Asus Chromebit review: An inexpensive Chrome OS PC on a stick

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The Good The Asus Chromebit is a small micro-desktop that brings cloud-based tools and services to any display at a very low price.

The Bad It's limited to the same online tools as other Chrome OS devices. Minimal onboard storage. A single USB port makes expansion difficult.

The Bottom Line It won't run Photoshop or play games, but add a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and the Asus Chromebit turns any HDMI-compatible display or television into a Web-surfing station.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

A handful of Windows 10 laptops now cost less than $200. The tiny Intel Compute Stick, an Atom-powered Windows micro-desktop, is down to $119. Where else can computer prices go when the floor is so close? The latest answer can be found in the Asus Chromebit, a stick-shaped Chrome OS desktop that costs just $85 in the US, £90 in the UK and AU$149 in Australia.

When we've seen Chrome OS, Google's PC operating system, presented in a desktop form before, we've called it a Chromebox. That term applies here, but it's also part of the still-new "stick PC" category.

Despite looking like an oversized USB key, the Chromebit has the DNA of a desktop. It requires constant power, lacking any kind of internal battery. It needs to connect to the HDMI input on a TV or monitor, and it needs a separate keyboard and mouse, connected via Bluetooth or a USB dongle (Bluetooth seems like the better idea, there's only a single USB port, so you'll need a two-in-one USB dongle or else a USB hub to cover both a keyboard and mouse).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like other Chrome OS laptops and desktops, the system itself is built to run the Google Chrome Web browser and little else. This is a device intended for cloud-based work, although Chrome OS now has some very basic file management features and the Chromebit can store a small amount of music and movie files in its 16GB of internal storage.

Despite the built-in limitations, the argument for the utility of an online-only computer is a persuasive one. Most email is handled through online services such as Gmail, movies stream through Netflix, Amazon or other services, and work happens in Google Docs or Microsoft's free-to-use online Office apps. There's often little reason to download and install third-party software even on a new Windows PC (something I can attest to, breaking open several fresh Windows laptops and desktops every month). In fact, the only must-have program I download immediately onto new Windows and OS X computers is the Google Chrome browser.

Different than most other ultra-budget PCs we've reviewed, including the Intel Compute Stick and HP Stream 11, the Chromebit runs an ARM-based CPU from Rockchip, a Chinese chip maker. It's cost-cutting move compared to the Intel Atom processors in other low-end computers. We also saw that chip in the Asus Chromebook Flip C100 earlier this year. But it's still fast enough for basic Web surfing, and didn't feel any slower in hands-on use than those Atom-powered $200-and-less Windows computers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The only real problem with the Chromebit is figuring out who it's for. If you need a cheap travel computer, this isn't it, as it requires a mouse, keyboard, monitor, and power source (it might work well for a hotel room or conference room, however). If you're just looking to play streaming video or other media on a TV, the $35 Google Chromecast, among other options, can take care of that as well. If you need a small out-of-the-way desktop, it does the trick, but only as long as you can survive using online tools, and won't need to install new non-cloud-based programs.

But for a narrow slice of Web surfers who want basic surfing and cloud computing in a set-it-and-forget-it stick that plugs into the back of nearly any television, this is an acceptably robust, crash-free way to get that for a price that would have seemed unbelievable just a year or so ago.

Asus Chromebit

Price as reviewed $85
PC CPU 1.8GHz Rockchip RK3288-C
Storage 16GB eMMC
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Chrome OS

Design and features

As much as we marveled over the tiny Intel Compute Stick and how small it was for a full Windows desktop with an Intel processor inside, the Asus Chromebit is a smaller, slicker-looking stick PC. Its matte plastic body and rounded edges stand in contrast to the squared-off industrial look of the Compute Stick, which is riddled with tiny vent holes. In contrast, the Chromebit has the polished consumer-friendly look of a Roku Stick or Amazon Fire TV Stick.