Google Chromebooks are one of the tech world’s most under-appreciated pieces of equipment.
With a boot time of fewer than five seconds, the power of the Chrome Web Store and Google Play Store to keep you productive, and an affordable price tag, they are one of the best computers on the market for performing day-to-day tasks.
But if you thought Chromebooks were under-appreciated, what about Chromeboxes and Chromebits? How many of you have even heard of a Chromebit?
If you’re looking for a new Chrome OS device, which one should you buy? What are the strengths and weakness of the three types of device?
Chromebooks need the least explaining. They’re the most common Chrome OS device and the one you’re most likely to see other people using when you’re out and about.
In short, they’re a laptop. Lots of different manufacturers make them, they have a variety of specifications, and they are available at a number of price points.
Where Chromebooks Excel
Chromebooks have great specs for their price. Yes, the Chromebook Pixel for more than $600 is excessive, but the Acer Chromebook R11 ($169) is a steal. It comes with a 360-degree hinge, touchscreen support, a 2.16 GHz Intel processor, and a 1366 x 768 screen resolution.
The Google laptops are also incredibly secure. They offer automatic updates, sandboxed browsing, verified boot, and localized data encryption — all of which combine to make them almost bulletproof with regards to viruses and malware.
Lastly, Chromebooks are excellent for people who struggle with technology. For example, the elderly might find Chromebooks offer them a wonderful way to get online without the complexities of a Windows or Mac machine.
Where Chromebooks Fall Short
People often criticize Chromebooks for their meager app line-up. Of course, it’s not really meager at all, there are thousands of extensions in the Chrome Web Store, most modern Chromebook models can run Android apps, and if you’re technically skilled, you can even install Linux.
However, if you need high-end software — such as specialist apps like Photoshop or video editing suites — you will find Chromebooks lacking.
Of course, the other Chrome OS devices I’m going to discuss also have the same drawbacks, but the difference is Chromebooks are selling themselves as a laptop; Chromeboxes and Chromebits are not in the targeting the same group of users.
Who should buy a Chromebook? The technologically challenged; people who want a second laptop for light computing; people who only use the suite of Google apps; schools for in-class education.
Let’s move onto the two devices people are less knowledgeable about. First up, Chromeboxes.
Chromeboxes first became available in 2012, more than a year and a half after their cousin, Chromebooks. They are best described as a desktop version of Chrome OS.
What Are the Specs Like?
Like Chromebooks, several manufacturers make them. It means there’s no easy answer to the question what ports are available or what hardware specs you can expect.
As a rule, you can expect at least two USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI port. Several models add more USB ports, an audio out jack, Bluetooth support, and an Ethernet port for wired web connectivity.
Most Chromeboxes ship with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage, but 4 GB and 32 GB models are available for a bit more money. If you’re adept at electronics, most 2 GB models have space for more self-added RAM. Unfortunately, the majority of models won’t let you swap the graphics card or add extra ports.
However, don’t let the 2 GB of RAM put you off. While it might be limiting on a Windows or Mac machine, it’s plenty for Chromebooks. 4 GB offers no practical benefits for most users.
A Celeron processor is standard, but depending how much you’re willing to spend, you can find models with Intel Core i3, i5, or even i7 processors.
What Are the Drawbacks?
Even though they are essentially the desktop version of the Chrome OS, they are nothing like a traditional desktop computer you might buy in a shop. They have no screen and they come with no peripherals like a mouse or keyboard. All you get in the box is the device, a power lead, and a manual.
Furthermore, there’s no disk drive. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to install software anyway (unless it was Linux compatible and you’d installed a Linux distro on your Chromebox), but the lack of disk drive makes it an unsuitable main desktop machine for anyone who watches a lot of DVDs or listens to CDs.
Lastly, it might seem appealing if you want a portable device, but remember, it still needs a power supply. If you want something truly portable and independent, keep reading to find out about Chromebits.
Who should buy a Chromebox? People who want a Chromebook experience on a large screen; businesses who need a cheap signage driver.
The final Chrome OS device is a Chromebit. It’s arguably the least well-known of the three gadgets.
What Is a Chromebit?
What Are Chromebit’s Advantages?
Chromebits have two significant advantages over the other Chrome OS devices.
First, they’re cheap. The Asus CS10 is only $78.99 on Amazon. It comes with Bluetooth 4.0, 16 GB of flash storage, and a USB 2.0 port.
Second, they’re extremely portable. Its ability to run off a USB power supply means you can plug-and-play it into most modern displays. If you want to take a presentation with you to a meeting, carry a full version of the Chrome OS to your school or college, or need an easy-to-use operating system in a hotel, Chromebits are your best bet.
It also the smallest of the three options. The small black dongle is a similar size to a Roku stick and on most TVs will be invisible when looking directly at the screen.
But Chromebits Aren’t for Everyone
The cost and portability comes at a price. They’re considerably less powerful than fully-fledged Chromebooks and Chromeboxes.
The biggest drawback is the device’s power. Chromebit has a 1.8 GHz Rockchip processor which, while impressive for the size of the device, significantly lacks behind the other two devices.
Yes, it’s more than adequate for basic web browsing, but if you want to use some of the Chrome Web Store’s more complex and power-hungry apps, it will start to struggle. You might even find some tabs are discarded without your input to make room for the resource-intensive processes.
Chromebits are also unsuitable for tinkerers. They have an ARM processor so everything is soldered down, and they’re only available in one configuration with no room for extra RAM or ports.
Who should buy a Chromebit? People who want an exceptionally portable version of the Chrome OS and don’t require heavy-duty computing.
All the Same, Yet All Different
Functionally, Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, and Chromebits are all the same. They all run Chrome OS, they all have the same OS-level restrictions, they all have access to the same app store, and they all work the same way. The distinctions between them can be made in two key areas: hardware and usage.
Ultimately, the device you should buy depends on how you plan to use it. I hope my introduction to the three gadgets will help you make the decision.
Which of the three Chrome OS devices do you have? What do you love about them? What do you hate about it? As always, you can leave your thoughts, opinions, and feedback in the comments below.
Image Credit: MicroOne via Shutterstock.com