Google Chromebook Pixel
From £799 inc VAT • pixel.google.com
Three years on from its first iteration, Google has updated the Pixel, making an already impressive, best-in-class laptop an even more tempting machine. The price is still high, but if Chromebooks are your thing, then this is as good as it gets.
In terms of design, the Pixel has changed very little. It still bears the industrial, chunky, square edged styling that we found initially so appealing, and that remains true today. When so many PCs seem to be trying to rebuild MacBook Airs and Pros, the more brutal form of the Pixel stands out as something to savour. That’s not to suggest that this is in any way a great lummox of a machine. In the hand, or resting on your lap it feels compact, solid, and very comfortable to use. At 1.5kg, it might not be as svelte as the new MacBook, or even a Dell XPS 13, but it isn’t a heavy device to carry around in your bag.
Chromebooks are never overburdened with ports, as ChromeOS isn’t really interested in doing much with them, but the Pixel has a very useful collection of slots. Two USB 3.0 ports and a headphone jack adorn one side, while the other side makes room for an SD card reader. The real interesting apertures though, are the two USB Type-C ports that flank the machine, and are used for power charging or attaching any number of peripherals. One feature we like is the LED strip across the lid, which when tapped gently will show you the amount of charge left in the battery.
We’ve grown accustomed to finding great keyboards and trackpads on inexpensive Chromebooks, but the Pixel packs the best of the lot. The shallow, island-style layout is wonderfully easy to use for extended periods, proving responsive and accurate. The backlight also makes typing after the sun goes down just as pleasant. There are, of course, a few changes to the normal arrangements, as Chromebooks feature internet navigation buttons along the top and a search button where the Caps Lock normally lives, but they make sense on this machine and operating system. A glass trackpad is a step up from the normal plastic versions found on cheaper models, and again it proves excellent. Multifinger gestures, of which there are plenty in ChromeOS, execute instantly, while general navigation is smooth and precise.
The real star of the show is the gorgeous IPS 2560x1700 resolution HD display. It’s bright, colourful, clear and bears an unusual 3:2 aspect ratio that Google deems more appropriate for using the web. The taller nature of the display does mean
We’ve grown accustomed to finding great keyboards and trackpads on Chromebooks, but the Pixel packs the best of the lot
you see more of a web page’s content before needing to scroll down, although if you watch a lot of movies on your laptop, then there is a trade-off here against the widescreen displays often found on other PCs. One added bonus is that the display is also a touchscreen. This might seem a little overkill for a device like a Chromebook, but it’s a useful feature when traversing the web, with it’s widespread, tappable options. The pinch-to-zoom feature also works very smartly, expanding pages with no hint of hesitation.
Video calling is a natural fit with an internet obsessed device, and the Pixel takes care of business in style thanks to a 720p webcam, with blue glass and a wide aperture. Why the blue glass? Well, to be honest we’re not entirely sure it makes a difference, but images are sharp and well defined. Callers also reported audio was solid, which is down to the twin microphones on the device.
The Pixel is lightning fast. Web pages load rapidly, navigation is swift, and even with multiple tabs open you don’t really sense any kind of slowdown. Streaming HD video from YouTube is no problem, 4K variants proved smooth and consistent, and the stereo speakers are surprisingly loud and articulate. Much of this will be down to the 2.2GHz Intel Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM that are at the heart of the machine. It’s certainly a potent combination when paired with the lightweight operating system. Of course, all of this speed arrives with a few caveats. While ChromeOS has come a long way in the few short years it’s been around, it does still boil down to being a supercharged browser. Yes, you can run a number of useful applications offline now, such as Google Docs, and also a small number of Android apps, plus in the end most people do use their machines to primarily interact with the web, but when you’re looking to spend around £800 on a machine you’re probably going to want a little more for your money.
If you create or edit multimedia content, then all of a sudden the Pixel is going to feel limited. Photo-editing is available through some applications, but if you want Photoshop, then you’re out of luck. The same goes for iTunes, although some would say that’s actually a blessing. Don’t get us wrong, the Chromebook Pixel is a very capable machine for a lot of everyday tasks, but you need to understand what you’re paying for up front. ChromeOS is a web-focused operating system, so as long as you spend the majority of your time there, and especially if you use the Google suite of apps, then there is much to like. The bare-bones nature of ChromeOS does prove very beneficial when it comes to battery life though, and in our looped video test the Pixel held out impressively for just over nine hours.
Streaming HD video from YouTube is no problem, 4K variants proved smooth and consistent, and the speakers are loud
As we’ve stated in pretty much every Chromebook review, they’re not for everyone. Being tied to the web, and Google’s version of the web in particular, isn’t going to be ideal for some users. The same goes for those that want to edit video, record music or play AAA games. Those users would be better served by a decent PC, which you could certainly buy for the same money as the new Pixel. But, and it’s a very big but, if you embrace the ideals of Chromebooks, and have the money to spare, the Pixel is a truly beguiling device that is a genuine pleasure to use. Do we want one? Unquestionably. Will we be buying one? No.