Everything You’ve Heard About Google’s Chromebook Pixel Is Wrong

Wednesday May 8th 2013 by Mike Elgan

The Pixel is neither overpriced, nor limited in the ways people think it is. Here’s what you need to know.

You’ve heard about Google’s Chromebook Pixel, the high-end, cloud-centric laptop.

It’s far better than the cheap, plastic Chromebooks that shipped two years ago. At that time, I slammed the Chromebook as the “Computer for the Rest of Them”—the computer nobody would buy for themselves, but would buy for other people under some circumstances. But the Chromebook Pixel is a different beast. After using the Pixel full-time for a week, I’m shocked to discover that almost everything said about the laptop is dead-wrong. Here are the seven biggest myths about the Chromebook Pixel—and the truth.

Myth: The Pixel Is Overpriced.

The Chromebook Pixel costs $1,299 for the Wi-Fi only version and $1,449 for the addition of LTE 4G connectivity.

This is almost universally considered an outrageously high price to pay for a “hobbled” or “limited” machine that does nothing but run a Web browser.

So the obvious question is "Compared to what?"

You can buy a low-quality junk laptop with crapware, stickers, spinning-platter hard drives, horrible screens and graphics, shoddy plastic construction and which requires constant maintenance and expensive software and pay only $500, sure.

But on the high end of the laptop market, prices go up.

The Pixel has a Retina-quality screen. (Retina is the branding Apple uses for its ultra-high-resolution screen products.) This one fact alone immediately sends the Pixel to the head of the class with the highest-end Apple laptops and new entrants like the Toshiba KIRAbook, which like the Pixel sports a 13-inch Retina-quality screen, according to the company.

In fact, the Pixel has the highest-resolution (highest pixel density) screen in the industry. The introduction of the Pixel forced Apple to change its advertising claim of the highest-resolution screen.

I recently had to use my (non-Retina) MacBook Pro for five minutes to check on something, and I could barely stand to look at the screen. I had grown so accustomed to the Pixel’s much higher-resolution screen that I found it hard to go back. The quality of the screen is a huge deal. (And if you don’t think screen quality matters, I’ve got a 90s-era 17-inch Gateway CRT in my garage you might like to buy.)

The very cheapest KIRAbook costs $1,599.99, which is more expensive than the most expensive Pixel.

The cheapest Apple laptop you can buy with a Retina display costs $1,499, which is more than the most expensive Pixel. (The most expensive MacBook with Retina, which has a 15-inch screen and lots of memory and processor power, starts at $2,799.)

So to say the Pixel is over-priced because it costs more than machines that are in a different class is disingenuous.

As you can see from the difference in price between Apple’s Retina and non-Retina laptops, screen quality is a deciding factor on price. And it should be—the super high-quality screens transform the experience.

Among laptops with Retina-quality screen, the Pixel is both the highest-resolution screen and costs the least, to the best of my knowledge.

Sure, the Pixel has a less powerful processor than the other Retina-quality laptops. But it also comes with some features and freebies that can save you a lot of money.

For example, the HD camera is superior to most you’ll find on laptops, more on par with USB cameras you have to pay extra for. Ditto for the sound system—the Pixel’s speakers are louder than your average laptop's and obviate the need to buy external speakers.

The Pixel comes with one terabyte of free cloud storage for three years, plus twelve free sessions of Gogo’s Internet service on airplanes.

The LTE version comes with 100 MB of free LTE bandwidth per month for two years. This sounds like a small amount, but it’s plenty for occasional backup connectivity when you’re between WiFi networks. More to the point, the value of this connectivity has to be factored in when judging the price of the Pixel.

There’s also an argument to be made about total cost of ownership. You can buy a cheap Windows laptop. But after a couple of years, you’re likely to have spent more overall on the Windows laptop and almost nothing on the Pixel. You’re going to use free Google apps, like Google Docs, instead of Word for Windows. You don’t need anti-malware because it can’t be installed on a Pixel.

Your mileage may vary, of course—and anyone can choose to use a conventional laptop only for free software or cloud computing—but I would bet that any total cost of ownership analysis between average Windows, Mac and Pixel users would bring the Pixel users in spending far less overall.

Myth: Applications and Files Are All in the Cloud.

Some people I’ve talked to assume that a Chromebook is unusable unless you’re connected to the Internet. Browser applications, including extensions, work fine without a connection. Files can be downloaded to the Pixel’s 32 GB or 64 GB solid state hard drive, and many cloud apps like Google Docs have an “offline mode” that enables offline use.

Being disconnected with a Pixel is more or less as annoying and counter-productive as being disconnected with any laptop.

Myth: The Touchscreen Is Awkward and Pointless.

As a heavy iPad user, I find myself constantly and instinctively tapping and swiping on the screen of any laptop I use. The difference is that with the Pixel, something actually happens.

We’re entering into a multi-touch, post-PC world, and everyone has different instincts and muscle memories about the use of touchscreens. But they’re here to stay, and the Pixel is a little ahead of the curve.

Myth: The Pixel Is as Well Designed and Engineered as an Apple Product.

The Pixel’s hardware materials, fit, finish and design are significantly better than most Windows laptops. The laptop itself feels solidly constructed. The aluminum body is a wonderful departure from the lower-end Chromebooks. The keyboard and touchpad are nice.

But the Chromebook is not in the same class as any Apple hardware. MacBooks are in a class of their own when it comes to the details of hardware quality. They’re more elegantly designed. The “fit” is a lot more exact. The MacBook’s unibody construction is hard to beat.

From a hardware quality standpoint, the Pixel is somewhere between the better Windows machines and the Apple machines.

Myth: The Pixel Is Inconvenient.

The Pixel’s convenience factor is a mixed bag, actually, but probably not as inconvenient as you might think. Let me explain.

As someone who uses Gmail, Google+, YouTube, Chrome and other Google products on my Apple computers, it required zero adjustment to use the Chromebook with these services. Simply logging in gave me all my bookmarks, my browser history—everything.

There is some learning curve for a wide range of minor things, but the solutions are fairly easy to figure out or learn.

The biggest problem is that the perceived performance of the Pixel is dictated by the speed of your network connection. So if you’re on a slow WiFi network, the overall performance of the Pixel feels slow. But on a fast network (such as the free LTE connection), the Pixel feels fast.

The most convenient feature is the speed by which you can “boot” and “shut down.” Microsoft has been promising—and failing to deliver—instant on and off since the 90s. But the Pixel delivers it.

Myth: There’s No Market for the Pixel

The thinking behind this myth is that power users don’t want to be limited by a browser-only machine, and novices don’t want to pay a lot for a laptop. Therefore, when you eliminate both power users and novices, nobody is left to buy the Pixel.

But the assumption that power usage is linked to willingness to spend is false. There are power-user cheapskates and also people who aren’t technical but still want a high-end machine. And it is this latter category who should want a Pixel.

It’s also worth pointing out that even power users might want a Pixel. It’s common for power users to use multiple screens or to carry more than one mobile device. Before I started using the Pixel, for example, I carried a MacBook Pro and an iPad both.

The Pixel can be used like an iPad for people who prefer the laptop form factor, but want a device with long battery life and extreme ease of use.

The Pixel is a perfect laptop for working at Starbucks, on planes and in taxis. It’s an easy-in, easy-out, fast, solid breezy computer to use with one of the most beautiful screens in the industry.

The bottom line is that most commentary on the Chromebook Pixel has been misinformed or based on faulty reasoning.

The Pixel isn’t for everyone. But it’s a thrilling and easy-to-use laptop that’s powerful enough for most of the things that most people do with a computer. And it’s worth every penny.

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