Google just unveiled the fanciest new laptop in its lineup of Chromebooks, the Chromebook Pixel. It looks not unlike Apple’s MacBook Pro—with its all-aluminum exterior and high-resolution glass screen—and costs about the same, starting at $1299. It also has a touchscreen.
Chromebooks run a very simple operating system, Chrome OS. Unlike on Windows or Mac OS, with their profusion of expensive and memory-hogging software, the only tool here is a web browser, through which you do all your work using web-based software, with all your files stored in the cloud. In this sense, the Pixel is no different from earlier Chromebooks made by generic PC manufacturers including Samsung, Acer and now HP. All of them were fairly low-end, however; the sort of thing you might buy to replace that spare computer you use at home for email and recipes, but not something you’d seriously rely on.
The Chromebook Pixel has the highest-resolution screen of any laptop on the market. Google
The Pixel changes all that. It is, transparently, Google’s attempt to offer, and even beat, what you find in a high-end PC or Mac. It has a processor as fast as any of them; a screen resolution, of 2560 by 1700 pixels, to match the Macbook’s “Retina” display; and a touchscreen that responds like a tablet, something very few laptops (and certainly no Macs) have. But it does this in a package that has the advantage of being totally fused to the cloud: All your files, all your programs, living on Google’s servers, where they never need backing up or updating, and always available on any device you might own, whether it’s a phone, tablet or laptop. In short, it aims to be the hub of your digital life.
For the past month I’ve been testing the wimpiest Google Chromebook on the market, a relatively thin and light notebook made by Samsung. Even that has been a marvel of usability. Google’s attitude to Chromebooks is clearly that they are for getting things done. Sure, maybe you can’t edit video on them or render high-end graphics, but most of us simply don’t need that. We’re already living in our web browsers most of the time anyway, and whatever loyalty we still have toward desktop applications is, Google clearly believes, a consequence of old habits dying hard.
Moreover, Chromebook choices are proliferating at just the moment when Windows users are bewildered and upset by the complexity and just plain newness of Windows 8. Gabe Newell, a former Microsoft employee and current head of video game software company Valve, memorably called Windows 8 “this giant sadness.”
The Pixel comes with 1 terabyte of cloud storage, free for three years. That’s more than the built-in hard drives on many PCs. Google’s goal is clearly that once everything a person has—all those photos, home movies, documents, etc.—are absorbed by its cloud, they will never return to the desktop world of Windows or Mac again. Chrome OS has always been a rebuke to the bloated, machine-centric software of these systems, and the Pixel is in a sense the real coming-out party for that philosophy.
It doesn’t even matter if it doesn’t sell. Google doesn’t make its money on software (like Microsoft) or hardware (like Apple). It just wants access to all your information. And it can afford to wait, through successive generations of Pixels, for users to come into its arms.
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