April 22, 2013

1238 words 6 mins read

Cloud Life: Week 2 – Pixel Hardware Review

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While it doesn’t take two weeks to review the hardware of a laptop, I wanted to give the Chromebook Pixel a chance to strut its stuff (plus I just didn’t get around to writing anything sooner). I’ll go right ahead and say that the Pixel is a nice computer; it’s a $1,300 machine and it feels worth the price point (more or less). From the screen to the touchpad to the overall build, it’s a solid machine.

Before I talk about the hardware, I want to be clarify that I’m going to avoid covering any of the software side in this post. Two years ago I

played with the Cr-48 and focused on the software in the review. Since ChromeOS has come a long way since then, I’m going to address that in its own post. Now, onto the things you can poke!

== Screen ==

The Chromebook Pixel has a 12.85” screen running at 2560 × 1700. That means the Pixel is at 239 ppi versus the 15” MacBook Pro Retinas display at 220 ppi. When I reviewed the MacBook Pro Retina (MBPR), I called the screen “freaking shiny”. The Pixel’s screen garnered the same reaction from me. The instant the machine comes on and takes you to the login screen, you know this Pixel has a LOT of pixels (sorry, had to pun it at least once).

At this point in time, any computer without a high-PPI display is a bit of a disappointment to go back to (like my MacBook Air). So, yes, I love the Pixel’s screen. ChromeOS renders everything nice and sharp, much like the MBPR. At the end of the day, if you can’t tell this screen is nicer than most of what you use… you’re blind.

== Touch Screen ==

One of the unusual features of the Pixel is that it comes with a touch screen. You can see the merger of tablets and laptops on the tech horizon, but very few laptops have shipped with a touch screen (except for specialty devices like the ThinkPad X230 Convertible). The gestures are fairly intuitive, though it doesn’t seem to have any multitouch capability which is a little sad. The Chromebook doesn’t have anything really special in its design for handling the touch screen input, so it acts like a mouse. This is fine, however it can be hard to hit smaller links on busy websites. The display glass is also very good at collection a multitude of finger smudges.

I know I don’t sound super enthusiastic about the touch screen. This is because it was the one feature that seems really cool, but pointless when I started using it. However after just a few days of use, I realized I was sold. I switch back and forth between the touchpad and touch screen based on what I’m doing, but I knew I was sold when I booted up another laptop — and tried to physically touch an on-screen button.

== Touchpad ==

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The touchpad on the Pixel is worth mentioning specifically for how good it is. Ever since I started using Macs heavily, I’ve been depressed by non-Mac touchpads. The touchpad on the Dell Ultrabook 13 was the single reason I stopped using that machine. However, the touchpad on the Pixel is a shining beacon of hope in a dark world of shitpads. I love it. I think it might be good enough to displace the glass touchpad of MacBooks as the best I’ve ever used. Regardless of which one is better, the touchpad on the Pixel is fantastic and I’ve not had a single complaint about it.

== Keyboard ==

The pixel has a chicklet style keyboard which seems fairly standard these days. There is a nice amount of spring in the keys and overall it feels decent. I’ve never been a huge fan of the chicklet keyboards, but since they are so popular, I’ll take what I can get. Compared to the 13” MacBook Air, I think the keys are slightly larger with slightly less of a gap. Other than that, I honestly cannot tell the difference between the action of the two keyboards. In short, if you’re a Mac user, you’ll be right at home here hardware-wise. Of course, the keyboard is a little different in so far as the caps lock key has been replaced by the “search” key. I never really use the caps lock key, but I think the search key is fairly stupid also. The top row of keys are your standard machine controls (volume, brightness, etc).

The one feature of the keyboard worth noting as a flaw, is the backlight. There are no controls (physical or digital) for the keyboard backlight. This means that I have no ability to turn the backlight on, off, or change the intensity. I can’t be sure, but I’m not even sure if the keyboard backlight has variable intensity. I know having no controls over a backlight seems like a minor nit, but I use the computer in bed, with the lights off and sometimes the backlight doesn’t come on.

== Exterior ==

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If I were to guess, I’d say that the design scheme of the entire Chromebook Pixel is “industrial”. The case is made of a dark aluminum alloy, with they keyboard and touchpad being black. While the aluminum seems durable and scratch resistant, I dented the Pixel a couple times in the first week. So, it’s not quite as well made as a MacBook Air.

There is one design feature that is subtle, but makes me very happy: No Logo. On the LCD hinge is says “chrome”, but can only be seen when the machine is closed. On the inside of the computer it only says “chrome” once at the top of the keyboard also. Beyond those two badges, there is absolutely no labeling on the Pixel. The top of machine where you normally find a giant fruit or “Dell” badge, there is only clean and shinny aluminum.

== Ports and things ==

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As this is a Chromebook and not a proper computer, there isn’t much in the way of connectors. On the left you have power, MiniDisplay Port, 2 * USB 2.0, and headphone jack. On the right there is an SD card slot. That’s it. It doesn’t seem like much, but this is the exact same ports you’d find on a MacBook Air. Nothing much else needs to be said here other than “Thank you god for MDP”, I was getting sick of proprietary display ports or full fledged VGA. MiniDisplay Port is a GOOD answer, lets use it.

== Summary ==

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I’ve compared the Chromebook Pixel to the MacBook Air, heavily. Partially because they are very similar machines and partially because the MBA is my “Every Day Carry” that the Pixel is attempting to displace. At the end of the day, the only advantage the Pixel has over the MBA is the high-PPI screen (“Retina”) with touch. The Pixel isn’t designed to be an amazing piece of hardware, because ChromeOS is really about the software/cloud. Most importantly, the Pixel just isn’t that much cheaper than a MacBook Air. I couldn’t really recommend the Pixel over an Air, because a stripped down Air is only slightly more expensive and far more versatile. I love the Pixel’s touch screen, and it is a solid computer. I wouldn’t call it spectacular, but it is a solid machine.