What started as a supposedly fake device in a leaked video, wowed everyone when it turned out be a real laptop with a gorgeous high-resolution touchscreen and top-notch design.
The Chromebook Pixel runs Chrome OS, an operating system that's based on the Chrome Web browser. Google's thinking behind Chrome OS is that we're increasingly doing most of our work online, so there's less of a need to use traditional apps and store our data on our computers. Instead, the Pixel relies almost entirely on online storage services for your files and apps that run in the browser.
The Chromebook Pixel starts at a whopping $1,300 (more on that later), and you can buy it directly from Google's Play Store online.
The Pixel isn't for everyone. But I will tell you that as writer, it worked perfectly for me.
Not Just A Web Browser
Nowadays, my computer is more of a typewriter than anything else. I use it to write and work, but my iPad and phone handle everything else.
Specifically, I write all my stories for Business Insider in a Web-based content management system. I keep track of all my story ideas and things to do in Evernote. I use Gmail for both work and personal email. I store most of my files and photos in Dropbox, not on my MacBook Air's 128 GB drive.
The common theme?
I do it all online.
So as someone who works primarily in a Web browser and relies heavily on Web-powered services, the Pixel and Chrome OS work perfectly for me. And I love that the computer came with a free TB of storage through Google Drive for three years. (Google Drive is an online file storage service that's almost exactly like Dropbox and functions largely as the Pixel's hard drive.)
Any criticism you've read calling the Chromebook Pixel a "$1,300 Web browser" clearly comes from people who have never touched the machine before. When Google first launched Chrome OS that may have been true, but a lot has changed in the last two years. Chrome OS has more of a classic desktop look and feel to it now, with a taskbar at the bottom that lets you launch web apps and a wallpapered background. It syncs with accessories like USB drives and digital cameras. It has internal storage so you can access files offline. And so on.
I haven't touched my MacBook in nearly two weeks. I never hit a snag with the Chromebook in that time. I wrote stories for BI. I kept up with Twitter using the excellent TweetDeck app for Chrome. I kept up with both my work and personal email. I did my taxes.
My only complaint is Spotify's Web version isn't ready for the public yet, so I couldn't listen to my music there. However, the Chromebook does give you access to Google Music, which lets you upload your songs to an online storage locker and stream them later. Google is also reportedly working on its own Spotify-like streaming music subscription service.
When you really think about it, there's not much many users need to do outside a web browser. I was certainly able to get away with it.
But let's also be clear. If you use your computer for anything else like photo editing, video editing, or email through Outlook, you won't like the Chromebook. If you do a lot of your work offline, you won't like the Chromebook. If you need to store a lot of files on your computer and not on a virtual online drive, you won't like the Chromebook.
However, I suspect the number of people who fall into those categories is dwindling.
My point is this: The Chromebook isn't a conventional machine; it's something new and different, a proof of concept that computing doesn't always have to take place on a traditional desktop running Windows or Mac OS X. The Web is now powerful enough for a lot of people. And it really does work on the Chromebook.
I know because it worked for me.
That Design! That Screen!
The Pixel is a beautiful machine.
Google managed to create a computer with the same quality of build and attention to design I've come to expect from a MacBook without blatantly copying Apple's design as other manufacturers have been known to do.
The screen is equally as impressive. This was my first time using a high-resolution display for an extended period of time, and I know I'm going to have trouble going back to the regular screen on my MacBook Air.
Photos and video look great, of course, but I was actually more impressed with the text. Like all Web browsers nowadays, Chrome automatically renders a website's text. It was the first thing I noticed when I booted up the Pixel.
But there is a big downside to a high-res display like the one on the Pixel. Several sites and web apps haven't changed their image resolutions to match the screen, so some stuff looks slightly blurry or pixelated. It's a minor thing, but something you'll definitely notice.
Finally, I found absolutely no need for the touch screen. Chrome OS mimics a traditional Mac or Windows 7 PC interface more than it does a touch-based OS like iOS or Android, so I never felt a natural incentive to reach out and touch the display. It works fine when you do, but the excellent (and accurate!) trackpad on the Pixel can handle it all. The touchscreen also lacks multitouch on everything except for Google Maps, which means you can't pinch to zoom or perform other gestures you're probably used to on touch devices.
The Internet, Anywhere
If you're willing to shell out an extra $150 for your Chromebook Pixel, you get the option to use its built-in 4G LTE wireless connection through Verizon. (If you're already spending this much on a computer, you might as well go for the LTE.)
LTE is one of the killer features of the Chromebook, and I can't believe it's not an option on all top-tier laptops by now. I was lucky enough to test the pixel while I was traveling, and the LTE connection saved me from blowing an extra $7.99 for an hour's worth of WiFi access at New York's LaGuardia airport.
Plus it's a much better option than draining your phone's battery by using it as a hotspot or carrying yet another device around in case you want to get online. It's one of those features you don't know you need until the time comes.
The Pricing Problem
Up until now, Google's Chromebook partners like Samsung and Acer have priced their devices to go easy on your wallet. They come as cheap as $199. So it's a bit odd that Google's own Pixel costs $1,300. That's not because it's a terrible computer, but at the end of the day it still offers less functionality than a regular Mac and PC.
As I say above, the Pixel worked well for me, but it's tough to ask a lot of people to shell out a premium price for a product that's not on feature parity with Macs and PCs. It's odd that Google didn't go for a sub-$1,000 price point, considering it has not problem losing money on its other hardware or asking its hardware partners to do the same. I think $999 would've been the sweet spot.
The Pixel is a delightfully tempting machine, and if you fit into the category of user who does almost all his or her work on the Web, you'll love it.
But probably not at the price Google wants.
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