​The best Chromebook ever: Google's 2015 Pixel

The best Chromebook is also, easily, the most expensive Chromebook. For some people, though, it's worth the money.

I didn't just buy Google's new Chromebook Pixel. No, I bought the high-end model with the 5th-generation, 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U processor with 16GBs of memory and a 64GB Solid State Drive (SSD) for $1,299. And, I'm not the only one. That top-of-the-line Chromebook Pixel is sold out. Why would I spend this kind of money? Because the Pixel 2015 is worth it.

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Google's Chromebook Pixel 2015 is the best Chromebook ever, and with a price-tag to match. -- CNet
Yes, I know, I know, many of you think that a Chromebook is just a Chrome Web browser on a laptop. Sure, and a Porsche Cayenne is just a car.

The 2015 Chromebook Pixel's 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 is as fast a processor as you'll find on any laptop today. By comparison, Apple's brand new MacBook tops out with a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor. It's like comparing a dirt-track car with a Formula One racer.

There are only a handful of other laptops currently running with the Intel Core i7-5500U processor. These include the Dell Alienware 13 Laptop, the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s 20E2 Ultrabook, and the HP ZBook G2 Mobile Workstation. What they all have in common is that they're high-end systems with price-tags to match.

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The new Pixel, however, unlike the MacBook, which comes with one, count 'em one USB-C port for both power and peripherals, the new Pixel has two USB-C and two USB 3.0 ports. Besides powering up the Pixel you can use the USB-C port for DisplayPort video. You can also use HDMI displays with a USB-C adapter for $40. Google sells other USB-C adapters.

True, the MacBook has a larger SDD. The baseline MacBook has a 256GB SSD and you can upgrade it to 512GB SSD. By contrast, the Pixel has a 64GB SSD and a SD card slot for storage. On the other hand, the Pixel comes with 1 TeraByte of Google Drive service for three years. That sounds like a win to me.

To see just how fast this high-powered Pixel runs, I put it to the test with Principled Technologies' CrXPRT 2015 benchmark. This program evaluates Chromebooks' performance and battery life. Specifically, CrXPRT measures how fast a Chromebook handles things like playing video games, watching movies, editing pictures, and doing office work.

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The CrXPRT shows, unsurprisingly, that the Chromebook Pixel 2015 is the fastest of all Chromebooks.
Would it surprise you to know that with a score of 179, the 2015 i7-powered Pixel was faster than any other Chromebook on the market? I didn't think so.

What you may find really surprising though is that even with that high-speed processor CrXPRT 2015 showed that the new Pixel had a battery life of 11.58 hours. That's a better battery life than any other benchmarked Chromebook and better than almost any sort of laptop.

Where the Chromebook Pixel really shines is the same place the 2013 Pixel did: The Pixel's amazing 12.85-in. 2560 x 1700 IPS display with its 239-pixel-per-inch density. Every time I go to a technology trade show, I have people walk up to me and ask about it. Retina displays simply aren't in the same ballpark.

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The 2015 Pixel, like its predecessor, has a stunning display.
This 3:2 aspect ratio display works really well with web pages which since that's what you'll be viewing almost all the time with a Chromebook makes perfect sense. The screen is powered by Intel HD Graphics 5500. The result is a display that's sharper and faster than ever. It also supports 4K video output over DisplayPort or HDMI.

For networking, the new Pixel uses Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260. This chipset supports up to 802.11ac Wi-Fi and 2x2 spatial streams. I've found that those dual antennas enable me to make Wi-Fi connections in places where everyone else around me is cursing the local Wi-Fi. Unlike its predecessor, there is no 4G option. Google told me that's because they found most users were tethering to get Wi-Fi connections from their smartphones rather than using the built-in Verizon 4G.

The keyboard and touchpad are awesome. For me, a good keyboard is an essential. Indeed, I've paid more for no longer in production Avant Stellar keyboards than many people do for computers. So, when I say that the Pixel has the best laptop keyboard I've ever used, I know what I'm talking about. The glass touchpad is also great. While I still prefer the ThinkPad's pointing stick to any touchpad, the Pixel's touchpad is exceptional.

All of this comes in a package that weighs 3.3 lbs. There are lighter computers out there, but none that pack so much goodness for their size.

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Some of you are asking, "What can you do with a Chromebook?" The answer is, "Pretty much everything."

I've been using Chromebooks since they first showed up. I've found that ever since the Samsung Series 5, the first commercial Chromebook, that a Chromebook works as well for me as most laptops with a "full" desktop operating system.

It's not just me. As ABI Research points out, "The roll-out of cloud services and the 2009 global economic collapse created the opportunity for developers to provide a budget-friendly solution for consumers," says ABI Research analyst Stephanie Van Vactor. "Chromebooks were the result, and the 'anytime anywhere' access to content is a mobile-centric game changer."

The game changer is that, thanks to cloud-based services, we often don't need fat clients or operating systems anymore. Today's cloud-based office software. Google Docs, QuickBooks Online, and SugarCRM, are replacing Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

This isn't just a Google move. Microsoft is moving to software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings, such as Office 365, as fast as possible. The stand-alone desktop or laptop isn't going to disappear. But the Chromebook is already replacing it for many users.

Sure, there are some photo-editing programs, such as GIMP and Photoshop, that still require a desktop operating system to show to their best advantage, but their numbers are dwindling.

Besides, in the case of GIMP, thanks to a program called Crouton, you can run a desktop Linux beside the Linux-based Chrome OS. I run Chrome OS and Linux together all the time, which is why when I need GIMP to edit my images, I just mouse over to my Ubuntu 14.04 window and get to work.

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Using a Chromebook, especially a high-powered one like the Pixel, means you can run Chrome OS and Linux at the same time.
95 percent of the time, however, I don't need those apps.

Look at your own work habits. If you find yourself doing almost all of your work on the Web, you really don't need Mac OS X, Windows, or a full Linux desktop; a Chromebook is all you need. In short, the Pixel is for people do their work on the cloud.

That said, do you really need a $1,299 Chromebook, or the $999 i5-powered Pixel, for this workload? Chances are you don't. The Toshiba Chromebook 2, HP Chromebook 14 and forthcoming Acer C910 are all excellent Chromebooks for a fraction of a Pixel's price.

But, if you want a Chromebook that's faster than any other and with battery life better than any other laptop, the 2015 Pixel is your best choice.

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