While there have been screenless stick PCs around for a couple of years, the concept has only just started to catch on with mainstream vendors, driven perhaps by the rise in popularity of streaming services and the increasing sophistication of cloud-based productivity suites.
ASUS’s Chromebit is one of that handful of big-name computer sticks available today, and despite its middling price tag in this novel category, having access to the established Google Chrome ecosystem makes it a surprisingly appealing little device.
Considering that the Chromebit’s frame is about the size of a Mars Bar, ASUS has managed to pack quite a reasonable bit of power under the soft black hood.
This is essentially basic smartphone fare, with four Cortex-A17 cores running at 1.8GHz, allowing the Chromebit to output video at up to 4K, a feat that the latest Apple TV can’t even achieve. 2GB of RAM adds to the already decent processing power and does a lot for the overall system responsiveness.
Bluetooth 4.0, 5GHz Wi-Fi and a USB 2.0 port round out the hardware in this surprisingly well-equipped little PC stick.
Despite Google owning Android — a platform that’s arguably an excellent OS for micro-PCs — the search company has been running with Chrome OS on its budget PC hardware since the release of the first Chromebook back in 2011.
This has given Google the time to tweak and refine its lightweight Linux-based OS, which draws heavily on the Chrome browser and Google’s own cloud-based products. Chrome OS uses your Google account — or requires you to create one if you don’t already have one — and uses this to sync specific apps, extensions and settings to the device.
Because the inbuilt storage is only 16GB, having the additional 100GB of Google Drive cloud storage that’s bundled with the Chromebit is an important aspect of this device’s storage system.
Google Drive — and even third-party cloud storage services like Dropbox and OneDrive — are baked directly into the Chromebit’s file explorer, making it easy to swap between file sources, find items and utilise the flexibility of the cloud at the same time.
We were impressed by the Chromebit’s excellent integration with Google’s browser-based office products (Docs, Sheets and Slides), but if you’re not already a fan of the Google cloud ecosystem or have no intention of using it, it’s worth pointing out that the Chromebit doesn’t really support any other alternatives.
From a broader perspective, the desktop environment is laid out in a familiar fashion, with an app launcher in the bottom left corner and the date, Wi-Fi status and settings down the bottom right. The desktop itself is actually just a wallpaper and won’t let you place app icons or shortcuts directly on it.
Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to set up a pin code to unlock your device, so you have to punch in your whole Google Account password each time you log in.
Though its app store is reasonably comprehensive for what’s essentially a browser add-on library, it’s not in the same league as what you’ll find on say, Android. If it does what you need, those gripes are a bit inconsequential.