Review: Chromebook Pixel – The Best Way to Get 1TB of Google Drive Space

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Earlier this year, when Google announced the Chromebook Pixel we all thought Mountain View was trolling us. When it was first leaked, we figured it would sell for about $500-700, since the other Chromebooks available are around $199-300. But Google decided to sell the Pixel for $1300-1450 for the WiFi and LTE versions. As far as the specs go, the Pixel has a 12.85-inch touch screen which has a resolution of 2560×1700 and is using a 3:2 aspect ratio. The keyboard is backlit, along with a fully clickable trackpad and a HD webcam. It’s running on the Intel Core i5 processor clocked at 1.8GHz along with 4GB of RAM and a 64GB solid state drive. It also has your normal Dual-band Wifi, Bluetooth 3.0 along with built in LTE and GPS. The Pixel also comes with 1TB of Google Drive space for free for 3 years and 12 free sessions of GoGo inflight internet.

So the big question is, is it worth the price tag? Well that’s what we’re going to find out today. So sit back and enjoy this very comprehensive review and hit the comments below if you have questions.

#Pixel30DayChallenge

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If you checked out my Unboxing & First Impressions of the Chromebook Pixel, then you know all about my #Pixel30DayChallenge. I received the Chromebook Pixel on April 25th, and will be using it as my main machine for work, etc., for 30 days. The reason why is that everyone has been asking if it can replace their desktop or laptop full time. So what better way to do it then to have it replace my desktop full time. Every Monday, I publish an update on how the #Pixel30DayChallenge is going. So check that out.

Hardware

Design

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The Chromebook Pixel is probably one of the best designed pieces of hardware I’ve ever used. I’m actually using the Chromebook Pixel to write this review. Starting on the outside, the Chromebook Pixel has a rather minimalistic design. On the lid, there is the lightbar which Google added because “it was cool”, and that’s about it. On the left side you’ve got the mini display port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, headphone jack and power. Then on the right side you’ve got your SIM card slot (this is the LTE model) and the SD card slot. On the front there’s a lip for opening the Pixel. On the back there’s a nice small Chrome logo, and the bottom has a bunch “Assembled in China” etc. stuff that most of us won’t care for. Once you open the lid, you’re greeted with that 12.85-inch touch screen which looks amazing, and you have the backlit chicklet keyboard with the trackpad. The Chromebook Pixel looks truly amazing.

At this point, you’re probably not going to find a better looking or feeling laptop. But the Chromebook Pixel is running Chrome OS, which means it’s kinda limited to you being connected to the internet all the time. But don’t let that discourage you as you can install Linux, and even run Linux and Chrome OS at the same time. Which means you can run Skype, VLC, and a ton of other programs that have Linux support. Unfortunately there’s still no official Google Drive app for Ubuntu though, or any other flavor of Linux for that matter.

Display

The display on the Chromebook Pixel is amazing. It literally makes my 1080p IPS monitor on my desk look like crap. The Chromebook Pixel’s display is a 2560×1700 resolution at 12.85-inches measure diagonally. It’s also fairly bright, about 400 nits. Using it outside is a breeze as well. Often times, now that it’s getting warm again, I’ve worked outside on the Chromebook Pixel just because it’s so bright it works very nicely.

When it comes to the touch screen, I still think it’s a feature we don’t need. Now if the display folded back like one of the many touch screen Windows 8 hybrid laptop/tablets out there, it’d be a lot better. But reaching over the keyboard to touch the screen is a bit odd to me. I’ve been using the Chromebook Pixel for about 2 weeks now and never really used the touch screen. In fact often times I forgot it was even a touch screen.

Keyboard

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We’ve already gone over the keyboard a little bit, but basically it’s a chiclet style keyboard and is backlit. It’s pretty similar to a Mac keyboard, if you’ve ever seen or used the keyboard on the Macbook Pro, it’s very similar almost identical. Pro Tip: use Alt + brightness keys to turn up the light on the keyboard or down. There’s not much else I can say about the keyboard, but I do love these types of keyboards. In fact, I have one similar for my desktop.

Touchpad

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The touchpad is a black, kinda rubbery square just below the keyboard. It doesn’t light up or do any magic tricks. But it is a multi-touch trackpad and it does support a few gestures although limited. There’s not a whole lot that can be said about the trackpad as its just that, a trackpad. Although one thing I should point out, I plugged in my wireless mouse to the Pixel, and while it worked great, it did seem to be a bit slower than using the trackpad. I’m not quite sure why that is though.

Speakers

The Chromebook Pixel is loud. For a laptop, it’s probably the loudest I’ve ever heard from a laptop. I used to have the HP Pavilion dv6t which has four speakers and a subwoofer which was part of Beats Audio, and this is louder than that laptop was. The sound actually comes up through the keyboard which is rather neat and cool. It also keeps the design looking nice since you don’t have a speaker grill somewhere on the Chromebook.

Battery Life

While Google says the Pixel will get about 5 hours of battery life, I have to disagree with them a bit. I regularly saw 7 hours or more. Now I wasn’t using the Pixel at full brightness or watching movies the entire time it was on battery, but working (mostly writing) I was able to pull 7-8 hours out of the Pixel before needing to charge it.

HD Webcam

The Chromebook Pixel does come with a high-definition webcam. I didn’t use it much, but I did use it for hangouts with the Android Headlines team and for our Google I/O podcasts. As far as I could tell it worked great. No type of lag (that wasn’t my ISPs fault) and the quality was quite good. If you’re looking for a 1080p or higher webcam, you’ll want to buy one for the Pixel, as this does 720p only.

Video Review

Software

As you know, the Chromebook Pixel is running Chrome OS, which is primarily a cloud and browser-based operating system. Now it’s not for everyone, but if you basically live in the cloud, then you can probably get away with it. Chrome OS isn’t an operating system for everyone, so keep that in mind. But it is a great OS and it looks great as well. I first played around with Chrome OS when it was still a baby, well it kinda still is. Then earlier this year, I picked up the Samsung Chromebook (a.k.a. the ARM-Chromebook). Chrome OS was much better than it was about a year or two earlier. But as we all know – or at least those of us that use Chrome – Chrome is a rather RAM intensive browser. So the 2GB of RAM in the Samsung Chromebook just isn’t enough for me.

Applications

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Chrome apps have always been a bit of a weird thing, at least to me anyways. There are many apps in the Chrome Web Store, but many of them are just shortcuts to their site. While others are actual apps. We’ll use Tweetdeck and Netflix as examples here since I have them both installed. Now when I tap on Netflix, it takes me to their website. So that makes me think “what’s the point of it being an app?” because I could either type in netflix.com or just hit a bookmark on my bookmarks bar. Then there’s Tweetdeck, which was one of the first actual apps for Chrome, and still one of the best in my opinion. And I’m really hoping Twitter doesn’t axe the Chrome OS version as well with the others. But when I tap Tweetdeck it actually opens up an app. How do I know it’s an app? You can look in the address bar and see that there’s no address.

Additionally, when you open up apps from your “app drawer” it doesn’t open in another window or anything, it just opens up in another tab. Now that might be perfectly fine for most people. But probably not what you were expecting. Apps are actually better than extensions, in my opinion. The reason being, apps only run when they are open. Extensions run constantly, which use more RAM. I’m still kinda used to my Samsung Chromebook with only 2GB of RAM, so I try to keep my extensions to a minimum.

Extensions

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Extensions are probably the best part of Chrome and Chrome OS. They basically extend the use of Chrome OS. Right now I have a couple of extensions installed. One of them is Pocket, or Read it Later, another is Circle Count for Google+. These add new functions to sites that aren’t normally there which is a great thing. I use Circle Count to check my Google+ stats, like how many people have circled me today etc. But the extension also shows you on Google+’s website a graph for each user on their profile page, and it gives additional stats on the hover card. Which is pretty cool to me.

Chromebook Pixel vs Samsung Chromebook

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Many people have asked me what the differences are between the Pixel and Samsung Chromebook other than the obvious. Well as you can tell in the image above, it looks a bit nicer than the Samsung Chromebook. Which honestly, looks like a bunch of leftover parts Samsung just threw together. It’s not built the best, but for $250, what do you expect? As far as performance goes, the Pixel is close to 100x better, in my opinion anyways. The extra RAM definitely helps. On my Samsung Chromebook I was always running out of RAM, which meant I couldn’t use it as my everyday machine.

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Portability

The Chromebook Pixel is extremely portable. It’s just as portable as my Samsung Chromebook, but the Samsung Chromebook lasts a bit longer on battery. The Pixel is what I’d think is the largest size laptop to still be rather portable. It can easily fit in my backpack and take it to school, or anywhere else for that matter.

Photo Gallery

The Good

  • The Display: You’ve probably heard me say this many times now, but the display on the Pixel is just amazing. Imagine a Nexus 10 as your laptop, but with a bit more pixels and a more square-ish display. The Chromebook Pixel is 2560×1700 instead of 2560×1600 that is the Nexus 10. 
  • Best Build Quality: The Pixel has undoubtedly the best build quality out of any Chromebook I’ve seen or used. I may even go as far to say that it has the best build quality of any laptop I’ve ever used.
  • Small and Portable Charger: The charger is pretty small and very portable. Often times you’ve got this huge charger that you need to take with your laptop. This charger is pretty small on both ends, and can become fairly long. At the brick, you can use the 2-prong adapter, or add on the longer cord which requires a 3-prong outlet. Similar to the Macbook’s.
  • Thin & Lightweight: The Pixel is extremely light weight, especially for a nearly 13-inch laptop. It’s also not terribly thin, but thin enough so it’s not too bulky. I’d almost dare to say it’s just the right thinness.
  • Speakers: Love them. Oh I guess I should say more than that. Often times when using the Pixel I had to keep the volume half way because the speakers are just so loud, which isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a really good thing.
  • Keyboard & Trackpad: Love these too. I said this earlier in the review, but I absolutely love chiclet-style keyboards like this. It makes it easier for me to type, and makes me want to type more. For someone that types thousands of words a day (not counting Google+, Twitter, etc.) that’s a big deal. The trackpad is really great too. I think Google nailed it on the head with the trackpad.
  • Chrome OS: It’s quick, lightweight, and easy to use. If you know how to use a browser, then you know how to use Chrome OS. It’s just that simple.

The Bad

  • Chrome OS: Yes, the OS is a double-edged sword and I’m not the only one that thinks so. While Chrome OS very light weight, and easy to use. It definitely has it disadvantages. For instance, I can’t install Photoshop or any other picture editing software. I actually had to go find a website that I could use to add a watermark to my images. The built in file manager does allow you to edit your pictures, but it’s pretty limited unfortunately.
  •  Battery Life: While it does last longer than Google says, it’s still not enough. I’d want a laptop that I can actively use for about 9-12 hours. So if I’m traveling I can get some work done and not have to worry about running out of power.
  • Tabs Reloading constantly: One thing that’s pretty annoying with Chrome OS, is switching tabs you’ll notice that tabs or windows will reload. Now it seems to happen on tabs that haven’t been active for a while and it seems to only happen when you’re using most of your available RAM.
  • Runs pretty hot: I’m used to laptops running kinda hot, but this runs a bit hotter than others I’ve used. Especially when I’m running several apps or have a ton of tabs open. As it is, I usually have around 10 tabs open between two windows all the time. And if you’re watching something on YouTube, you’re Pixel is definitely going to get hot.

The Verdict

To close out this review, we’re going to go back to what we started asking. Which was, is the Chromebook Pixel worth the price tag? Before I answer this, you need to ask yourself something. How much space do I need in Google Drive? If you need or want lots of space, then the Chromebook Pixel more than pays for itself. But before you buy it, you may want to try using your current computer with just the browser, nothing else. If you can do everything in the browser then you can use a Chromebook. But back to the question at hand. Do I think it’s worth the money? Well if you throw out the 1TB of Google Drive space for 3 years, I’d have to say no. The Pixel is no doubt one of the best looking devices Google has ever created. And is one of the best spec’d Chromebooks to date. But $1300 for a laptop without a full operating system is a bit overpriced. Yes the Pixel has plenty of cool features, but you can also get an Ultrabook with the same specs for about half the price.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. If there’s anything I left out of the review that you’d like to know about, feel free to leave a comment down below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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