The Chromebook Pixel project: hardware review

March 1, 2013
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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