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Chromebook Pixel vs. MacBook Air

By

February 21, 2013

How do the specs – and other features – of Google's new Chromebook Pixel compare to the Ma...

How do the specs – and other features – of Google's new Chromebook Pixel compare to the MacBook Air?

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Apple and Google are no strangers to competition. Ever since Google created Android to grab a slice of the smartphone pie, the two have been fierce rivals. Never before, though, have they competed in the laptop arena. Yet Google’s new Chromebook Pixel is bumping heads with several of Apple’s MacBooks. Read on, as we compare the Chromebook Pixel to the MacBook Air.

Note that we’re focusing on the mid-2012, 13-inch MacBook Air (Apple also sells the machine in an 11-inch model). We’re also focusing on the standard MBA models, leaving the pricier built-to-order upgrades out.

Size

At its thickest point, the MacBook is thicker, but it's thinner when taken as a whole

You may be surprised that the MacBook is larger in every dimension – including thickness. But that’s only measuring the thickest point of the Air; its tapered design makes it much thinner on the whole than the uniformly-thick Chromebook.

Weight

The Air is the lighter laptop

The MacBook Air is about 12 percent lighter than the Chromebook Pixel.

Display

The Chromebook Pixel has an outstanding 2,560 x 1,700 display

This is the Chromebook Pixel’s killer spec. Its 12.85-inch display has about the same pixel density as Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It’s much sharper than the MacBook Air’s 1,440 x 900 screen.

Like many Windows 8 Ultrabooks, the Chromebook Pixel sports a multitouch display.

Processor

Both sport Intel Core i5 chips

Both laptops rock dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 chips.

Graphics

Both machines have integrated Intel graphics

Likewise, both devices have integrated Intel graphics.

RAM

4 GB of RAM, all around

The Pixel also matches the MacBook Air with 4 GB of RAM.

Storage

The Pixel doesn't have much storage, but Chrome OS doesn't necessarily require it

This is the first of the Chromebook Pixel’s (enormous) Achilles' heels – 32 GB of storage is a piddly amount for an expensive laptop. The pricier LTE version ups that to 64 GB.

The Pixel’s cloud-centric Chrome OS doesn’t necessarily require more than 32 GB of storage, but that opens its own can of worms (see Software section below).

Wireless

Only the Chromebook Pixel comes in an LTE model

Apple has yet to add mobile data to its MacBooks, but Google sells the Chromebook Pixel in a (more expensive) LTE-capable model.

Battery

The Pixel's battery holds more juice, but its battery life will probably be a couple hours...

The Chromebook Pixel has a higher-capacity battery, but it’s also driving a much denser display. Google estimates five hours with typical usage, while Apple claims the MBA will last for seven hours with similar use.

Camera

Both laptops have standard 720p front-facing cameras

Nothing out of the ordinary here: a couple of 720p front-facing cameras for video chat.

Software

Don't be fooled by the slick appearance of Chrome OS – it's a young operating system, unsu...

For all of the Chromebook Pixel’s nice hardware specs, this is the category where it all falls apart. One day, Chrome OS could be an outstanding, mature operating system. That day isn't today.

Our smartphones and tablets have vaulted us into an app-centric world. Chrome OS has apps, but they’re all browser-based. In fact, the entire operating system is basically a (slightly-expanded) Chrome web browser.

There is some decent stuff in the Chrome Web Store (Pixlr, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, a full suite of Google apps), but the apps – and the operating system as a whole – look rudimentary next to Windows and Mac OS X. No Microsoft Office, no iTunes, no Photoshop. Forget about hardcore gaming or using an alternative web browser.

Chrome OS was designed for budget laptops, and sold to customers whose needs center primarily around the web. To pay more than a MacBook (see below) for a Chromebook – at this point – would be insanity.

If you want a computer primarily for web browsing - and you insist on a high-res display - you're better off with an iPad or Nexus 10. These tablets do more and cost less than half the price.

The future could be bright for Chrome OS. Right now, Mountain Lion eats it for dinner.

Starting Price

The Chromebook Pixel is US$100 pricier than the MacBook Air

If you looked at hardware alone, this category wouldn’t look bad. The Pixel is cheaper than Apple’s Retina Display MacBook Pros, while offering a similar display. US$100 more expensive than the Air doesn’t sound bad, right?

... but here comes that software again. Paying $1,300 for a Chrome OS-based laptop – no matter how sweet the hardware – is like buying a pimped-out gaming rig that runs Windows Phone 8. The hardware matches the price, but the software is a deal-breaker.

Wrap-up

There is probably some extremely-limited, niche audience for the Chromebook Pixel. Its terrific display alone will attract a number of customers.

All we ask is that you fully understand the software situation before throwing down for the Chromebook Pixel. Chrome OS has lots of room to grow, but buying an expensive device for its someday potential isn’t a good idea. Software can make or break a device, and – for the time being – Chrome OS isn’t there.

To see how the MBA stands up to a Retina laptop with much more mature software, see our MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro with Retina Display comparison.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin covers consumer technology for Gizmag. He's previously written for Android Central, Geek, GottaBeMobile, Android Police, and The Huffington Post.
He lives in New Mexico, U.S., with his lovely wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
15 Comments

Instead of comparing the Pixel to a Macbook Air, it would be better to compare it to an iPad 4 with an add on keyboard. Like the iPad 4, the Pixel cannot run regular Mac or Windows apps. You can't use it for graphic design, music production, video editing or 3D animation. Just like an iPad. A MacBook Air, on the other hand, can run fully fledged Mac apps, even if it is not the most powerful MacBook.

Joe4321
21st February, 2013 @ 11:01 pm PST

Ubuntu!

Erik Unger
21st February, 2013 @ 11:53 pm PST

You might want to mention the 1 Terabyte Cloud storage one gets for free during 3 years with the Chromebook Pixel

At the current price-scheme Google asks $49.99/month for 1 Terabyte of it's cloud storage (I'll round that to 50$ for easy calculations).

50 * 12 * 3 = 1800$ is what that 1T would cost over 3 years.

Holy cow. Instead of having to pay 1800$ you ONLY have to pay 1300$ for that 1 Terabyte AND they chuck in a Chromebook Pixel for FREE?!

Indeed. Google sells Cloud storage, the laptop is just a Welcoming present.

kleykenb
22nd February, 2013 @ 01:57 am PST

"Chrome OS was designed for budget laptops, and sold to customers whose needs center primarily around the web. To pay more than a MacBook (see below) for a Chromebook – at this point – would be insanity."

Exactly what is Google thinking? Only way I would own the Pixel is if I put Windows or Linux on it.

Jon Smith
22nd February, 2013 @ 07:46 am PST

The two laptops cannot be compared!! They both are built for different audiences, and have two different purposes!

Arush Kakkar
22nd February, 2013 @ 08:49 am PST

i'm sure you'll be able to put an OS on it I did it with the Chromebook with everyone else

justabrake
22nd February, 2013 @ 08:55 am PST

People are discounting the fact that if Google is willing to produce and release hardware of this caliber what's to say that the software isn't to follow? One of the most over-hyped and most maligned words: "ecosystem" propagated by the marketing department and pushed successfully by the now-deceased Jobs is just that "over-hyped". Go into Apple's App Store and iTunes and you will find an abundance of rubbish, parked and abandoned apps, one-trick pony apps. I use a handful of key apps for both pleasure and personal use.

Google may very well have a Google Docs revised to legitimately compete with Microsoft Office. Developers' are not stupid as witnessed by those of Flipboard (lookup where the developers came from and what platforms they now support). Time will tell.

Fahrenheit 451
22nd February, 2013 @ 09:03 am PST

Logically being a Google product it offers no storage. I just can't buy into the cloud yet living in a country that doesn't have networks everywhere. I occasionally am out in the middle of no where where I don't even have a phone signal.

For the price I might as well buy a Macbook Air and install Linux on it, how can they justify an extra $100 and half the storage space? The screen is a little better but I'm sure a new macbook air is around the corner that will have a better screen, USB 3.0, thunderbolt, and still $100 less than the Pixel.

exodous
22nd February, 2013 @ 09:13 am PST

It should have been mentioned that the Pixel gets 1 TB worth of free space on Google for 3 years (worth $1,800). That's something really significant and worth adding/changing your article to include because it changes the entire evaluation. Mentioning this makes the Pixel a far better deal for most casual home users or anyone considering backing up items or storing data on the web.

Leaving this fact out is like comparing 2 cable boxes worth $1,000 but failing to mention you actually get free cable for 3 years with 1 of the boxes.

Matt Fletcher
22nd February, 2013 @ 09:42 am PST

It's very, very expensive. You can get an (better, lighter, more ports) Ultrabook for ~$600 and get unlimited cloud backup storage from CrashPlan for ~$7/month.

Really, not worth it. If you really want ChromeOS on you Ultrabook, you can just download it. If it was > $800, it might be competitive, but at this price, just buy the Mac.

Chris Maresca
22nd February, 2013 @ 10:51 am PST

Am I missing something, why is 1 TB on Google worth $1800 for 3 years? You can buy a 2 TB hard drive for $100 and some. In three years, you don't lose it if you don't pay Google more money. Sounds like a great deal for Google for those who go for that sell.

Thomas Georgetown
22nd February, 2013 @ 04:51 pm PST

I read an article that proved that the pixel was actually a great value. This is a good statistical comparison between the two, but the pixel is no ordinary laptop. It's an entirely new category, and should be treated as such.

Michael Sitver
22nd February, 2013 @ 06:41 pm PST

It's also worth noting that the display is a very unusual 3:2 aspect ratio. I think they're trying to compete for the high-end facebook centric laptop buyers. There was an Ubuntu comment here and it's true that Chrome OS could have a lot more potential, but Google has yet to really prove that potential to anyone publicly IMHO. I think the Air comparison is perfectly reasonable, but maybe that touchscreen display is what sets it apart? I'll wait and see how this goes...

Jeff Sawyer
23rd February, 2013 @ 07:24 am PST

IT'S A CONCEPT DEVICE PEOPLE!!....IT'S EVEN ON THE YOUTUBE VIDEO!!

That said...People who use Chrome OS are going to buy this if they want the high end just as people buy Netbooks, Laptops, Ultrabooks, or high end Apple MacBook Pros! depending on your financial resources you will choose accordingly. But this is Apple to Oranges to Potatoes!, I know Tech people try to compare these devices but it's usually done unfairly to the average consumer does not understand how different they are!

Sam Joy
23rd February, 2013 @ 04:14 pm PST

Actually, this is considered a free computer because of the free 1TB of storage and the 2 years of LTE and the 15 free GoGo Internet sessions… you’re basically being paid to get this computer, and the 100MB per month of LTE is being changed to 5GB per month this fall, and everyone will be upgraded to the new plan….

Facebook User
1st April, 2013 @ 02:33 pm PDT
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