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Google’s Newest Pixel Chromebook: Cool New Hardware, Same High Price

Google's newest Pixel Chromebook has cool new hardware features and a head-turning design, but it's still an overpriced Chromebook.


Let me guess: You kept your laptop until you squeezed every last drop of life out of it, and now that it’s dying, you aren’t gung-ho about spending a lot for a new one.

I don’t blame you. After all, your tablet and big-screen smartphone do more of the things you once did only on your laptop. Plus, they cost less and are more compact.

This situation creates an ideal breeding ground for Chromebooks, the inexpensive laptops that people have been snatching up at a feverish pace. They run Google’s Chrome operating system and lack local storage. This means they can’t run programs like iTunes, Microsoft Office or Final Cut Pro. But they’re usually much less expensive than traditional laptops.

However, not all Chromebooks are bargain buys. In fact, Google’s own Chromebook Pixel is downright expensive. When the first Pixel launched just over two years ago, its $1,299 price tag had me wondering who could afford it.

Google didn’t care. The company said its Pixel was designed to be a hero product that showcased new technology, like a stunning touchscreen.

Starting today, Google is offering a new model of its Pixel Chromebook. I got one early, and have been testing it over the past week, using it as my main laptop in place of my MacBook Air. I even took it along on a work trip from Washington, D.C., to California, daring to leave my MacBook home.

I like the new Pixel a lot. But I’m still scratching my head as to why anyone would pay $999 for this thing. Sure, it’s a little less expensive than the original, and it has some cool new technology, but it’s still pricey for a Chromebook, considering that most cost around $250.

Let’s go over the good stuff first. Its most notable addition is a fast-charging USB Type-C cable, which gives the laptop its full 12-hour battery life after just over 90 minutes of charging. This worked well in my tests.

(On Monday, Apple announced its new MacBook, and it, too, uses this new charging cable. Apple simply calls it USB-C.)

Google says you’ll get two hours of power on the Pixel after charging for just 15 minutes, but in several tests, I only got about an hour and a half in that 15-minute charge. Still, I was impressed.

Pixel the Second inherited its predecessor’s good genes: It has a rock-star design that includes an anodized aluminum body and a piano hinge to prevent its 13-inch touchscreen from jiggling when you touch it. Google says that this vibrant screen shows even more colors than the original, staying true to its Pixel name.

It has carefully hidden screws and speaker grills, access to its fancy new USB Type-C charging port on both its left and right side, and a responsive glass touchpad.

I quickly discovered that this Chromebook Pixel turns heads on a plane.

Google estimates that this laptop’s battery life will last 12 hours, or seven hours more than the original Pixel, which got a measly five hours before pooping out. In my battery test, which is meant to push the laptop to its max, I got just eight hours. That test involved me cranking up the screen to constantly-on full brightness, playing a loop of music, collecting email in the background and keeping Wi-Fi on.

In my everyday use, the battery held up impressively, lasting longer than eight hours.

The light bar on the laptop’s outer shell serves as a battery indicator, saving you from turning on the laptop to check your juice. When you tap the top of the closed laptop twice, the status bar lights up red, yellow or green, according to how much power you have left.

Given the high-end design of this new Pixel, I found myself comparing it more to my 13-inch MacBook Air. Both 13-inch models cost $999, but the Mac comes with 128 gigabytes of flash storage versus the 32GB solid-state drive you’ll get with this Pixel. The Pixel is also thicker and weighs a little more: 3.3 pounds compared to the 2.96-pound MacBook Air.

At 11.7 inches from left to right, it’s not as wide as my 12.8-inch-wide MacBook, yet still offers an immensely comfortable keyboard, which I used to write this review. Its touchscreen is a bonus feature — fun to use, but not necessary, especially considering that the user interface isn’t designed specifically for touch.

I’m comfortable with saving my documents and photos in the cloud, so I didn’t have trouble adjusting to the Chromebook’s Web obsession. I opened existing documents and stored new documents and photos in the cloud-based Google Drive, accessing them later on my phone or other computers via Drive. I used the laptop’s minimal local storage for downloading a handful of photos and documents. And I opened and edited Microsoft Office documents using Google’s recently-updated Docs, Sheets and Slides.

But I still say that despite its handsome build, fast charging and cool battery indicator, you’d have to be flush with cash to consider paying this much for such a Web-focused laptop. When a $250 Chromebook has those shortcomings (and others), no one really minds.

If you have even more dough to spend, you may want to spring for Google’s other new Pixel, which costs $1,299 and is amusingly named Ludicrous Speed. It has an Intel Core i7 processor, twice the RAM (16GB) and twice the storage (64GB solid-state drive) as the $999 model. But again, it lacks significant internal storage and the ability to run regularly-used software programs.

The Chromebook family is made up of various models that cost very little, and their low prices make sense for what they offer. But Google’s Pixels buck those stereotypes. While it’s easy to admire the design and high-tech features of this new Pixel, it’s still too expensive for most.

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