A gradual shift towards cloud computing over the last number of years, ushered in by services such as Google Drive, iCloud and Microsoft SkyDrive, continues to make the days of physical storage further obsolete. Your immersive music libraries, photo galleries, movie collections and applications are becoming increasingly accessible from the web, rather than stored directly on your computer or other device.
Google, as the curator of several web-based services, is a forerunner in this transition towards the “post-PC era” once coined by the late Steve Jobs. A few years ago, the Mountain View-based corporation went one step further with the Chromebook. At the time, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt claimed that Chromebooks would essentially be inexpensive, throwaway notebooks. That mantra held true, until just days ago.
Earlier this week, Google announced the next-generation Chromebook Pixel. In terms of hardware, forget everything that you thought a Chromebook was supposed to be. The Chromebook Pixel has much improved components — an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, Intel HD 4000 graphics — packed inside an ultra-thin, virtually seamless anodized aluminum shell. Not quite as thin as a MacBook Air, but elegant nonetheless.
The Chromebook Pixel has been labeled as a MacBook Pro with Retina display competitor, for good reason. The notebook visibly shares a number of design cues from the latest-generation MacBook Pro, including hinge fan vents, hidden speakers and an ultra-high resolution display. In fact, the Chromebook Pixel has a 2,560 x 1,700 display at 239 pixels per inch, making it the highest resolution display ever for a notebook.
Google also chose to incorporate touch capabilities into the screen, meaning that you can browse the web like you would on your tablet or smartphone. In spite of that, some early first impressions of the Chromebook Pixel, from various sources, indicate that the multi-touch experience might not be as fluid as Google had perhaps envisioned. Fortunately, there is still an impressively responsive trackpad to compensate.
In terms of software, however, it is where many pundits will argue that the Chromebook Pixel falls short. The notebook runs Chrome OS, a Linux-based operating system that is essentially limited to the web and web-based applications. In this manner, the laptop starts to feel heavily restricted to purely Google services — Google Drive, Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube and so forth — and absolutely useless for a traditional program such as Adobe Photoshop.
The concept of a notebook that virtually runs just the Google Chrome web browser is acceptable, when the price of such device is in the range of $250 or so. At that price, you are getting a glorified content consumption device for half the price of an iPad. Our very own Stephen Hall, who recently purchased the Samsung Chromebook, agreed with that sentiment:
At half the price of an entry-level iPad, I couldn’t resist. At the very least I decided that I should try it out and see if it was able to do everything I needed to do away from my desktop. So far, it’s looking good. I have a web browser beta of Spotify, an in-browser image editor, and outside of those two things, I don’t really need a desktop on the go. I can sync my iTunes library at home, and I already carry it around on my iPhone too.
But considering that the Chromebook Pixel, which ships next week, will set you back a heftier $1,299, it is important to consider equal-to-lesser dollar options that will deliver equal-to-better functionality and value.
First and foremost, the most obvious competitor to the Chromebook Pixel is the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. With a reduced starting price of $1,499, it would be hard to pass up on the premium Apple notebook that has full computing abilities.
For those that prefer a notebook without an Apple logo on it, there are still several other options out there. Consider the Sony VAIO S at $1,149.99, a Windows 8 machine that has a 2.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and 8 GB of RAM under the hood. There are also the similarly-speced Lenovo ThinkPad X1, $1,239, or Dell XPS 14, $1,199, notebooks. If you’re looking for cheaper alternatives, the HP Envy x2 at $749.99 and Samsung Series 9 at $899.99 also give the Chromebook Pixel a run for its money.
Google has made the Chromebook Pixel with Wi-Fi and 32 GB of internal storage available for purchase now from Google Play, priced at $1,299 and shipping next week. If you’re in the United Kingdom, you’re looking at £1,049. An LTE-capable model of the notebook with 64 GB of storage will ship in April for $1,449. Both models include a complimentary 1 TB of Google Drive storage, per user, for three years.