I'm usually not a fanboy. After testing some 8,000 products over the past 12 years, including monthly reviews for the magazine for the past half-decade, I've seen it all (almost). Hardware comes and goes--mostly, it goes to landfills.
It's rare when a piece of hardware impresses me this much, but the Google Chromebook Pixel, which costs $1,299, is a remarkable piece of engineering.
A touchscreen notebook that runs the Google Chrome OS, the Pixel has a bright and clear touchscreen, a fast Intel Core i5 processor, and plenty of RAM. But it's the more subtle features that make me think it is a smart buy for any start-up.
1. Super-crisp Display
Apple makes much of its high-res displays. Indeed, the MacBook Pro has a luscious 2,560 x 1,600 pixels or 227 pixels per inch. The Chromebook trumps that spec. The display has a 2,560 x 1,700 resolution or 239 pixels per inch (4.3 million total). Photos pop, text looks crisp, and video flows realistically. The display is so sharp it looks better than an HDTV. Well, unless you have one of those new 4K models.
2. Dancing Lights
It might seem trivial, but the Pixel has a cool aesthetic feature. I first noticed this when someone else borrowed the laptop. On the back of the display, there are four colored lights that glow when you first start the notebook, then show a red "race stripe" as you work. Is it necessary for a work device? Absolutely not--but it sure is a conversation starter in a crowded coffee shop.
3. Intelligent Keyboard
The chiclet keyboard is meant for fast typing. In fact, I've found my typing speed has improved over the past two weeks of testing. The keyboard also has some intelligent perks. The keys light up automatically in a dark room, then dim in bright settings. If you start watching a video, the keyboard lights dim, sensing you are in a lean-back mode.
4. Responsive Touch
The concept of "touch" computing is here to stay. The Pixel has a responsive touchscreen, but there's more to it than that. The mousepad is made of etched glass and, according to Google, is machined with a laser microscope for a precise feel. My finding: The mousepad works as well as an external USB mouse, and I rarely--if ever--say that.
5. GoGo Inflight
Here's a bonus for business users. The notebook comes with 12 free Wi-Fi passes for flights. (They last the entire duration, not just for an hour.) It's a simple sign-up process: When you are on the plane and hit 10,000 feet, you visit GoGo and it senses you have a Chromebook Pixel so you can register and start using the Internet.
6. Free Storage
I'm highly dependent on Google storage, mostly because I never delete any emails. The Pixel comes with a voucher for three years of 1TB cloud storage. That's a great deal: for just 100GB of extra storage from Google, you normally have to pay $4.99 per month.
7. The Hinge
Here's another subtle but important feature. Many laptops have a chiclet keyboard and a sharp screen. But, the laptop screen often snaps awkwardly into place. The Pixel lid closes softly without a click and stays closed. When you need to open the laptop, you can lift the screen easily with one finger and start working. It's minor, but this thoughtful design feature is a perk.
8. Mobile Broadband
I like how the Chromebook Pixel provides Verizon broadband without a contract. If you purchase the more expensive model for $1,449, you get two years of mobile broadband with up to 100MB of downloads per month. If you go over, the data feed cuts off or you can sign-up for a better plan. (Note: 100MB goes by quickly.)
9. Incredibly Fast
The Pixel runs on the Chrome OS, which means when you start the computer you will see a browser. There is also a rudimentary file manager that looks suspiciously like Linux. But, because there isn't a full OS, the laptop--which has a 1.8GHz processor and 4GB of RAM--always felt spirited. Sure, you can't run Photoshop, but every Web app runs smoothly.
I'm being just a bit facetious here, because Google is not perfect. (The company has proved that recently by shutting down services that people actually use.) But if you do live in the Google ecosystem for docs, storage, email, and even your company administration (using Google Apps), then you will feel right at home on the Chromebook Pixel. I know I do.
For a much more sarcastic look at the Chromebook Pixel, see my personal blog for a post on the things the Chromebook Pixel won't do. You've been warned.