Google has announced the Chromebook Pixel, a high-end Chrome OS laptop that leaked — well, kind of — in January. The Chromebook Pixel, which boasts “the highest pixel density (239 pixels per inch) of any laptop screen on the market today,” an optional LTE connection, and 1 terabyte of storage via Google Drive, will cost between $1299 and $1449, much more than other laptops running Chrome OS.
Pixel isn’t like the other, Samsung-and Acer-built Chromebooks. It’s more than a glorified netbook — it’s Google’s vision for the future of desktop computing.
Chromebooks have, historically, been priced far below other laptops. Samsung’s Chromebook costs $250. Acer’s costs just $199. The just-released HP Chromebook costs $329. Pixel costs anywhere from three to six times more than each of those devices, depending on the configuration — a large discrepancy, especially since Pixel is Google’s first foray into laptops since the Cr-48, which was little more than a shell for Chrome OS.
These other Chromebooks have often reflected their bottom-barrel price in their construction. They’re fine for their price, sure, but that’s a heavy caveat. Maruchan Ramen is great for its price too, but that doesn’t mean that its 25-cent noodles even approach the quality of more expensive offerings. Just yesterday it wouldn’t have been surprising to imagine the Chromebook as the next netbook, doomed to the only fate afforded by “cheap”: obsolescence.
Google seems to be ready to leave that connotation of “Chromebook” behind, given its emphasis on “what’s next” for the category. Pixel is an expensive device with a technically impressive screen and speaker system and a handsome, if not elegant, industrial design. (My favorite aspect of the device is the Lightbar, which Google says it added “Just because it looks cool.”) Google didn’t design the Pixel to be as good as or better than just the Chromebooks of the past, it designed it in an attempt to prove that Google is ready to sit at the big boy’s table with Microsoft and Apple.
In a weird way, one of the most exciting things about the Pixel, its design, and Google’s willingness to release a product for so much more than its predecessors is what it might mean for the Nexus line of Android products. They, like the other Chromebooks, are priced and built to be affordable, with models costing much less than their counterparts. Google might just be willing to experiment like this with Pixel because Chrome OS is still just a minuscule part of its business — something which certainly couldn’t be said for Android — but if the new Google is willing to up the price and quality of its devices, that might just change.
We won’t know if Pixel will make a difference in the laptop market until it’s had time to woo consumers or die trying. But it’s clear that Google wants this to be a sign of things to come, a sea change for Chrome OS and, to Google’s mind, personal computers. So while some will scoff at the Pixel’s price — Chrome OS is “just a browser,” after all — the same way they scoff at Glass now, it seems to me that we’re watching a new Google emerge right in front of us.
Android is Google’s future. Nexus is Google’s future. Glass is Google’s future. And now, if Google is as committed as it seems to be, Chromebook might just be in its future as well.