Earlier this month, there were strange rumors that Google was getting ready to launch a high-end Chromebook called the Chromebook Pixel. The man behind the scuttlebutt didn’t sound like a reliable source, so I wrote the Pixel off as an entertaining fantasy.
But this morning in San Francisco, I attended a press event at which Google unveiled…the Chromebook Pixel.
And it is, indeed, an extremely high-end laptop — by far the fanciest Chromebook to date, with specs that would be impressive if it were a Windows Ultrabook or a Mac. The knockout spec is the screen resolution: it has a 12.85″ screen with 2560-by-1700 pixels, for a density of 239 pixels per inch — the highest of any laptop ever, says Google. That’s high enough that it’s in the territory that Apple calls “retina” — Google’s Chrome honcho, Sundar Pichai, says that users will “never, ever see another pixel.”
The screen’s aspect ratio is 3:2 — tall rather than wide. That used to be typical for laptops, but wide-screen aspect ratios have become standard in recent years. Pichai says that Google went against the current grain because the web needs height, for scrolling lengthy pages, more than it needs width.
Oh, and the display is a touchscreen, too. Google is providing some web apps which are designed with touch in mind, including a Google+-centric photo-sharing service; it also says it’s working with third parties to encourage them to create touch-friendly web services and sites. In two to three months, it also plans to provide a new web-based version of Quickoffice, the venerable office suite Google acquired last year; it’ll complement Google Docs and will be aimed at business users who prize Microsoft Office file compatibility above all else.
As a piece of industrial design, the 3.35-lb, aluminum-clad Pixel, like nearly all modern thin notebooks, draws plentiful inspiration from Apple’s MacBook Air — though it has a textured finish and isn’t tapered, so it doesn’t come off as a shameless knockoff. Working with partners in Asia, Google designed the machine itself: it has hidden screws, vents and speakers, and the various ports are unlabeled. (Google found that consumers have no idea what the standard icons mean.)
The system packs an Intel Core i5 processor, which Google says packs enough oomph to permit smooth scrolling using the glass touchpad. It comes in two versions, a Wi-Fi-only model with 32GB of flash storage and one with Verizon LTE and 64GB of storage.
Of course, in theory you shouldn’t care too deeply about how much storage the Chromebook Pixel has. Like all Chromebooks, it runs Chrome OS and is designed to be used with web-based services, mostly with an active Internet connection. Google is throwing in 1TB of Google Drive space for the first three years — a pretty spectacular amount by web-storage standards. (After the first three years, anything you’ve stored will continue to be available for free, but any additional storage you use will fall under current Google Drive pricing at that time.)
Other recent Chromebooks, such as Samsung’s $249 model, have been aimed at consumers who want something that’s affordable as well as simple. The Pixel keeps the simplicity pitch, but nobody’s going to buy it because it’s cheap — it’s priced like a MacBook Air or one of the more posh Ultrabooks. The Wi-Fi model is $1299 and is available today from Google and tomorrow at BestBuy.com; the LTE one goes for $1449 and will be available in April. (They’ll also be available for in-person inspection at ten Best Buy stores.)
At those prices, the Pixel is aimed at a market that’s nascent and small: folks who like deluxe laptops and who are so committed to the idea of living their digital lives in the cloud that they’re O.K. with the concept of a serious piece of computing hardware which isn’t designed to run conventional local software at all.
It’s been nearly four years since Google announced Chrome OS. I’ve tended to be skeptical about it, and even though Google has some success stories to boast about — Chromebooks are the top-selling laptop on Amazon — its post-PC vision hasn’t yet made a dent in the universe. Considering Android’s vast popularity, I’ve sometimes wondered if Google would scrap Chrome OS or somehow merge it into Android.
It hasn’t — instead, it seems to be working at least as hard as ever at making Chromebooks into a success. I plan to live with a review unit for a while; more thoughts to come.
Chromebook Pixel [Google.com]