Thursday, November 19, 2015

Quick Recommendation: I'm Saying no to the Asus Chromebit

Hat tip to David Klaus for calling the new ChromeOS offering to my attention on Facebook ...

The Asus Chromebit is a new take on the "tiny computer on a stick" phenomenon. It plugs into the HDMI port of a monitor or television and runs ChromeOS, just like a Chromebook laptop or Chromebox desktop machine. The retail price runs to ~$85 USD.

I'm still a ChromeOS fanboy, but I don't even need to try the Chromebit to reject it and to explain to you why it's not a good deal.

The Chromebit comes with 2Gb of RAM and 16Gb of flash storage. That's the baseline configuration for most Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, too (you can get models with more RAM or storage, and you can upgrade both, but the minimal model is 2/16). No problem there, really, except that you probably can't upgrade.

But here's the thing: You can get an Asus Chromebox for about $150 or an Asus Chromebook for about $200. Both are superior machines for not much more money.

The Chromebook includes its own display and touchpad. The Chromebook and the Chromebox include multiple USB ports and headphone jacks. The Chromebox comes with two display ports (they vary from machine to machine; my Asus Chromebox has a DVI port and an HDMI port), allowing the user to run two monitors (I started doing that last year and it is nice).

The Chromebit plugs into an HDMI port at one end and has a single USB port at the other end. That USB port isn't something you can use for whatever you want -- it has to be used to power the Chromebit. So no peripherals. You're going to have to use a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. If you want headphone audio, I guess you'll have to hope your display device has a jack for that.

Why would I pay $85 for a gimpy thing like the Chromebit when I can get a full-blown ChromeOS machine for $150-$200? The only way that would make sense to me is if I wanted to use ChromeOS as a second system and run the Chromebit from my other computer through a remote desktop app or whatever.

But ChromeOS isn't something I'd use as a secondary system. A decent Windows or Mac machine already does everything the Chromebit can do, including running Chrome.

To me, the "secondary system" thing runs the other way:  I've considered getting a "Windows machine on a stick" and accessing it via a remote desktop from my Chromebox to do things that ChromeOS can't do (like play Starcraft).

I guess if I try really hard, I can come up with a reason to run the Chromebit as a secondary system. Maybe I don't want to browse using my PC because I fear malware or whatever, but I really need that Windows machine to run proprietary software for my work or whatever. But that seems like a pretty narrow demand niche to me.

The Chromebit just doesn't make sense to me. If you're looking to get into ChromeOS, I recommend shelling out a little more for Chromebook or Chromebox.

[Update: Over at Google+, Michael Dopp corrects me on an important technical point. The Chromebit DOES have a regular USB port that is not used to power the device (it has a dedicated power port). You might want to read the rest of his counterpoint as well (he considers the device more potentially useful than I do, and the price difference to be less negligible than I do). Thanks, Michael!]

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