Two years ago, Google launched the Chromebook Pixel, a premium Chrome OS notebook designed to show off its cloud-based operating system. Now the second generation Pixel is here, bringing better performance at a lower cost.
Physically, the 2015 Chromebook Pixel is a lot like the 2013 edition. The basic dimensions, the 12.85-inch 2,560 x 1,700 resolution touchscreen and most of the hardware design is the same. The new laptop is a touch lighter, however, and comes with two of the new USB-C ports (most recently seen on the latest Apple MacBook).
Unlike Apple's super-slim new laptop, the Pixel also gets two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader thrown into the mix too. Google is promising better battery life this time around as well, quoting 12 hours of normal use, but we'll have to wait until we get our hands on one to see if that stands up.
The biggest changes are under the hood, with a choice of a 2.2 GHz Intel i5 processor and 8 GB of RAM, or a 2.4 GHz i7 processor and 16 GB of RAM. The graphics get a bump up to Intel HD 5500 and you can choose from 32 GB or 64 GB of internal storage. LTE connectivity has been dropped, but Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are still present and correct.
With the cheapest configuration retailing at US$999 and the top-end specification costing $1,299, this is still an expensive laptop, albeit a step down from the original Pixel (which started at $1,299). And though it's come a long way in the last couple of years, there's still the Chrome OS to consider.
Living on the web
We've been following Chrome OS since the first Chromebooks started appearing. Back in 2011, the idea of doing everything online with a minimum of local storage – from music listening to photo editing – felt like a concept the world wasn't quite ready for. Today that idea feels a lot more palatable, as Wi-Fi access becomes more ubiquitous, and online software (from Google Drive to Spotify) becomes more advanced. Some apps, like Drive and Gmail, now offer limited offline functionality too.
Chromebooks (and Chromeboxes) have also proved popular with students and those wanting a cheap, lightweight second computer. That's why the Pixel feels like something of an anomaly. It ignores one of the main advantages of Chromebooks and goes for a price level more in line with what you'd expect to pay for a quality Windows laptop or a MacBook.
As in 2013 though, Google is positioning the Pixel as a reference device that shows the Chrome OS in the best light possible. It's not so much a notebook for the masses as a flagship device only a few Chrome OS enthusiasts are likely to consider. For everyone else there are plenty of capable yet inexpensive Chromebooks to choose from.
Those internal specs are likely to be overkill for an operating system that's essentially a browser with a few add-ons, but you're unlikely to run into difficulties opening dozens of tabs or streaming HD videos from YouTube. Of course, one of the plus sides of having little or no software installed locally is that most of the processing and updating is done in the cloud, keeping your laptop streamlined and speedy.
The key Chromebook question hasn't changed since the beginning, though: Can you do everything you want to do on a computer on the web? Google's official promotional video below might help you decide.