Context

Nothing exists in a vacuum, certainly not any of the products we review. The context of our subjects has a lot to do with what’s expressed in our reviews, even in the stark light of data. Scores alone are never enough, we juxtapose the latest widget to hit our bench against its most likely competition, against its predecessors, and against anything else that might make sense. We think about the era in technology, the trends that pervade the market, and where they’ll take us in the coming months and years. We ask what the market’s demands are, and where they’re going to be later, and discuss how the subject handles those present and future demands. That’s no different here, but we could almost imagine foregoing the Pixel’s context and telling its tale absent its past, so disparate it seems from the Chromebooks that came before. But then we’d miss some of the most interesting bits. 

 

 
The PC market has been in decline for sometime. There’s an argument to be made that the move to mobile has negated the need for a proper personal computer, and yet, it remains the exception to hear that someone has rid themselves of all their desktops and laptops and lives and works entirely on tablets and smartphones. That day might be ahead, but for now, few are the power users that manage to work and write on their iPads; and most of them have a keyboard dock tucked in their bags somewhere. For most the tablet remains a consumption device; less cumbersome than a laptop for reading, web browsing and watching video. Tablets are the future, though, right? Microsoft seems to think so. Apple has certainly made its case. So with the PC preparing its swan song, what would compel Google to chime in with a stripped out operating system that consists almost entirely of a browser that can be run on any of the current platforms? 
 
There’s a different argument that can be made about the PC’s decline. The operating theory when purchasing a computer was always to buy more hardware than you presently needed, so three or four years down the road your computer was still useful. Software advances outpaced hardware, and so an early Pentium II with just a few megabyte’s of RAM that ran Windows 98 just fine in 1998 didn’t do well with Windows XP just a few years later. Intel’s Core processors changed all of that. A Dell E1505 (my own, in fact) specced with the first Intel Core Duo processor handles Windows 8 just fine. Though they served no one terribly well, netbooks popularized the idea that most users needs could be (somewhat) met by even modest hardware. Intel’s Ultrabook initiative drove the price of lightweight but well performing laptops down under $1,000 and even further still. And still for most users, the modest performance of a ULV processor is more power than they really need to consume media, edit documents and click away in a browser. 
 
Google’s first round of Chromebooks were netbook slow. The stripped down experience was better than stuffing Windows into those tight confines and running Chrome atop that, but the applause ends there. The next generation added incremental performance increases, but was just as mired in performance that didn’t quite reach that “just enough” threshold. The most recent models, the Acer C7 and the Samsung Chromebook (XE303) were stark departures in price and performance, with the Samsung model even adding a hint of style. We liked those models, and praised their almost disposable pricing. These models represented a great ground floor for Chromebooks, just enough performance, and pricing that reflects that. I think we expected to see variations of these models iterate into the future, with performance improving each year. We could even see a path where more and more users would choose Chromebooks in lieu of other second machines, we could see these being successful with the right crowd. I don’t think any of us expected this.
 

Design and Specifications

The Chromebook Pixel is a well cut suit. I’m cribbing the metaphor, but that’s exactly what the design of the Pixel evokes. The lines are simple, but elegant. The color would look great over a plain white shirt, and, perhaps, an orange silk necktie. The austerity of the design, actually lends the Pixel an outsized feel. This is after all a small notebook, fitting within the profile of the 13" MacBook Air. Put it out of context, though, and the aluminum surfaces seem to go on for ages. Only when you wrap your hand around an edge that you realize it's so small, so thin. 

Chromebook Pixel Comparison
  Chromebook Pixel 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display 13-inch MacBook Pro 13-inch MacBook Air
Dimensions 0.64 x 11.72 x 8.84" 0.75 x 12.35 x 8.62" 0.95 x 12.78 x 8.94" 0.11 - 0.68 x 12.8 x 8.94"
Weight 3.35 lbs (1.52 kg) 3.57 lbs (1.62 kg) 4.5 lbs (2.06 kg) 2.96 lbs (1.35 kg)
CPU Core i5-3337U Core i5-3210M Core i5-3210M Core i5-3427U
CPU Cores/Threads 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4
L3 Cache 3MB 3MB 3MB 3MB
Base CPU Clock 1.8GHz 2.5GHz 2.5GHz 1.8GHz
Max CPU Turbo 2.7GHz 3.1GHz 3.1GHz 2.8GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000  Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000
System Memory 4GB DDR3L-1600 8GB DDR3L-1600 4GB DDR3-1600 4GB DDR3L-1600
Primary Storage 64GB iSSD 128GB SSD 500GB 5400RPM HDD 128GB SSD
Optical Drive N N Y N
Display Size 12.85-inches 13.3-inches 13.3-inches 13.3-inches
Display Resolution 2560 x 1700 2560 x 1600 1280 x 800 1400 x 900
DisplayPort/Thunderbolt Ports 1 2 1 1
USB Ports 2 x USB 2.0 2 x USB 3.0 2 x USB 3.0 2 x USB 3.0
Other Ports SD reader,  headphone out, SIM slot SDXC reader, HDMI out, headphone out GigE, FireWire 800, SDXC reader, headphone out SDXC reader, headphone out
Battery Capacity 59 Wh 74 Wh 63.5 Wh 50 Wh
Price $1449 $1499 $1199 $1199
 
 
The back, we’ve mentioned, is filled with that long silver hinge. On the left side are two USB ports, one DisplayPort, and the power and headphone/microphone port, which remarkably are cut to be the same size, with black trim filling out the microphone port. That detail is indicative of the time and attention paid to even the smallest components. On the right is the SD card slot, and the SIM tray on the higher SKU. The front is bare but for the indentation for opening the lid. The bottom is a large plain panel, with small rubber feet at the far corners, and the necessary labels and whatnot. 

The Chromebook Pixel is gorgeous to the understated crowd. Not flashy, not cheap. As alluring as Cupertino’s finest designs. The flashiest part of the design isn’t that gorgeous display; it’s the light show going on when the lid is up. If I ever saw one in the wild, I could imagine the pulsing blues, greens and reds would catch my eye quickly. I’d want to know what it is, who makes it, where I can get it. If you didn’t know the company behind ‘chrome’ you’d have few clues from just looking at the design. That is until the lid is closed and the LEDs pulse briefly with Google livery. It is gorgeous, it has a super dense display, is stuffed with great technology, starts at $1299... and it’s running a browser.
 
I’m not going to lie, I was excited about this product the moment I saw that cheesy leaked video a few weeks before the announcement. At the time, I hoped it was still several months away from release, with plans to build it on Intel’s Haswell SoC or a quad-core ARM Cortex-A15 SoC. I also hoped it would be priced competitively with Ultrabooks, somewhere north of $500 but under $1000. In a way, I still wish all those things were true. 
 
Comparing spec sheets the Pixel falls in a weird place. The dual-core Ivy Bridge is a little on the light side, with a base clock of just 1.8 GHz and a max turbo clock of 2.7 GHz, this 17 W part is similar to what you’d find in the 13” MacBook Air but just behind what you’d find in a lot of current Ultrabooks. The display is unique amongst modern laptops with its 3:2 aspect ratio, though when you take the dock bar into account it actually works out to a more traditional 16:10. If you like the taller screen, rest assured there’s plenty of ways to tweak the settings and get full use of the whole screen. The 12.85” screen beats the 13” MacBook with Retina Display in pixel density, both due to its smaller size and slightly higher resolution (2560x1700). We’ll go into more detail on that capacitive screen later, but it is surely a big reason for the price premium, and a big part of what makes this an aspirational model. 

The limited SSD storage comes courtesy of SanDisk’s iSSD solution, which is a big step up from slow eMMC solutions, but means moderate performance and no upgrade potential. You won’t be slipping additional SODIMMs into this thing either, the RAM is soldered on, with the only part that might be user replaceable being the daughter card containing the LTE radio. The battery is beefy compared to the 13” MBA at 59Whr, but falls short of the Retina MBPs, which goes some way to explaining the limited claimed battery life. Weight falls almost perfectly between the 13” rMBP and MBA, indeed the Pixel's design could give Apple a few ideas for a Retina MacBook Air.
 
Status
POST A COMMENT

74 Comments

View All Comments

  • 8steve8 - Friday, May 31, 2013 - link

    I like how you compare it to both laptops and tablets in performance charts, but I'm disappointed that the battery life charts didn't include other laptops. Reply
  • Nimer55 - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    I got a chromebook (non-LTE) at I/O, and have been using it instead of my Vizio 14 as my primary machine, and I've gotten the "So it's like an iPad" question a few times, and I've been absolutely clueless as to how this was like an iPad. To me, it appeared to be the opposite of a iPad; you only get websites, where as iOS is all about using an app for everything. Not the mention I get a keyboard to type on. Thank you for clearing that up.

    Overall, I felt the review was well done; I agree with the 4gb of ram not being enough. I feel performance degrading as I get to few dozen tabs. I really love this laptop, but I would never buy it; it's out of my price range.

    The non-tapered edges to make the device appear thicker than it is, but it also makes it feel higher-quality. Having an edge that becomes really thin gives it a "toy-esk" feeling. (My Vizio 14 has it, it makes it feel less premium... Though it's non-aluminum back could be a good cost saving technique if Google were to decide to create one for under a $1000...That and a 1080p-ish resolution would be the most logical cost saving tools to me. Those and a cheaper, but next-gen CPU would be way of getting the price to around $750).
    Reply
  • jabber - Sunday, June 2, 2013 - link

    "a few dozen tabs".....

    Wow...what exactly are you doing that requires 24+ browser tabs open?

    I have the Samsung 11" Chromebook and use it a lot but usually sits around half a dozen open max.
    Reply
  • Selden - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    Excellent review, as I expect from Anandtech. I agree with you fully about memory management, which is an Achilles heel for Chrome OS. ZRAM definitely helps, but the file manager, even on the latest beta (Version 28.0.1500.20), is an utter pig. I'm on an extended trip to Alaska, taking a lot of photos, and copying, let alone viewing/editing photos quickly runs free memory down below 100 mb. Pushed hard enough, the image viewer will start behaving erratically; the only option then is to restart — fortunately, a rapid process, but it shouldn't be necessary. Reply
  • leexgx - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    for the price of the new chromebook 8gb of ram should be very easy Reply
  • nerdstalker - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    For a device that promises mostly web browsing and integration with the cloud services, WiFi performance of Pixel is not stellar. It has 2x2 MIMO (2 dual band antennas) that is comparable to Macbook Air. However, WiFi performance is not as good as MBA, especially 5 GHz. rMBP models on the other hand (both 13" and 15") have top notch 3x3 MIMO (3 dual band antennas) with pretty good throughputs. Reply
  • internetf1fan - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    Few things about your review.

    #1) Why did you use sunspider 0.9.1 when V1 was just recently released?

    #2) Since you are comparing hardware, it would be best to use the same software where possible. Chrome OS the chrome browser, so instead of using stock browser on other OS, you should have installed chrome on Mac and Surface Pro as well so that the hardware comparison would be consistend.
    Reply
  • leexgx - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    all other tests was done with 0.9.1

    at least test stock and chrome on sunspider
    Reply
  • ECIT - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    I must admit that I was a bit sceptical when the Pixel was announced. Google has enough work convincing people to buy into the whole Chromebook concept even with low-cost versions, let alone at Pixel's price.

    On the other hand, the Pixel does look pretty cool. And I do think that Chromebooks in general have their place in the market, especially as a second home device. Most people spend a lot of their time on the Internet anyway, and there are more and more web apps out there.

    For those that are considering Chromebooks but still need to access Windows applications, they can look at Ericom AccessNow, an HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to Terminal Server or VDI virtual desktops, and run Windows applications or even full desktops in a browser tab.

    Click here for more information:
    http://www.ericom.com/RDPChromebook.asp?URL_ID=708

    Please note that I work for Ericom
    Reply
  • jeffkro - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    Wow, way to expensive and an overkill display for the screen size. I would like to see a 14-15" 1080p chromebook in the $500-600 range, no laptops should have less than 1080p these days. Also since chrome OS is so lightweight you really only need a 1.5ghz celeron processor. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now