Thursday, September 3, 2015

Google Chromebook Pixel - Review



The Chromebook Pixel was a torchbearer for all Chromebooks, a shining example of how stunning Chrome OS-powered laptops can be. Yet it was available only directly from Google, as if the company knew it didn't fit with the typical barebones Chromebook mantra. This follow-up builds on what made the first pixel so desirable, and tackles many of the issues we had with the original.

While at 15mm it's not the thinnest laptop, the Pixel is still slim, and 1mm thinner than its predecessor. Weight has remained the same at a shoulder-friendly 1.5kg, making it comfortable to carry around. The sharp edges and corners look a little utilitarian, but we liked the clean design - you'll need to look inside before you see any Chrome logos.

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Comparisons with Apple's MacBook are hard to avoid, particularly as both laptops use the new USB Type-C connector, though where Apple makes do with a single port, the Pixel has two. With one on each side of the laptop, you can choose where to run your power cable. The multipurpose Type-C connection can also carry video, but you'll need an optional Type-C DisplayPort or HDMI adapter.

The Pixel has also two USB3 ports, so your existing devices are supported as well. An SD card reader lets you expand the 32GB of on board storage, if the 1TB of free Google Drive cloud storage isn't enough. The SD card sits flush to the chassis when inserted, so you can leave it permanently attached.


Crown Force

The 12.9in, 2560x1700-resolution touchscreen display is the Pixel's crowning feature. Google has retained the unorthodox 3:2 aspect ratio, which is boxier than a 16:9 laptop screen, but it's very well suited to web browsing. The high resolution is at its best displaying images, but you may need to experiment with Chrome OS's internal settings to find a level that's comfortable. We found 1,440x956 a happy compromise, and because this only affects the UI, text and menus still look smooth.

Image quality was mostly impressive. An sRGB color accuracy score of 91.6% is fantastic , and we measured black levels at a very low 0.24cd/m². A contrast ratio of 800:1 is above average too, but our one complaint was the low peak brightness of 200.1cd/m². This isn't quite bright enough to use comfortably outdoors, or in direct sunlight.

The large glass touchpad is a delight to use, with just the right level of resistance. Gesture shortcuts built in to Chrome OS make great use of the touchpad, letting you navigate backwards and forwards in Chrome with a two-finger horizontal swipe or change tabs with a three-fingered swipe. You rarely have to take your fingers away from the touchpad except oddly, to zoom in and out. Pinch-to-zoom only works on the touchscreen.

The keyboard is also fantastic, with chiclet keys that are sensibly spaced apart and comfortable to type on for long periods. By default, the Caps Lock key is replaced with a search shortcut, although you can change it back through the settings menu.

The backlit key only illuminate when you're actually using the keyboard, then fade away when you remove your hands, meaning you aren't distracted when you're watching videos. It's a feature you suddenly miss when moving to other backlit keyboards.


Smooth Operator

The Chromebook Pixel is available with either a 2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5500U and 8GB of RAM, or with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U and 16 GB of memory. We reviewed the former, but at no point did it feel sluggish enough to warrant the added expense of the i7 model. Chrome OS's plethora of animations and flourishes were delivered smoothly and even media-heavy web pages loaded swiftly. The Pixel also managed a SunSpider browser test speed of 196ms, which is the fastest we've seen from a Chromebook.

The real question is whether you need this much power given the limits of the operating system. Chrome OS is perfectly suited to web browsing and other basic tasks, but most familiar software simply isn't available. Many services are now adopting web-based alternatives, but you might find these still don't work; Skype's audio and video services are incompatible with Chrome OS.

At least the processor isn't a drain on the battery. We managed an impressive 10h 53m of video playback, but stick to web browsing and it will last even longer. Plugging in for just 15 minutes provides up to two hours of juice.

Keeping an eye on the Pixel's charge level is also strongly pleasing. LEDs integrated into the the lid glow in Google's familiar colors when the Pixel is turned on, but with the lid shut it becomes a battery gauge. A double tap on the lid makes the LEDs glow in 25% increments. It's a simple yet delightful design flourish.

There's a lot to like about the Chromebook Pixel, with excellent design and long battery life making it a joy to use. Yet while Chrome OS feels slick and responsive, it's also the Pixel's greatest weakness. You'll likely find yourself forced to work within its limitations.


Verdict

The Pixel is by far the best Chromebook to date, but you'll have to be able to live harmoniously with the operating system before parting with your cash.



Specifications

PROCESSOR: Dual-core-2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5500U
RAM: 8GB
SIZE: 298x225x15mm
WEIGHT: 1.5kg
SCREEN SIZE: 12.9in
SCREEN RESOLUTION: 2,560x1,700
GRAPHICS ADAPTER: Intel HD Graphics 5500
TOTAL STORAGE: 32GB SSD
OPERATING SYSTEM: Chrome OS
PARTS AND LABOR WARRANTY: Two years RTB
PART CODE: Chromebook Pixel

By Richard Esaton

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