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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?

Numbers are numbers, but what matters is how things look in the real world -- and let me tell you, this screen is positively stunning. If you don't plan on buying a Chromebook Pixel, you probably shouldn't spend too much time staring at it; once your eyes get used to this caliber of display, you'll resent looking at anything else.

A preloaded HD video demo called TimeScapes shows off the screen's full potential; the clip's brilliant colors and surreal clarity provide eye candy that'd delight even the most demanding screen aficionado. The Pixel's display quality isn't lost on more mundane types of day-to-day use: Text looks magnificently crisp and smooth, and images pop with gorgeous detail. Regardless of what type of content you're viewing, it's virtually impossible to make out any individual pixels with the naked eye.

The Chromebook Pixel uses a 3:2 aspect ratio, which results in a screen with a more vertical feel than is typical with the widescreen 16:9 format that's become common in laptops today. Google says it opted for the 3:2 setup because it makes more sense for the Web, where pages tend to be vertical rather than horizontal.

In practice, I didn't find myself even thinking about it: Browsing the Web just felt natural, with far more space to see the vertically oriented content. I actually found myself preferring the 3:2 setup all around, though users who spend a lot of time watching full-screen videos may resent the non-widescreen approach.

The touch factor

Quality aside, the standout feature of the Pixel's display is its touch-sensitive nature: You can use your finger to tap icons and links, scroll through Web pages and documents, and manipulate images in editing utilities. At first, I questioned the need for such functionality in the Chrome OS universe; by and large, after all, it isn't an environment that's really optimized for touch-based interactions.

The more time I've spent living with the Chromebook Pixel, though, the more I've come to appreciate having the touch option. Once you get over the initial awkwardness of reaching up and pressing your finger to the screen, it's strangely satisfying to move back and forth between mousing around on the trackpad and swiping around on the display.

When looking through a social network stream or reading a long article, for instance, using your finger to swipe through the page seems like a perfectly natural thing to do. Even more useful is the ability to pinch-to-zoom into a page -- an action that isn't yet activated by default but can be turned on in the chrome://flags settings. (By default, the Chromebook Pixel has pinch-to-zoom enabled only for certain apps, such as Google Maps.)


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