Feb. 21, 2013 -- Google is proving this week that it is much more than a software maker. It's just previewed Google Glass, its Internet-powered glasses, and now it's announced a new laptop -- the Chromebook Pixel -- based on its Chrome operating system. The laptop has a high-resolution 12-inch screen and will start at $1,300.
"With the Pixel, we set out to rethink all elements of a computer in order to design the best laptop possible, especially for power users who have fully embraced the cloud," Linus Upson, Google's Vice President of Engineering, wrote in a blog post today. Chrome OS, the Chrome operating system, is built entirely around Google's Chrome browser and the Web. The idea is that since all of Google's services are in the cloud -- on the Internet instead of your hard drive -- you don't need much more on a laptop.
More Tech, More Expensive
While Acer, HP and Samsung have made other affordable Chromebooks in the $200 to $250 range, Google's new Pixel costs almost three times as much because of the new screen technology and more powerful internal computing parts.
The Pixel, Google claims, has the highest-resolution screen of any laptop on the market. The 2560 x 1700 touchscreen has high pixel density, so that images and text will look very crisp. The machine itself looks a lot like HP's Elitebook laptops -- it is made of anodized aluminum, and has a glass trackpad and a backlit keyboard.
Internally the laptop has a Core i5 processor, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid-state storage space. That's a small amount of local storage, but if you buy the machine you get a free terabyte of cloud storage space with Google's Drive service. Google offers 1 terabyte for $50 a month to non-Pixel owners. There will also be an LTE version of the laptop for $1,449.
$1,300 to Surf the Web?
Acer and Samsung's Chromebooks have lower-resolution screens and much lower-powered processors. Google's VP of Chrome and Apps, Sundar Pichai, said last May that Chromebooks at different prices would be released.
"You'll start seeing Chromebooks spanning many price points. There are a variety of user scenarios; we picked the middle point to start at," Pichai said in response to a question asked by ABC News at the All Things D conference.
Still many are wondering if a $1,300 laptop that can just surf the Web can be successful. Netbooks, which were low-powered, tiny laptops for surfing the Web, were popular in a large part because they cost $300 on average.
"At nearly $1,300, the Chromebook Pixel seems to be a statement from Google that a Web-oriented lifestyle can be compatible with a premium experience," Ross Rubin, principal analyst for Reticle Research, told ABC News. "Were the Chromebook something that consumers or even professionals could rely on as their primary device, it might not be outlandish. But, even with LTE integrated, it will be difficult to justify as a primary device for very many."
For the same amount users can get a MacBook Air. Or, for $200 more, they can get a MacBook Pro with a Retina Display that has a higher-resolution screen and more capabilities in software.
Google's Computing Ecosystem
While Google's Chrome OS pushes forward the idea that all computers will be about working in the Cloud, Google does have its Android software for phones and tablets. Android allows more offline flexibility.
In an interview with ABC News last June, Google's Director of Android User Experience, Matias Duarte, told us that he wanted Android to work on desktops and laptops.
"Already our partners have started to explore that space. Sure, there are a lot of ways where Android does not yet have all the capabilities of a desktop system, but the path is clear: we want Android to work on desktops and laptops," he said. "I want people to touch and fling and gesture through things."
Google has said that Chrome OS was for laptops and desktops and Android for tablets and phones. But the lines are blurring. "They certainly have two different environments today. Where Google had drawn the line in the sand was saying Chrome would be confined to desktop and notebook devices with keyboards and mice, and Android was for touch screens. The touch screen on the Pixel does blur the lines somewhat, but clearly we have seen Microsoft and others try to straddle both of those worlds," said Rubin.
But Rubin pointed out that Google is ultimately trying to promote its search, mail, maps and other Internet services. "Ultimately," he said, "they want to get everything back to the Web."