Why Torvalds loves the Chromebook Pixel: It's all about the display

The Google Chromebook Pixel's most well-known fan is Linux's Linus Torvalds. In recent Google+ posts, Torvalds explains exactly what he loves the most about the Pixel: Its remarkable display.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Yes, the Google Chromebook Pixel, at $1,299 for the Wi-Fi-only model, is quite expensive. But, in Linus Torvalds, Linux's creator, it's found a powerful friend. Why? Torvalds explained, "To make a long story short: it's all about the screen."

Torvalds has always loved the Chromebook Pixel's display. He praised it for its "beautiful screen" when he first started using it. It wasn't Chrome OS — Google's lightweight Linux that uses the Chrome Web browser for its interface — or the Pixel's other hardware. For him it really is all about the screen.

As Torvalds explained:

To make a long story short: it's all about the screen. There really isn't anything else special about the machine. Everything else is very much just "adequate," and you know what? It really doesn't matter. The screen was what got me interested, and perhaps more importantly, the screen is what makes it work.

I could write a much longer post talking about the weaknesses, because quite frankly, the rest of the machine really isn't all that special. You can get much better things. But I ended up deleting all my comments about the shortfall of the other individual components, because in the end it just didn't matter to me. The rest was "good enough" to make it work, and the screen sells the machine to me.

Specifically, the Chromebook Pixel comes with a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor. For memory, it has 4 GBs of RAM and a 32-GB SSD for local storage and a terabyte of free Google Drive cloud storage for three years. It also comes with 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-FI, an HD camera, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a 2-in-1 SD/MMC card reader; and DisplayPort. The display, which is what makes Torvalds happy, has a 12.85-inch diagonal and features 2560 x 1700 resolution with a 239 pixels per inch display, which is better than Apple MacBookPro (MBP) Retina display.

Torvalds has found that a lot of people seem to have trouble grasping why the Pixel's display is so much better than the vast majority of laptop screens, so he decided to show them. He wrote, "Since some people continually seem to be confused about the point of higher-resolution screens, I'm doing a small example of why you want it, especially if you're working with lots of text (i.e. email or source code)."

Here is an approximation of a display "with a 1080p screen (it's just scaled down using cubic interpolation using gimp: actually redrawing the fonts with a smaller font-size would result in slightly different output, but it's fairly representative)."

A "high-quality" 1080 x 720 display: Bad. (Credit: Linus Torvalds)

Torvalds continued, "Remember, this is the good kind of screen some people claim is great. Most laptops actually have a 768p screen, which would just be unreadable."

The Chromebook Pixel's 2560 x 1700 display: Good. (Credit: Linus Torvalds)

And then here's "part of a real screenshot from my Pixel, using a font that I actually use and find readable on that screen. Yes, it's a smallish font, but it really is readable, and it's small enough that I see about 50 emails at the same time (it's a crop of my lkml [Linux Kernel Mailing List] folder in Gmail in the 'compact' view using Chrome, in case people care)."

Torvalds concluded: "And you know what? Yes, you can actually read the 1080p version. But compare the two, and ask yourself which one you think causes less eye strain because it's clearer and easier to read. And if you still think that 1080p is 'good enough,' I can only say that you're either (a) stupid as f*ck or (b) in deep denial."

I see his point. He's not the only one to feel that way. As ZDNet's own mobile guru James Kendrick recently said, "The high resolution, even higher than the famous Retina Display, is simply wonderful to use. Text displays razor sharp and graphics pop." I agree. The Pixel's display is simply stunning.

Is it worth the money? For Torvalds sure. But, as he said, "So don't get me wrong: it's absolutely not a perfect machine, and the price is unquestionably too high for any kind of widespread use. But I'm hoping it's the beginning of a trend, and we'll see more than just the Pixel and the [Retina Display] MBP with good screens."

Torvalds may be right. Once you get used to the Pixel's display, other laptops' display look second-rate. 

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