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Chromebook Pixel (2015) review: A cloud dweller's dream machine

JR Raphael | March 17, 2015
MSI's has a real mechanical keyboard, and enough graphics power to tempt even the most committed desktop gamers.

It's also worth noting that the Pixel uses a relatively uncommon 3:2 aspect ratio, which results in a screen that's less oblong and elongated than the 16:9 widescreen setup common in laptops today. Google went that route because it felt the format made sense for the Web, where pages tend to be vertical rather than horizontal -- and in practice, it really does feel quite natural and appropriate. You will see a bit of letterboxing when you watch movies full-screen on the device -- about three-quarters of an inch of black space on the screen's top and bottom edges -- but the display is large enough that I barely even notice.

The Chromebook Pixel has a 720p webcam above its display for video chatting and casual hair-checking. In a new twist from the first-gen device, the camera features a wide-angle lens to let you capture a wider area of space -- something that could be useful if, say, you plan on chatting with multiple people and/or a hippopotamus beside you.

A best-in-class keyboard and trackpad

Typing on the Chromebook Pixel is a true treat. Like the first-gen model, the new laptop has a luxurious-feeling keyboard with strong and properly spaced chiclet keys that have just the right amount of resistance. The keyboard is backlit, too, with an intelligent system that adjusts its brightness based on both ambient lighting and how you're using the computer.

When you watch a full-screen video, for instance, the keyboard lights slowly fade down and stay off until you're finished. This year's model also introduces a new trick in which the keyboard lights automatically turn off when your hands are away for 30 seconds and then automatically come back on when your fingers return (made possible by a proximity-detecting sensor hidden in the trackpad).

The keyboard itself is slightly reworked from last year's model: The top row of keys now matches the chiclet style of the other rows instead of taking on a more closely connected bar-like form, as it did on the previous-generation device. The bar-like configuration created an attractive and distinctive visual effect but made the keys harder to identify by touch alone, so the change -- while it may take a little getting used for those accustomed to the previous Pixel -- is generally a positive evolution.

Artfully hidden beneath the keyboard are the Chromebook Pixel's speakers. In my original Pixel review, I praised the first-gen device as having some of the best-sounding speakers I'd ever experienced on a laptop, with loud, crisp and full-sounding audio. I was surprised, then, when I played music on the new Pixel and found its audio quality to be rather underwhelming; in my side-by-side comparison with the first-gen device, the difference was striking. (When asked, a Google rep assured me that the new Pixel's speaker quality is comparable to the old model's and that this appears to be a fluke defect specific to my review unit.)


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