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Chromebook Pixel review: A luxury laptop for life in the cloud

JR Raphael | Feb. 28, 2013
A deep-dive review of Google's new Chromebook Pixel laptop, which has high-quality hardware and an amazing touch-based display -- and a few limitations. So at $1,300, is it the laptop for you?

So where are the speakers? They're artfully hidden beneath the keyboard, so you never actually see them -- but boy, do you hear them. The Chromebook Pixel has some of the best-sounding speakers I've experienced on a laptop, with loud, crisp and relatively full-sounding audio. The speaker placement propels the sound right up at you, too: Music played at full volume actually borders on being uncomfortably loud when you're sitting close to the computer.

The Chromebook Pixel has a 720 HD webcam above its screen for video chatting. It has an unusual triple-microphone setup -- two near the camera and one below the keyboard -- which is supposed to help cancel out ambient noise and typing sounds during video and audio calls. It's a nice idea in theory, though I found it difficult to tell how much of a difference it really made.

A best-in-class keyboard and trackpad

Chromebooks have always had terrific keyboards, and the Chromebook Pixel is no exception. The laptop manages to improve upon previous models with a re-engineered bedding that results in the keys feeling stronger and more resistant beneath your fingers. The keyboard is also backlit, with an intelligent system that adjusts the lighting based on both the ambient lighting and what you're doing; when you watch a full-screen video, for instance, the keyboard lights slowly fade down and then remain off until you're finished.

The keyboard follows the typical Chrome OS layout, which replaces the caps-lock key with a universal search key and the top row of function keys with platform-specific commands -- Web-centric things like moving back a page, moving forward, and refreshing, along with system-based functions like maximizing a window and adjusting the display brightness.

The top row of keys breaks from the previous chiclet style and instead has a bar-like appearance, with short horizontal keys that butt directly against each other. The setup creates a nice visual effect, framing the top of the keyboard, though it does make those keys a bit harder to identify by touch alone.

Last, but not least, is the trackpad, which represents an enormous improvement over past Chromebook devices. The Pixel's trackpad is made from etched glass, and the effort put into its design does not go to waste. The trackpad feels fantastic under your fingers -- soft and smooth -- and it's accurate and responsive. The pad supports both tapping and clicking; it has support for a limited range of gestures, too, such as a two-fingered movement to scroll horizontally or vertically in a page.

A screen that'll spoil your eyes

No two ways about it: The 2560 x 1700 display is the star of the Chromebook Pixel show. The 12.85-in. LCD packs a whopping 239 pixels per inch -- 4.3 million pixels total -- which Google proudly proclaims to be the highest pixel density of any laptop available today. (Yes, even higher than Apple's Retina-display MacBook Pro -- though at these levels, most people probably couldn't detect much of a visible difference between the two.)


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