Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Why Google Made Its Own High-End Laptop, the Chromebook Pixel

Google today unveiled the Chromebook Pixel, a laptop that it designed and built itself. Unlike prior Chromebooks, whose main draw was their value, this one is built to compete with the top end of the market.

The three biggest appeals of the Pixel will likely be its touchscreen and high-density display, its elegant design, and the fact that it’s a Web-based device.

ChromePixelGoogle set out to build the best possible device for “power users living in the cloud,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s SVP of Chrome, speaking at a launch event in San Francisco today.

Like other Chrome OS products, the Pixel does not support desktop software, and would have its users live entirely in browser windows using Web-based applications.

The Pixel, which will ship as early as next week and starts at $1,299 for a Wi-Fi-only model (more specs analysis here), evolves from previous products Google made with partners such as Samsung. But it’s a far step above them.

Most notably, the screen has more pixels per inch than any other laptop, Google said.

The focus on detail and design is unheard of for a Google product. Where the company had tiptoed into hardware before, it’s striding in wholeheartedly now.

The smooth device’s hinge gives “the feeling of a luxury car door opening and closing,” Pichai said. The touchpad is made of glass, and has been tuned with a laser to have a maximally grippy surface. There are three microphones, with an additional one set below the keyboard so typing noises can be canceled out.

SundarPichaiAt one point, a Google hardware designer at the event started waxing poetic about “tuning the force function of the mechanical keys to be more responsive.” Really.

In many ways, the Pixel is similar to Google’s Nexus device line, which sets the bar for production of Android mobile phones.

But the Pixel goes beyond that, because Nexus devices are explicitly built with hardware partners, and Google isn’t even naming the Taiwan-based OEM it is working with for the Pixel.

At the same time, this is very much a first-generation device. Some of the Pixel’s hardware capabilities — like the third microphone, and gestures on the touchscreen — aren’t even supported by Google’s own services yet.

And that’s not the only awkwardness. The Pixel brings Google back to the perpetual question of why Google is building two operating systems, Chrome and Android, that are converging on each other.

“What we are showing here is once you build a touchscreen laptop, the lines blur,” Pichai allowed. But he added, “We’re comfortable at Google with two viewpoints, and we are doing both.”


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