Google's Chrome OS has always been similar to Microsoft Windows in how one company provides the operating system for many different manufacturers to use on their own devices. But two years ago, Google decided to create a Chromebook which was solely Google branded and designed. Although Chromebooks typically aim at the inexpensive part of the laptop market, this Google branded Chromebook had specifications that put it in line with high end Ultrabooks, and an equally high price tag. It was the original Chromebook Pixel, and its name referred to its 2560x1700 IPS display. At 239ppi it had the highest pixel density of any laptop in the world when it was released, and the rest of its specs were also impressive. In our original review of it, we concluded that it was an impressive laptop, but that its starting price of $1299 was quite a barrier to entry. In addition Chrome OS was more limited at that time than it is today.

That brings us to the new Chromebook Pixel which was released just last week. At first glance, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between this new model and the old one. It has a similar high resolution display, and the same aluminum body with flat edges. But a look at the sides of the chassis will reveal a pair of highly versatile USB Type-C ports, and a figurative look inside will show one of Intel's new Broadwell CPUs which enables high performance and stellar battery life. Before we dive into the new Chromebook Pixel, I've compared it with the original Pixel from 2013 in the chart below.

  Chromebook Pixel (2013) Chromebook Pixel (2015) Chromebook Pixel LS
Dimensions 11.72 x 8.84 x 0.64" (297.7 x 224.5 x 16.3mm)
Mass 3.35 lbs (1.52kg)
CPU Core i5-3337U (2 cores + HT) Core i5-5200U (2 cores + HT) Core i7-5500U (2 cores + HT)
L3 Cache 3MB 3MB 4MB
Base CPU Clock 1.8GHz 2.2GHz 2.4GHz
Max CPU Turbo 2.7GHz 2.7GHz 3.0GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 5500 Intel HD 5500
System Memory 4GB DDR3L-1600 8GB LPDDR3-1600 16GB LPDDR3-1600
Storage 32GB SSD 32GB SSD 64GB SSD
Display 12.85" 2560x1700 IPS LCD
Battery 59 Wh
Ports 2 x USB 2.0, Mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm audio 2 x USB Type-C, 2 x USB 3.0, 3.5mm audio, SD card
Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n + BT 3.0 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.0
Launch Price $1299 $999 $1299

Some investigation into the Pixel's hardware reveals a few more details about it. The version sent by Google was the normal Intel i5 model, and although I don't expect the suppliers would be different for parts of the "Ludicrous Speed" model, it's still possible. In addition, parts like the RAM and SSD could be sourced from multiple vendors, although this is again unlikely due to the relatively small number of units that will be manufactured.

The original Pixel used a Sandisk iSSD, while this new Pixel uses an SSD made by Kingston. It's likely that it's still soldered to the motherboard which makes replacing or upgrading it impossible. Given that the Pixel can only be disassembled using suction cups and a great deal of force I'm not able to actually look inside to check. In addition, the i5 model of the Pixel uses two 4GB LPDDR3 modules which are manufactured by Samsung.

The chassis of the new Pixel is just as impressive as the previous model. The aluminum construction feels incredibly solid, and is heavy but not excessively so. When you first look at it, you'll notice that the device itself is slightly more square than other laptops, as a result of its 3:2 display. This square profile also extends to the sides and edges of the Pixel, which are as flat as can be. The top of the device also retains the LED light bar from the original model, which lights up in green, yellow, red, and blue colors and has a very Googley feel to it. Tapping twice on the top of the laptop will cause some of the LEDs on the light bar to turn on, and the color and number of LEDs gives you an approximation of how much battery life you have left. All these little details result in a really unique design, and its been clear since the original Pixel that Google wanted to create their own device instead of just carbon copying another laptop

Upon opening the Pixel, you'll be greeted by a uniquely shaped LCD display surrounded by a fairly thin bezel. Beneath it are the keyboard and touchpad, both of which felt great to use. The keyboard had a comfortable amount of key travel, very little movement back and forth, and large well spaced key caps that made typing a breeze. The keyboard also acts as the vent for the Pixel's fans, and the speakers are hidden underneath. Google uses sensors to detect when your hands are over the keys, and so the keyboard backlight is only on when you're typing. The touchpad is covered by a smooth piece of glass, and it was responsive and accurate in use, which is something that can't be said about many other laptops regardless of price. One small complaint I have is that Chrome OS doesn't seem to support pinch to zoom on the touchpad. If it does, I certainly couldn't find the option anywhere I looked.

That brings us back to the display, which is a 3:2 touch enabled IPS LCD. Chrome OS seemed reasonably responsive using the touchscreen, although much like on Android multi-touch gestures like pinch to zoom didn't track well to how your fingers were actually moving inward and outward. I don't think that the touchscreen is really a necessary input method on a laptop, and in my experience it's not comfortable in the slightest to hold your arm up and poke at your laptop display, but the option is there for users who desire it. Google has also improved the display hinge to reduce the bounce back of the display when touching it.

The sides of the pixel have all of the ports for expansion. Google clearly believes that users enjoy having ports on their laptops, and so each side of the Pixel has a USB 3.0 Type-C port, along with two USB 3.0 Type-A ports and an audio jack on the left side, and an SD card slot on the right side. Google provides several adapters that can be used to transform the Type-C ports to other existing interfaces, including HDMI, DisplayPort, and both female and male USB Type-A.

The build quality of the Chromebook Pixel certainly inspires a great deal of confidence in the rest of the machine, so lets continue our examination of the new Pixel with a look at the improvements Google has made to the display.

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  • FITCamaro - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    Are they trying to out-Apple Apple? $1000 for a laptop with relatively midrange specs, a high DPI screen, and only 32GB of space? Sorry but I'd take many other laptops before this. Especially with just Chrome OS on it.
  • Novacius - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    The first one was even more expensive. This machine is not targeted at the normal audience.
  • kspirit - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    normal == mentally stable, in this case
  • Novacius - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    It's for people who want to develop on and/or for Chrome OS. There aren't much, but there are some.
  • BittenRottenApple - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    Oh come on, really?

    Google just showed off a dumb new thing: an expensive craptop that pairs the blemished screen, mediocre components, and design of a MacBook Pro with the diluted, web-based Chrome OS. In either case it makes no sense. Don't buy one.

    I haven't had much time to play with the thing, but—like burning a Koran in ISIS territory or folding a newspaper with the dear leader’s likeness printed on it in North Korea—some things are just terrible on paper and in reality. The Chromebook Pixel is one of those things. Here is why this thing was a bad idea, and will make an even worse thing to own. Do not buy a Chromebook Pixel, under any circumstances short of the threat of physical violence, for these reasons:


    The thing costs $1,300 (or $1,450 plus a data plan if you want LTE), which is a lot of money. It's enough money to buy a solid Windows 8 system or one of those crappy artificial hipster machines also called MacBook Air. It's just $50 short of enough to buy an overhyped MacBook Pro that has a similarly fucked up display aspect ratio. The nice thing about these other options is that they're at least overpriced Crapple (TM) junk with a gnawed fruit logo attached to them somewhere, as opposed to the Pixel, which is a ripoff.

    The entire conceit of Chrome OS is that it's sort of a diet computer. It does the basics, and just the basics. Chrome OS will give you internet, basic word processing through Google Docs, video via YouTube, and the rest of Google's web services including a free as in freedom lifetime direct hotlink to the NSA. You can stick in Chrome extensions for added "apps" if you'd like, possibly even a future NSA all inclusive backup app. But you're not going to get any full software here, because Chrome OS isn't compatible with anything outside of itself.
    And that's been OK, because Chrome OS laptops have been very cheap: a few hundred bucks for the essentials is a good deal.
    Thirteen hundred dollars for those same essentials is a very, very, hugely, wow-bad deal.

    2. The screen is dumb

    Google gave the Pixel a display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, claiming it suits the vertical nature of web browsing. Maybe that's true—but you're still left with a computer with a screen that's almost a square. The web goes up and down, I suppose, but our eyes go back and forth. Can you imagine watching a video on a 3:2 screen? Can you imagine the enormous letterboxes that will straddle the bar of moving image? Don't imagine it, because it is bad.

    3. Oh, here's another reason the screen is dumb

    Bountiful pixel density is lovely—it means a screen won't have discernible pixels, and that the images it displays will be terrifically crisp. Things will look good. This is good. The Chromebook Pixel has such a screen. But this is also a waste, and will do nothing but chew battery. Anything that isn't optimized for the superboosted resolution will look like garbage. This is also a reason the retina MacBook Pro is dumb cash grab with a completely underpowered GPU.
    Don't expect to get any video benefit out of all those pixels per inch either, as the Pixel carries with it the same more than lackluster Intel HD Graphics 4000 that has hampered the 13-inch retina MacBook Pro due to Crapple cheeping out and cheating the consumer again and again. But conveniently, this thing can't run any games beyond the rigors of Angry Birds, so who cares, really.

    4. Storage

    The Pixel only comes with 32 GB or 64 GB of internal storage, which might have been all right sometime early in the last decade. You'll get a free terabyte of online cloud storage, but you can only use this if you've got a web connection, and after three years that free storage will start costing you $50/month. That's $600 a year just for the privilege of storing your own things, except for the NSA’s free lifetime data backup plan, which remains covering and including every bit, free forever.

    5. LTE, shut up

    LTE data baked into a laptop is a terrific idea, but the Pixel will only give you 100 MB free per month, and even that's only for the first two years. That's enough to read text, but if you try anything that makes the internet useful in the 21st century, you'll burn through it very, very quickly. So quickly that it may not even be there for anything beyond emergency purposes.
    Your alternative is to put the Chromebook Pixel on a Verizon data plan, which is yet another monthly expense on top of this already too-expensive thing. Sadly the NSA won’t help you there.
    6. Any other computer at that price is better. Any.
    Unless you're getting something defective, odds are you'll be getting more for your money with any other laptop than you will with the Pixel or some Crapple junk. You'll be getting a computer that can run Photoshop, games, video without horrible giant letterboxing, photo editing software, Spotify—you know, the stuff you buy a computer for. Stuff that hasn't been pre-defined by Google. Stuff that's actually worth $1,300.

    The Chromebook as an idea is a splendid idea: a cheap laptop that gives you exactly your money's worth. Affordable computing. Simple computing. These are all good ideas. But the Pixel is a self-contradiction, an absurdity, a Kia with rims, a waste of your time. To say nothing of money. Hopefully the MIC gets as offended as many other tech people by this unspeakable load of junk and sends a payload of cluster bombs to Google’s Headquarters. Or better, starve them for God’s sake.
  • kspirit - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    BittenRottenApple, I think I love you.
  • MantasPakenas - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    Some good arguments. Unfortunately, they are all exactly 2 years old, being targeted at the first incarnation of the Chromebook Pixel. Copy pasting this same comment all around the web during those 2 years doesn't really give you much credit either.
  • chlamchowder - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    1. The Chromebook Pixel was never meant to make sense price-wise. I think it's a flagship device that might boost sales of low-end Chromebooks.
    2. I don't have a problem with the 3:2 screen ratio. It offers more vertical space than a 16:9 screen. 4:3 would be better, but unfortunately no one makes laptops with that aspect ratio anymore.
    3. The Surface Pro 3 suffers from the same problem - legacy programs that don't know about pixel scaling. Ever tried to run Matlab on a SPro 3? You're in for some really small text. But on the flip side, photos and DPI-scaling aware apps look amazing with high pixel density.
    4. Unless Google is actively handing stuff over to the NSA, you're safe if you encrypt everything that goes in/out.
    The rest of the points about storage and connectivity are valid. I'd also add that you'd need a high speed internet connection to not get frustrated, and that's hard to get. When traveling it might be impossible to get.
  • boeush - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    Regarding screen aspect ratio, I call BS. If your primary use case for a laptop is video, then you might have a point. However, if video is only a minor part of the overall usage profile, then putting up with letterboxing on YouTube is an insignificant cost to pay relative to the benefit for all other use cases which don't benefit from - indeed, suffer due to - the wide screen format.
  • Mohawke - Monday, March 16, 2015 - link

    We get it, you love the freedom of Microsoft, laugh, and the quality of PC hardware along with the stunningly boring and cluttered badly designed UI that goes with it. You paying them for Office 365 yet? Not sure why people like you need to hate an appliance. Would you show this much hate over an LG refrigerator? Get over it, you're not a computer God and everyon- has a right to their preference. Oh, the NSA paranoia, really? You are just a wealth of know it-all insider information.

    My MacBook Pro and desktops have outlasted all of my friends Windows machines, especially laptops. The only laptop I've owned, post good old days hardware earlier than 1998, that has beat it is my Gateway M675 I purchased in 2002. It still runs right along with out PPC 800 17" Mac. I'd also give high regard to some of Dell's business class desktops. Anyway, I've got my iPhone 2g, just gave away our 3Gs phones to friends, and my kid uses my wife's 4s as a iPod since she upgraded - they all work and have very little damage unlike the multiple crushed Android screens I see on a daily basis, and yes I've had my phone on me 24x7 since 2007 when the first iPhone came out. I have never had to return one for any reason. Buy the way, my son has a mid range affordable iMac and his friend who doesn't own crapple always loses chunks and gets kicked while my son is running a Minecraft server on the same iMac he plays on. Hmm, sounds like someone is judging something they've never actually used.

    The hardware on this Chronebook is good for an i7 dual core 2+ ghz, Intel 5500 graphics, touchscreen, 64gb Solid state drive, and 16 gb ram on a laptop. Show me a cheaper laptop at this spec. I'll bet I could install many flavors of Linux on this and have a pretty decent laptop that's not a big horrid plastic POS sporting a 1920x1080 15" or less screen to offset the cost of a crappy GPU, an i5, 8gb ram, and a horrid contrast problem on the display.

    I will agree the screen ratio is rather odd, but does it matter? I lived half my computer career and life on square monitors (CGI, CRT, etc...) and square televisions with tubes. I've been in the computer industry professionally since 1987 and as a hobbiest even earlier. I personally think this is a great machine for people that want to do basic computing and enjoy the services Google provides but want enough computing power to have a smooth experience. You can develop Google OS apps on Mac/Windows so who ever mentioned only for development is just as much of an ass. As a developer I would never pay a grand to develop glorified web apps when I can develop them anywhere, but I might buy one as a toy.

    As for storage, and I'll wager you replace the slow ass 5400 POS for a 7200 rpm drive in every laptop you've owned, IT HAS USB and there's a lot of USB storage cheaply obtained these days. Chrome isn't a big install and the app footprints are small so who cares if everything you own isn't on the root drive? I'll bet you can connect it to a NAS if you really tried. I never place all my eggs in one basket anyway - thanks to 20+ years of using Linux/BSD/Solaris I learned that home is best on its own drive so it's on removable storage, even better, I can take it with me and leave the laptop at home. Mixing user data and setting on the OS partition just wastes time.

    If you really want a decent priced laptop for gaming and high end productivity the System 76 Bonobo Extreme is really your best choice, but it's a Linux paired machine. Sorry, no Windows support, but they will provide drivers. As for ChromeOS, it works, people are using it, it's simple, clean, minimalistic and I have a feeling it's going to be around awhile - Firefox guys get it...

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