Google's Chromebook Pixel: An even worse idea than Windows 8

Windows 8 may have gotten poor reviews for its tablet-based interface forced onto traditional PCs and laptops, but Google's Chromebook Pixel makes that look like a design of genius. Who would want to spend top-dollar for a laptop that lacks serious storage, runs Web-based apps rather than client apps, and isn't much use when not connected to the Web?

The new laptop's name is taken from its screen, which sports 4.3 million pixels, which Google claims is more than the screen on any other laptop. Google adds that it has twice as many pixels as does a typical high-definition television.

As Archie Bunker used to say, well whoop-tee-do. That might make YouTube videos look nice, and will show off Netflix streaming TV and movies to their best effect, but it's not going to help you do budget analysis on a spreadsheet, or get much real work done when you're not connected to the Web.

Oh, and the Pixel also has three microphones. Be still my beating heart -- three microphones! That surely makes it worth every penny of its $1,300 pricetag, or $1,450 for the LTE version when it comes out in April

There's also a touchscreen, which is pointless enough for most laptops, but on the Pixel is even more pointless because Web-based apps aren't designed for touch. As least touch makes a little bit of sense on some Windows 8 laptops, because the main Windows 8 interface was designed for touch. But on the Chrome operating system? There's simply no need for it.

As for storage, because the Pixel is designed for working in the cloud, you don't get much -- a mere 32GB. Even tablets typically have more than that. As for the rest of its hardware, it's relatively standard fare: 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 system, and 4 GB of RAM.

To give the Pixel its due, it's lightweight and beautifully designed. But as fellow Computerworld blogger and Android fan JR Raphael points out, for only $200 more than the $1300 pricetag, you can get a full-blown 13-in. MacBook Pro, which comes with 8GB of RAM, 128GB of flash storage, a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, and Apple's Retina Display. And for $100 less you could get a MacBook Air with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage.

The high price will keep the Pixel a niche product. Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, told Computerworld:

"Other Chromebooks list for $350 or $250 while Google is listing the Pixel at $1,299 for the cheap model. That's a big number...I think the price puts it into a new competitive category. It's going to be competing heads-up with traditional Windows-based laptops -- primarily Ultrabooks -- now."

It's a competition the Pixel can't win. Windows-based Ultrabooks give you plenty of storage, the ability to run client apps as well as Web apps, and work even if you're not connected to the Internet. Not so the Pixel.

I've been a critic of Windows 8 because it forces a tablet interface onto traditional PCs and laptops. But I'd take any Windows 8 laptop over the Pixel in a heartbeat. The Pixel is overpriced and gives you features you don't need, such as three microphones and an extremely high-resolution screen, while not giving you features you really need, such as serious storage and the ability to run non-Web applications. The Pixel isn't as bad as the misbegotten Nexus Q streaming music device, but then again, few pieces of hardware have ever been that bad. But it's certainly no winner.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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