Google hasn’t always been known for making breathtaking hardware, but today’s announcement of the Chromebook Pixel — arguably one of the best-looking laptops ever made, if nothing else — means that may no longer be the case.
Still, you can’t be blamed for being wary of shelling out a decent chunk of money on Google’s first foray into laptops, let alone a Chromebook of all things, so here’s a preliminary look at how the Chromebook Pixel stacks up against two prominent rivals in the computing space: the stock version of Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air and Microsoft’s Surface Pro.
*Note that we compared the base MBA and the surface Pro with upgraded storage, to establish a better baseline in terms of comparing more similar price points and spec load-outs.
Versus the 13-inch MacBook Air
Compared to the base 13-inch MacBook Air, Google’s Pixel has a lot of similarities. It’s priced around the same, but actually comes in as more expensive that the OS X ultraportable, at $1299 and $1449 for options with Wi-Fi only, and Wi-Fi + LTE networking. What does the Pixel offer to justify the extra cost? It does have a denser display, with 239 ppi on a nearly 13-inch display. And that screen is touch sensitive, which isn’t something Apple can claim. But until now, it hasn’t shown off much about how touch might work with ChromeOS, though it has reportedly been “optimized” for finger-based input.
Another place where the Chromebook Pixel falls short of its competition is in local storage. 32GB on the Wi-Fi model and 64GB on the LTE version is tiny compared to the MacBook Air, which is already pushing it with 128GB. LTE is nice to have, but, with the prevalence of hotspots and modems, arguably less important than more offline-accessible storage space.
The Chromebook Pixel is very much aimed at the same market as the MacBook Air, with Google stressing that it’s an upscale device. But despite what looks to be a beautiful screen, this arrives with an even more experimental, touch-enabled version of an OS that has yet to prove itself with general consumers, meaning that the reasons to opt for Google’s brave new laptop over the Air perhaps aren’t as apparent as Google would’ve hoped.
Versus the 128GB Surface Pro
I can’t help but think about the Chromebook Pixel in relation to something like the Surface Pro, another premium computing device from a company that has historically shied away from making its own computers. Granted, the differences in execution between the two are pretty staggering, but it’s hard not to look at both devices as fresh steps into a market increasingly driven by novel hardware.
The Pixel certainly has the Surface Pro beat when it comes to sheer screen size and resolution (it has a 12.85″ display running at 2560 x 1700, compared to the Pro’s 10.6″ panel running at 1920 x 1080), but the Surface Pro seems to sport better touch support with its included stylus and Wacom digitizer. It’s too early to say whether or not one device has a definitive advantage of the other because of their seemingly similar processors (though the Pixel could squeak by because of its slightly quicker chipset), but we’ll return to that once we get our hands on a review unit.
Again, the Pixel may fall flat with its paltry 32GB of internal storage (though folks who spring for the LTE model will have around 64GB to play with). Sure, having a terabyte of cloud storage is neat, but those in need of real speed will prefer the Pro’s SSDs and memory card slot.
The other big question mark here is Chrome OS itself. The Chromebook is a very handsome little machine that seems to have some horsepower under the hood to boot, but I’m curious whether or not people will choose to plunk down upwards of $1299 for a computer that exists outside of the two entrenched environments that have dominated consumer computing. Windows 8 isn’t a shining star yet either, but it’s far from a company’s side project.
In the end…
While the Air and Surface Pro have their share of advantages, it’s still a little too early to write the Chromebook Pixel off completely. It may just be the right computer at the right time to give Chrome OS the boost it really needs, but for now Google needs to make a better case for why people should spend $1299 on a computer that hinges on the cloud instead of, you know, anything else.