Wednesday, 18 November 2015 14:42

Asus ChromeBit – review

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If you want a computer in your pocket this may be what you need – Asus has a ChromeBit – a Chrome operating system (OS) based HDMI dongle that is easy to set up and easier to use.

I have not had a lot of experience with ChromeBooks or Bits. Essentially they use the Internet for server side computing – the work is mainly done in the Google cloud – and have some offline storage and computing capacity.

ChromeBooks have become popular in education where system management is almost reduced to zero.

So how does it work?

Please note that the review unit was a pre-production model so final specifications may vary.

Out of the Box

It looks like an oversize flash drive with a full sized HDMI (male) at one end and a USB 2.0 (female) at the other. Plug the HDMI end into a monitor or TV and power up with the supplied adaptor. There is no on/off switch.

Like any dongle, you need to have both the access to a spare HDMI port and the physical room to connect it. Asus supply a bendy HDMI F-M neck to accomplish that – it can be tricky without that. The dongle’s weight is also supported by the HDMI connector – do not apply two much downwards force if installing it horizontally in HDMI slot.

During power up it will look for a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse or alternative you can use a USB hub to plug in a keyboard and mouse. All straightforward.

After that you are presented with a Google Login – you must have a Google Account – and you are away.

Under the dongle

  • Chromebit Specs:
  • OS: Chrome OS
  • CPU: RockChip 3288-C
  • Memory: 2GB LPDDR3L
  • Graphics: Integrated Rockchip Mali T764 (Full HD, plays up to 1080p)
  • Storage: 16G eMMC
  • TPM (Trusted Platform Module)
  • Wireless: Dual Band 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac; Bluetooth V4.0
  • Interface: 1 x HDMI; 1 x USB 2.0; 1 x DC-in Jack
  • Power Supply: 12V, 1.5A, 18 W Adapter
  • Dimension: 123 x 31 x 17 mm
  • Weight: 75 g

This is a sealed unit – not upgradeable.

Use

The ChromeBit is more about Chrome OS than the hardware. It simply works.

I will not go into Chrome OS deeply – it has Search, Chrome Browser, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Music and Gmail as standard task bar icons. These open in a browser (online) and all work can be synced - to the extent of the 16GB memory - for offline access.

Google software is competent – it reminds me of Word and Excel before these received the famous ribbon command bar. It is certainly all you need and has reasonable compatibility with Office.

There is no file/folder system per se – it is related to the app you use although you can create sub-folders under documents et al. It is not as intuitive as Windows and OneDrive but it does the job. Like them all content can sync to the cloud and storage.

So if you use Office 365 or Microsoft Office it does provide an alternative – but it is not as feature rich.

Other software

There is a Chrome App store that contains ‘thousands of apps’ – the majority are games. Some run off-line, some work with Google Drive. Only you can tell if the apps store is sufficient.

In use

It is easy to set up – no question and should support Logitech and Microsoft USB dongles for their wireless keyboard and mice. A USB Hub also works as well. I tried with a variety of Bluetooth keyboard and mice and they worked – pairing was sometimes lost on power up.

I have a very fast 100Mbps+ internet connection and an AC2600 MU-MIMO router. Even with this I noticed a lag in opening programs and filing documents – again a Chrome issue – not the ChromeBit. It can work on or offline so that is not a problem.

I tried it on a variety of monitors and a 55” smart TV. On a 24” HD it text was quite sharp. On a 32” HD it was a little less so but still OK and on the 55” text was too pixelated – but who uses a 55” or larger monitor anyway – let alone sit a metre away from it. It is fit for purpose.

Conclusion

It you like Chrome its good – it you understand its limits it is even better.

The ChromeBit did everything it said it would and I was impressed with the connectivity options.

But it is unfair to call it a computer in a stick because it needs a power adaptor and cable, most likely a USB hub for a keyboard and mouse (or a more expensive wireless/Bluetooth option) and a screen to be complete.

I don’t see a Chromestick addressing those issues. I think the stick form factor is a promise that isn’t really deliverable yet. A box sized similarly to a pack of playing cards that can integrate more of the necessary components is probably a more practical option overall than current stick designs.

I understand the price will be around A$120 (US$85)


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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