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Hands on with Chromebook Pixel: Google goes after the MacBook

Jared Newman | Feb. 27, 2013
Anyone who thinks the Chromebook Pixel is a ludicrous idea hasn't actually tried one--or at least that's my theory after using the high-end Chrome OS laptop over the past few days.

Anyone who thinks the Chromebook Pixel is a ludicrous idea hasn't actually tried one--or at least that's my theory after using the high-end Chrome OS laptop over the past few days.

In fairness, the $1300 Chromebook Pixel does seem pretty crazy on the surface. You can get many of the same specs in a Windows PC for a lot less money, and without sacrificing the ability to install desktop software. You can also spend $200 more and get a Macbook Pro with Retina display. And for the same money as the Pixel, you could buy no fewer than five Series 3 Chromebooks from Samsung and still have $50 left over.

But none of those options would give you quite the same experience as the Chromebook Pixel, with its 12.85-inch touchscreen and Retina display-esque 2560-by-1700 resolution. You'd also have a hard time finding anything with this build quality. The Pixel is one of very few laptops that stands toe-to-toe with a MacBook in fit and finish.

Now, I'm not entirely sold on the Chromebook Pixel. Despite its many alluring qualities, it's still a bit too pricey for what it does, and its battery life--discussed below--is a deal-breaker for me. But after living with a Pixel on loan from Google, the idea of a luxury Chromebook doesn't seem so misguided.

Performance: It's all about the screen

The Pixel's display is gorgeous, with a 239-pixels-per-inch density that's higher than that of any other laptop. The screen is glossy, but not obnoxiously reflective. You can tilt the screen or view it at off-angles without washing it out. Blacks are so deep that they almost--but not quite--blend into the laptop's black bezel.

As with any device with this fine a screen resolution, you won't see individual pixels at normal viewing distances. And with a screen ratio of 3:2, you can see a bit more of Web pages than you would on a laptop with a 16:9 or 16:10 display.

I suspect that Google spec'd the Pixel with a Core i5 processor because it wanted Intel's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU to drive the machine's display. In actual performance, Google's machine doesn't feel like a huge leap over Samsung's Series 5 550 Chromebook, which combines a Celeron processor with the same 4GB of RAM as the Pixel. In my ordinary work-related use, which requires some dozen open browser tabs for writing and researching stories, the Pixel never skipped a beat. But then again, neither did the Series 5 550.

It was possible to find the Pixel's limits. In 3D games like From Dust, the action got pretty choppy, and the browser-based MMORPG Realm of the Mad God wasn't nearly as smooth as it is on my desktop PC. Also, the newfangled touch response on the Pixel could be a lot better. There's a noticeable lag between swiping your finger and seeing the result--more so than just using the trackpad.

 

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