Why I love Chromebook Pixel
Seventh in a series. When I reported the original iPhone launch in June 2007, there was sense of history among the people waiting to buy. Several shared similar sentiment: That we would all look back in five or 10 years and see the mobile as a defining moment in computing. They were absolutely right. I feel similarly about Chromebook Pixel, not that as many people appreciate what it represents compared to the larger number of folks rushing to purchase Apple's smartphone.
Google's computer is an acquired taste, and so delish you don't easily go back. But there's a Vegemite quality. Most people wouldn't eat the spread, but ask those who do -- they can't live without it. Likewise, Chromebook Pixel isn't for everyone, but is for me and possibly could be for you, if given a chance.
Before continuing, this post is part of BetaNews' "Why I love" series, which commenced on Valentine's Day. Among the others (in order, so far): Surface Pro; Kindle; Chromebook; Windows 8; Lumia 920; Raspberry Pi. I'm to blame for Surface Pro and Chromebook.
You might wonder why I write a love story to Pixel, if I already professed my heart for Chromebook. Simple answer: I love Google's touchscreen computer more and could never go back to plain-Jane Chromebook. I could imagine going sideways to MacBook Pro, using Chrome browser as my primary user experience. But anything less would be letdown. The high-resolution display is magnificent, and touch makes for better user experience.
To love Chromebook Pixel, you must change your mindset, particularly if a long-time computer user. The browser is the user interface. You mainly use web apps, and there is surprisingly good selection available from the Chrome Web Store.
However, while Google makes the operating system UI more like Linux, OS X or Windows with each iteration, local apps are generally laughable by comparison. File manager, photo editor and music player are examples of basics gone bad; they offer too little compared to rival platforms. But browser satisfies and the experience will improve as Google and third-party developers release more "packaged apps", which work offline.
Critics balk at the whole browser-as-UI concept. They just don't get it. True innovation isn't improving what you have but providing what you don't know you need. That's the vision driving Chromebook Pixel, like iPad, which also received cool, early reception (me among the fools). Comparisons to the existing way are meaningless in this context. As cloud services proliferate and people spend more time in browsers, rather than apps, something like Pixel makes more sense.
Related: The computer embodies a design philosophy that captures Google's culture DNA and vision for the digital lifestyle of the contextual cloud computing era. If you are dependent on some business process that requires software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, Pixel isn't for you. I don't require either, nor do many other people who think they do. The paradigm is the browser.
In September, I explained how "Chromebook changed my life". Please refer to that story for the broader explanation of the basic benefits of the computer category and Chrome OS.
Google's first laptop transcends OEM partner products. Pixel is the MacBook Pro of Chromebooks. There is strong design aesthetic, metal enclosure and stunning screen, which 2560-by-1700 resolution outdoes the Apple Retina Display's 2560 by 1600. As I explained in February, Google means Chromebook Pixel for people considering MBP.
The best products make you feel good, regardless of benefits or shortcomings. I really enjoy using Chromebook Pixel. While not as behavior-changing as I anticipated, the touchscreen improves the overall user experience, and display resolution is beyond spectacular. The keyboard is about the best I've ever used, making writing fast and furious. Overall performance satisfies, too.
The key advantages are resolution and touchscreen. No Mac comes with the latter, although some Windows machines do. But no Windows laptop in this size or price class offers nearly as much resolution.
Chromebook Pixel specs: 12.85-inch touchscreen, 2560 x 1700 resolution, 239 pixels per inch; 1.8GHz Core i5 processor; Intel HD graphics 4000; 4GB DDR3 RAM; 32GB or 64GB of storage; HD WebCam; backlit keyboard; dual-band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n 2x2; 4G LTE (on one model); Bluetooth 3.0; mini-display port; two USB ports; Chrome OS. Measures: 297.7 x 224.6 x 16.2 mm. Weighs: 1.52 kg (3.35 pounds). Cost: $1,299 (32GB WiFi); $1,449 (64GB WiFi/4G LTE). 1TB Google Drive storage is included free, for three years.
Nearly 12 months have passed since I started using Chromebook as my primary PC. Except for a few weeks in February, when I reviewed Surface Pro, Chromebook is my only computer -- Pixel for two months now (please see my review for much more).
That said, I could get many of the benefits, short of touch, running Chrome browser on MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Plus, I could easily run traditional software while taking advantage of web apps. But there is something about how tight is the whole package, thanks to Google software and services. If the search and information giant doesn't provide most of what I need, some other developer does.
But as expressed earlier, Chromebook Pixel is an acquired taste. Even for me. Much as I love the computer, my mindset needs more adjustment -- to pull away from app-centric thinking to looking from a task-perspective. That's the direction Pixel is headed, but the apps aren't there yet, nor is Google's UI. The potential is obvious, but software is still a work in progress.
The point: I may love Chromebook Pixel, but it doesn't always love me.
Google's developer conference commences in two days, and there Chrome OS is sure to get some attention, and even Pixel. I ask myself: Will the love last? That's a question to answer after Google I/O and Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference and Microsoft's BUILD in June.
By the way, I won't attend I/O as expected, due to a family situation. Sigh, there's always next year, eh?