A Week With: Google Chromebook Pixel
This is the future of laptops… once you can get iTunes
Operating system: Google Chrome
Processor: Intel Core 1.8GHz
Memory: 4GB DDR3 RAM
Storage: 32GB solid-state; 1TB on Google Drive for three years
Screen: 12.85in; 2,560x1,700 at 239PPI
Battery: Up to 5 hours' active use
What is it?
The future of laptops, I believe, but until I get to that bit, it's Google's first proper computer. For two years, the tech behemoth has partnered with Samsung and others to produce cheap little Chromebooks. Essentially web browsers with keyboards, they do away with software, hard drives and sluggish start-up times. You do everything online and store your stuff in the cloud, where it's safe and accessible anywhere.
The Pixel does exactly this, too, but for the first time Google has created the hardware. The result is a device of startling beauty. Machined aluminium with sharp corners make it boxy yet also elegant enough to make my MacBook look brutish. The black, backlit keyboard is Mac-inspired but the search key in place of caps lock (hit both shift keys if you really want to SHOUT) is one of few marks of the maker. The design brief appears to have been: make it beautiful but let the screen do the talking. And, oh, what a screen. It boasts a record-breaking pixel density, and it shows, rendering everything as crisp as any Retina Display. You can touch it, too, to click, scroll or pinch to zoom, a feature curiously still absent from MacBooks.
Does it work?
Like a dream. There can be no device since the blackboard for which an instruction manual is so redundant. The Pixel fires up in an instant and asks for your Google Account details, which you won't need to enter again. The Chrome browser appears. Hook it up to the web and you're off. It's lightning fast and scrolling is beautifully smooth via the screen or the etched-glass touchpad.
The Pixel is also effectively impervious to viruses and includes 32GB of physical storage, plus a massive terabyte (about 1,000GB) of space on the Google Drive cloud (included for three years; you'd pay £30 a month to rent that space from Google otherwise).
I need one now, right?
Wrong. Because, for now, there are issues. You can't install software. No iTunes, Spotify, Microsoft Office. If you can't do it via a web browser, you can't do it on a Chromebook. The battery life is low at five hours; the machine is of limited use offline and has no 4G connectivity (the US model does); the screen doesn't fold flat to a tablet mode.
But the biggest deal-breaker? A Pixel will cost you £1,049, enough for five Acer or four Samsung Chromebooks, and £200 more than an 11in MacBook Air, which supports software, is lighter, has double the storage, and a slightly better battery life.
Google surely knows that a £1,000 web browser, however beautiful and lovely to use, will have a limited appeal. But the Pixel is a bold statement of intent. When Google can produce a cheaper model, when services such as Spotify and iTunes switch to the cloud, and when it has 4G, this is what laptops will look like. It won't be long, and I can't wait.
And why are 'southern' ways of speaking spreading north?
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