For a long time, it seemed as if Google’s Chromebook initiative was focused on giving customers the lowest possible price. While the first generation of laptops running the search engine giant’s Chrome OS retailed for $449, prices for the second generation—featuring devices built by Acer and Samsung—dropped to $149 and up.
That seemed like an entirely logical direction for prices to go, especially considering how Chromebooks aren’t exactly meant for localized, heavy-duty work: the hardware specs are respectable but not cutting-edge, while Chrome OS depends almost entirely on a Web connection in order to serve many of its features.
But now Google’s taking the Chromebook franchise in a more high-end direction, with the introduction of the Chromebook Pixel, which features a dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor, a choice of 32GB or 64GB solid-state drives (supplemented by one terabyte of Google Drive cloud storage for three years), and a 12.85-inch multi-touch display. Design-wise, the Chromebook Pixel boasts a body machined from anodized aluminum, a backlit keyboard, and a glass touchpad.
Retail price starts at $1,299.00.
Is any system centered on browser apps—no matter how powerful the underlying processor or beautiful its chassis—worth that sort of money? The Chromebook Pixel’s competition in that price range, the MacBook Air, features a choice of 128GB or 256GB of local storage, a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor (configurable to a dual-core 2.0GHz Intel Core i7), and longer rated battery life (7 hours, versus 5 hours for the Chromebook Pixel). The Chromebook Pixel is more competitive with the Ultrabooks flooding the market, but the latter have the ability to run Windows applications—essential for businesspeople and gamers.
Thanks to a new generation of Web apps, it’s certainly possible for someone to run their digital life off a laptop running a Web-based operating system like Chrome OS. But is someone willing to pay $1,299 for that privilege, especially when that same amount of money can buy a machine with more robust specs and the ability to run legacy apps?