TCR

Chromebook Pixel

Chromebook Pixel: Konami Code compliant (Photo credit: Stratageme.com)

 

Went into the Tottenham Court Road store today. If it weren’t for the slight risk of dipping into my overdraft, I would be posting this reply from a pixel.

 

To maintain objectivity, I brought along a techy-minded friend from work along to review the shit specs out of it.

 

 

First impressions; it’s a compact, solidly built device that I can easily see myself carrying around everywhere. University friends know that a X61 tablet never left my side, so I have done this before.

 

The Google sales rep gave us the quick tour and decided to show off the screen capabilities. What can I say, the web works in 3:2 with an insanely high resolution. Not as dense as a Nexus, but still stupidly high that we couldn’t make out individual pixels. 4K looks awesome on this thing.

 

After a quick poke around (it’s touchscreen!) we decided to enable a few chrome://flags. FPS monitor in the top right, some extra rendering shortcuts and other goodies.  Most importantly, we enabled the pinch zoom and 3 finger gestures. Not sure why it’s disabled by default. A quick browser restart and now we’re ready to make objective assessments.

The new tab page renders at an easy 60fps, static and non-media pages load and stabilize  at ~30fps. We fired up some of the Chrome Experiments and had good performance in general, smooth rendering and functionality that works using either the mac-esque trackpad or direct manipulations on the screen.

 

The most graphically intensive Experiment is the “Way to Oz“, set to HD mode, it looks stunning, but the framerate dropped to 10fps, which as any gamer knows, starts to gnaw at you. Allowing the Chromebook to degrade the graphics quality and optimize for speed, then the Myst-like environment is responsive again. I work with real-time video communications at work, and the graphics quality degraded easily to SD as I am used to.

 

Unfortunately  we tried playing a few 4k YouTube videos, but found a suspicious amount of frame dropping. Loading the same videos up on the Samsung ARM Chromebook next to it didn’t have this problem (so ruled out the in store wireless as the problem). Not entirely sure what was going on, but we think that the ARM was selecting HTML5 video instead of flash that the pixel selected. I’ll also note that we tried the same thing on the MacBook Airs and Pro Retinas which have the same computing grunt (current gen Core i5 with Intel 4000 on board graphics) and they also showed this issue. We suspect that there’s something wrong with the media pipeline because we know that the much less powerful Chromebooks can handle this media just fine.

 

Back to exploring the web. On the insistence of the sales rep, we found ourselves using the touchscreen a lot. Hyperlinking, as a concept and UI element, really work when you poke and prod them. With one of us poking the screen, and the other using the trackpad to make decisions about what to test next, prodding, swiping and flicking the internet is a few fractions of a second quicker than two (or three) finger scrolling. I’ll also point out another UI element that we didn’t expect but seems completely natural now, two finger taps (on the screen) is a right click! This is the only touch device that I have seen that does that. iPads and Androids use the long press mechanism to bring up context menus. My ThinkPad X61 tablet was more precise with a wacom digitizer, but even that has an extra button that would enable right-click-mode-on-tap.

 

Another experiment we did was to test the video capabilities of the Chromebook. We fired up Hangouts, whipped out a Nexus 4 and it worked. SD video from the phone, but considering that he was attached to 3G, the latency was impressive and audio was clear.

 

The model in store was the non-LTE version. There isn’t a 3G version, and LTE seems a bit useless in this country right now. What I would do instead is use my giffgaff, the £12 goodybag allows unlimited data and tethering!

 

Leaving the store impressed, we asked ourselves, “would you get one?”.

 

My friend’s answer is no. But contrasting to the Apple products in the same price range, the Chromebook is a better product for either of us. The MacBook Air(s) are equivalently spec’ed, have larger local storage but don’t have the retina displays or touch inputs. The smaller MacBook Pro (with retina display) which also has the same CPU/GPU spec, is relatively chunky and doesn’t have touch.

 

While all of these devices are good little computers (I think the current term is “Ultrabook”), they all stumble when you get to the limits of the Intel 4000 graphics card.

 

I, on the other hand, don’t see Google’s Chrome OS as a stripped down and limited, Operating System. Flip the dev switch, install chromium OS, run a devserver and install dev-vcs/git, app-editors/vim and friends. To me, that is a fully functional computer. Linux based,  (libre)free and hackable. Something that I cannot say for the Apple competition.

 

 

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