My New Laptop is a Vintage Chromebook Pixel

Back in June Stella and I took a vacation. Not just time off work, but a real vacation, the first in years. We spent a week in Hawaii. It was great, but this is not about that, exactly. It’s about the computer that I bought to facilitate our trip.

Stella has never owned a laptop. Nor has she been issued one by her employer. As a public relation professional, she lives and dies by staying in touch, but it’s always by desktop or mobile phone.

In contrast, I’ve traveled on business extensively, which means a laptop is a standard part of my equipment compliment. My former employer issued Dell or HP laptops, but for the past several years I’ve owned a Lenovo X1 Carbon.

Laptops are deeply personal things. I appreciate the fact that Stella doesn’t always want to borrow mine and make due with its software, etc. Moreover, she has a lot of logins and things that she’s accustomed to just working because they’re stored by her browser.

She looked into buying herself a laptop, but models that held any appeal were in the $1500-2000 range…more than she (or I) wanted to spend. So, for the purposes of this trip, we decided that she could use the Lenovo laptop, which would be more completely configured for her use; her own profile, bookmarks & browser history, the Adobe Suite, etc.

That left a gap in my situation, which I addressed by purchasing a Chromebook. There’s a ZipDX project that involves Chromebooks, so it would be valuable for me to gain some experience in their use.

As I began to research my options, it became apparent that the most affordable Chromebooks would be quite a change from the X1 Carbon. Lenovo offers two types of Chromebooks; the Ideapad Series aimed at the educational market, and the Thinkpad Series for corporate users. The built quality of the 13” Thinkpad Chromebook is nice, but it was also nearing $400.

Lenovo 13 Thinkpad Chromebook

Then I noticed that people are still selling Google’s Chromebook Pixel, which was at the time of its launch in 2013, the ultimate Chromebook. Originally offered at $1299, it now sells for around $375.

Google Chromebook Pixel Frontal

With build quality better than any other Chromebook I could find, and offered at such an attractive price, I bought the Chromebook Pixel. It’s been a welcome part of my tool kit for the past few months.

Since it was such a novelty, there are many reviews of the Chromebook Pixel offered online. Most note the superb construction, which includes a metal chassis, a great 3:2 aspect display, and a very good keyboard. There are even some relatively recent reviews, noting that the device remains a great option in 2016/7.

It’s curious to note that the Pixel has the very same CPU (i5- 3472U) as my second generation X1 Carbon, which is also from early 2013.

The Pixel that I bought is the model that includes an LTE radio for internet access on-the-go. At point of launch this access was provided by Verizon. Initially, 100 MB/month was included with the purchase of the device, but Verizon backed out of the offer very quickly.

In general, I find the Chromebook Pixel to be a pleasure to use. Those things that I do in a browser, it handles very well. Chrome OS has proven to be reasonably flexible with devices. Connect a USB headset and the Pixel quickly makes it the default audio device. The same holds true for an external webcam.

I recently tried the Behringer U-Control UCA202, a good quality USB audio interface device. The Pixel instantly found the new device and used it without issue. Connecting another monitor to the DisplayPort output caused the Pixel to immediately extend the screen to the additional monitor. No need to change any settings at all.

In fact, I have only two complaints; the battery life is too short, averaging just 4 hours in my experience, and I wish it could run Android apps. The Chromebook Pixel so old that the kernel doesn’t support installing the Play store, and thus having access to Android apps. Apparently, Google doesn’t deliver major kernel updates to Chrome devices. Newer Chromebooks, even the modest Lenovo N23*, have this capability.

(* in beta, not yet in stable)

Both of these issues would not be present in the Chromebook Pixel 2, which is the 2015 version of the device. That year saw a refresh of the design that addressed the various issues user had with the initial models. I was so impressed with the 2013 model that I tried to find a Pixel 2 on the resale market, but none are available. Ebay has only the occasional listing for a used Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 LS, with asking prices very near their original selling price.

Color me impressed with the Chromebook Pixel. So much so that I am tracking rumors of a new model to be released later this year. Not that I would pay north of $1k for a Chromebook, but it’ll be interesting to see what Google offers, and project what it might cost a year or two later.