Asus Chromebox: A Tiny, Cheap, Very Useful Computer
I roll my eyes when people claim that we’re “living in the post-PC era.”
I mean, we do live in the post-VCR era. And the post-zeppelin era. And the post–steam locomotive era.
And it’s true that sales of Windows PCs are dropping a few percent a year, thanks to the rise of smartphones and tablets. But to say that nobody has them anymore? Yeah, no.
That’s not to say that things aren’t changing. Our lives are moving online. Recently, a friend said — “Whoa, you almost forgot your laptop! You’d lose all your data — your whole life!” But actually, I wouldn’t lose much of anything. Almost every important thing on my laptop is stored online and backed up automatically: email, calendar, address book, documents, photos, and so on.
That’s all the setup you need to understand the appeal of the new Asus Chromebox. It’s among the least-expensive desktop computers ever sold — $180 — and certainly among the smallest. It’s a 1.7-inch-tall square slab, 4.9 inches on a side; the computer isn’t much bigger than its own power brick. You could slip this thing into a coat pocket on your way out the door. It could pass for a generously sized brownie.
That price and those dimensions, of course, account only for the computer itself. Mouse, keyboard and monitor aren’t included. Those accessories might cost another $75 or more. Or less, depending on what you’ve got lying around your house and how cheap a shopper you are.
The big thing, though, is that the Chromebox doesn’t run Windows or Mac OS X. The Chromebox is the desktop version of Google’s Chromebook laptop concept, which means that it’s intended exclusively for doing things online.
Yes, it’s true: A Chrome PC can’t run traditional programs like Photoshop, Microsoft Office, iTunes, Quicken, or Minecraft. (Some would say, “Thank goodness.”)
It runs the Flash plug-in, but it can’t run browser plug-ins like Java or Silverlight, which means that a few web-based games and video playback sites won’t work. If you hook up a webcam, you can conduct video chats using Google’s Hangouts feature — but you can’t use Skype.
What you can do is “check email, build spreadsheets, watch movies on Netflix, chat up friends on Facebook, share photos on Instagram, stream music on Pandora,” surf the web and so on. (That quotation comes from fellow Yahoo Tech columnist Dan Tynan’s terrific introduction to Chromebooks here.)