After months of speculation and one very strange "leaked" video, Google's first touchscreen laptop is actually here.
The Chromebook Pixel (yes, it's really called that) is on sale now in the Google Play Store and will start shipping next week. The computer costs $1299 for a Wi-Fi-only edition; an LTE-enabled version, meanwhile, will become available in April for $1449.
Those prices may come as a bit of a shock. Thus far, after all, Google's Chrome OS platform has focused on the lower end of the pricing spectrum; the company's recent Samsung Chromebook, priced at $249, has by all counts been a hot commodity and the first widespread Chrome OS success. The question now is if Google can convince people to spend five times as much money on a cloud-centric system.
The Chromebook Pixel certainly has its share of high-end appeal. The computer boasts a 12.85-in. display with 2560 x 1700 resolution and 239 pixels per inch -- a number that Google proudly proclaims to be the highest pixel density of any laptop screen on the market. Combine those 4.3 million pixels with a 178-degree viewing angle and 400 nit screen brightness, and you've got all the makings of a ridiculously impressive viewing experience.
Pixels aside, the distinguishing feature of the Chromebook Pixel's display is its touch-ready surface. You can use your fingers to tap buttons and links, pinch-to-zoom into pages, and swipe around photos and Web content. Following the lead of many tablets and smartphones, the Pixel's screen is even protected by Gorilla Glass.
Make no mistake about it, though: The Chromebook Pixel is not an Android tablet. Google's Chrome OS platform is focused squarely on Web-based apps like Google Docs, Gmail, and Google Drive. It provides a very different experience than the app-driven environment of a tablet or the local-program-driven experience of a traditional PC (see my hands-on assessment of Chrome OS for a more in-depth look at what the platform's like to use).
I can't help but sense a slight disconnect, then, between that environment and one in which touch interactions are either natural or necessary. Google says it's working with developers to create more touch-friendly Web-oriented apps, but at the moment, I do question the real need for a touch interface in the Chrome OS world.
Of course, the Chromebook Pixel is about more than just touch. The laptop -- designed by Google itself as opposed to a third-party partner -- is a real looker. The computer is made from anodized aluminum and features a backlit keyboard and glass touchpad. On the inside, it packs a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor along with an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 system. And it rocks 4GB of RAM -- double the amount used in the current crop of popular Chromebook devices.
With its 32GB solid state drive, the Chromebook Pixel has more storage than other Chromebooks but notably less than other laptops in its price range. That's no surprise, given the cloud-centric focus of Chrome OS; to balance things out, Google's including a whopping 1TB of cloud-based Drive space for three years with all Pixel purchases. If you were to pay outright for that amount of Drive storage, it'd cost you $50 a month -- or $1800 over the course of three years.
(After the three-year period has elapsed, any files you've stored will remain in your account and accessible to you but your available free space will drop back down to the standard 5GB mark.)
So all said and told, $1300 isn't completely unreasonable for what you're getting: a beautifully designed laptop with a gorgeous, state-of-the-art touchscreen display and a generous amount of cloud storage that'd typically cost you more than the computer itself.
Still, $1300 is no small chunk of change -- especially when you consider you could get a 13-in. MacBook Pro with Apple's Retina Display, a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage for just 200 bucks more. A comparable non-Retina MacBook Air, meanwhile -- with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage -- would run you 100 bucks less.
Ultimately, it all comes down to your computing priorities; as I've said in my previous Chrome OS coverage, the Chromebook concept isn't for everyone but -- for the right type of user -- can offer a lot of advantages over a more traditional PC setup. Once the initial shell shock of the Chromebook Pixel's price tag wears off, I suspect we'll find that Google has created a pretty compelling computer in what's essentially a new class of product. The million-dollar question, as I alluded to earlier, is whether the company will be able to convince consumers it's worth the cost.
I'll be spending some time with the Chromebook Pixel over the next several days. Stay tuned for my hands-on impressions and -- once I've had a chance to get to know the system in and out -- my in-depth review.
One thing's for sure: The Chromebook Pixel marks several interesting new turns in Google's direction. It'll be very interesting to see how it all pans out.