible nature of the display, this Chromebook C523 should not be confused with a 2-in-1 convertible that can rotate all the way around into tablet mode.
The system’s stereo speakers fire from the bottom panel and emit weak sound. Bass is lacking, and the audio clarity degrades as you increase the volume toward the maximum setting. Keep a pair of headphones handy.
The port selection is limited, but you do get both types of USB ports, to save you from needing to carry dongles with you. On the left side, you get a USB Type-C port and a USB 3.1 port, a microSD slot, and a headphone jack.
On the right, meanwhile, reside a USB Type-C port and a USB Type-A 3.1 port.
Enough Oomph for Chrome OS
The C523NA-IH24T configuration that I have on hand, as noted, is based on Intel’s Pentium N4200 CPU, an unthreaded quad-core chip with a base frequency of 1.1GHz and a turbo frequency of 2.5GHz. The system also features 4GB of RAM, integrated Intel graphics, and 64GB of flash storage.
Because few 15-inch Chromebooks have passed through PC Labs, I’ll match the C523 against Chromebooks across a variety of screen sizes: the 12.3-inch HP Chromebook x2 and 12.5-inch Google Pixelbook, as well as the 13-inch Acer Chromebook Spin 13 and 14-inch Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 2-in-1 (7486) mentioned earlier. The Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 features a Core i3 processor, the Pixelbook has a Core i5-7Y57, the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 the Core i5-8250U (likely the peppiest of this lot), and the HP Chromebook x2 the efficient Core m3-7Y30.
Most of PCMag’s deep-dive laptop benchmarks are designed for Windows machines. So, in their place, on Chromebooks I ran the CrXPRT and WebXPRT browser-based benchmarks from Principled Technologies. Synthetic suites both, these give a sense of performance between Chromebooks.
As you can see, on both CrXPRT and WebXPRT, the Chromebook C523 trailed the competition assembled here. Its CPU had the disadvantage of running at a slower frequency or having fewer processing threads, or both. I expected it to trail these competing systems on these tests, but I thought it would be on par with or close to the HP Chromebook x2, whose Core m3-7Y30 is similar in processing threads and clock speed to the Pentium N4200.
Before you get too disappointed in its benchmark scores, I will point out that the Chromebook C523 specs are sufficient to run the lightweight Chrome OS without a hitch. I was able to juggle 20 open Chrome tabs without lag, and HD videos played smoothly. Just know that for really intensive multitasking, or Chrome OS apps involving media processing, such as image editing, you’re more likely to see the advantage of the Core chips.
The Chromebook C523 also has a disadvantage versus most of the other Chromebooks listed here: It has to power a larger display that draws more energy than an otherwise-equal smaller (or lower-res, or both) display would…
The C523 lasted for 6 hours and 57 minutes on our 1080p video-playback battery-drain test. For a big-screen laptop running on a tiny two-cell battery, I applaud the result (not with a standing ovation, mind you—more of a golf clap). Asus claims 10 hours of battery life, and you might get closer to that number under normal usage of web browsing and Google Docs creation and editing than continuous playback of an HD video.
Sleekness on Sale
With looks that belie its budget status, the Asus Chromebook C523 is a solidly constructed, sleek Chromebook. Its large touch panel affords the screen space to keep you productive, and it helps make movies and videos come alive after you are done being productive.
You’ll need to put up with ho-hum battery life and audio output, and do without keyboard backlighting, but these are relatively minor demerits compared with the drawbacks of other low-end Chromebooks. The Chromebook C523 stands strong alongside other Chromebooks that cost hundreds more, and it’s an Editors’ Choice pick primarily because it creates a category of its own: the workable, inexpensive big-screen Chromebook.