The Asus Chromebit, announced by Google today, packs a lot of computing power into a little itty bitty form factor and a sub-$US100 price point: Plug this stick into any display with an HDMI port, like most big-screen TVs nowadays have, and suddenly you have a Google Chrome desktop at your disposal.
It has uses limited only by your imagination. Like:
- Upgrade an existing PC by plugging this into the monitor.
- Use it for art projects or to build interactive displays using cheap TVs.
- Google cites the example of a retail store that can use it to manage all of their digital signs, changing a sale on shorts to a sale on umbrellas instantly once it starts to rain.
It has a swivel head so it will fit into more nooks and crannies, and you can use it with Bluetooth mice and keyboards. It uses a super-small ARM processor of the kind you normally find in a cell phone, so it doesn’t really heat up. It has 2GB of memory and 16GB of storage, like most other Google Chrome devices. It even comes in multiple colours, for the style-conscious.
The big caveat, depending on how you use it, is that it uses Google’s Chrome OS, which is basically just a web browser. So while it will run apps like Spotify, Netflix, and Microsoft Office 365 over the web, and will soon run some Android apps too, you won’t be playing Call of Duty on it any time soon.
The whole computer-on-a-stick thing has been done before, but never really well. The Dell Wyse Cloud Connect is a $US129 Android stick that does roughly the same thing, but it’s explicitly for business users and unavailable on the direct market. Similarly, the Dell Cast is an Android stick that costs only $US80, but will only work in conjunction with a Dell tablet — it’s more more Chromecast than Chromebit.
Intel’s soon-to-arrive $US149 Compute Stick is going to be the most direct competitor to Chromebits, running Windows 8.1. Google’s pitch has always been that the browser-based Chrome OS devices is the better, faster and simpler for low-horsepower computers like these sticks, and Windows can’t keep up. Not to mention that the Asus Chromebit will be at least (they haven’t announced final pricing yet) $US50 cheaper.
Either way, the squeeze is on. Whoever can do more computing with less computer at the cheaper price point is poised to win this brewing tiny device war, and the Asus Chromebit is, at the very least, a shot across Microsoft’s bow.