I am the target market for the Chromebook Pixel, and I do not get it at all

I guess it's worth noting that some people actually buy gold-plated pens and $10,000 smartphones, too.

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A different kind of vanity box.

Image via Flickr/ozalee.fr

No dignified writer wants to be known as a fanboy. Even if they believe a company or product aligns rather nicely with their own goals and ideals, they do not want to be seen as blindly faithful to a single product or company, for reasons other than Ultimate Truth and Knowledge. But one can look at themselves and their habits and determine certain allegiances.

Myself, I am a writer for primarily web-based publications, including this one. I write in Markdown, so that I may easily produce links, images, and other HTML code for any site. I use an Android phone and tablet, and a Linux or Windows laptop that I lug around to different work spaces.

I create most of my documents and spreadsheets in Google Drive, keep my important files and projects in Dropbox, my music in Amazon MP3, and I even use imo.im to avoid having to open a Skype app for chats. If something annoys me about an app, site, or device, I’ll tinker and explore the settings. I don’t develop software, design objects in 3-D, or create insanely complicated financial models. Most importantly, I have thought quite a bit about the exact limitations of an entirely web-based device.

I am, in short, what I think of as an ideal candidate for a nice, well-powered Chromebook. But this one just seems entirely off-base and targeted to nobody in particular. It seems like a prank, a vanity project, a favor trade, or possibly some kind of tax scheme.

The Chromebook Pixel is like other Chromebooks: it only runs a minimal operating system based around the Chrome browser. That has its good points: almost no security concerns, automatic updates, nearly no maintenance, and, usually, swift response. And the stripped-down setup has the Chromebook’s usual downsides: inability to run heavy applications (audio/video editing, rendering, modeling, development environments, etc.), or any Windows/Mac/Linux applications at all, really. The other major criticisms of Chromebooks have been their hardware details: relatively low-resolution screens, not-great trackpads, and not enough memory to keep too many tabs open and ready at all times.

Still, a Chromebook can be had for as little as $249--the flip side of the hardware compromise. The Pixel is seemingly not compromised. It has a multi-touch screen made of Gorilla Glass, and it is theoretically the most pixel-dense screen ever released, at 2560 by 1700 pixels—more on that in a bit. It is 0.64 inches thin and just 3.3 pounds. Its body is a fully machined metal, its hinge is seemingly a thing of beauty to open, and buying a Pixel expands your Google Drive account to 1 terabyte of storage for three years (after that, 1 TB is $50 per month at Google’s pricing).

This simplified, Google-centered, cloud-stored life can be yours for $1,299, with a model that only has Wi-Fi connections. If you’d like the ability to connect by wireless LTE, and enjoy 100 MB per month of freebie bandwidth, that’s $1,449.

That is to say: if you absolutely love finding web-based ways of getting things done, you really appreciate computer build quality, and $1,300 is and absolutely inconsequential sum to you, then the Chromebook Pixel is waiting for you. Don’t worry: there will not be a line.

Many other publications beat me to the punch(line) on the Pixel:

  • ReadWrite: “On the Venn Diagram of people who need a serious computer and people willing to put up with the limitations of the Chrome OS, that little center slice is altogether empty.”

  • Gizmodo: “Like sleeping with your roommate or buying seafood in Kansas, some things are just terrible on paper.”

  • AllThingsD: “the Chromebook doesn’t have some of the power and graphics capabilities of the MacBook … Factor in the high price, and it might be a tough sell.”

  • The Wirecutter: “$1,300 is MacBook Air territory. It's Lenovo Yoga 13 with 8GB of RAM and 384GB SSD territory. … Know what those things have in common? Robust, complete operating systems with huge ecosystems of apps that can use that powerful Ivy Bridge hardware even when there's no Internet connection available. Know what the Pixel doesn't have?”

The namesake screen on the Pixel could possibly justify the cost of the device to, say, web developers working on the next generation of sites, or people who spend hours upon hours viewing high-resolution photos and HD streaming video (and, for some reason, don't want to watch that video on a larger screen). But most web developers aren't going to chance the constraints of web-based development tools. And while I haven't used a Pixel for a few weeks, neither have many reviewers, so the battery life of a device with such a heavy pixel load is unknown.

Let me toss in my one saving grace for the Chromebook Pixel: Chromebooks have open firmwares, and can be hacked to do things like dual-boot Ubuntu and Chrome OS. Even with that, though, you can also run Ubuntu on any number of thin, far more powerful Mac or Windows laptops that cost much less than the Pixel. I’m typing on one of them right now, the X1 Carbon. In Chrome. With Dropbox, Spotify, RescueTime, and Chrome running.

There’s a well-worn snarky line about creating your own Chromebook: install Chrome on pretty much any modern laptop, open it, and press the full-screen button (F11 on Windows, Command-Shift-F on Macs). Presto, change-o: Chromebook. That line always felt a bit glib, until this $1,300 concept computer arrived. Seriously: buy a cheaper Chromebook, or just go full-screen.

Note: Post was updated once, to add paragraph about the Pixel's screen (per Twitter conversation with Jeremy Horwitz).

Read more of Kevin Purdy's Mobilize! blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevinpurdy. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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