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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?

To be fair, I'm far from a normal user; most people don't regularly keep 15 to 20 tabs open at a time, and with as many as a dozen tabs open, the system purrs along admirably. There are also other factors involved, such as the number and types of extensions you have installed. But given the Pixel's horsepower -- not to mention its branding as a power-user device -- you'd think it would be able to handle a higher-level workload without having to resort to refreshing.

The weak point likely to affect more users is battery life: The laptop is listed for five hours of active use, a drop from the 6.5-hour level of the $249 Samsung Chromebook. I found that five-hour estimate to be pretty accurate: The system typically gave me between 4.5 and five hours of active use, depending on what I was doing, with another 45 minutes or so of standby time. That's not terrible, but it's also not great; if you're going to be out and about all day with this laptop, you'll definitely want to bring a charging cable and make sure you have access to an outlet.

Limited local storage but lots of cloud-based space

The Chromebook Pixel has a 32GB solid state drive (SSD) -- 64GB, if you opt for the LTE model. That's more internal space than other Chromebooks but notably less than other comparably priced laptops. The reason: Chrome OS, as I'll discuss in a moment, is focused primarily on the cloud; the local storage is designed to be more of a giant scratch drive than anything.

Google does include an entire terabyte of cloud-based Google Drive storage for three years with all Pixel purchases. If you were to pay outright for that amount of Drive storage, it'd cost you $50 a month or $1,800 over the course of three years -- more than the cost of the computer itself.

(After the three-year period has elapsed, any files you've stored will remain in your account and accessible to you, but your available free space will drop back down to the standard 5GB mark.)

If you really need more local space, Chrome OS has plug-and-play support for external hard drives and USB flash drives; there's also the integrated memory card reader for a more permanent sort of attachment.

A cloud-centric software experience

What most sets the Chromebook Pixel apart from traditional laptops is its cloud-centric Chrome OS software experience. Rather than utilizing local programs, Chrome OS revolves around the concept of Web-based applications -- so instead of using Microsoft Office, for instance, you use Google Docs. Instead of Photoshop, you use a cloud-based image editor like Pixlr.

 

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