Google just announced its new high-end computer called Chromebook Pixel, which is aimed at “everyone” (including the “enthusiast” market), and we got a chance to check it out this morning. If you are unfamiliar with Google’s Chromebook products, they are computers built for “cloud” users who rely mainly on web-based applications and services. It has had some real retail success (Amazon) and has gained some traction in the education space as well. Previous Chromebooks laptops were primarily designed to be affordable, and that means making tough choices when it comes to hardware, especially in terms of chassis materials and display quality. The Chromebook Pixel will change this, and this time again, Google has worked (hard) with Samsung to build this laptop computer. [Photo credit: Karsten Lemm (www.kalemm.com)]
Making the computer disappear behind the screen
Chromebook Pixel’s goal is to have the computer “disappear” behind the screen. Because this computer is designed to run web application and display web-content, Google did not think that 16:9 was a great choice since the web has a lot of vertically-oriented content. Instead, the Chromebook Pixel uses a 3:2 which gives 18% more vertical height for the screen’s content. This does make a big difference for every web user – which is… everyone.
The Chromebook Pixel laptop also features a touch screen with high-DPI (239 dot per inch, or DPI, which is a bit higher than Apple’s Macbook Pro Retina display). Google has included some high-resolution desktop wallpaper to show how good the screen is, and we hope that you are lucky enough to see that for yourself soon. If you want to work outdoors, the display has a 400 nit brightness (this is quite bright!) and also has very good viewing angles (LCD IPS display?). There are 4.3M pixels on the screen, and most users should not be able to distinguish individual pixels when using the laptop from a normal distance.
Built with touch in mind from the start
Touch is very important to Google, since consumers are getting used to tablets interfaces, and frankly, for many operations, touch is much faster than using the trackpad. Even simple drag and drops are much easier and intuitive, if the operating system (OS) provides a good support for tactile gestures. Google demonstrated apps like Street View, but also other sites like CNN to show how smooth the graphics and scrolling are.
If it doesn’t exist, build it
To build the Chromebook Pixel computer, Google has custom-designed a number of elements including a very specific industrial design. For example, the cooling and even screws have been hidden whenever possible to have a nice and pure design. The Chromebook Pixel’s “tactile” feedback also needs to “feel” good, and Google has worked on the keyboard and touchpad to address this. The keyboard uses quality switches that respond crisply and allow for comfortable fast typing. The touchpad has a glass surface and went as far as making sure that the glass was extra-smooth. This is undoubtedly the right call: we see too many PC OEMs making the mistake of “cheaping out” on the keyboard and trackpad (and display), which are two essential components of the user experience.
The trackpad software is also important, and this is also something that is easy to get wrong. Google has paid special attention to how the trackpad interprets the hand/palm/finger interaction. We did not quite have enough time to test it thoroughly, but given’s Google experience with touch technology, it’s fair to say that the odds are very good.
High-end Audio Processing
The Chromebook Pixel features two microphones to be able to use noise-cancellation techniques like beam forming. This is a well-known technology that is used in smartphones and high-end webcams, but very few laptop-integrated cameras do have it. The goal is to filter out background noise. Google even added a third microphone to detect, and filter-out typing sound from the keyboard – that’s a great feature! Soon, third party applications will have access to those microphones as well…
Fast PC Hardware
Hardware wise, the Chromebook Pixel is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor, so the laptop is as fast as comparable Windows or Mac systems. Additionally, Chrome has less processes running in the background, so the experience is noticeably faster than any other Chromebook before. Google is pretty excited about the speed of the Chromebook Pixel.
Microsoft Office Compatibility
More importantly, Google has announced that it plans to add Microsoft Office compatibility in 2 or 3 months. Now *that* would be a game-changer for Chromebook because in the end, a huge number of people do care about having a great compatibility with Microsoft Office. It’s actually one of Microsoft’s most potent advantage these days. Of course, many applications claim to be compatible with Office, but in the real-world, even Office for Mac (from Microsoft) has left many users in the cold at times, so we will have to see if the MS Office support can really be “good enough”.
Conclusion, Pricing and availability
Google is taking a rather unexpected but welcome move into high-end laptops territory. Beyond this initial launch, Google wants more OEMs to join Chromebook, and so far, Lenovo is said to be on board.
Google is opening pre-orders right now, but the new computer will ship in the “first week of April”. The WiFi version will cost $1299 and the LTE version is sold for $1449. What do you think of this new Chromebook? Would you leave your Windows or Mac OS behind for it? Let us know in the comments.