The Asus Chromebit, a Chrome OS on-a-stick device, costs $85 and includes a Rockchip processor, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a USB 2.0 port. It's small, light, and barely bigger than a candy bar.
I connected the Chromebit to an HDMI monitor with the included HDMI extender cable and plugged in the AC power adapter. On boot, the Asus Chromebit offered to pair with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. The rest of the setup proceeded as usual: Connect to a Wi-Fi network and login with a Google account. The device correctly detected screen settings with two displays, but required adjustments on two others I tested. (Type chrome://settings/display in the address bar to access the display settings.)
The Chromebit achieved Octane benchmark scores around 7,600 when running in guest mode. That compares well to the 2014 Toshiba Chromebook 2 (model 3340), which scores about 8,600. And, the Toshiba has 4 GB of RAM, compared to 2GB in the Chromebit.
The 802.11ac Wi-Fi speeds equaled those I get on the Toshiba, as well. However, at longer distances from the access point, the Chromebit speed dropped off. The connection was still solid, but network speeds decreased.
In May 2015, TechRepublic writer Conner Forrest identified several potential ways to use Chromebit: On the road, in the classroom, in a conference room, as a kiosk, and as an onboarding device.
Now that Asus has shipped the device, I tested it. Here are some accessories and tweaks to help you get the most out of your Chromebit.
1. Work at a distance
The Chromebit has just one USB port, so I suggest you pair the device with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Otherwise, you'll need to deal with USB extenders and more cables. I paired it with the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard and an Elecom 9nove mouse. These let me control the Chromebit from across the room. With a flick of the switch on the keyboard, I could connect and type text on a Bluetooth-connected Chromebook or iPad, as well.
2. Adjust text size
With a Chromebook, you sit close enough to touch the keys. With a Chromebit attached to a TV, however, you might sit many meters away. The distance makes small text harder to read, so you will likely want to adjust text size settings.
To change settings system-wide, navigate to the Chrome menu > Settings > "Show advanced settings," then adjust the "Font size" and/or "Page zoom" settings. I tend to choose a "Medium" or "Large" font size, with a 125% page zoom.
To adjust text size on a page, press Ctrl and + to enlarge text. Similarly, press Ctrl and - to reduce text size.
You can also adjust the zoom level within some apps. For example, in Google Docs, look at the tool bar. To the right of the undo/redo buttons, there's a zoom level option, which is typically set to 100%. I tend to choose "Fit," which fills the screen.
3. Keep the screen on
I'd expect organizations to deploy the Chromebit in a conference room, in a lab setting (e.g., a library or business center), or as signage. The best way to do this would be to purchase a Chrome Device Management license for an additional fee from Google. This allows an administrator to configure and control a variety of Chrome OS settings. For example, the Chromebit can be configured in kiosk mode and set to always stay on.
Alternatively, if you don't need the management controls, you could install Keep Awake. This free Chrome extension adds two display control options: "Screen will be kept on," which does what it describes, and "System will stay awake," which blanks the screen after a while, but keeps the system on.
4. Prepare to Present
The Chromebit makes a perfect device to pack with a projector, since it easily fits in a side pocket of a projector case. Even with the power adapter, a mobile keyboard, and a mouse, the whole setup weighs about .5 kilograms (about 1 lb.). Add an HDMI-to-VGA adapter, and you can connect the Chromebit to a VGA port, as well.
With a bit of preparation, you'll always be able to show slides. Attach the Chromebit to your projector, connect to the internet, and access any online presentation tool. No Internet? Google Slides stores recent presentations on the device for offline use, too. Or, you can export and save Google Slides to the device. (While in Slides, go to File > Export, then select either PDF or PPTX format and save the file in the Chromebit's downloads folder.) When the Chomebit is offline, you'll be able to open these locally stored files.
5. Learn Linux
Like most Chrome OS devices, you can configure the Chromebit to run Linux. To do this, connect a USB keyboard, then put the device into Developer mode. Pick up a paper clip and press it into the reset button, then connect power to the device. Press the reset button again after you see an on-screen prompt to do so. After that, follow the remaining steps detailed by Dan Graziano in "How to run both Chrome OS and Ubuntu on a Chromebook." (On the Chromebit, I encountered an error that prevented X11 from starting. I entered three shell commands that fixed the issue.)
The Chromebit reminds me of the Commodore VIC-20—an inexpensive device that introduced many people to computing. The body of the VIC-20 contained the processor and keyboard, to which you connected a display, storage, and a network adapter. (I connected my VIC-20 to a TV, a tape drive, and a dial-up modem.) Like the VIC-20, the Chromebit is low-cost and easy-to-experiment with—although the Chromebit distributes the pieces differently. With the Asus Chromebit, it's like the 1980s are back—in a good way.
Let the experiments and learning begin.
What do you think?
How have you used the Asus Chromebit? Let me know in the comments!
- 5 ways to use Google Chromebit in the enterprise (TechRepublic)
- Pro tip: Project your Chromebook screen (TechRepublic)
- Buy smarter accessories: no uni-taskers (TechRepublic)
- How to run both Chrome OS and Ubuntu on a Chromebook (CNET)
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.