Chromebook Pixel (2015) Reviews

A $999 Dollar laptop, Who is it for?

The new Chromebook Pixel is a conundrum.new-chromebook-pixel-2267.0

By now, we have a pretty good sense of what a Chromebook is and where it fits into our digital worlds. They’re relatively cheap laptops that over-perform for their price because there’s so little extra software junk to slow things down. They top the list of best sellers on Amazon. They can do a lot of things, but they can’t do everything. They’re great second computers.

But the Pixel is something different: a Chromebook that makes the case that it doesn’t need to be your second laptop; it can be your only laptop. Or at least, that’s the promise we thought Google was making two years ago, when it introduced the original Pixel. But maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it. In reality, virtually everybody is going to run into spots where they need something that Chrome OS can’t quite offer. Unless you’re so deeply bought into Google’s vision of how the web and how computing should work that you’re willing to suffer through the parts that it’s not good at (yet?), it doesn’t make sense for you to spend upwards of a thousand dollars on a Pixel. And that’s how much this spare, beautiful machine with a high-resolution touchscreen costs: $999.

I don’t know who the new Chromebook Pixel is for, but I know that I want one.

Unless you’re intimately familiar with the original Pixel, you wouldn’t be able tell the new one apart from it. Google has decided to stick with the same basic, boxy design — and honestly, I still love it. The case is still entirely metal with a plastic hinge and glass screen, and everything is right angles with softened corners. The horizontal light bar on the back that glows with a rainbow when it’s on is still the most prominent sign that you’re using a Chromebook instead of a prop from an avant garde sci-fi movie.

If I had to pick one word to describe the design, I’d choose “solid.” Unfortunately, “solid” also implies “dense,” and the Pixel feels heavy at 3.3 pounds. That’s less than half a pound heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Air, but a lot of the Pixel’s weight is situated in its large 3:2 touchscreen, so overall it feels a little more unwieldy.

That’s a minor issue, though, because I still love the look and feel of the Pixel. Keeping the design the same also sends a signal: this isn’t a new kind of thing for Google, it’s still the expensive, top-end laptop you have already heard of.

But two years between models is a lot of time, and Google has added some subtle design tweaks. The top function row of the keyboard now has standard keys instead of the weird, clicky buttons that the original Pixel had. The hinge has been tweaked to make it stiffer, so the screen doesn’t bounce around as much when you touch it. The backlight settings on the keyboard have been tuned so it only turns on when your hands are actually over it.

The new Pixel’s display is still a super-sharp, 12.85-inch, 2560 x 1700 touchscreen. Google says it’s increased the sRGB color gamut, but I wasn’t really unhappy with colors on the old Pixel. I will say that although Chrome OS has gotten better with basic touchscreen responsiveness (especially on pinch-to-zoom), I am not at all convinced that the Pixel needs a touchscreen.

The only reason the touchscreen makes sense is when you consider what the Pixel is actually for: letting Google test out advanced features for Chrome OS. The company tells me that the reason that touchpads on other Chromebooks are as good as they are is because of the Pixel: Google got to use it as a testing ground to optimize the drivers and so on. A recent leak had a Google employee quoted as saying “this is a development platform. This is really a proof of concept. We don’t make very many of these.” So if you want to know why the Pixel is so expensive, there’s part of your answer.

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