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There's a lot to love about Google's new high-end Chromebook Pixel laptop: a vivid, high-resolution touch screen, powerful speakers and next-generation USB ports meant to standardise power chargers. All for $300 cheaper than the original model.
Machines running Google's Chrome operating system are meant primarily for online use. Although the Pixel promises offline access to files stored on Google's online Drive service, it was hit or miss with files that weren't in Google's own formats. Do take a look at the new Goggle Chrome Pixel and be amazed with another amazing product from Google.
DESIGN AND BUILD
Samsung's most recent Chromebook looked and felt like something you'd give to a child, but the Pixel is a very different and far more grown-up machine. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it's carved from a single block of aluminium: there are no visible screws or vents, and very few join lines. The speakers are tucked away behind the keyboard, and a light strip on the back lets you know if it's on and niftily displays the Google rainbow as it's powering down. It's an industrious piece of design, and the gunmetal finish makes it look more like a piece of military hardware.
With other Chromebooks, the keyboard layout takes a little getting used to. There's no equivalent to the Mac Command or Windows keys, instead you'll just find extra-long ctrl and alt buttons. Gone too is the Caps Lock button, replaced with a dedicated search key, but pressing alt and search shifts everything into capitals. The chiclet keys sit just on the right side of clacketyness; they're positive and don't feel like Lego bricks in a tray of treacle, unlike some rivals. The trackpad is of the clickable-all-over variety, but despite being made of etched glass we can't say it's noticeably more tactile than a conventional plastic one.
The screen is where the appropriately named Pixel packs its punches. It squeezes a whopping 4,352,000 pixels into a 12.85-inch display at a 2560 x 1700 resolution. That, maths-fans, gives it a density of 239 pixels per inch. It's basically like the screen's made from high-end smartphones, and it's a higher density than Apple's Macbook Pro Retina screens, which max out at 227 pixels per inch. The result is a screen that is incredibly sharp, with absolutely no aliasing. Google has included Tom Lowe's 4K timelapse film Timescapes to brandish the screen, and it's utterly astonishing - watching people's jaws drop as they see these living photographs is almost worth the price of the device alone.
Windows 8 has proved that touchscreens can have a place on laptops, and Google includes one with the pixel. The screen is Gorilla Glass-coated, so it's robust and tactile at the same time, and despite being highly reflective the display's sheer brightness means you can happily see everything in direct sunlight. But it doesn't feel like the software has been built with touchscreens in mind. While the app icons at the bottom of the screen are poke-friendly, the Chrome browser and file manager are fiddlier propositions that require a more intricate level of touch interaction than our chubby digits are capable of.
The Chromebook Pixel's closest competitor is Apple's 13in Macbook Air. It packs similar components: both feature Intel Core i5 processors, 4GB RAM and Intel's HD 4000 integrated graphics chips. Screen sizes are similar too, although the Air's is ever so slightly bigger. Where it really matters is in the operating system: while the Air runs OS X Mountain Lion, which is capable of running almost all Apple-compatible software, the Pixel runs the Chrome OS, which doesn't really do anything other than Google apps.
It seems truly bizarre given the great strides Google's own Android operating system has made in bringing great apps to portable devices, that it's not seen fit to do the same with its computer OS before launching such an expensive, flagship device. All those apps you know and love are missing: there's no Spotify, no Steam, and no Photoshop, for example.
The standard Chromebook Pixel's SSD contains just 32GB of storage, but this is upped to 64GB in the LTE version. That's still low compared to the average laptop of course, but that's sort of the point of Chromebooks - you keep everything in the cloud. Reinforcing this is Google's inclusion of a whole terabyte of Drive storage - but only for three years. Thanks to its cloud-based nature and the limits on the kinds of programs and apps that are available to the Pixel you may well find that 32GB is plenty, but if the Chrome OS becomes a more fully-fledged offline operating system this could become a bigger issue.
With its 3:2 aspect ratio the Pixel eschews the trend for ultra-wide laptops, and as a result, it delivers a lot of screen real estate without being un-manageably large. At 1.5kg it's not back-breaking, and thanks to its build quality we felt happy shoving it into a rucksack naturel.
The Chromebook Pixel features Type-C multi-device charging port. The high-end notebook has a USB-C port for charging, data transfer or external monitor integration. You'll also find two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader and a headphone jack. To the right there's an SD/MMC card reader. Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11a/b/g/n make up the invisible connections, and there's an LTE version in the works for on-the-go mobile internet access. It's certainly plenty to keep you going,
POWER AND BATTERY
For an ultra-portable laptop the Pixel has plenty of power, and for multi-tasking, web-browsing and video watching it operates without a stutter. It's not going to power through the latest and greatest games, but given that none of those are available on the Chrome OS that's not exactly an issue. 12 hours is the most you'll get from the Pixel's inaccessible battery pack, which is fairly understandable given the sheer number of pixels it has to push around.