chromebook pixel lightbar

Why the Chromebook Pixel is not ready for prime time

As Google announced the Chromebook Pixel to much suprise, it presented a beefed up hardware as well as a design with attention to detail. Yet, the Pixel can’t show off its potential until the Chrome OS ecosystem evolves.

On February 21st 2013, Google announced it’s newest addition to the existing line of Chromebooks, the so called “Chromebook Pixel”. The company wanted to show “What’s next”. In a way they did, as the newly and carefully designed hardware promises a major leap in terms of design, potential and price compared to previous Chromebooks.

Hardware

While Chromebooks to date featured a rather basic and exchangable hardware, the Pixel comes with specs that can easily match some top tier devices like the MacBook Pro or some recent amchines running Windows.

The device looks clean, almost shows no branding and seems to be on par with the MacBook Pro range. Something really unique, although useless (yet), is the “Lightbar”, a stripe at the outer lid of the device that features some colored LED’s that light up when opening or closing the device. The lightbar looks pretty cool and adds a touch of playfulness to the otherwise clean and professional looking device.

Lightbar, just because it looks cool. -Google

Based on what Google put inside, the Pixel has the potential to become an actual mobile workstation. What confuses at first is the question if such a solid hardware actually is necessary to power the OS when previous models could keep up with the user sporting only a fraction of the processing speed and overall performance. The answer on why Google has chosen to include that much power has two reasons:

Retina Class Display

The retina-resolution screen needs quite some processing power in order to fuel all these pixels, offering a fluent and fast user experience Whilst running the OS itself doesn’t seem to be a problem, watching 1080p for example requires significantly more hardware ressources. This leads to one up- and one downside: Whilst the viewing quality seems to be absolutely gorgeous, the battery life won’t be able to climb well above 4-5 hours of actual use based on first impressions (see the review at The Verge).

Native Client

Whilst this has been a bit more than a proof of concept for a while, Chrome is been able to natively access the hardware using a “Native Client”, therefore offering a speedier performance than ordinary browser based web apps. This will allow developers to use the hardware in much more efficient ways, enabling them to create applications that are well beyond what’s found at the web at right now.

Using the native client, not only full-featured applications, but also console-quality gaming will be possible. The game-streaming service Gaikai has already been ported to use the Chrome’s native client and therefore would offer not only console, but PC quality gaming streamed from the cloud with minimal delay and almost no local ressources needed to render graphics as this is being done in a remote data center.

In addition, popular game engines like “Unity” are also ported, encouraging devs to get used to the native client, offering locally rendered games in high quality.

Also, technologies like WebGL are becoming more and more popular, offering rich online web experiences, but demanding a hardware baseline that’s well beyond what previous Chromebooks offered. In this regard, the Chromebook Pixel shines.

A race horse, waiting to run

Overall, the Chromebook Pixel shows Googles willingness to expand not only their recent steps towards clean and efficient design in both soft- and hardware well beyond into the premium range, but once more sets a new standard with its reference hardware.

From this point on, Google needs to encourage developers not only to built great apps in general, but by using the native client’s possibilities create powerful tools like Photoshop or Final Cut to show of the platform’s potential as the “main machine”.

Bottom Line

While the Pixels hardware might even be a bit overpowered at start, once Chrome OS and internet applications catch up on Google’s newest technologies, the Pixel will show what it can truly do.

The new Chromebook seems to be a piece of hardware that last a few years, with a hardware buffer big enough to be able to catch up with the evolving ecosystem. By encouraging developers to create outstanding apps, Google ultimately might be able to take away consumers uncertainty if Chrome OS can be “enough” for what the want to do. Until then, it mostly seems to be a tool for people who already work in the cloud.

The Chromebook Pixel can be bought via the Google Play Store, but also at selected retailers.