April 1, 2015

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Blog: Review: Chromebook Pixel 2015

The Chromebook Pixel 2015
A few weeks ago the new Chromebook Pixel 2015 showed up to an excited unboxing. I’m happy to report it’s basically exactly what I expected the unit would be. After getting my hands on the

CR-48, the Acer AC700, and spending a fairly significant amount time with the Chromebook Pixel (First Genearation), I’m well versed in what to expect out of Chromebooks. The Pixel keeps up the proud tradition of being a really nice piece of hardware, but is hamstrung by being unable to run “anything and everything”.

Let me reiterate, the hardware is quality and solid. The Pixel screen continues to be a high quality display in the very competitive hDPI market. The touchpad is good, not MacBook great, but good. The keyboard and the rest of the exterior machine are fairly similar to its previous generation. As far as the exterior goes, I doubt you’ll notice a huge difference between the generations of units, with the exception of the shiny new USB Type-C ports. One on each side, and yes you can use either of them to charge the device.

2015-04-01 18.37.31 HDR-2
One item in the hardware column that stands out is the speakers. They’re hidden under the keyboard with no separate grill, which is nice for aesthetics. However the reason I highlight the speakers is that they’re LOUD. With most laptops (including my MacBook Pro Retina), I’m turning up the speakers to the max in many environments. However with the Pixel, I tend to keep the volume turned up to no more than 30%. When I turned up the unit for its first test in the office (later in the evening), I had to turn it down for fear of disturbing someone on the opposite end of the floor.

ChromeOS

USB Type-C left, Regular USB Type-A middle, Headphone jack right.
The “software” on the Chromebook Pixel 2015, in respect to the operating system, is no different from what you’ll find on any other Chromebook, which is a blessing and a curse. Since I use Chromebooks on-and-off, I can’t think of any major improvements over last year’s model by way of the operating system.

After spending some time trying to live my real life on the Chromebook Pixel 2015, the biggest single issue I’ve found is window management. While the Chromebook now supports the “dock-to-the-side” concept that Windows (and OSX via Hyperdock) has, it’s a bit clunky to use. Also the concept of “Alt-Tab” is a bit clunky as well. It cycles between all your open windows (be it Chrome, or other apps) with no preview, not even icons. I’m not articulating it very well, but it is obvious that the concept of multiple windows/apps is not something that goes over well in the ChromeOS universe

Living the cloud(-software) life — again

So I previously tried (and failed) to live the cloud life. I tried again with this unit, though not as seriously.

So how did it go? Better, not really survivable, but not nearly as bad as before. There are now a lot more “HTML5 Native” (or whatever you’d like to call them) sites out on the web. Maybe the apps aren’t as full as their “on prem” counterparts, but most will do a decent job for 80% of peoples needs. For example, Photoshop Express does the basics just perfectly, and is a heck of a lot easier than full Photoshop.

External battery meter. All green when full. Sometimes randomly the Google Rainbow colors.
The other addition that is making the cloud more useful are the

Android apps for Chrome. I installed Evernote (for Android) on Chrome and used it for this very blog post. The apps work in ChromeOS, not perfectly, but not bad. For example, I cannot go full screen Evernote, nor can I highlight text by touch. Evernote is available on the web, but having an offline copy of something so critical to me is really nice.

Coding… in the cloud?

One of the time sinks for my Chromebook usage was coding on Nitrous.IO. They provide a free (small, but free is free) VM instance with a nice web based IDE. I’ve been spending some time tinkering in NodeJS and MeteorJS, so I was fully able to do so on the Chromebook. In fact, it felt like home since I actually prefer using the Nitrous IDE to setting up a local environment since I switch machines so often (and somehow always have issues with Node/NPM with OSX Homebrew).

Summary

First Boot!
Normally I’d say something like “The Chromebook Pixel is great if you…” but the feature gap to a real computer is still too great, with too high of a cost as well. Maybe for someone who wants something really shiny, but is seriously computer illiterate… but even then a Mac is probably better since it won’t be so limited. Even for the older generation, the lack of “proper” video chat (like

Skype) on ChromeOS is a deal-breaker. There are other options, like the Surface Pro 3 for $799 which I previously reviewed and was/am quite enamored with, for example.

Oh, I guess you could get Chromebooks for loaner machines at work, I suppose that’s one purchasable demographic.