Google's all-new Chromebook Pixel isn't something we entirely expected, but it was something that Google absolutely needed to do: try to create a top-tier laptop that could conceivably become somebody's main machine. We can't say that ChromeOS is totally ready for that challenge yet, but the Pixel itself feels as premium as any laptop on the market today. It's a solid, rectangular machine in a gunmetal gray metal shell, with an even thickness from the back to the front of the device. Lifting up the lid reveals two things: first, the hinge is smooth and feels strong, but secondly and most importantly it reveals the screen.
Google has gone with a 2560 x 1700 LCD panel here, behind a glossy glass panel that's touch-sensitive. It's an absolutely gorgeous display — though viewing angles aren't stellar, we have no complaints about color reproduction. It's safe to say this is in the same ballpark as Apple's Retina Display, but Google didn't go quite that far in presenting it. Touch responsiveness is a different story — we don't know if it's software or hardware, but scrolling on the screen was much chunkier and laggier than we'd expect from what purports to be a high-end machine.
The same ballpark as Apple's Retina Display
Other than touch response, though, this is probably the fastest Chromebook we've ever used. That's thanks to an Intel Core i5 processor, which powers the machine and — unfortunately — also seems to join with the display to keep the battery life to a ho-hum five hours. There's a paltry 32 GB of storage on board, which should serve as a reminder that Google really, really wants you to keep everything in the cloud. To help, the company is offering 1TB of storage for three years along with every Pixel.
There are subtle design touches throughout the machine that help add to the "premium" feel that Google is going for. The fan vents out in the hinge, every edge is subtly beveled to prevent sharp angles, the speakers are fairly loud despite being hidden underneath the keyboard, and Google even opted to not put labels next to the ports, since people apparently didn't know what they meant anyway. There is a LED bar on the top rear of the screen that lights up in different colors — though what each means in terms of the Pixel's state is a bit of mystery.
The nicest design element, however, is definitely the touchpad. Google says it spent quite a bit of time working on the specific finish on the glass — and it shows. It has a soft-touch feel that feels great but doesn't impede your movement with too much friction. More importantly, it performs — where scrolling with the screen was laggy, scrolling with the touchpad was lightning quick.
The keyboard is your standard, backlit chiclet affair. The keys are a little firmer than a MacBook Air, but not so much so that anybody but the most keyboard-obsessed typist would notice. The ChromeOS function keys are separated out in an array at the top that sits flush with the surface of the Pixel, an effect that works to differentiate this at least a tiny bit from MacBooks.
Google says that the Wi-Fi only Chromebook Pixel is shipping now for $1,299, while the Verizon LTE model won't be ready until April — it's $1,449. Those are very substantial prices for a Chromebook — so you had best be as dedicated to cloud computing as Google is before you lay your money down.