A Review of my Chromebook Pixel

As you know, last week Google gave me a Chromebook Pixel. Which is also a disclaimer: I always give my own fair opinion but some people find it important to know that I was given a certain device for review.

Additionally, some people think that I always rate Google products highly, and endlessly criticise Apple, Microsoft, whoever. That’s not correct, far from it even. However, I do think that Google is the company with the best services out there and is a company that understands best what the future will look like. Or at least a future that I want to live in. Think of Google Glass, self-driving Cars, Google Now, or operating systems that depend on the cloud. And yes, I’m fully aware of how some people don’t want to use those things because they feel it’s not the right time. They feel like idiots if they’d wear Google Glass, they see self-driving cars as nonsense since they believe it’s more dangerous than humans driving their cars, they don’t understand Google Now, or don’t believe the internet is good enough for cloud based operating systems. However, I enjoy trying these futuristic experiences and supplying feedback on them - it’s important to have dreams and to imagine how technology can help us in our day to day life. And sure, those experiences are not always perfect right now, here in 2013, but they can only be improved if there is real user data available.

The same applies to Microsoft, who have some truly amazing technology in their R&D labs, but I never feel that it has ended up in the hands of real users. I remember the incredibly futuristic Microsoft Courier (http://goo.gl/r4z1k), or the amazing speech recognition technology (http://goo.gl/mUcf6) they have. I wish I could play around with it. But I can’t. And I don’t think any of the other big tech companies out there are even remotely as innovative when it comes to consumer products. The only other big innovators I see are much smaller, think about companies like MakerBot Industries (http://goo.gl/qVheJ) or Oculus (http://goo.gl/PwIkR).

Let’s move on to the Chromebook Pixel. All reviews about any Chrome OS device inherently have to be at least a partial review of Chrome OS as well. Many people don’t know or understand what it brings as an operating system. I’m a fan, and it offers me many things that I can’t get from traditional Windows or OS X machines. Obviously first of all there’s a huge overlap in what you expect from all desktop operating systems - it supports all social networks, I can do my instant messaging, I can stream my music, do all my documents/spreadsheets/presentations in Google Drive, write emails, look at YouTube, and the list goes on. If this is similar to what you do on your operating systems than Chrome OS could well be for you. If the only video- and audio editing you do is relatively basic than you’re still perfectly fine with Chrome OS. I’m pretty sure that by listing these things I’ve covered the vast majority of what people are looking for. Or at least 80% of it. Just think about that.

However, there are a few things that Chrome OS brings to the table and that genuinely annoy me with other operating systems. First of all we have the boot times. I just clocked it, and the Chromebook Pixel takes exactly seven seconds to boot when it’s switched off. And when it’s in standby mode it just switches on instantly after lifting up the screen. At my work I have a Windows 7 machine that takes 5-10 minutes to cold-boot. I also have access to an OS X machine, which takes about one minute to cold-boot. Being frustrated about cold-booting those machines can be seen as a #firstworldproblem , but once you’re used to a Chrome OS device it’s hard to tolerate those delays. And sure, people tell me all the time that just switching those devices to stand-by is a great help, and it is, but it still annoys me that I have to wait that long in order to use them.

Second of all, I have a pet-hate for software updates. Of course, I love how they bring new functionality - but really, have you ever noticed any changes that really excited you? Nowadays you boot a traditional computer and it tells you how Flash, Java, Quicktime, iTunes, Windows, OS X etc have to update. It’s genuinely bad for the average user, because we all know that they just ignore it for as long as possible. Which poses a big security risk. This never happens with a Chrome OS device. Chrome OS devices update once every six weeks or so, and this happens entirely seamless in the background. It is clean and smooth, which is how it should be.

And speaking about security issues - as long as you have 2-step verification enabled on your Google account (do it now if you haven’t done so yet: http://goo.gl/rSGc6) you can be largely considered completely safe. Compare that to other desktop operating systems - if you even remotely venture outside of the norm of websites you know you enter a world full of viruses, trojans, and data-mining toolbars. Again, Chrome OS holds a strong advantage here. Sure, you can install virus scanners (that again will ask for updates), but why do I have to put in all that money and energy if there’s a competitor out there that offers something better?

So to summarise, for me the fact that Chrome OS devices have ridiculously fast boot times, never bothers anyone with updates, and can be considered ultra-safe gives it a serious competitive advantage over any other desktop operating system out there. Just think about the huge amounts of time you save with them. If you live in a world where time is money then these devices are what you’re looking for. Chromebooks are the ultimate zero-hassle computers. (also think about Chromebooks as a gifting option when you’re tired of playing for IT Support to others).

These exact reasons are probably also why some people don’t get the advantage of Chromebooks. It’s reasonable to assume that many people that spend a ton of time on tech sites and tech blogs also have the time to tinker away with their computers. It’s quite likely that they even enjoy it. Having a machine that saves you so much hassle and time probably doesn’t make much sense to them. They don’t see the value in it. But one has to appreciate how forward thinking it is to have such a seamlessly smooth zero-hassle operating system. There is a huge market for it, which is clearly demonstrated by how the Chromebook has been #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list for laptops every day since it launched (http://goo.gl/upHVv), and they represent more than 10% of notebook sales at Currys PC World (http://goo.gl/F0OCB), the largest electronics retailer here in the UK.

For personal use I’ve always used a variety of Windows or OS X machines in my life. In June 2011 Google released one of the first commercially available Chromebooks, the Samsung Series 5. As an experiment I decided to purchase one, whilst at the same time I also still had a ‘traditional’ VAIO laptop running Windows 7. I made a clear point of moving my offline content to the cloud and after a while I noticed that I actually only still used the Chromebook. So after 6 months I decided to sell my VAIO and to go Chromebook exclusive. Then in May last year I upgraded to its successor, the Series 5 550. It’s an amazing system and it’s the Chromebook that I often recommend to people. And now I have the Chromebook Pixel.

The Chromebook Pixel is obscenely powerful. The specs and the design of the laptop are overwhelming - it has an Intel Core i5 processor running at 1.8Ghz, comes with 1 Terabyte of cloud storage, and has a 2560 x 1700 pixel screen (it’s the highest resolution notebook on the market, for reference: the Macbook Pro Retina has a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels). The screen is drop dead gorgeous, it shows 4.3 million pixels at such a high resolution that they are absolutely invisible to the naked eye. It almost feels ridiculous looking at the 239 pixels per inch that are crammed into the screen, it delivers a much sharper image than the MacBook Air’s 128 pixels per screen. The (Gorilla Glass) screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio, and has full support for touch interactions. The Pixel is crafted from an anodised aluminium alloy and it leaves absolutely nothing in sight; vents are hidden, screws are invisible, and stereo speakers are tucked away beneath the backlit keyboard. It has three microphones for perfect noise cancellation and it has an etched glass touchpad which is one of the best (if not the best) on the market.

From a hardware and industrial design point of view the Chromebook Pixel is absolutely in the top end of the market. If Chrome OS caters for your needs then the Chromebook Pixel is undoubtedly the best thing you can get.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The Chromebook Pixel is ready to take on the internet, but is the internet ready to take on the Chromebook Pixel? One thing that bothered me is that, due to the amazing screen, it suddenly becomes noticeable how poor the quality is of some of the images on the internet. On Google+ most things are nicely rendered, but the images on the left of the screen look noticeably fuzzy and rough. Even the Google logo on Google.com feels like it could really do with an upgrade. The internet will improve over time, but this was one of the things that I found a bit frustrating.

Another thing that let me down a bit is the battery life. I actually use my Chromebooks almost always at home, so this shouldn’t be an issue, but somehow it feels like it is. My regular Chromebook (the Samsung Series 5 550) lasts about 7 hours on a full battery, but the Chromebook Pixel ‘only’ gives me 5.5 to 6 hours. Maybe it’s just me - this seems to be a standard figure for Macbooks and Ultrabooks so perhaps I’m just expecting too much? Google has set a new standard for most laptops out there, and this is the most serious foray that Google has done when it comes to designing their own commercial hardware - so why aren’t there bigger improvements on this front? It feels like a missed opportunity.

The same applies to the lack of a Google logo on the device. Or even a Chrome logo. There is hardly anything on this device that tells you what it is. On the (beautiful) piano hinge and on the top of the keyboard you can see the word Chrome spelt out, but that’s it. And when you open the screen you can't see the piano hinge anymore. I feel like Google could have made a stronger statement with this device. It is something to be proud of, I don’t feel like they should have been subtle here. People won’t know what hardware they’re actually looking at, which oddly enough is very similar to what Chrome OS is: an incredible tool but hardly anyone knows what it really is. Again, it feels like a missed opportunity.

One other hot topic around the Chromebook Pixel is obviously its price. £1049 definitely puts it in the high end of the market. For my personal use Chrome OS is simply the best operating system out there. I can’t even imagine how much time I’ve saved due to the fast boot times, the seamless background updates and not having to worry about viruses and other rubbish. And it runs exactly all the software I need. The Chromebook Pixel is for the Chrome OS power user, and it shows. It’s an obscenely powerful device, but I’m not entirely sold on it being that amazing that it would be worth spending £1049 on. For the same price I can get three Series 5 550 Chromebooks that are also amazing.

If you have the disposable income and are as comfortable as I am with Chrome OS then I think it’s worth £1049. It gets you one of the best designed laptops on the market, with the best display, a fast processor and a Terabyte of storage space. There are many people who are spending over £1300 for a Macbook Pro - so from that point of view the Chromebook Pixel is definitely in line with the competition. But in the end you have to decide if you’re willing to spend that amount of money on going that extra mile. However, if you want to experience Chrome OS in the absolute best way then this is a must-buy.
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