Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of Chromebooks.
Some may find the idea of a machine which exists primarily on the internet and can’t install software such as iTunes or Photoshop to be a bit of a non-starter. But for users like me who do nearly everything online, Google’s Chrome OS machines are uncomplicated, reliable, and just very pleasant to use.
When I reviewed the Series 3 Chromebook a few months ago I was immediately smitten by its diminutive build, light weight, snappy performance and excellent keyboard. It instantly became my go to laptop and has remained so up until a couple of weeks ago when I was sent a Macbook Air 13″ for a feature I was writing.
Now with the Macbook departing, and my need for a new machine becoming more pressing, I’m left with the decision of what eco-system to buy into, as you don’t simply get a laptop anymore. Apple have built some excellent machines but you can’t fix them yourselves. When you also include the necessary upgrades that mean you can keep them running well for four to five years the price gets pretty hairy. I’ve been reviewing a Windows 8 laptop for the past week, and I’m looking forward to them taking it away. So no sale there.
If there’s one thing that holds me back on the Chromebook itself as a main machine it’s that the screen is a little underwhelming. Not terrible by any means, but not amazing. Plus I know that the mobile grade CPU will probably struggle to keep up with the ever advancing HD net that we now populate. As a second machine of course, or a family laptop, it’s absolutely perfect. Plus it’s very, very cheap. Nice.
Then Google did something crazy. They announced yesterday the Chromebook Pixel. This new flagship is a £1000+ premium laptop, sporting a better than retina touchscreen display, and beautiful, industrial styling that stands out from the ever increasing sea of Macbooks I see in coffee shops every day. Plastic has been replaced with brushed metal, frosty screens make way for 3:2 aspect ratio HD displays purpose built for the way websites are laid out, and a stonking 1TB of Google Drive storage means your data can be free from the confines of an internal hard disk.
I’ve long thought that if Google ever made a Macbook Air quality Chromebook and charged a decent price for it that I’d sign up in a heart beat. I like the way Chrome OS functions and have been dithering about committing to a new Mac for several months. So does the new Pixel fit the bill? I’m not so sure.
Having come fresh from my Windows 8 touchscreen experience I’m more convinced than ever that I really don’t want a hybrid device. Maybe Google’s implementation will be different, but when using the Lenovo Yoga 13 recently I found reaching out to select things on a screen to be a rather odd movement. I’d much rather use my iPad or Nexus 7 for such tactile duties. There’s also the annoyance of having to clean your screen constantly, and wiping a laptop up and down on your t-shirt is a bit tricky.
Then there’s the cost. One of the huge selling points of the series 3 Chromebook was the £229 price tag. For that you got 100 GB of Google Drive storage, a great little machine, and the assurance that if it started to creak after a couple of years you could replace it with a similarly affordable newer model. The Pixel currently retails for £1049, which isn’t crazy for a retina screen laptop, but last week Apple dropped the cost of their 13″ Macbook Pro Retina by a couple of hundred pounds to £1249, queering the pitch somewhat for a prospective Pixel customer. Then there’s the question of whether Chrome OS is really ready to compete in the premium marketplace. The Chrome store is growing very fast, and there are many great apps available – take note Windows 8 – so you can actually do a decent amount of work related tasks. But when you pay north of a grand for hardware you begin to expect to do everything. Photo-editing is achievable through a few decent apps, and basic video editing facilities are available, but they don’t quite match up to the iLife suite that accompanies every new Mac. Audio creation is also a bit of a challenge, so if you’re the creative type then you might find the Chromebook limited in these areas. Even writers like myself, whose needs are generally undemanding on machines, lack mainstream apps such as Scrivener or Celtx – although the latter does have a web portal.
In the end it comes down to whether you want an ultra high class screen on your laptop, eschew the Apple or Microsoft eco-systems, and spend most of your life online. Are there many of those people around?
Time will tell, but I must admit that even with all these caveats I still find myself sorely tempted by the Pixel.
Google do online so well that you know it will fly. Plus increasingly my computers have become glorified browsers that run Chrome, Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, and a suite of social networking sites. Is it just a natural evolution to use a computer which is designed with this lifestyle in mind? Maybe…just maybe…