The Chromebook Pixel project: hardware review

March 1, 2013

Chromebook Pixel gallery-touch_2x

The Chromebook Pixel is the new darling of the Chrome world, meant specifically for developers and those who are in the market for a high-end device. In engaging in this project, I made the Pixel my only device. After five days of extensive testing, it’s time for a full hardware review. Is it worth the steep price tag, or should you leave this one alone?

The screen

Perhaps the most discussed aspect of the new Chromebook Pixel is the screen. It’s bright, larger than most other Chromebooks, touch responsive… and has a 3:2 aspect ratio. That may sound strange, but there’s a purpose. The Pixel’s aspect ratio is meant to make better use of web pages, which scroll vertically. You see more of the page, and don’t have to scroll as much. I thought viewing YouTube videos, which all have a 16:9 aspect ratio, would be annoying on the Pixel, as black bars would be present at the top and bottom of the screen. I didn’t find it bothersome, though it would be nice if the video took up the entire page when maximized.

chromebook-pixel-official-1

4.3 million pixels

The 2560×1700 resolution at 239 PPI make it superior to much of the market, and 400 nit definitely make it the brightest out there. You can look at all the videos you like, but until you see it for yourself, it won’t make sense. Upon opening the device for the first time, I was blown away at just how brilliant it is, and the screen makes just about everything better. Web pages are crisp, and even documents in Google Drive (where I write this now) are more pleasant to look at. It really is just a gorgeous, vibrant display. I found no issue with coloration, and even black is true, rather than a grey-ish like we find on many other displays.

Touch

A touch screen sounds really cool, but does it work well? There are many ultrabooks on the market, which have touch screen (and aren’t very good at it), so is the Pixel just like those? Is it really functional, or just another selling point?

Touch capacity on the Pixel is stellar. I find it to be responsive and accurate, with no lag to speak of. Grab a page to drag it, and it happens instantly. Click a button, and it’s performing the task before you’ve even pulled your hand all the way back. The screen is made with Gorilla Glass, meaning high quality materials that will hold up to touch and remain beautiful for the life of the device. The lack of haptic feedback may be an issue for those who enjoy it, as that function is not available for the Pixel’s screen.

Chromebook Pixel pixel-exploded-view_2x

The guts

The Chromebook Pixel has an Intel i5 processor clocked at 1.8GHz, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB DDR3 RAM, a 32GB SSD (64GB for the LTE version), Dual band WiFi (the normal 802.11 a/b/g/n 2×2), and Bluetooth 3.0.

That’s a lot of tech jargon, but does it work?! It sure does. The processor is snappy, and the graphics card never disappoints. Even streaming high definition movies, there was no stutter or lag. That’s rare, so let’s talk about the real day-to-day stuff!

Multi-tasking was a breeze, and having upwards of a dozen tabs open in Chrome yielded no lag or reloading issues. In my work day, I will routinely listen to music on my device, watch YouTube videos here and there, research various topics, and work in Drive. That’s about 6-7 tabs open and working almost constantly, and I’ve never had an issue. My score on HTML5 Test was 463 out of 500, with 13 bonus points.

03-google-chromebook-pixel

All the small things

The screen is great, and the guts hold up to strain… but what about all the other stuff?! I know you’re itching to know about the battery (keep reading), but there is a few other major topics we should touch on before we get to that. The goal here is to be comprehensive and objective, not give a knee-jerk reaction.

Speakers

When I heard about the speakers, I scrunched my face up in confusion. Under the keyboard?! They’ve got to be muffled, and downright crappy, right? I was prepared to hate them, and relegate myself to owning yet another computer with horrible built-in sound.

Surprisingly enough, they’re not only adequate… they’re really good. They are really loud, and very clear. I don’t get a lot of low-end bass (I mean, what device really does?), but they’re very true and clean. I resist cranking them, as they are surprisingly loud, but they’re good at all levels. They don’t interfere with the keyboard at all, so the speakers are great… and a bit of a mystery.

Google Chromebook Pixel

Keyboard

Backlit, beautiful, and brilliant. The action on the keys is superb, and the materials are top notch. I’m fairly swift when typing, but can be a pounder now and again. These hold up to anything I toss at them, as a good keyboard should. They are the now-standard “chiclet” style keys, which I’ve actually come to enjoy.

The backlit keyboard is a pure joy in the evenings when you need to pop open the Chromebook and get some work done, but don’t want to bother turning lights on. The “action keys” along the top have a different feel than the rest of the keyboard, which is odd, but I’ve come to really like it. The only issue I have is that after a day or so of use, the keys start to show all the oils and such present in the skin. Not a huge issue, but if you’re a clean freak like me… keep some antibacterial wipes handy.

Trackpad

The trackpad is made of etched glass, which sounded like overkill to me. Then I used it. The fingers slide over it gracefully, and it’s the same black as the keys, making for a really clean, modern look. It’s responsive, and has a pleasant feel when clicking. The downside? Just like the keyboard, it will show oils after a day or so of use.

Chromebook Pixel hinge

The build

The build quality of this machine is superb. The aluminum casing is just wonderful, and gives the machine clean lines. The piano hinge holds the monitor steady, and is smooth to open and close. The one-touch opening Google bragged about is the real deal, and pretty cool.

My issue with the build comes in a side-note… literally. The ports on the side of the machine are a bit suspect. The power cable doesn’t really settle in to the port tightly, while the headphone jack is far too tight. The two USB 2.0 ports are fine, but there is no USB 3.0… which is very strange to me. I haven’t had any issues with the power cord slipping out, or coming loose, but it’s not a snug fit. The USB ports also get warm during use, and especially when the fan is on. Not too hot, just warmer than usual. Not cause for alarm, but definitely something to be aware of.

Another really nice touch on the Pixel is the fan. It’s really quiet, and completely out of the way. I hear it from time to time, but I don’t feel any air coming out anywhere. Even when the fan kicks into high gear, it’s not loud or obnoxious. Like many other things, the fan is hidden… but does its job well.

chromebook pixel (1)

The battery test

Each time I tested the battery life, I charged the battery to 100% capacity. After being fully charged, I used the device straight away with no breaks (other than, you know, normal stuff). I depleted the battery completely, making the machine quit on me each time I tested. I had the screen at about 80% brightness, and the speakers at half (they’re loud, remember?!).

In normal use, which I can best describe as medium to heavy web browsing, the Chromebook Pixel wore me out. I tested it (fully) 3 times, and averaged 6.5 hours of use. The peak was nearly 7.5 hours, and the low was about 6 hours. This all, of course, depends on use. Again, my median use stats were listed previously in this review to provide a reference point.

When I really put the pedal to the floor, it held up fairly well. Loaded on each Chromebook Pixel is a 2:11 video called “Timescapes”, meant to showcase the display. I thought this would be a good way to test the battery out, as it really tasks the screen. I did this twice, and had the same results each time: I was able to get nearly 4 hours of use. Overall, I can’t complain about battery life with the Pixel… the 5 hour claim holds true.

Chromebook devices-selector-home-pixel

Conclusion

Is it worth the $1,300 price tag for the WiFi version? I think so… just keep those criteria we talked about before in mind. To be honest, I was anticipating being regretful of the purchase. I thought I’d be underwhelmed, and have to hassle with the Play Store for a return. Instead, I’m pleasantly surprised with the Chromebook Pixel, and am pleased with my purchase.

As always, it’s best to analyze your needs as well as how you really use a computer before making a purchase. Can I say the Chromebook Pixel is for everyone? No, but no single product is. Just as a Mac isn’t right for everyone, or a Windows PC may not be. What I will say is that this is a very viable option, and you should consider it for your next computer purchase.

Comments

  • WithinArmsReach

    Picture of you holding a chrome book or it never happened.

    • http://petercast.net Peterson Silva

      Video review or it didn’t happen! =D

    • http://google.com/+derekross Derek Ross

      He has one. Trust me :)

  • Sea ttletech

    Industrial design is nice. maybe a little too heavy. Price = instant loser. Almost noone is going to pay $1200+ for chrome OS in 2013!

    • Nate Swanner

      The aim of this machine is for developers, not consumers necessarily.

      • Sea ttletech

        Good point. Except the lady at bestbuys trying to sell me on this over an asus :) It should be discounted for developers to get more on board.

        • Nate Swanner

          No, I believe the price is meant to keep those who aren’t serious about developing or Chrome OS in general from buying it.
          If you have the cash, I promise you won’t regret it from a hardware standpoint. It’s amazing. Just be sure you enjoy Chrome OS. Some don’t really understand it properly, but we’ll get to that in part 3 of the project :D

          • Sea ttletech

            With googles cash and the price of the chromebook. This might stop a poor college kid with great skills from developing something amazing on this simple os. I do have the cash as I personally own over 500 laptops and have processesd over 10,000 laptops this year. lol!

          • lalala

            i believe google’s purpose was not to sell in bulk but to get it being compared to other hi end devices like macbooks,just being mentioned in the same breath is good enough publicity for them i guess.

        • http://profiles.google.com/ee2718 admin 1

          Obviously she would try to sell you this – she will get 5 times the commission if she sells you something that costs 5 times as much.

          • Sea ttletech

            She was a straight google rep? The asus i was looking at was the zenbook prime multitouch. Pretty close in price. The pixel is a nice laptop but i’m a special case. I’ve only carried around 12″ -13″ laptops for over a decade and anything over 2.6 pounds feels too heavy for a 13″ .

      • AskWhy

        Who is the winner of NEXUS 4???

    • Andrew Mezzi

      I don’t think Google wants thin to succeed, because that would annoy their hardware partners. As a different article that I’m too lazy to look up said, this is about reputation. If you compare this to a Macbook, Google wins. This is to give Chrome a premium reputation.

      • Sea ttletech

        I just read the article. To each their own but i’ve been carrying 12″ 13″ premium notebooks 2.5- 3 pounds. If i wanted heavier i would carry a 15″. Its bulk and weight feels like a negative esp since its only integrated graphics.

    • http://profiles.google.com/chuckg73 Charles Gallagher

      Of weighs the same as the plastic Samsung 550 and the Mac book pro.

  • arcwindz

    AA ur mobile website is buggy
    The picture is elongated and i can’t switch to full site.

    • MasterMuffin

      What phone, with my sgs3 it’s almost perfect, only the two buttons on the top don’t show correctly

      • arcwindz

        Well, it’s an iOS device, don’t ask me why lol, i want to change to android soon, but the mobile website interface is messy and i can’t switch to dekstop version

        • MasterMuffin

          If I remember correctly, App Store has a free web browser with the possibility to fake you as a desktop user. Not sure, but if you’re annoyed, search for it! :)

          • kascollet

            Why isn’t it possible anymore to switch to desktop version, whatever the device/browser ?
            Mobile version is all right on my GS2, but ridiculous on the iPad.

          • MasterMuffin

            Don’t know, that’s actually stupid :(

          • arcwindz

            Lol, guess i’ll just stop accessing from my device for a while
            Somebody should look into it though

            btw, sorry for posting unrelated comment here, this is the first post I saw this morning :)

          • MasterMuffin

            Okay and no prob :)

  • AskWhy

    Who is the winner of NEXUS 4 !!!!!????

    • MasterMuffin

      I can’t remember but aren’t you little late, I thought it was announced months ago? o.O

      • Dante

        where is the link? can you show me? cause every day i open androidauthority.com but never show up..

        • MasterMuffin

          You have to check the original competition page to see the winner, but I’m actually not sure if they announced it yet. It was another page that also had a nexus 4 giveaway that I remembered >.<

  • Lara

    WTF DID YOU DO TO THE MOBILE SITE?! It sucks!! I can’t read anything and the images are all black and stretched out, I can’t even scroll down! It looks absolutely ghastly and horrid on my iPad, I can’t read ANYTHING! All crapple jokes and android fanboy slurs behind, I really can’t do anything til I clicked on this post. FIX IT ASAP OR REVERT BACK TO THE OLD SITE. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Please fix it.

    • Jusephe

      It’s android authority mobile site will show on anything that doesn’t run android.

      • kascollet

        Is it actually so ?

        • MasterMuffin

          No

    • MasterMuffin

      With mobile phone it’s really nice, with iPad it may look weird though

    • http://www.androidauthority.com Derek Scott

      Hi Lara,

      There were some bugs with the mobile site that were overlooked, our apologies, it will be fixed asap.

  • Ray

    Macbook Pro Retina has better specs for the same price. Hey, I’ve just used “Apple” and “value for money” in the same sentence!

  • frin

    So what prevent us to install a “proper” OS on this Chromebook ?
    like Windows, Mac, or Ubuntu ?

    • Ivan Myring

      Nothing. The kernels and that are already available

    • MasterMuffin

      Nothing, it’s pretty easy actually

    • kascollet

      The Chromebooks features a dev mode that allows an easy install of Ubuntu in a specific manner where both OS work simultaneously. Neat.

  • kascollet

    3/2 ratio…. YEEEEEEEEEEEEES !!!
    1700 pixels height… YEEEEEEEEEEEEES !!!

    Finally someone gets it.

    Next move Google : 3/2 or even 4/3 tablet. Please. Fu*%§#ng do it !

    • http://www.maverickcreative.ca/ Joshua Richards

      why? whats the benefit of a 3/2 ratio… looks stupid.

      • kascollet

        More content.
        Is it that hard to figure ?
        This is a web-consuming machine (not a TV), web pages are tall, not wide.

        • http://www.maverickcreative.ca/ Joshua Richards

          I definitely disagree. The aspect ratio doesn’t benefit the experience at all. Any video content will get even larger black bars. But maybe I’m old school,

          Additionally it just doesn’t look good.

          • kascollet

            Well, it depends of what you use your computer for. Personally, watching videos represents a very tiny amount of my usage, on connected devices (phone-tablet-PC) : I
            have a 16/9 TV that’s ok for movies, much much better in fact.
            On Internet machines, browsing/mailing/posting/social-networking are my main activities by far (what the hell do you use your PC for ?). The latter functions all benefit from a taller screen and that’s just a fact : more is more, especially on small screens.
            PC makers had you think 16/9 ratio is better but the fact is it’s only cheaper for them to produce (less surface at a given diagonal). They don’t care about your experience and you know that.

            And I don’t understand your statement about “looks”. We’re talking about tools, not pieces of furniture ?

          • http://www.maverickcreative.ca/ Joshua Richards

            Woah. Looks are very important, design is very important. Have you heard of this company called Apple? They put effort into their aesthetic and design and made quite a bit of money.

          • kascollet

            Well, I don’t know if it’s a killing feature :-)
            I appreciate some of the ergonomics concepts Apple believe in (small form factor smartphones for example) but I absolutely don’t care about looks. I buy devices for the what they allow me to do, not to show my gear to everyone.

          • http://www.maverickcreative.ca/ Joshua Richards

            It definitely is. It’s not about showing it off, its about having something that’s beautifully crafted. Google tried to do this with the Pixel, I think they missed the mark a bit.

            Regardless, 16:9 is an accepted ratio. I think they’d have higher adoption with a sleeker looking unit. And I don’t think 3:2 enhances the experience at all.

          • kascollet

            To each his own then ! Nevertheless, fact is the most adopted tablet is 4/3. This means people’s appreciation can evolve outside of paved walkways no ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/benoitlechasseur Benoit Lechasseur

    Intel i5 and HD 4000.

    You’re kidding right? Those laptop sells of 300$ at Best Buy.

    • http://profiles.google.com/ee2718 admin 1

      i5 and HD4000 – no! An Atom slowpoke, with 1GB RAM, slow mechanical hard drive and poor build quality maybe – although you can pickup some firesale and clearance items now that netbooks are being discontinued by Acer, HP and Asus.

  • feres13

    Whai is the most exciting about thic chromebook pixel is that google proved that they can make their own hardware and make it well, now make similar hardware for Nexus devices, they can keep the actual nexus line as a cheaper offering like 250$ chromebooks and make the hardware of nexus devices that will finally match Apple!

  • http://profiles.google.com/fahadayaz Fahad Ayaz

    Can you replace the SSD in this? Being able to use this as a normal computer when you need it running Ubuntu would be pretty awesome.

  • Lara

    I want one or two but waaaay too expensive. And who on earth wants black bars on the top and bottom of whilst watching YouTube/any kind of videos? Not me! Ugh.

  • Not an MS Employee

    Fanboy review much? 1300 dollar is/was way to much for this system with this OS. And btw a HD4000 is no graphics card, it’s integrated graphics. Ok so where is an objective review, not just one shouting Google is awesome please have all my private data and I’ll even pay you for it?