30 day challenge: Chromebook Pixel

For May 2013 I decided to try making a Chromebook Pixel my primary laptop. So how did it go? Well, the short version is that I’m still a happy Pixel user, almost three months after my one month challenge started.

Previously, I was using a Thinkpad 420s running Goobuntu. In fact, I’ve been using Thinkpads since 1998, when I got my first one in grad school. Before I talk about the Pixel, here’s what I like about Thinkpads:
- Thinkpad keyboards have been the best in the industry. Great depth and just-right resistance. I especially liked the Thinkpad’s dedicated back/forward buttons for web browsing, located right near the arrow keys. Unfortunately, Lenovo has moved to “chiclet” style keyboards and dropped the back/forward buttons in newer Thinkpads.
- Thinkpads have a red rubber TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard. TrackPoint pointers are faster and more precise than trackpads or even mice for me, since you don’t have to take your hands off the keyboard. I didn’t think I could use a laptop without a TrackPoint.
- Thinkpads have a consistent power connector that doesn’t change very often. Most Google conference rooms have Thinkpad and Mac power connectors, so you don’t have to haul a power cord around with you.
- The Thinkpad 420s has a black magnesium case that’s not as cold on your lap when it wakes up as aluminum.
- The Thinkpad 420s has a 1600 x 900 widescreen. Until retina-type displays came out, that was one of the highest-resolution laptops you could get.

Okay, Thinkpads are great machines. But what’s not to like?
- Battery life. When I kept my screen pretty bright, I only got 2-3 hours of battery life.
- Heavy. I didn’t notice until I started using the Pixel, but my Thinkpad 420s was 5.2 pounds. That’s pretty darn hefty for a laptop these days.

Overall though, I was very pleased with my Thinkpad and expected to return to it after the 30 day challenge was up. After all, I’ve been using Thinkpads for 15 years.

Then the Chromebook Pixel surprised me. The main thing you need to know about the Chromebook Pixel is that the screen is phenomenal. The resolution is 2560 x 1700 and 239 pixels per inch (ppi), compared to 227 ppi for a Macbook Pro with retina display. To demonstrate the screen, the Pixel comes with an app called TimeScapes which is drop dead gorgeous. The screen is also a 3:2 aspect ratio, which seems weird for a few days but is actually much better for web browsing than a widescreen display because more of a web page fits on the screen.

The Pixel also comes with a terabyte of Google Drive storage for three years and 12 free Gogo wifi passes for airplane trips. And if you’re worried about the Chrome-only, cloud-only aspect of a Pixel, you can install Linux on it. Even Linus Torvalds likes it.

Okay, but how did it work over 30 days? Better than I expected. I was 12 days in when I realized I’d probably keep using the Pixel after the challenge was over. Let’s run down what’s good and bad:

Good:
- The screen. So nice. Although I don’t understand why they made it so glossy. Screens should be matte, in my opinion.
- Incredibly easy to set up. I use Chrome Sync to sign into Chrome, so basically I just logged in and all my settings, bookmarks, and extensions showed up like magic.
- No configuration. I spent most of this past January reconfiguring several new computers, so “no muss, no fuss” is a big plus.
- The battery life is better. More like five hours, so I’m not constantly looking for a power adapter. If Google puts a Haswell chip in the Pixel, the sucker should go practically all day.
- The trackpad works great. The physical texture of it is silky-smooth, and I never saw any of the glitches that affected the CR-48. Sometimes I do accidentally click when I’m touching the trackpad just to move the cursor, but that’s hard to get right.

There were a few times I missed a regular laptop though:
- John Dvorak’s blog got hacked, and I wanted to send Dvorak a snippet of code that I fetched from his server, but the Pixel doesn’t have wget installed of course. You can do SSH, so I could have SSH’ed into another computer to fetch the page, but I didn’t bother.
- At one point I was trying to download a list of my books from Good Reads in comma separated value (CSV) form so I could upload the file to My Library on Google Books. The Pixel didn’t know what to do with a .csv file, which surprised me since Gmail and Google Drive seem to handle them fine. I suspect that this is a temporary “slip between the cracks” sort of thing, since it looks like Google is working on editing Office docs on Chrome OS. There have been a few times that I’ve downloaded a file and just wanted a simple text editor to tweak 2-3 characters in the file though.
- When you have a ton of tabs open using a lot of memory, clicking back on a tab that had been unused for a long time could cause the tab to reload. If you had unsaved work in the tab, you might lose it. This got better (but not perfect) over time. I’m not sure if Chrome OS got better, or I just got more careful with my tab management though.

One thing that annoyed me (selecting large blocks of text was slow when you had to scroll) was fixed when Chrome OS updated to a newer version. I have faith that other tiny annoyances–scrolling a page with two fingers doesn’t work for some reason when your cursor is over a tab instead of a web page, for example–will also be fixed. At the same time, I haven’t fully adapted to the touch screen and dedicated search button and don’t use either as much I could. But in general, the Pixel seems like it will just continue to get faster and better over time, not slower and cruftier like most machines.

So is the Pixel perfect? Not completely, but most of that (glossy screen vs. matte, trackpad vs. TrackPoint, chiclet vs. regular laptop keyboard) is a matter of personal preference. If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, I understand the decision to get a MacBook Pro with Retina display so you can run native apps. But I’m not in the Apple ecosystem, and I actually like a machine that discourages me from keeping too much data locally.

A lot of people poke fun at Chromebooks saying that they’re not much use without a WiFi connection. Personally, I believe that practically any computer is not much use without a network connection. Chromebooks are getting better at working well offline, but I have to say: the Pixel I’m using has an LTE option for when WiFi isn’t available, and I didn’t need to use the LTE connection on the Pixel any time in the last three months. Especially when you take the Google Drive storage and 12 internet passes into account, the Pixel is quite a good deal for a premium laptop. I’m going to keep using it.

This is getting long, so I’ll close with an anecdote. My Dad visited earlier this month. I gave him a Samsung Chromebook as a loaner for his visit and he’s been using it happily. He logged into his Gmail account in Chrome and his bookmarks and other Chrome settings just showed up. Dad’s laptop back home is about 5 years old, so we stopped by the Apple store. I was going to outfit him with a top-of-the-line MacBook; since he goes for years between upgrades, I wanted him to have a laptop that would last as long as possible. But after noticing the price, he balked. “Matt, we can buy ten Chromebooks for that much money,” he told me. We’re still discussing it, but the $250 Samsung Chromebook does everything he needs. I think more and more people will discover that’s true for them as well. I’ve been surprised how well the Chromebook Pixel works for me.

49 Responses to 30 day challenge: Chromebook Pixel (Leave a comment)

  1. Hey Matt,
    My comment is going to be a little off topic but I have been thinking of taking a 30 days challenge and it is not to take more than 1 cup of tea in a single day. I now work at night hours here in India as a freelancer and the figure goes around 10 cups of tea per day.

    I have not yet finalised the day for my 30 days challenge but it is going to happen soon :)

  2. David

    I am really tempted by the Pixel. How big is the power brick? One of the things I like about Apple laptops is the small power brick. I own a $250 Samsung Chromebook. I like it but I want a nicer machine. To me the power brick on the Chromebook is huge — but for $250 I am not complaining.

  3. I think I’m stuck with my trusty 15.6″ windows based laptop as I’m too scared to try anything different.

    Cheers
    George

  4. Enjoyed reading the article, especially since I am interested in purchasing a Chromebook. I look at it as a cross between an iPad and a laptop. You also made me aware of Google Books–new to me as I use Good Reads. Great information overall. Thank you!

  5. Apology for miss typo, repeat again,
    Matt, From the one and only Google; can you take a challenge without Electricity for 30 day :)

  6. How much does a Chromebook Pixel cost?
    I can’t see it as Google Play is not available in Singapore.

    • matt pillar

      $1299 without LTE. I would pass on that and get a full flegged laptop with out an hd display for $200 less, or get a decked out macbook pro for about $200 more, this seems way to expensive for not being able to do anything…

  7. Roger Hågensen

    (trying to post again, for some reason the blog did not think i was a legit poster for some odd reason… why?).

    “Sometimes I do accidentally click when I’m touching the trackpad just to move the cursor, but that’s hard to get right.”

    That is relatively easy to fix. A touchpad that is pressure sensitive.
    That way the computer/OS can easily distinguish between a click/doubleclick and dragging the finger around.

    This is an annoyance that I’ve noticed on touchscreens and touchpads, and especially on one touchpad/area I tried. If you where a tad too light it would think you lifted the finger and then press down again.
    This can be confusing and even horrifying to older folks or those not used to all this touch stuff as you could end up double-clicking/selecting text and dragging stuff around and no clue why/how it’s happening.

    Even a cheaper pressure sensitive area should be able to provide a value from 1.0 to 0.0
    where 1.0 is full pressure/contact, and 0.0 is no contact.
    Then simply set the trigger area to be 0.0 to 0.5 = drag/mouse/pointer move.
    And 0.75 to 1.0 = clicking/tapping.

    And yes, a intentional dead-zone there. And obviously it should be user adjustable in some way (through drag sensitivity and click sensitivity settings somewhere).
    Some may even prefer 0.0 to 0.25 drag sensitivity and 1.0 tapping for example, giving a huge dead-zone.

    Not sure how many OS has support for this though, I’d hope some do at least, as this is a rather obvious idea really.

  8. Chromebook Pixel will impress you if you try to review it as a Chromebook, not as a regular laptop. I can see that in your post :)

    Buy your dad a Pixel :)

  9. I knew one and only 1 from GOOOOOOOOOOOGLE, MATT never going to reply my comments.

    Why they (GOOGLE) simply ignore my 36 Questions? (I even can’t find all of Q in G search result, (With my name) so Matt would not find it either, I BET) Because they think its irrelevant, if so, Then who is going to think its truly relevant of the topic – AGAIN IF ITS only Google!!!! Then who is Thomas Edison??? Its not you or Google I bet YOU.

    Google thought showing some popular name with stupid animation on their birthday (OR WHAT EVER) is enough for world, if so then i would say no, its not. (YOU GUYS TOTALLY OUT OF YOUR MIND) I want to see Google beyond everything, YES i mean e-v-e-r-y-it-h-i-n-g.

    GUYS, WHERE WE ARE STANDING NOW, INTO MATT, OR NO WHERE.
    He never reply my message (0 of 38), but i ask one simple question to Microsoft and they reply after 2hr 21 seconds, So who better GOOGLE OR MICROSOFT OR MATT, WHO NEVER TALK!!!

    THE ONE AND ONLY ONE GOOGLE, THEY NEVER RESPONSE YOUR MESSAGE, EVEN IF YOU SPEND $4209 IN JUNE 2013 AND ASK ANYTHING IN JULY 2013 (CURRENT DATE IS 24TH JULY, 24TH 2013)

    MATT, PLEASE DON’T DELETE THIS.

  10. Jeniffer Cooper

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I too feel like using Pixel now!

  11. Matt, I haven’t used a pixel so I can’t state that your comparison doesn’t draw the correct conclusions, but I would argue that you are being a little unfair to Lenovo in the source data. The Thinkpad 420 series was released in Feb 2011 whereas the Pixel was released in Feb 2013. It’s difficult for 2 year old hardware to compare favorably to the latest and greatest.

    A much fairer comparison would be the Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch (http://shop.lenovo.com/us/en/laptops/thinkpad/x-series/x1-carbon-touch/#techspecs). Software aside, which isn’t fair either, the specs come out quite similarly:
    Same Weight: 3.4 lbs
    Same Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics 4000
    Same Processor: Intel Core i5-3427U, thinkpad can be upgraded though
    Same Memory: 4 GB DDR3 RAM, thinkpad can be upgraded to 8 GB
    Similar on Battery Life: Pixel is a 59Wh battery, Thinkpad is 45Wh. Thinkpad has rapid charge.
    Disk: Pixel is 32 or 64 GB SSD, Lenovo is 128 GB or 180 GB SSD
    The screen is very different. The Thinkpad’s screen is still only 1600×900. Both are multitouch though.

    Again, not stating the thinkpad wins, hardware wise they are surprisingly similar and the pixel probably comes out ahead for the screen. I’m just saying that it’s a closer race than the T420 series.

    • This would be an interesting debate…although, personally I have no plans to change my hardware, atm…

      One thing that scares me with these things is the whole ‘cloud-stored’ phenomenon that seems to get a lot of wind under its wings. Maybe I’m old-fashioned like that, but I’d rather keep things on MY own hard-drive…

      ~Steve

  12. Hi Matt, just curious did you travel much when using the pixel? I agree with your point that most laptops are less useful without a wifi connection but I’m still not convinced that a machine with a skewed dependency on cloud storage is practical. I work in the travel industry so I travel a lot and there are times when I work and there is no internet connection (not just no wifi) because of location, movement or other reasons. I find I can plan for this with a regular laptop and get on just fine but not sure with a cloud based system. Hence my curiosity……..maybe I should try a similar 30 day challenge :)

    • Maria, I did a trip to DC earlier this month, and several days in Seattle in June for SMX Advanced. It all went fine, but I also have a cell phone plane with tethering. I hate the idea of paying a hotel for wifi, so when I’m traveling I normally just make a wifi hotspot with my phone and use that.

  13. I find your review as really objective, even that you work for Google, what’s good should be shared!

    About the battery, there are different chemical types (for some reason I couldn’t find the chemical type of the pixel’s battery with a fast google search), and each have to be used in a different way, to stay alive longer. Also, there are many tricks and stuff to avoid, so you can work with your laptop longer while on battery mode.

    Thank you for your opinion, which made me take a deeper look on this Chromebook Pixel. It is a great idea for a travel mate :)

  14. Two comments:

    Sideloading (not dual-booting) Ubuntu on my Samsung 3 series Chromebook is great when you just can’t find that Chrome app that does something you really need. Check out crouton: https://github.com/dnschneid/crouton. I run just the shell version so I can use it in a crosh window from my regular ChromeOS desktop. Vim, git, curl, wget, tmux, ruby, rails, you name it. You just can’t get third-party apps like Dropbox native for ARM, but that’s surprisingly few missing for me.

    You noted tab reloading seemed to happen less over time. This is probably due to newer builds enabling swap. Earlier builds didn’t have swap and so tabs were limited to physical memory constraints. I found the command to enable swap on older builds, but I haven’t had to use it for several months now (I’ve periodically powerwashed my machine and had to reconfigure these things). It seems like swap comes pre-enabled now.

    Cheers.

  15. In my opinion laptop is fine but the price is to high, and I really don’t understand why…

  16. I’ve been using a chromebook (Samsung 550) quite a lot recently , but I really miss SCP or SFTP file transfer. I dont think I’ve found any web apps for chrome OS that work inside a LAN.

    Lots of linux based laptops that I’ve owned had never quite worked 100%, having suspsend/sleep mode that is really fast is awesome.

    However, none of this matters as its my secondary device and Guest mode of chrome OS is by far its best feature. I can let anyone have a surf without fear.

    I’ve never seen a Retina screen nor the Chromebook Pixels – I expect this is the type of thing that will make me very jealous. The different aspect ratio is also something interesting.

  17. Helmuts

    :) I like the last part :)

    I would buy my dad a macbook if his previous laptop was a mac as well – it is all about the learning curve. BTW – what was his old laptop?

    But I haven’t heard 10 star ratings from my friends who use Chromebooks.

    Loyal reader,
    Helmuts

    p.s. It is strange not to see Linux fanboys around ;)

  18. Shank

    Sir, I know this isn’t related to the topic. But I wanted to ask you about my problem because I am suffering badly.
    I have been in huge trouble. Someone has stolen my whole data(2500+ pages that took me almost a year and a half year to create) and uploaded on four domains.(I am sure it was stolen from my hosting account but my hosting provider has refused to take any responsibility.) While two of them are off now, other two are still working and ranking higher than my site for some keywords.There is no way that I can contact that person as he hasn’t kept any contact details on the sites. Nor I can contact him through his domain lookup as he has kept everything hidden. What should I do?

  19. I have a chromebook pixel for work and I love it!

  20. I haven’t had the chance to try the Pixel, yet, BUT I am definitely going to. I LOVE my Acer Chromebook! One reason I purchased it is the storage capacity. Everyone says you don’t need that much capacity, you can connect to the cloud for whatever you need. Those people obviously stay in one cosmopolitan area.
    If you climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, like you did, or fly, or go camping with the grandkids, it’s nice having a hundred+ movies available. I use the cloud for just about everything but I believe you need storage as well.

  21. You wouldn’t happen to know when the pixel is officially going to be available in Australia Matt? I’m loving my Samsung Chromebook, but I really really really want to move over the the Pixel.

  22. Hi Matts,

    I would like to try out chromebook pixel but this device is not available in Pakistan. I want to ask till when it will be available in Pakistan and request you to offer easy payment option besides Paypal as paypal is not working at here.

    Thanks and finally i would like to get one more favor from you that to publish the comment this time.

    -Muzammil

  23. I wrote a review about the Samsung Chromebook, even though I haven’t bought it…yet. All based on tryouts in Best Buy and Fry’s!

    I was hoping they would improve the screen in the $250 one – just a little dim. Or lower the price of the Pixel. Yes, I’m a sucker for the Waiting Game. But I am still very tempted.

  24. It is actually great idea to give Chromebook to parents or children because they can t do anything wrong. When they had windows i had to repair it almost every week and I gues ubuntu or mac would be the same. Now it just works. THey can watch their news, read e-mails, save photos, print documents and that is all they need.

  25. Albert

    Have you enabled developer mode? http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os/developer-information-for-chrome-os-devices/chromebook-pixel
    I think you have wget with that, but I’m not positive. If not, it shouldn’t be more than an install away.

  26. Matthew Rhodes

    I love my Chromebook Pixel it is my only computer and I get along just fine.
    Though I had to borrow my wife’s Air the other day to put and ISO on a USB.

  27. seb

    matt am a happy chromebox user, I have been using this text editor, opening file from the editor works if it not supported file type.
    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/text/mmfbcljfglbokpmkimbfghdkjmjhdgbg

    Chrome os keeps getting better, some issues like .tar.gz (.tgz) is ok but .gz is not and .3gpp files have to be rename to .3gp to play. List of supported file types.
    https://support.google.com/chromeos/answer/183093?hl=en

    Chromebook pixel is great had a play with one when Chrome OS Community Manager
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MelissaDaniels/about visited Sydney.

    Would be nice if a chromebook had a http://pixelqi.com sun readable display, interesting that Mary Lou Jepsen, Pixel Qi founder, now is the head of the Display Division at Google [x].

  28. Nandan Gupta

    Hi Matt,
    I have a question for you that is If we search google on google.com we get maps.google.com is top of SERP. But user search google to get response for a search query. Why its happen.

  29. And I like the Thinkpad 420

  30. carlo

    Hi Matt

    PLEASE DO NOT INCLUDE THIS POST IN THE COMMENTS!!!
    i just want to get in touch with the right person… tried different channels but never any response…)

    Could you possibly get me in touch with the person(s) responsible for google adwords and especially section “offers”

    Although this is really neat i think you guys are missing out on some key points where this can excel much more giving users an even better experience (also creating the opportunity of generating at least an extra 100 mil USD/year)

    i have been working on this concept for about a year and i am confident i can add to the project

  31. Nobody dare to ask you when will come the next Google update for PR. You and the Google staff said sometime ago that the company will be more open about its politics. Could say something about the next Google updating. Just to calm down the people…Please. Thank You

  32. AM

    Hi Matt
    Your advice and guidance is not working for me. We are a small building company and I can see the bigger and the dubious websites ranking better than I do. Is this a case of do I as I say and hope for the best ? Clearly, whoever ignores your advice are doing better.
    Regards

  33. Michael

    You say: “Sometimes I do accidentally click when I’m touching the trackpad just to move the cursor, but that’s hard to get right.”
    Try going to Settings/Device/Touchpad settings, and unchecking “Enable tap-to-click”.

  34. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical when the Pixel was announced. Google has enough work convincing people to buy into the whole Chromebook concept even with low-cost versions, let alone at Pixel’s price.

    On the other hand, the Pixel does look pretty cool. And I do think that Chromebooks in general have their place in the market, especially as a second home device. Most people spend a lot of their time on the Internet anyway, and there are more and more web apps out there.

    For those that are considering Chromebooks but still need to access Windows applications, they can look at Ericom AccessNow, an HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to Terminal Server or VDI virtual desktops, and run Windows applications or even full desktops in a browser tab.

    For an online, interactive demo, open your Chrome browser and visit:
    http://www.ericom.com/demo_AccessNow.asp?URL_ID=708

    Please note that I work for Ericom

  35. Interesting write up, Matt. I’ve long considered the 13 inch laptop to be the optimum size. Currently using one of the last Sony Z Series, prior to which I had a Dell. I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to Android but I just don’t think it’s quite there yet as an OS, even if the hardware is. In due course though I’m sure it will get there.

  36. I have been looking in to the Chromebook, and I think you might have just made a convert out of me. Thanks for the great post.

  37. Thanks Matt for sharing, now the Chromebook is added to my wish list!

  38. testbeta

    30 day matt

  39. I’ve been looking at getting a pixel, I’ve heard a lot of good reviews for it as well. Great to hear another positive review.

  40. I wonder if I can sell them at my computer shop. They sound great.

  41. Finally – Someone who understands that we are not using our notebooks for watching 16:9 movies day long. To see a more square format is very much welcome. Now I will just wait for Haswell and then I will buy.

  42. I currently have a Mac Matt, but have been considering getting a Chromebook too.

    Great bit of information.

    Cheers
    James

  43. I like google chromebooks, especially HP Chromebook 11, it has nice design.
    But chrome OS lacks torrent download.

    Most people in Lithuania use pirated copies, just because paying the price for a product which is poor in quality isn’t worth it. Nobody here buys music, movies or video games – we use piratebay, it’s in our nature to get things free, because there aren’t any legal consequences – nobody cares.

    I love free stuff, that why I love Google as a company. I wish I could work there. :-)

    I haven’t really tried Google chromebook, but I use chrome as a windows browser, so I know what chrome OS feels like and I admit – it’s great. It’s very reliable.

    I ask myself, why does Google produce these cheap laptops? For me as a computer enthusiast they lack functionality – I know you can dual boot into linux with them, but why does Google limit their products to Google? Isn’t Google about freedom and choice?

    You really don’t wanna go that way as apple did – apple is compatible only with apple. This sucks. If you want to make Google products even better – encourage freedom, not hard-coded and limited usage.

    I wish someday Google chrome OS computers will be a better replacement for windows OS computers. You should make something like Google Chrome OS 4 G33ks. Something that boots up fast, something that makes you secure and something that is full of functionality and freedom.

    Of course I could go and use Linux, but Linux doesn’t boot up in 10 seconds – you can’t play new games with Linux.

    In the end I have to have to have 3 computers: 1 that I could download some pirated stuff and do whatever I want on the web, 2 to boot up really fast and make me feel secure and let me be virus, problem free and the 3d one to play video games without thinking will my computer match the requirements.

    As an advanced computer user I really don’t want to limit myself to one type of computer, but I want one computer to do everything. This is what was great about computers, when I got one 10 years ago, it was celeron 366 mhz, 96 ram, 6gb of storage it was way worse than chromebook or chromebox, but even that piece of crap could do more than modern Google ChromeOS computer can!

    Matt, just talk to people in Google and say, that computers were always about freedom! And if you’ll make computers limited to cloud servers, so then make those cloud servers and cloud app to actually increase the functionality of a given device.

    There are people out there who can’t buy movies and music, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy it for free.

    PS. I watched your video from 2009 on wordpress at wordcamp 09 – it was great. Thanks :-)

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