chromebook pixel review back

The perception of Chromebooks is they are cloud appliances. Hardware wise they are laptops. The software layer is as minimalist as it can be, just enough to get the user online with the main application, the browser Chrome. One would quickly assumes, and rightfully so, that the setup has a low footprint, thus low computing resource requirements; therefore it should bare a low price tag.

Then, enter the Google Chromebook Pixel. WiFi version is priced at $1,299, while the high end one, LTE, cost $1,449. That is not exactly “cheap”. To its credit, the unit does look like a $1,300+ piece of hardware. And it does come with some freebies to sweeten the deal. Still, with high price come high expectations. Will the Pixel deliver?

Chrome Pixel Specifications (as tested)

Screen  12.85”, 2560 x 1700, (239 ppi), 3:2, 400 nit brightness,
Display  178° viewing angle, multi touch, Gorilla glass
Size  297.7 × 224.6 × 16.2 mm
Battery  59 Wh (estimated 5 hours)
Processor CPU  Intel Core i5-3427U (Dual-Core 1.8 GHz)
Graphic Processor GPU  Intel HD Graphics 4000 (Integrated)
RAM  4 GB DDR3 RAM
Storage SSD  32 GB (WiFi version) / 64 GB (LTE version)
Network  Built-in dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n MIMO (2×2)
Keyboard  Backlit
Touchpad  Fully clickable etched glass trackpad
Webcam  720p HD
WWAN  LTE version, Verizon, 100MB/mo
Bluetooth  Bluetooth version 3.0
Audio Mic  Built-in microphone array with integrated DSP for noise cancellation
Ports  2 x USB 2.0, Mini Display Port, SD/MMC card reader, Combo headphone/mic jack
Release date  WiFi version: Feb/2013 – LTE version: Apr/2013
MSRP  WiFi version $1,299 / LTE version $1,449

Extras:

1 TB of Google Drive storage for 3 years
12 Hours of Gogo for in-flight internet connectivity with the following participant Airlines.
100 MB/month free from Verizon for LTE version (U.S)

Context

I admit I probably underused my laptops: I do not play games on them, as they are not “specced” for that, WiFi increases lag time, small resolution and screen size compared to my monitors, lower FPS due to the non-dedicated GPU and playing on a trackpad is not ideal for me. I used to play WoW and I cannot see myself in front of a laptop for a three hours gaming session during raid nights. I would rather not get on.

Since I cancelled my cable service two years ago, I mainly use my laptop for streaming and web browsing. I carry it around the house, keeping an eye on a College Football or Basketball game on ESPN3 while I cook or do the dishes. In that regard, what is important to me from laptops is: screen size and resolution, weight, to certain extend battery capacity, acceptable web streaming performance and a good wireless connection.

I see laptops as secondary computing devices, trading mobility for performance and productivity.

External Design

The case is built with aluminum alloy, entirely flat, clean edges and slightly rounded corners. You could tell just by handling it that this is a high quality build. Aesthetically, it is very appealing. I always have a preference for straight lines, sober looks and symmetrical design. That is exactly what you get with the Chromebook Pixel industrial minimalist design.

chromebook pixel review corner

Keyboard is chiclet-style and its backlit keyboard is the one of most pleasant I have used so far. The “F” keys have been remapped to optimize browsing in Chrome.

chromebook pixel review keyb main

Track pad: The touchpad is spacious, made of etched glass and laser smoothed. Right clicks are registered, either, with a slight soft one finger tap or by an actual click. Use a two fingers click to simulate a left click. Enabled three fingers swipe via chrome:\\flags would allow the user to switch between Chrome tabs.

chromebook pixel review trackpad

Connectivity: Ports are only available on both sides of the device. The right side is equipped with the SD card reader and SIM slot. I noticed that the SD card is flushed enough that it would be possible to use the slot in a semi-permanent manner if the extra storage space is needed.

chromebook pixel review sim
"THE CHROMEPIXEL HAS SOME OF THE BEST SPEAKERS THAT I HAVE HEARD ON A LAPTOP"  

The left side hosts everything else: power connector, two USB 2.0, mini-display and headset/mic 3.5mm jack. I expected all USB ports to be 3.0, but they are not – just a FYI. The power plug has a charge light indicator, yellow indicates it is charging and green when it is fully charged. It is a bit bulky and tends to get unplugged accidentally. USB and headphone ports are, for some reason, tight, making plugging and unplugging a bit harder, but maybe this will get better with time. I have mixed feeling about the mini display port. I would have traded it for a full-size HDMI port instead, if I had the option

chromebook pixel review connectivity usb

Speakers: Hidden under the keyboard, they are the best speakers so far found on a laptop that I have had access to anyway.

Display

Resolution: The best piece of hardware of the Pixel has to be the 2560 by 1700 resolution at 239 PPI. We are talking about 4.2 millions of pixels in a 12.85 inch glossy screen. At 400 nits, the display is crisp clear. I cannot tell how it is compared to the Apple retina display, but it is much nicer than my 13” MBA. My colleagues at Ubergizmo tell me that it feels like a Retina display. The display is highly reflective. In bright light, glare becomes quickly annoying.

chromebook pixel review 239ppi

The 3:2 display ratio is unusual but has pros and cons. The Pixel’s viewing screen is 1280 by 850. Now, compared to the standard 1366 by 768, you would get a bit more vertical lines. That is a plus. Coming from a 1440 by 900, MBA for instance, there is a loss. Playing 16:9 video would result into two large black bands across the top and bottom of the screen. It is not ideal for widescreen movies so that would be a minus. The viewing display is locked at 1280 by 850, meaning you cannot get more real estate than that. It would probably be a minus for those with sharp eyes who can “see” 2560 by 1700 on a 13in display. The user could always play around with the Chrome zoom settings.

chromebook pixel review laptops

" THE BEST PIECE OF HARDWARE OF THE PIXEL HAS TO BE THE 2560 BY 1700 RESOLUTION"   Viewing angles: Normally I would not care about viewing angle because unlike a television, the screen is not shared between multiple viewers. I am fine with adjusting the screen for myself. However, this has to be the best viewing angles I have seen so far thanks to the IPS panel.

Touch screen: The pixel is the only Chromebook device to offer touch screen capability. I found myself hardly ever used the touchscreen feature. Primarily, I seem to have some psychological issue with touching a screen with my fingers. I am “OK” with it on my smartphones and tablets, especially since I do not have any other options. Secondly, on the Pixel, my hands are already resting on the rest pad, inches away, if that, from what I believe to be the best touchpad I have seen on a laptop so far. Finally, beside Google maps and “Angry Birds”, I cannot think of anything to play with.

chromebook pixel review coner display

Battery Life

My battery test made an attempt to simulate the four following common powerless case scenarios:
1- WiFi on, online streaming, anywhere you can get WiFi but no power source. 32%
2- WiFi off, local streaming, airplane, car, public transportations. 28%
3- WiFi on, such as, light browsing, eReader 20%
4- WiFi off, classroom, local e-reading, offline gaming. 16%
For all four tests, the settings are; 50% brightness, 50% sound level, 60 minutes duration and WiFi is 802.11g 2.5GHz. Although the discharge rate is not truly linear, it can be averaged.

chromebook pixel review charge hour

chromebook pixel estimated charge

chromebook pixel min usage wifi on

The battery is the most disappointing aspect of the Pixel. With 4.2 million pixel to display, the unit should have been equipped with the same battery capacity as the Mac Pro Retina, 72 Wh instead of the 59 Wh.

Performance

chromebook pixel peacekeeper

chromebook pixel sunspider

Browser client side performance wise, it is on par with the MBA. It does boot up, under 7 sec, and wakes up faster than my MBA.
At about 36 opened tabs the system would run out of RAM and started swapping to disk. “Top” command showed a swap partition of about 5.5GB. I would be impressed if someone could keep up with that many opened tabs. Sometimes I could get lazy and lost tracks of how many tabs were running. I might have a dozen ones opened, top.

chromebook pixel review top command

Usability

The OS is a linux stripped down version, running natively a file manager, a media player and the gateway to the cloud, the Chrome browser. That gives the Pixel a very low footprint and everything feels very snappy.

If you already are a chrome user, you are in charted territory. It will perform the same way as if it was running on your desktop. All of the streaming websites I watch from, Netflix, ESPN3, Youtube, Dramafever, Crunchyroll and Hulu play just fine. There is always RDP to fall back on for local applications, assuming you are running a full blown OS as your primary system. As far as user experience and for what it can do, the Pixel performs very well. I tend to grab the Pixel more often than my MBA.

As a cloud computing device, what applications it can run will depend on what is available in the cloud. In the ChromeOS case, what is available on the Chrome Web Store. The ones I used the most are, Google docs, Google Play, Pixlr, Chrome RDP, Audiotool, Imo instant messenger, Jolicloud, FTP Editor and a few games here and there. Granted, Chrome Web Store is nowhere near the Apple Store as far as the sheer number of apps but it should have enough to cover the basic needs.

chromebook pixel review webstore

Until Google+ Hangouts reaches Skype popularity, the combo 720p webcam and noise cancelling microphone would hardly be put to use. Although, personal youtube videos recorded on the Chromebook Pixel would come out pretty good.

I am very onboard with the Chrome ecosystem or with cloud computing concept in general. All my content, preferences, bookmarks, Chrome applications are accessible to me from anywhere as long as I can log in Chrome. There are no concern about backups, syncing files between all my devices and no worries about OS and application updates. Also, running applications from the cloud, reduce your computer footprints since there is no need to install the full application but just what is needed to execute it. As such, unlike traditional Windows based PCs, the Chromebook Pixel will not slow down over time.

Offline Mode

"CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, MANY CHROME OS APPS DO WORK OFFLINE"   If for some reason your internet is out or it is simply not available, the device is not totally unusable. Google documents can still be edited, with Gmail offline, it is possible to reply and manage emails. Once the connectivity is restored, emails and offline modified documents will sync up to the cloud. For your entertainment, there are a few available options.

First, offline games available from the web store, including “Angry Birds”. Before you ask, there is no “Minecraft” on Chromebooks since Java is unsupported.

Second, assuming you have some kind of USB storage, load them up with either movies or music and play them back on the Chrome. During my battery test, a one hour movie, with WiFi off, would use up 16% of the charge capacity (per hour).

Third, even if the internet connection unavailable, it does not mean that your local network is down. Setup your own local cloud server and stream multimedia content to your Chromebook.

I do find the “useless if there is no internet connection” argument a bit overblown. Personally, my MBA is, or my desktop computer for that matter, as useful as the Chromebook the few times my internet service was down. Even he few games that I play, require an internet connection.

Conclusion

"YOU NEED TO EXPERIENCE CHROME OS FOR YOURSELF"   The Pixel Chromebook is a halo product, a showcase product. Google did not plan on generating revenues with the Pixel. For a first stab at designing high-end laptop hardware, it is a solid product.

I was skeptical about the value of the Pixel Chromebook until I could put my hands on it. It is one of those devices where you really need to experience it for yourself to appreciate it, or not. I believe the hardware to be worth the asking price. If you can take advantage of all extras, 1TB Google drive storage for 3 years, 12 hours of GoGo and LTE subscription, then it is definitely a win.

Now, as a personal computer, it is debatable. Compared to my MBA, everything that is web based related, the Pixel offers a better user experience or at least equal. If there is a need to run local applications, I can fall back to making a remote connection to my main computer from the Pixel, as I sometime do on the MBA.

"ANY APPS THAT CHROME OS CAN RUN, WINDOWS AND MAC OS CAN AS WELL"   What is missing from the Chromebooks is “uniqueness”. Do not get me wrong, the Chromebook Pixel has some good features, hardware and software wise but I still fail to see that game changer factor. At least, it is not enough in my mind to replace my current laptop or buying it as another notebook. Anything the Chromebook can do, a Windows or MacOS computer can do as well. To be fair, though, I have not encountered a situation where I had to switch to my MBA because the Pixel could not handle a specific task either. For my computing usage, the Pixel could be an alternative to the MBA.

There are a few reasons to get a Chromebook Pixel. One, you are a Chromebooks fan and you can get your money worth just from the user experience. Second, you plan to recycle the hardware and run some other Operating Systems. Third, you buy it as a collector item. I do not see any other hardware manufacturers, beside Google, to come up with another high-end laptop Chromebook. Unlike Google, they do care if the product sells or not. The Chromebook Samsung 3 price range is the about right value. I could see a “high end” Chromebook around $500ish.
Do you think Google would come out with a improved Pixel, HiDPI display, Haswell and a bigger battery capacity?

Filed in Computers >Featured >Reviews . Tags: chrome os, chromebook, Chromebook Pixel, Laptop Reviews and laptops.
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