Luxurious and sturdy design; Superior high-resolution display; Fantastic keyboard and touchpad; Very loud and clear speakers; 4G LTE built in
Expensive; Interface not optimized for touch; App selection could be better; Experienced some instability; Below-average battery life; Lacks USB 3.0 support
The Chromebook Pixel boasts a gorgeous industrial design and superior display, but it doesn't offer enough functionality or endurance to justify its high price.
What do you do when your Chrome OS platform is finally showing signs of life with a low-cost $249 notebook? You create your own premium version and price it more than a grand higher. That's what Google has done with the Chromebook Pixel, a $1,299 work of art that combines an elegant aluminum design with a touch screen that's even sharper than Apple's 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. Read on to find out if this cloud-powered clamshell is the new mobile status symbol or just an overpriced curiosity.
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DesignMacBook Air's teardrop shape for a more squared-off look. Just like the Chrome OS itself, this chassis is minimalist to the extreme. You won't see any labels for the ports or ugly screws or vents. It's all just clean lines.
Weighing 3.4 pounds and measuring 11.7 x 8.8 x 0.63 inches, the Chromebook Pixel is noticeably heavier than the 3-pound MacBook Air. This machine feels sturdy, but also pretty dense given its 12.85-inch display. At its thinnest point, Google's ultraportable isn't nearly as svelte as Apple's (0.11-0.68 inches) but we had no problem slipping the Pixel into a small backback.
You won't find a more jaw-dropping canvas for the Web than the 12-inch display on the Chromebook Pixel. With a sky-high resolution of 2560 x 1700 pixels, this panel's pixel density (239 ppi) beats the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2560 x 1600 pixels, 227 ppi). And, unlike the MacBook, the Pixel supports touch input. The 3:2 aspect ratio seemed odd at first, but it fits more content on the screen vertically than 16:9, thus minimizing scrolling.
The display on the Chromebook Pixel registered 365 lux on our light meter, which is well above the 228 lux ultraportable average and beats both the 13-inch MacBook Air (268 lux) and 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (313 lux). The ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A notched a brighter 423 lux.
The 178-degree viewing angles were impressively wide. We had no problem seeing content from the far right or left side of the system. We also didn't need to dip the display back to see our work, which is important when you're working in cramped quarters.
We're not sure how Google did it, but the speakers underneath the Pixel's keyboard are mighty powerful. In fact, for a notebook this size, the amount of sound the Pixel's speakers produce is downright alarming. When we streamed Death Cab for Cutie's "You Are a Tourist," we easily filled our medium-size office before we got to the middle volume setting. Ben Gibbard's vocals echoed loudly, but sounded harsh at max volume. You'll get the get mix of clarity and oomph if you don't go beyond 75 percent.
Ultrabook makers should buy the Chromebook Pixel and study it, because it offers a near-perfect typing experience given its slim profile. The island-style layout provides ample travel along with a subtle but reassuring click-clack sound as you type. We also appreciated the bright and evenly lit backlighting, which automatically adjusts to a room's ambient light.
If you're accustomed to using Caps Lock, you'll find a Search button in its place. Fortunately, you can engage Caps Lock by pressing Alt + Search.
Touchpad and Touch Screen
You can pinch to zoom on websites using the touch screen, but only once you enable the feature. Users must type "chrome://flags" in the address bar, then check the "enable pinch scale option." This option should be on by default.
The touch screen also supports clicking, double-tapping, long-pressing for a context click, dragging and scrolling and flicking for scrolling or switching pages.
OS and Interface
The bottom right side of the screen displays the time, wireless network, power status and your avatar image. Clicking this part of the launcher bar will display the wireless network and Bluetooth status, as well as a volume slider. You'll also find a Settings button should you want to drill down and tweak everything from wallpaper and touchpad speed to your privacy settings.
Although the Chrome OS interface responded well to our taps and swipes, the software isn't optimized for touch. There's nothing like Windows 8's live tiles here, and you have to be precise to accomplish tasks like closing windows. We mostly stuck to the touchpad.
So what about offline support? Google says there are thousands of apps that you can use without an Internet connection. That includes Google Drive and Gmail. In Google Drive, for instance, you can view the main page for Drive, Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations, but only edit Docs and Presentations. Other offline apps include Play movies, Edit photos, Scratchpad for notes and Calendar.
Overall, Chrome OS is clean and fairly straightforward, but we wish there was a way to see all of your open applications at once on the same screen, similar to Mission Control in Mountain Lion or even Android's Recent Apps menu in Android. Those small icons along the bottom can be a pain.
Other options, however, actually feel like apps, including "Angry Birds," PicMonkey for editing photos and the Feedly news reader. The Chrome Web Store is fairly easy to navigate, with categories ranging from Popular and From Your Circles (Google Plus recommendations from friends) to Trending and Collections. Collections is where you'll find Offline Apps, as well as Editor's Picks.
We'd like to see Google add a category of apps that is optimized for the Pixel's high-resolution display. Right now, games like "Angry Birds" look fuzzy on this Chromebook's supersharp screen.
Specs and Performance
It may sound like overkill, but we suspect that Google opted for a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5 processor and Intel HD Graphics 4000 because it needed a chip that could power its Retina-like display. Overall, the Chromebook Pixel held up well in our testing, easily juggling more than a dozen apps at once. We didn't notice any lag when playing "Angry Birds" even while streaming Pandora in the background.
At least the Pixel boots quickly. It took only 8 seconds from pressing the power button for the desktop to appear, asking us to enter our password. The Pixel wakes from sleep just a second after you lift the lid, making it easy to get back to work.
Don't expect a lot of speed out of the 32GB solid state drive, though. On our transfer test, the Pixel turned in a transfer rate of only 22.2 MBps, well below your typical ultraportable (82 MBps).
Things did get toasty once we engaged the 4G LTE radio. We noticed the left bottom of the Pixel heating up in our lap as we stayed connected during an hourlong commute from New Jersey to New York City.
Our only complaint is that the 4G radio doesn't wake when the screen does. It took the Pixel about 30 seconds to reconnect when we opened the lid after several minutes of inactivity.
To be fair, the Pixel couldn't run our standard Web surfing test, which is a little less demanding than Peacekeeper. So it's possible you could see closer to 5 hours of runtime in typical use. Nevertheless, even Google's rated battery life is an hour below average.
With 4G LTE enabled, the battery meter fell to 69 percent after an hour of use. If you extrapolate, you would be looking at a little over 3 hours of endurance on 4G.
Despite having a touch screen, the Chrome OS interface isn't optimized for touch, and there aren't nearly as many compelling apps for Chrome as there is for Android. (We're still waiting for these platforms to merge.) Multitasking can also be a chore once you have a lot of browser tabs open. And while the 5 hours of battery life is decent, we expect at least 6 for better ultraportables. For $100 less than this Chromebook, you could get the MacBook Air, which offers a full-fledged desktop OS and 8 hours of juice.
The $249 Samsung Chromebook is a no-brainer because it's a modern-day netbook. But a $1,299 Chromebook at this stage Chrome OS' development -- no matter how beautiful the hardware -- is more of a head-scratcher.
|CPU||1.8-GHz Intel Core i5|
|Operating System||Google Chrome|
|RAM Upgradable to|
|Hard Drive Size||64GB SSD|
|Hard Drive Speed|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type|
|Native Resolution||2560 x 1700|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000 (Integrated)|
|Wi-Fi Model||Dual-band WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2|
|Mobile Broadband||LTE modem (LTE model)|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 2.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini Display Port|
|Card Slots||SD/MMC memory reader|
|Size||11.7 x 8.8 x 0.63 inches|