Chromebook Pixel (2015) Review – The Cloud-Computing Dream Machine
A few years ago I began searching for an alternative to the two main computer giants. I had had my fill of sluggish startups, fizzling chimes, blue screens of death, updates that seemed to take days, external hard drives to back up my files, corrupted documents, and painful calls to support centers and visits with supposed geniuses for hardware repairs. I was ready to chuck it all if I could only find a worthy replacement.
But I was spoiled. Terribly, terribly spoiled. I had used Macs for ages (except for a brief stint with Windows, which sent me running full tilt back to Apple), so I was used to top-shelf, high-end hardware. What were my options? Plus, like so many other people, I had become addicted to the tired old software packages of yore and didn’t know how I’d manage my work without them.
Then I tried Chrome and Google apps and realized I could accomplish essentially everything I needed to with them, so using high-end Apple hardware and Chrome software seemed like the perfect marriage. And it was, for a while at least, until it came time to upgrade my Mac OS and I discovered my three-year-old hardware was no longer being supported. That was the game-changer for me. I wanted an alternative but I wasn’t willing to settle for a plastic box that operated at a snail’s pace, even at a great price.
Then the Pixel arrived on the scene, and I got stars in my eyes. It was one gorgeous piece of functional hardware that ran Chrome OS and was speedy as heck. I was ready to take the leap, and despite the high price tag, I did. It was love at first sight, and I fell in love all over again every day of our courtship, never once regretting leaving my Macs behind.
Many times when reviewers discuss the Pixel they take unnecessary potshots at Chrome OS. Look, let me spell it out once and for all, quickly and concisely. Chrome OS is a full-functioning operating system with all the bells and whistles and none of the dead weight of the other two giants. It’s cloud-based because, well, that’s where everything is living these days, and it’s fast and contemporary. No, it’s not Microsoft and it’s not Apple, so let’s stop trying to make it into one of those or saying that it’s inadequate because it’s not one of them. It’s different, and I like different. Plus, how often do I use a computer or other device when I’m not online? Never.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s focus on what really makes the Pixel spectacular. It’s the red-carpet hardware and a processor that starts up in seconds (literally –– just four of them!) and cruises the internet at lightning speeds, even with 20 tabs open at a time. The original Pixel was supreme in that regard, but the 2015 Pixel . . . oh, baby! Somehow Google managed to go just a bit beyond perfection this time around.
The base model of the 2015 Chromebook Pixel packs a 2.2GHz Core i5-5200U processor, 8GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. That’s twice as much RAM and a slightly faster CPU than the previous Pixel, and it costs $300 less. The 2015 Pixel is basically the same size (11.7 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches), shape, and weight (3.3 pounds) as its predecessor, but the color is a half shade lighter, a mesmerizing pewter. It has a pure aluminum chassis and is as solid as a rock. The trackpad is stunning. Unlike the original Pixel’s dark-colored trackpad, this one is lighter than the surrounding metal and slightly recessed, and it’s as smooth as the polished etched glass it’s made from. Plus, as a bonus, it resists fingerprints, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that!
The luxurious backlit keyboard is comparable to the original Pixel’s but a tad more “clacky,” in a good way. The keys have just the right resistance and are perfectly spaced and easy to glide over. The keyboard lights in this updated model offer a new trick: they automatically turn off when your hands are away for thirty seconds and then automatically come back on when your fingers return. The function keys are separated out more in this updated version, which is supposed to make them easier to identify and use. Although I didn’t have a problem with the layout of the original function keys, the way these are set up is more attractive.
The hardware updates are noticeable. There are two new ports: USB Type-C, destined to be the new standard. And there’s one on each side, so the location of your outlet has suddenly become a nonissue. The charger plugs in securely, which was a minor problem with the former Pixels, although the charger doesn’t have a light indicator on it. It does have a rubberized coating, however, which makes it tactilely more pleasing. Charging up this sucker is brutally fast. A full charge used to take at least a few hours of being plugged in, but it now takes no more than an hour and a half. And if you need a quick jolt, you can gain two hours of battery life in just fifteen minutes.
The heart of the Pixel is its namesake –– the screen. I work with documents and words 24/7, and with a 239-pixel-per-inch density, this screen is a dream come true. The relatively uncommon 3:2 touch screen is, to my eye, much more natural and sensible than the elongated rectangular screens found on most laptops. And the screen size makes travel across it that much speedier. But the clarity and resolution are what will grab anyone with eyes. With the super-sharp, 12.85-inch, 2560 x 1700 high-resolution display, graphics are crisp, colors pop, and text is impossibly detailed and sharp. There’s no visual distortion or degradation, regardless of which way you turn the Pixel. Some critics have said that the touch screen is pointless in a Chromebook, but I disagree. We’ve all grown accustomed to interacting with the screens on our smartphones and tablets, and while the touch aspect on a laptop isn’t essential for me, it’s a feature that adds a fun dimension to the experience of using a Pixel, so much so that I find myself touching the screen of my non-touch-screen Chromebooks and wondering why nothing is happening.
The piano hinge runs along the back of the laptop and is strong and sturdy. It’s unobtrusive yet elegant and holds that amazing screen at just the right angle. It also makes opening and closing the Pixel smooth as butter (I can even lift it open with a single finger) and stands up well to the swipes and taps and other gestures used with a touch screen. The Chromebook Pixel has a 720p webcam above the display for video chatting, as did the earlier Pixel, but it has the new addition of a wide-angle lens that allows for capturing a wider area of space.
One of my main bugaboos with the original Pixel was the battery; I could barely get a couple of hours out of it. The 2015 Pixel boasts an estimated twelve hours of battery use. Although I generally have many tabs open at a time, I don’t tend to do a whole lot of heavy lifting with my work, but so far I’ve only been able to squeak out a maximum of ten hours. Still, I can’t complain. That’s a major improvement over its predecessor and way better than almost every other laptop currently on the market.
Another complaint I had with original Pixel was the fan; it was loud when it was on and the Pixel always ran hot (great in winter when I needed a little extra warmth, but not so much in summer). The new Pixel runs cool and quiet. In fact, I haven’t heard the fan kick on once yet.
The Chromebook Pixel includes a 32GB solid-state drive for local storage. Even though this is substantially less than what’s available on most other laptops, given the cloud-centric focus of Chromebooks, this isn’t surprising. However, if you’re itching for more external storage, the Pixel has an SD card slot, but you shouldn’t need it because the device comes with a full terabyte of cloud-based Google Drive storage for three years, a value of almost $360. Sweet.
The lightbar on the lid serves mainly as a decoration, illuminating in different colors while the device is in use, which is impressive to onlookers but not to users since we don’t normally look at the back of a laptop when we’re typing on it. However, it also has a cool new capability: If you tap on the lightbar twice when the lid is closed (even when the device is turned off), it provides an at-a-glance single-color battery indicator that shows how much power the Pixel has remaining. And if you have the charger plugged into the opposite side, the lightbar will display in the opposite direction.
The only complaint I’ve heard about the new Pixel is regarding the speakers. The speakers in the original Pixel offered rich, complex resonance, whereas the speakers in the new Pixel are “tuned” differently. The result is sound that is crisp but thin and tinny, with virtually no bass. On this point, I have to agree. Nevertheless, for what I listen to on my laptops, this is far from a deal-breaker for me. All the other plusses totally outweigh this small drawback.
While some reviewers dismiss the benefit of having a high-end laptop for what they call “just surfing the Web,” they miss the point of Chrome OS and the value of using top-quality hardware for cloud computing. For those of us who primarily or solely use Web-based services and who appreciate Chrome OS and totally get the cloud-based concept, there’s no reason we shouldn’t enjoy the experience the same as anyone who defers to the other two giants. Those of us who prefer the cloud environment deserve high-end hardware that’s a pleasure to use. Sure, we could compromise and get a lower-end Chromebook for a fraction of the price, but we shouldn’t have to settle if we don’t want to. The 2015 Chromebook Pixel is on a par with other luxury laptops in terms of price, and the build quite possibly exceeds them, making it both an excellent value and the ultimate cloud-computing dream machine. Pure bliss.