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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.

Design: Thoughtful touches abound

Why is the Chromebook Pixel so expensive? Part of it might be due to all the little details that don't show up on a spec sheet.

One example: The lid has a thin strip of light that beams blue when the laptop is running. Snap the lid shut, and the strip briefly flashes the Google colors--green, yellow, red and blue--before fading out. Of course, this won't help you get work done faster. It exists only to deliver a dose of satisfaction every time you put the laptop away. And it works. (Sidelight: More than one site has mentioned the Pixel's Easter egg--tied to the LED strip--that comes up when you enter Konami Code on it.) 

Other flashes of craftsmanship are more practical. A magnetic latch helps snap the laptop closed, for instance, and an indicator on the charge cable turns from glowing yellow to green when the laptop is full of juice. The hinge on the back side of the laptop actually doubles as a Wi-Fi extender as well as a heat sink (although in my use, the Pixel still ran pretty warm on its underbelly).

And then there's the design of the Pixel itself. It's a handsome slab of technology, one that's less bubbly than Apple's Macbooks, thanks to its sharp corners and completely flat lid. The lack of tapering around the edges does make it look a bit bulkier than it actually is. But rest assured, in real-world use, it's quite comfortable.

The real stars of the show, however, are the Pixel's backlit keyboard and glass-covered trackpad. It's rare to find a laptop whose input features compare favorably to those of a MacBook, but I've enjoyed every moment of pointing, clicking, and typing on the Pixel. Sure, my 3-year-old Windows laptop technically can do more things than this laptop, but its cramped trackpad and squishy keyboard are far more frustrating to actually use.

At a time when tech specs don't mean the world to the ordinary user, these design flourishes can make a big difference.

Battery blues

If there's one major complaint I have about the Chromebook Pixel so far, it's the battery. The power demands of the high-resolution display definitely take their toll, as the Pixel barely lasts more than 5 hours on a charge at about 60 percent brightness.

That's not horrid for modern laptop, and not even unusual for a Chromebook. Samsung's Series 5 550, for instance, gets about 6 hours, while Chromebooks from Acer and HP get about 4 hours. But none of those devices cost anywhere near $1300. For a premium laptop like the Pixel, I'd expect something closer to all-day battery life. Add the Pixel to the pile of devices whose battery life will someday, hopefully, be saved by next-generation processors.

 

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