Google Chromebook Pixel review

Google Chromebook Pixel review

Summary: Although it's visually pleasing and well specified, particularly in the display department, the Chromebook Pixel's premium price tag makes it difficult for us to recommend.

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32
  • Editors' rating:
    6.5
  • User rating:
    3.4
  • RRP:
    £874.17

Pros

  • Sleek and elegant industrial design
  • Superb high-resolution touchscreen
  • High-end specification
  • LTE option (in US)

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Chrome OS requires internet connection for most functions
  • Limited app availability
  • Disappointing battery life

Chromebooks have been around in one form or another for a couple of years now. However, aside from some early limited wins, these Chrome OS-based devices have yet to fully win over consumers or the BYOD crowd as a viable alternative to a fully-fledged laptop. Add in the fact that most offerings so far have been budget devices and a pretty limited-use picture begins to appear. Can Google's premium-priced, own-branded Chromebook Pixel change all that?

Chromebook_Pixel
Google's Chromebook Pixel is a high-end 12.85in. Chrome OS laptop costing £1,049 (inc. VAT), or US$1,299. (Image: Ben Woods/ZDNet)

The Chromebook Pixel went on sale in the US on 21 February at $1,299, but UK buyers had to wait a little longer to get their hands on the machine, which sells for £1,049 (inc. VAT; £874.17 ex. VAT).

At the February announcement Google claimed that its device "brings together the best in hardware, software and design to inspire the next generation of Chromebooks", adding that "we set out to rethink all elements of a computer in order to design the best laptop possible, especially for power users who have fully embraced the cloud".

Price comparison
From the numerous Chromebook Pixel reviews littering the web, one message comes across loud and clear: it's a premium machine at a premium price point. So, before we examine whether it's any good or not, we thought it might be useful to see what else you can get for a similar outlay (NB: UK prices below include VAT).

  • 11-inch MacBook Air (64GB) — £849
  • 13-inch MacBook Air (128GB) — £999
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro (non-Retina display) with Intel Core i5 processor  — from £999
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, Intel Core i5 and SSD storage — from £1,249
  • Sony VAIO T13 (13.3-inch) touchscreen ultrabook with Core i7 processor, SSD + HDD —  from around £999 RRP.

Clearly, the Chromebook Pixel is more expensive than a number of the options listed. Note that it has a higher-than-Retina-resolution display (239 pixels per inch, versus the Retina's 227ppi), which is also a touchscreen — a feature matched only by the Sony VAIO T13 in the list above.

Design and hardware
Right out of the box, the sleek, metallic Chromebook Pixel shouts 'premium design'. Its key feature is one of the highest pixel density displays on the market. The screen measures 12.85in. across the diagonal and has a resolution of 2,560 by 1,700 pixels, giving it a pixel density of 239ppi. Apple's 13.3in. MacBook Pro with Retina display, by contrast, has a resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels, or 227ppi.

Chromebook_Pixel_depth
The Chromebook Pixel has something of the look and feel of Apple's MacBook Air — both in terms of design elegance and build quality. (Image: Ben Woods/ZDNet)

The Chromebook Pixel measures 29.77cm wide by 22.46cm deep by 1.62cm thick and weighs 1.52kg (3.35lb). It may look elegant, but you're certainly going to notice this device in your travel bag.

The shell of the machine is made of anodised aluminium, and Google has obviously gone to some efforts to make the chassis as sleek and smooth as possible with features such as hidden vents, no visible screws and speakers placed beneath the backlit keyboard.

The touchpad has also received special attention; it's made of etched glass and is honed using a laser for extra precision, according to the company. It certainly performed accurately enough in our evaluation and is complemented well by the touchscreen, which is equally responsive.

The Chromebook Pixel is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor (the 3427U model) with 4GB of DDR3 RAM. On-board storage is limited to a 32GB SSD, but Google is also providing one terabyte of storage in the Google Drive cloud, which is free for three years, starting from the date the offer is redeemed. An LTE-equipped version of the Pixel is also set to go on sale shortly in the US; this will cost $1,449 and will include a 64GB SSD, in addition to the Google Drive offer.

Around the outside of the chassis, you'll find an SD flash card reader, two USB 2.0 ports and a Mini DisplayPort for mirroring or extending the desktop to a second screen. There's also dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity, plus a forward-facing 720p HD webcam for video calling.

Thanks to Google's considerable efforts on the hardware front, the user experience is as you'd expect on a top-quality piece of kit. The touchpad and touchscreen are both accurate and responsive, and the CPU/RAM/SSD combination keeps things ticking along nicely, even with multiple tabs loaded in the browser.

The Chromebook Pixel will also boot from cold in just a few seconds, which is a distinct advantage. 

On the downside, the device does get noticeably warm when used for prolonged periods, while battery life is disappointing for a laptop in this price bracket: although Google claims 'up to 5 hours of active use', we struggled to get more than half that with continual multitasking usage.

Software
Unlike a 'normal' laptop, the Pixel comes with Google's Chrome OS as its default operating system. Once logged in for the first time, you get the Chrome browser, and a number of shortcuts to other Google services, such as the Chrome Web Store for downloading more apps, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs/Sheets/Slides and the G+ social networking platform, which supports video calling. There's also a Files app for local file management.  

Chromebook_pixel_apps

This means that, essentially, you're limited to doing anything that you would normally do in a web browser. Obviously browsing the web requires an internet connection, as does most of the functionality of a Chromebook, although Google has provided some offline capability for those times when you're not connected.

Google Docs, Gmail (composition/review), Calendar and Scratchpad will all work offline in one form or another, and you can still playback media files stored locally on the device via the Files app.

If you're logging into the machine using a Google ID that already has Chrome apps associated with it, the Pixel will automatically download and sync them the first time you log in, providing the option to sync across devices is switched on in your account.

What you cannot do, though, is install any kind of 'normal' program as you would on a Windows or Mac laptop — unless there's a version already available from the Chrome Web Store.

This is a serious limitation, although the Chrome OS platform is gaining in popularity with developers, with more web apps joining the store every day from the likes of Box, Feedly, Evernote, Dropbox, TweetDeck. Over time, there's an increasing chance you'll find what you want there.

Conclusion
The Chromebook Pixel does everything it can do very well, but with a lack of touch-optimised apps available and no support for desktop/legacy apps its usage could be limited, depending on your needs. That said, if the majority of your usage is web browser based (or could be) then there are a number of touches that make the Pixel a pleasure to use.

Chromebook_pixel_screen

Although it's visually pleasing and well specified, particularly in the display department, the Chromebook Pixel not a perfect machine: battery life is a little disappointing and you can expect some heat and fan noise after a few hours' use. 

In the end, though, it's the premium price tag that makes it difficult for us to recommend the Chromebook Pixel — espcially at $1,449 for the forthcoming version with LTE connectivity. 

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 29.77 x 1.62 x 22.46 cm
Case form factor clamshell
Weight 1.52 kg
OS & software
Operating system Google Chrome OS
Chipset & memory
RAM installed 4096 MB
RAM capacity 4 GB
Video
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4000
GPU type integrated
Video connections Mini DisplayPort
Display
Display technology multitouch touchscreen with Gorilla Glass
Display size 12.85 in
Native resolution 2560x1700 pixels
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Bluetooth 3.0
Mobile broadband optional (LTE) in US
Input
Pointing devices clickable etched-glass trackpad
Keyboard full-size, backlit
Camera
Main camera front
Main camera resolution 1.3 megapixels
Audio
Audio connectors headphone/microphone combo
Speakers stereo
Microphone yes
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter, quick-start guide
Other 1TB of free Google Drive storage (valid for 3 years)
Battery
Battery technology Li-ion
Estimated battery life (mfr) 5 h
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.8 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Core i5-3427U
Solid-state drive
Capacity 32 GB
Expand

Prices

Price
Price GBP 874.17
Price USD 1229

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Reviews

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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Talkback

32 comments
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  • A bit expensive

    2.0

    For a Google Services Terminal…
    mil7
    • the price takes attention away

      1.0

      from other horrible flaws of this device. people end up saying it's expensive but not only that the device is actually not practical either
      dugbug11
      • I worked out the angle!!

        You get three years 1tb google drive? Well if you use that kind of storage, buying a pixel saves you 600 dollars and you get a free access point.

        1Tb = 49.99 a month

        3 years = 1799.64

        3 years+access machine = 1229

        There is a use for this! It's just a bit more niche than even i thought!
        MarknWill
        • Emperor PIXEL has no cloth

          1.0

          Do you know why PIXEL has no cloth? B/c it has its pants blown away by a typical netbook or tablet that is far more versatile & entertaining, and yet at a far more affordable price.

          Stop pretending that this device is worth that much money. It's nothing but an over-priced browser. It makes me cringe to see one ZD fool after another giving high marks to this joker.
          LBiege
        • video rendering...

          3.0

          it's a great concept. but the chrome os is just not capable enough to provide the best multimedia experience... at least, that's what the display is for right? The way video is rendered on this device, it just looks sorry... 1tb cloud storage? what're you gonna do when you're 3 year subscription runs out? will you be willing to move all your data to a physical drive? or start paying 50$ a month to? the display is amazing though... I'd be more than happy to run the same device (with a bigger physical drive) with a different os... probably windows 8 or mac... or Ubuntu (which you can boot on pixel)
          Zami90
      • Bug11: 1 rating - abysmal

        Do you have one, or do you come with that mark from what you hear from the MS PR brigade, or are you one of them?

        This just to highlight how useless are those internet polls, usually you get a bunch of stupid people rating something all for the wrong reasons...
        theo_durcan
  • Chromebook is good but not THAT good

    I have a low end Chromebook, and pixel does look pretty, but it's got pretty much the same brains as mine. Chromebook is not any type of laptop replacement unless the only thing you use a laptop for is Wordprocessing, surfing the web and reading email. Now, I happen to like my Chromebook for all those. I'm a freelance writer, and it is nice to grab mine open it up and have it book in 10 seconds and take another five to connect to the wifi and be ready to go. But when I finish writing, and I have to start thinking about publishing, I need Photoshop for my book covers. I need InDesign for page layout and conversion to Kindle format. If I'm collaborating with a client, I really need MS-word so the comments are compatible and the web based MS programs are not as responsive as I would like and are really limited.

    I consider mine to be the half way point between a laptop and a tablet. For that, it's great. It is well worth the $250 I paid, but no matter how pretty the box, the limited functionality of the Chromebook just does not warrant a price tag much higher than $300 at the top in my opinion. However, as a cheap workhorse on the basic computer functions, it's a nice unit.
    webservant2003@...
  • No reason to exist

    1.0

    Chrome book even if it cost under $200, is still a useless device. It can't be even called a computer. All it has is a browser and it doesn't run non-google software...

    Google's business model is evil, Steal all open source projects, modify it and then give it away with strings attached. OEM's using Google software comes with a lot of strings attached and is anti-competitive.
    Owllll1net
    • Still here?

      6.0

      Microsoft must pay you very well.
      Naryan
    • No reason to exist

      Just like you?
      D.T.Long
    • Here read this....

      http://beta.fool.com/joekurtz/2013/04/10/why-google-needs-you-to-have-faster-internet/29837/?source=eogyholnk0000001
      minn131
    • Chrome OS and Outlook are Similar

      4.0

      I downloaded the Chrome OS and ran it for 3 days before I removed it and installed its matrix, SuSE 12.3. It was disappointing. Open source has a lot of stuff you can change or install, but you have to be willing to do it. The interface reminds me of Outlook with a monochromatic white and blue with a splash of black to make you realize the connection between SuSE and Microsoft.
      It loads fast because in spite of 3 plus gigs for the installation, but I think most of that is for compatibility. Still, a tablet loads faster, probably because the OS isn't in the firmware.
      David Nesbitt
  • Useless

    1.0

    This thing is useless, hardware is wasted to running only web browser and toy-apps, waste of money, I stick with my Surface Pro.
    Mr.SV
  • Envy of comment trolls

    8.0

    Without doubt the one device that makes negative comment addicts fume.
    slackdragon
  • One of the cheapest PCs with such resolution

    5.0

    But "nobody" wants a PC this expensive anymore.
    AleMartin
  • Not your grandfather's owlsmobile

    4.0

    Misses the point. If you're in a teleconference your admin. will update your PowerPoint and your engineer will fix the Cad/Can for you to download. Pixels are for team leaders not penny pinchers.
    jnffarrell
  • ChromeBook. . . Browser software base. . . it's just. .

    5.0

    . . worth ONLY $100.00 USD to me.
    AND that's stretching it a bit for just a browser.
    .
    .
    fm-usa
    • The OS has nothing to do with the price

      7.0

      100% of the price of the chromebook is hardware. On a Windows machine, the cost of the OS in reality is only about $35.00. Granted though, I'm going off of DreamSpark student prices, but honestly, nobody should ever pay retail for something as flawed as the Windows OS.
      Richard Estes
    • Then ask your mom to increase your pocket money.

      By the way, does she know you are spending your homework time posting here?
      Mah
  • Google Chromebook Pixel review

    1.0

    Over priced netbook that contains Google's spyware. Anything you type in it becomes property of Google. Not worth it.
    Loverock-Davidson