Google Chromebook Pixel: Hands-On Review - InformationWeek

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2/22/2013
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Google Chromebook Pixel: Hands-On Review

Aspiring to be more than just a browser-in-a-box, the Chromebook Pixel shows that Google can deliver head-turning technology.

Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour
Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Google's Chromebook Pixel is a paradox. It's a beautiful piece of hardware that runs an operating system designed to de-emphasize hardware in favor of cloud computing. It's an expensive expression of a product line founded on the idea that less is more. It has ample processing power and a high-resolution screen to deliver Web applications that mostly don't demand much processing power and mostly don't utilize high-resolution images.

It's simultaneously ahead of its time and a timely expression of the future of computing. Everyone could use one but it's not priced for everyone.

Google unveiled the Chromebook Pixel at a media event in San Francisco on Thursday. It's the first Google-branded Chromebook since the company released its Cr-48 Chromebook prototype in late 2010.

In his introduction of the Pixel, Sundar Pichai, SVP of Chrome and apps, described the device as both as a reference design to inspire (or perhaps goad) Google's hardware partners, and as a fully engineered product in its own right.

[ Want to know more about exciting new devices? See Mobile World Congress 2013: 9 Hot Gadgets. ]

The Specs
The Chromebook Pixel relies on an Intel Core i5 processor running at 1.8 GHz, with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000. It comes with 4 GB of DDR3 RAM and either 32 GB (Wi-Fi model) or 64 GB (LTE model) of solid state storage. It features a 12.85-inch, touchscreen, 2560 x 1700 display with a pixel density of 239 PPI; a backlit full-size keyboard; a glass-etched touchpad; and a 720p HD camera.

It's encased in anodized aluminum and includes active cooling without any visible vents. It weighs in at 3.35 lbs (1.52 kg), and measures 297.7 x 224.6 x 16.2 mm. The Pixel includes two USB 2.0 ports, a mini display port and an SD/MMC card reader. It also has a combined microphone/headphone jack, a built-in microphone array, integrated DSP for noise cancellation and stereo speakers. The non-removable battery is said to last for five hours of active use.

The Pixel supports dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 and, optionally, 4G LTE. The Wi-Fi model lists for $1,299 and will be available this week, and the LTE model lists for $1,449, with availability planned for April.

The Pixel also comes with two noteworthy redemption offers: 1 TB of Google Drive storage for free for three years ($600 per year at current prices) and 12 free sessions of GoGo inflight Internet service. The LTE version also includes 100 MB per month of mobile broadband from Verizon Wireless (LTE model) for two years, with an on-demand billing plan.

The Hardware
The Pixel's aluminum body is simple and superb. It's a smooth rectangle of gray metal, with no visible screws. It's more angular than the MacBook Air and Macbook Pro, but no less visually appealing. The four small rubber pads on the bottom are unobtrusive. And the hairline power light indicator on the top conveys just enough information.

If Google's goal was to create a machine that serves as a statement of fashion and taste, the Pixel succeeds. Image-conscious executives who might prefer not to have a low-end plastic Chromebook on their desk should feel more comfortable with what a Pixel says about their status and means.

The high-resolution screen is at least as good as Apple's Retina display, though as a touchscreen, it's more likely to be blurred from the caress of greasy fingers. Keep a microfiber cleaning cloth handy.

Getting used to a touchscreen on a laptop takes some commitment. Users of previous generations of laptops will probably have to make a conscious effort to take advantage of the touchscreen. But if you've ever experienced tendinitis from prolonged touchpad usage, you may appreciate the touchscreen as an alternative input option.

Even so, Google's engineers may want to give further thought how touch input gets translated into Chrome OS commands. Web pages scroll vertically, as expected, in response to upward and downward gestures, but horizontal gestures don't correspond to browser back and forward commands and there's no pinch-to-zoom support, at least by default. Google's touchscreen support guidelines indicate that you can flick to switch pages, but doing so didn't work. Perhaps this was merely a case of user error, but touch-based Web navigation is less intuitive than it ought to be.

The keyboard offers firm but not excessive resistance to pressure. The trackpad, while wonderfully smooth, requires a bit too much force to click. The hinge adds just enough lift to assist you when you need to open the Pixel and just enough counter-pressure to support the screen when you touch it.

The Pixel weighs 3.35 lbs., which isn't particularly heavy in the scheme of things. A 13" MacBook Pro weighs a pound more. But a bit less weight would have been nice.

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