When ASUS unveiled the new Chromebook CX9 at CES 2021, the Chrome OS community went wild. Premium consumer Chromebooks are few and far between, especially devices with a gorgeous build like the CX9. The wait was a long one, with nearly 7 months between the initial unveiling and preorders going live. Like many others, I’ve been looking forward to this Chromebook since January. Two weeks ago, I jumped to preorder the top model of the CX9 available at launch.
With all the crazy expectations, I felt it was necessary to take a few weeks with this one before dropping a review. I didn’t want to rush things. As I’m writing this introduction now, I’ve had the CX9 in my possession for exactly two weeks. So, does this Chromebook meet the hype level ASUS built for it? For me, the answer is a definitive yes. To be sure, the full potential of the CX9 won’t be fully unleashed until Borealis support arrives for Steam later this year. However, this is still the best overall Chromebook you can buy today. It’s a power user’s dream, running Chrome OS. Let’s dive into everything I love, and a few things I mildly dislike, about the ASUS Chromebook CX9.
ASUS Chromebook CX9: Specifications
|Specification||ASUS Chromebook CX9|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
About this review: I purchased the $1,149 model of the ASUS Chromebook CX9 from ASUS’ online store. This model features the Tiger Lake Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. ASUS had no input on any part of this review.
Design and build quality
Unboxing the CX9 is an experience in itself. You can tell that ASUS put considerable thought into the packaging with this device. Most Chromebooks come in a bland brown recyclable box, but this one was a bit bigger. When I received the package in the mail, I was wondering what they had included to require such a large box.
As it turns out, the brown exterior box is just protection for the sleek navy blue product box holding the CX9. You also get a separate smaller navy blue box, holding the charging brick and cable. According to ASUS, this box is supposed to double as a stand for your CX9. It’s an interesting idea, but it doesn’t work very well as a stand in practice.
Opening up the box, you’re greeted with the beautiful navy blue chassis of the CX9 itself. The official product sheet calls this color Star Black, but it’s quite clearly more dark blue than black. Either way, it’s a really unique color to see on a Chromebook. Picking up the Chromebook for the first time, it’s almost shocking how light, yet sturdy the design really is. At under 2.5lbs, this is one of the lighter 14 inch Chromebooks out there. But at the same time, the rigidity of the chassis is unparalleled.
You can pick up the CX9 by any side or corner and not feel the slightest bit of flex. This is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to Chromebooks. Even fairly premium models like the Acer Spin 713 and Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 have some degree of flex to the body. It’s almost certain that ASUS used some type of alloy when constructing the frame, as solid aluminum would’ve resulted in a heavier device.
Regardless, the frame on this Chromebook is the nicest I’ve ever seen. The device isn’t really that thin compared to other Chromebooks out there, but considering all of the power inside, I’m not complaining about that.
As for the one-hand open test, the CX9 passes with a solid B-. You can open the CX9 with a single hand, but it does require a little bit of extra effort. The light frame often requires you to ease the lid up very slowly, or risk the base going too far off the desk or table. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but it’s something worth noting.
This lovely design is also MIL-STD-810H tested for drops, spills, and panel pressure. That makes a lot of sense to me considering how rigid the frame is. I didn’t really want to drop test my new $1,200 (after tax) Chromebook, but I believe ASUS when they say it could take a beating.
Finally, let’s discuss the available ports on the Chromebook CX9. You get two Thunderbolt 4 ports, with power delivery capability. A single HDMI 3.0b port and a single USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. A Kensington lock slot rounds out the ports available on the sides of the device.
Overall, this is the best built Chromebook I’ve ever used. There are a few that come close, but the light frame/rigid chassis combo of the CX9 is at the top of my list for now.
Keyboard and touchpad
If you’re using your Chromebook for work, the keyboard and touchpad are two of the most important aspects. I spent the full two weeks with the CX9 as my primary work laptop. Most of my work here at XDA consists of composing articles, editing images, and interacting with team members via Slack and Asana. I used the CX9 for all of those tasks, but also did some light coding in Python/MATLAB and typesetting in LaTeX.
The keyboard is simply phenomenal. Not only do the keys have the right amount of travel, you also don’t feel any mushiness due to the rigid nature of the frame. You can type on this keyboard for hours with no finger fatigue. My typing experience was incredibly fast and accurate. The NanoEdge design also lifts the keyboard up ever-so-slightly when you open the CX9. The look of this isn’t something everyone enjoys, but I think it provides a more ergonomic typing experience.
I average around 90 words per minute on my Macbook Pro with the butterfly keyboard, so I was surprised to see I got up to 103 words per minute on the CX9 in the same typing test. If you need to compose long articles or write code for a living, you will absolutely adore the keyboard on this device.
I’m happy to report the touchpad on the CX9 is equal to the keyboard in quality. This is one of the larger glass touchpads available on a Chromebook. The extra real estate makes UI navigation a breeze. If you enjoy a satisfying click and quality haptic feedback, the Cx9 touchpad does not disappoint.
The only area where I ran into some trouble with the touchpad was sensitivity. I think the default tracking speed out of the box is a bit high, perhaps because this touchpad is so incredibly responsive. In the beginning, I found myself over-shooting text when highlighting links. This is something you can easily fix in the Chrome OS settings and varies with personal preference of course.
Display and audio
So far, I’ve had nothing but glowing remarks about the CX9. The display is the first component where I have a few minor concerns, but also plenty of praise. Resolution on my CX9 isn’t bad by any means, FHD looks pretty good. However, it would be nice to have a higher resolution panel on such a premium machine. If you sit fairly close to the CX9, text does look a bit less crisp than on other premium Chromebooks. There is a 4K model of the CX9 coming later this year, but that will be priced even higher and who knows when it will be available.
Colors are nice overall, although they aren’t quite as punchy as my Galaxy Chromebook 2. This is a personal preference of course, many people prefer a more true-to-life color profile which the CX9 does provide. The 16:9 aspect ratio is always polarizing. I’d personally prefer 16:10 or even 3:2 like the Acer Spin 713 for productivity purposes, but that isn’t a dealbreaker for me. Watching content on Netflix or Disney+ is nice on a wider screen, so that’s a benefit of ASUS’ choice in that regard.
Brightness on the display is every bit of the 400 nits advertised on the specs sheet. I wouldn’t be surprised if the panel gets over 400 nits in outdoor conditions. I used my CX9 outside for a short while in the Arizona sun and had no problems viewing everything on my screen. It was pretty difficult to do extensive outdoor testing in the 115 degree heat, but I’m more than satisfied with the brightness on this Chromebook. Putting it side-by-side with my Galaxy Chromebook 2, the panels are equally bright. Given Samsung’s reputation for exceptionally bright displays, ASUS really accomplished something in this category.
One nice design touch involving the display is the NanoEdge design I mentioned earlier. The way the hinge raises the keyboard up also hides the bottom bezel of the display. While the device isn’t actually bezel-less, it looks that way due to this design consideration. I realize many people aren’t fans of this implementation, but the bezel-less look is a win in the display department. It’s less distracting and really creates an immersive experience for work or content consumption on the CX9.
Audio output on the CX9 is one of the more disappointing aspects of the device. The speakers are touted as being tuned by Harman Kardon, but the sound output is fairly mediocre. They get the job done for watching Netflix or YouTube, but they don’t get nearly loud enough for me.
There’s a tiny bit of bass, but really not impressive when compared to the Pixelbook Go, for instance. The bottom-firing nature of these speakers is the biggest detriment as it really hollows out the sound. It’s hard to find a Chromebook with amazing speakers. Unfortunately the CX9 continues this trend.
Performance and battery life
Day to day performance on the CX9 is stellar, which you’d expect with the Tiger Lake i7 and 16GB of RAM. Running Android and Linux apps is buttery smooth on this device. I even ran very intensive Linux apps like MATLAB with absolutely no problems. The fans do kick in occasionally if you’re doing a large amount of resource-heavy stuff in Linux and have around 50 Chrome tabs open, but that’s fairly reasonable in my opinion. Even so, the fans were never incredibly loud in any of my usage the past two weeks.
I spent quite a bit of time playing several Android games, Stadia, and Minecraft, hoping to test the gaming limits on this machine. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I never hit a wall with the CX9. No dropped frames, no lag, no issues whatsoever. The true potential of the Iris Xe graphics inside will come to fruition when Borealis brings official Steam support to Chrome OS later this year. Until then, if you buy a CX9, you can take solace in the fact this is the first Chromebook intentionally built for gaming applications.
ASUS says the CX9 should get up to 14 hours of usage on a single charge. As usual with these estimates, that assumes you’re using the lowest brightness setting possible and have a couple of Chrome tabs open. For most people that number is incredibly unrealistic. With my typical usage writing for XDA, I averaged around 7-8 hours of battery life per day. That’s enough to get me through my workday, but not too much left when I arrive home. If you do intense work, like video editing in Kdenlive or visualization in MATLAB, you can expect closer to 4-5 hours of screen on time.
Battery life overall is respectable, though I was hoping for a bit more when only writing articles and performing basic photo edits. The included 45W charger makes it quick to top up throughout the day. You can charge from 0 to 100 real quick, around one hour and 30 minutes to be precise.
I did run into a small quirk when charging my CX9 the first few nights. I powered the machine off before charging. The next day, the Chromebook would not turn back on by pressing the power button. I had to perform a hard reset to get the screen back on. This issue persisted the next two nights. Finally, I powerwashed my CX9 on the 4th day and didn’t have any further issues. I would assume this issue is particular to my unit and not indicative of CX9 quality in general. Given I haven’t had any issues the past ten days, I’m guessing it could have been a software or hardware glitch and not a deeper issue.
Fingerprint scanner, NumberPad, and USI pen support
The CX9 has a number of advanced features, including a fingerprint scanner just under the directional keys, USI pen support, and a built-in LED NumberPad inside the touchpad. All of these items work flawlessly. The fingerprint scanner is very fast, just as you’d expect. It’s very nice to have a fingerprint login option — every premium Chromebook should have biometric security.
Initially, ASUS didn’t mention USI pen support for the touchscreen models of the CX9. My model indeed supports USI and I was able to use my Penoval USI pen for note-taking. The support page for the CX9 has since been updated to reflect USI support for the $1,149 model.
I will say it’s tricky taking notes on this device. The CX9 is not a 2-in-1 convertible, but it does lay flat thanks to hinge design. It’s still not an ideal writing experience though. The keyboard can get in the way of resting your palm when taking serious notes.
Lastly, let’s discuss perhaps the most unique feature of the CX9, the built-in LED NumberPad. This was a big selling point for me, since I do quite a bit of number crunching in my academic day job. It’s incredibly convenient to have a dedicated NumberPad, in such a compact form factor. The activation of the backlighting is also seamless. You can also use the touchpad itself for clicking around while doing spreadsheet work with the NumberPad. I applaud ASUS for innovation and bringing a feature many power users need to a Chromebook.
At the end of the day, this is the best Chromebook you can buy today. The price for the base model is $749, which is going to be a barrier to entry for many people. That’s too bad, because you’re getting great value for the build quality and specs included in the CX9. Even at $1,149, the model I bought is great value compared to other Chromebooks with similar specs. There aren’t any other consumer Chromebooks with the newest Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage for under $1,500.
But that’s not all you get. You also get an ultra-portable design, LED NumberPad, Iris Xe graphics, fingerprint scanner, and the list goes on. All of those things considered, I feel like I got more than my money’s worth for $1,149 and tax. When Borealis launches later this year, I’ll also have one of the first gaming Chromebooks on the market. If you’re looking for a premium Chromebook as a power user, this is the one to buy, period.