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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?

As someone who's used to interacting with smartphones and tablets, I found being able to use my fingers to zoom into a particular area of a page to be a welcome addition to the laptop experience. Several other gestures can be enabled, too, including a four-finger pinch to minimize a window; you can also enable an option to request tablet versions of websites if you want a more touch-friendly experience across the Web.

The Gorilla Glass-protected touchscreen has proven itself to be accurate and responsive in my time with the device. That said, there is a downside to all the touch-based interaction: You tend to get oily smudges on your screen, which can be rather distracting on a laptop computer. If you're going to reach out and touch the Pixel, you'll want to carry around a small cloth to wipe down the display from time to time.

All considered, touch support certainly isn't something you need in a laptop at this point, but it's one of those things you quickly grow to value, even if just for occasional use. It's also a natural progression in our increasingly touch-oriented world, and I suspect Chrome OS -- along with the Web itself -- will become even more suited to touch interactions in the months to come.

Good performance -- with a couple of caveats

Google describes the Chromebook Pixel as a high-end laptop for "power users living in the cloud." As such, the system boasts a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor (with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000) and 4GB of RAM, giving it significantly more horsepower than any other Chromebook model.

To Google's credit, the Pixel feels fast. The system boots in about seven seconds; once you've typed in your account credentials, it's just another second or two until you're online, in a browser window and ready to roll. The Pixel is snappy when opening new tabs and toggling among your various apps and windows. It's also very quiet; most of the time, you can barely even hear that it's running.

When it comes to more extreme computing, though, the Pixel -- much to my surprise -- sometimes shows signs of struggling. When I have 15 or more tabs open, the system frequently starts doing what's known as discarding tabs: taking background tabs out of active memory. The process is designed to manage memory and avoid having tabs crash or freeze up.

It's a sensible-enough concept in theory, but the result is that when you switch to a tab you haven't had open recently, the page immediately refreshes. The constant page refreshing can be time-consuming and distracting, and it also runs the risk of losing data -- if, say, you'd started typing an update into Google+ or Twitter but hadn't yet clicked the "post" button.


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