Google’s Chromebook Pixel Looks Like A Pricey Boondoggle, Or The Platypus Of The Notebook World

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Google unveiled is fabled Pixel Chromebook today, and the thing does indeed have what looks to be a gorgeous, high-resolution display. It also has a touchscreen, as rumored, and the list gets more confusing from there. 32GB (or 64GB) of onboard storage? ChromeOS? A 3:2 screen ratio? A $1299 starting price tag? Huh?

The device is meant to be upscale, Google admits, but for a machine aiming at power users, it’s a device surprisingly devoid of power features. ChromeOS is, for all its strengths, still essentially a browser, after all. This thing can’t run Photoshop, which you’d be able to do no problem if you spend $100 less and get a 13-inch MacBook Air. It can play back movies on that gorgeous screen, but not in as many file formats or with as much ease as you could manage with a Lenovo Yoga 13, also cheaper at $1,049. It can accept touch input, which could be exciting, but then again might not, and that’s hardly a feature worth risking a cool $1300 for.

Which isn’t to say the Pixel isn’t attractive. It’s a looker, to be sure, and something I’d definitely be interested in owning myself. The 1TB of Google Drive storage and the LTE radio on the $1449 model make for an attractive package, so long as you’re already deeply committed to Google’s cloud storage ecosystem. But a gadget blogger wanting something and an everyday consumer being willing to cough up over $1,000 for it are two entirely different things, and the Pixel has too many of those moments that make you tilt your head slightly to provide any chance at success in that regard.

ChromeOS is a risky proposition on a $249 laptop for most people. It’s still just too new, and too untested in a world where you’ll attract far fewer headaches just going with OS X or Windows. With a price tag that makes it almost an impulse buy, it’s an understandable risk. At $1299, it’s not.

ChromeOS is a risky proposition on a $249 laptop for most people

Google doesn’t always care about marketability for its first generation devices. It originally tried to sell the Nexus One direct for $529, a price many felt was too high, contributing to the eventual failure of that experiment. The Pixel is also introduced as “a laptop that brings together the best in hardware, software, and design to inspire future innovation” on Google’s website, meaning it probably isn’t intended to fly off the shelves, but more to light a fire under hardware partners and developers.

Still, announcing a consumer launch (including a retail partnership with Best Buy) for the Chromebook Pixel (a device that looks like the notebook world’s equivalent of a hastily assembled Lego project built from memory) just comes off as weird. I once lauded Google’s strategy in going for cheap, ubiquitous data network access with previous hardware launches, and I’m all for technical innovation that explores new territory. But I see no answer to the question of “Why?” when it comes to the Pixel.