Friday, February 22, 2013

Chromebook Pixel - For Whom?

"$1299?! Are you serious?"

That was my first reaction on hearing the news about Google's newly announced Chromebook Pixel. $1299. Yikes. And that's just for the Wi-Fi-only version. The LTE-enabled setup will cost $1449 (and come with only a measly 100 MB/month of data free for 2 years). That's approaching the same territory as lower-end models of the MacBook Pro with Retina. Going by the Pixel's specs, that might almost sound competitively priced. This is premium hardware–not as powerful as a MacBook Pro, more in line with a MacBook Air, but with some distinguishing killer features–its most notable asset being the 12.85-inch screen with "the highest pixel density of any laptop," beating out Apple's Retina display. That screen is also touch-capable, borrowing the one trailblazing feature of the latest Windows 8 PCs.

Still, however fancy the packaging, this is still a Chromebook, running Google's cloud-based Chrome OS–essentially just a web browser. When I saw the $250 price tag for Samsung's MacBook Air-esque Chromebook last year, I was genuinely intrigued. After all, I had just recently paid $1099 for a MacBook Air, after having had to live without a laptop for over a year, my last HP PC having quit on me rather suddenly. After a few months with the MacBook Air, I realized that all I ever really used it for was word processing and getting online. Once online, all I did was browse the Internet and do email. The most resource-intensive activity I performed was probably watching YouTube videos. I didn't play games, download media, or run any kind of photo-editing software. Even my word processing was done on Google Docs. In other words, I already lived most of my life on the cloud, and almost everything I needed a laptop for could be done with just a web browser. So, yeah, seeing that Chromebook going for less than a quarter of what I had paid for the MacBook Air, I was starting to feel some buyer's remorse. Maybe a Chromebook would have been a better fit for me.

But $1299?! The advantages of the MacBook Air over the $250 Chromebook may not entirely justify the much heftier cost, but at least I know that I paid more to get more. The Chromebook Pixel, on the other hand, is still a Chromebook and, by its nature, a more limited machine than a Mac or PC. And that fancy display and that touch functionality? Those are nice marketing points, but the reality is that most of the Web right now isn't even ready to take advantage of them, and, by the time it is, the Pixel won't be a cutting-edge device. So what exactly is the point of paying $1299 minimum for a web browser that won't, in practical use, browse much better than any other comparably priced fully capable laptop?

I get the sense that Google made this thing for no other reason than to show the world that it could. Perhaps it is a herald of "what's next," either for laptop technology or for Google's position in the industry. Google's product page does explicitly state that the Pixel exists "to inspire future innovation." Don't know what good that does consumers right now.

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