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Google Chromebook Pixel is an expensive curiosity

Jason Snell | March 15, 2013
As an idea sprung from Google’s view of the future of technology, the Chromebook Pixel is intriguing, even intoxicating. But it’s hard to fathom how it works as a real-world product.

Google's Chromebook Pixel is an idea. It describes Google's vision of a high-end laptop for citizens of a future world, freed from the encumbrances of old-style computer operating systems, existing entirely on the Web.

The Chromebook Pixel is also a product, starting at $1299 (I reviewed the $1449 version, with 4G networking). It's as solidly built and generously appointed as any laptop you'll find, but it runs only the Chrome web browser, not Apple's Mac OS X or Microsoft's Windows.

Reigniting the Chromebook debate

As an idea sprung from Google's view of the future of technology, the Chromebook Pixel is intriguing, even intoxicating. But it's hard to fathom how it works as a real-world product.

If nothing else, it's reignited the Chromebook debate. Within the editorial team here, some editors wonder what the Chromebook's point is, while others say that Chromebook's critics are missing the point. Meanwhile, tech legend Linus Torvalds came out in favor of the Chromebook Pixel. Reasonable people are disagreeing, and thanks to the Pixel, Chromebooks are suddenly getting a lot of attention again.

Google's vision: gorgeous

If the Chromebook Pixel is Google's vision of what a laptop should be, the company has, if nothing else, proven it has good taste in hardware design. If there were an Apple logo on the top, nobody would be surprised. As a longtime user of Apple laptops, I felt right at home when I opened up the Chromebook Pixel for the first time.

This is a solid, aluminum-bodied laptop. At 3.35 pounds, it sits between the 2.96-pound 13-inch MacBook Air and the 3.57-pound 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.

The Chromebook Pixel is dominated by its large, high-resolution display. It's a bright, glass-covered panel, with a resolution of 2560 by 1700 pixels and a density of 239 pixels per inch (ppi). Like the Retina MacBook Pro (whose density of 227 ppi is imperceptibly lower), this is a screen so good that you simply can't see the pixels. Photos are fantastically detailed, and text is crisp. The screen has an aspect ratio of 3:2, which makes it taller than most recent laptops. Given that extra height is more valuable than extra width on most web pages, it's a good decision.

The Chromebook Pixel's high-resolution display is so good you simply can't see the pixels.

The display is also a touchscreen--a curious design decision given Chrome OS is still largely a mouse-driven interface. We've all become so trained in the gestures of touchscreen interfaces, however, that it's become almost second nature to reach out and tap on a screen from time to time. As long as you're reaching over a keyboard, a touchscreen is never going to be a primary input method on a laptop. But it's a nice addition to the trackpad.


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