Archive for Technologies

First Google laptop

This is the first Google-designed laptop. not one that was farmed out to a partner like Acer or Samsung. And Google has upped the ante, adding a high-res touch-screen. with a pixel density greater than that of Apple’s vaunted Retina screens, and a real Intel Core i5 processor. But the 3.3-pound Pixel also has a high-end sticker price: it starts at a whopping $1,299. That goes to $1,449 for the step-up model, which adds a built-in 4G LTE cellular modem

Pricing starts at a lofty $1,299; Web-based Chrome OS requires you to be online to do most tasks. Web apps can’t yet compare to most Windows or Mac software, especially for mediacentric activities like video. Despite impressive hardware specs and solid industrial design, the Chromebook Pixel’s high price and cloud OS limitations make it impossible to recommend for the vast majority of users.

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The slick-looking, Intel-powered Google Chromebook Pixel combines the touch screen support of Windows 8 with the MacBook Pro’s high-res Retina display. It also includes three years of free 1TB cloud storage, and has a 4G LTE option.

 

For die-hard denizens of the cloud, this may look to be the ultimate online-only laptop. But like its less-expensive predecessors, the Chromebook Pixel comes with a long list of caveats all of which are amplified by its high price. The screen is gorgeous, but, unlike Windows 8, which has been designed to interact well with touch the Chrome OS itself is not particularly touch-friendly right now

 

Until Google can provide a Web app ecosystem that’s as robust as the vast software libraries for Mac and Windows, and a cloud-based architecture that’s as convenient as working on your local hard drive, this sort of high-end Chromebook is going to remain a tough sell.

 

 

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What is the best high-end Windows 8 tablet?

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At least several times each week, we get a reader inquiry via e-mail or Twitter asking which of the current crop of Windows 8 tablets is the best. The answer isn’t so simple when you consider that tablets running full Windows 8 (as opposed to Windows RT: don’t get us started) are split into two hardware classes: those with slower Atom processors, including the HP Envy x2, and those at the high end, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro.

What makes a high-end Windows 8 tablet? Generally, an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, giving it the performance of a full-fledged ultrabook-style laptop. The drawbacks tend to be a shorter battery life and a higher price tag. Many come with either a laptop-like docking station, or are compatible with a keyboard-cover accessory.

Those less-expensive Atom tablets are more plentiful, but the higher-end performance tablets are better at being your full-time work machine. There aren’t a ton of options out there, but here are the top candidates we’ve reviewed to date.

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At least several times each week, we get a reader inquiry via e-mail or Twitter asking which of the current crop of Windows 8 tablets is the best. The answer isn’t so simple when you consider that tablets running full Windows 8 (as opposed to Windows RT: don’t get us started) are split into two hardware classes: those with slower Atom processors, including the HP Envy x2, and those at the high end, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro.

What makes a high-end Windows 8 tablet? Generally, an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, giving it the performance of a full-fledged ultrabook-style laptop. The drawbacks tend to be a shorter battery life and a higher price tag. Many come with either a laptop-like docking station, or are compatible with a keyboard-cover accessory.

Those less-expensive Atom tablets are more plentiful, but the higher-end performance tablets are better at being your full-time work machine. There aren’t a ton of options out there, but here are the top candidates we’ve reviewed to date.

 


 

 

 

Acer Iconia W700

The closest competitors to the Surface Pro are other tablets and hybrids with Intel Core i5 processors — essentially full-featured ultrabooks squeezed down to tablet form. Acer’s Iconia W700 fits the bill, and includes a space-age-looking dock, but the nonadjustable stand limits viewing angles, and you’ll need an external mouse or touch pad for efficient Windows navigation.

 

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Microsoft Surface Pro
There’s a lot to like here — if not to love. While the Surface Pro isn’t the first Windows 8 tablet, it may well be the best one to date, at least in terms of design. The magic here is in the details: the ingenious detachable keyboard cover and the included pressure-sensitive stylus both go a long way toward setting the Surface Pro apart from the other laptops, tablets, and hybrids we’ve seen so far.

 

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Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T
The top-heavy ATIV Smart PC Pro is a clever little device, but it feels too low-rent for its high-end aspirations. Samsung makes better-designed ultrabooks and better tablets. The Smart PC Pro feels best as a laptop…in which case, why not simply buy a laptop?

Google testing new navigation design borrowed from Chrome

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Google tests a new navigation system for its services that dumps the controversial black bar along the top of the screen.

Google is testing a new version of its home page that eliminates the controversial navigation bar that has sat atop its services for two years, the company said.

The version now being tested requires users to click a grid icon borrowed from Chrome OS for links to Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, and other products. The design, which was first spotted by blog Google Operating System, appears to be in an early stage of testing — screenshots show the grid icon includes a redundant link to Google search, even when accessed from the search page.

“We’re always experimenting with the look and feel of our home page,” a Google rep told CNET.

If it tests well, the grid would replace the prominent black bar that has served as the company’s site navigation tool since 2011. The nav bar has always polarized design-minded users: Some like the unified look it brings to Google products, while others think the interface could be improved. Among those who think that: Google itself, which has eliminated the navigation bar in the past only to bring it back later.

In November 2011, Google moved its list of services into a drop-down menu that descended from the Google logo. But some users criticized the move for making those services harder to find, and the experiment was dropped six weeks later.

A similar criticism might be levied at the new design, which buries the services under an icon in exchange for a cleaner overall look. And with the company putting greater emphasis on Chrome OS this year than ever before, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to see elements from the operating system migrating into more and more Google services.

Home networking explained, Part 4: Wi-Fi vs. Internet

Wi-Fi and Internet are two very different things.

With the popularity of wireless networking, the term Wi-Fi is often synonymous with access to the Internet. In fact, our seasoned editor Scott Stein compared how fast the new iPhone 5’s 4G LTE Internet speed was with his “home Wi-Fi,” which is a skewed comparison at best. To be fair, most of us use “Wi-Fi” as a shortcut to mean our home broadband Internet connection, and Scott just wanted to say that his was really lame (no offense, Scott) when compared with the iPhone 5’s 4G LTE speed.

In this post, based on many questions from readers, I’ll clarify the two and provide answers to other connection-related questions. Among other things, knowing the difference between Wi-Fi and Internet connections can help you troubleshoot problems at home and purchase the right equipment for your home network.

Wi-Fi vs. Internet

Wi-Fi: As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, Wi-Fi is just an alternative to network cables as the way to connect devices of a local area network (LAN). (By the way, most networking terms used in this post have been explained in Part 1; others will be explained here.) Prior to Wi-Fi the only way to connect devices together was to run the physical network cables between them, which is very inconvenient. Wi-Fi allows devices to connect to one another the same way as when network cables are used, just without the actual cables. A Wi-Fi network is basically a wireless local network.

The owner is in total control of the Wi-Fi network. He or she can change the name of the network, the password, the number of connected clients, allowing them to exchange data with one another or not, and so on. Even the Wi-Fi router or access point itself can be changed or turned on or off any time.

A home Wi-Fi network, which is almost always hosted by a router, is independent from the Internet. This means involved devices can always work with one another to provide data sharing, printing, local media streaming, local network backups, and so on. A connection to the Internet, however, enables them to also access Internet-based services, such as Skype, Netflix streaming, browsing for news, Facebook, etc.

To connect a home Wi-Fi network to the Internet, the router needs to be connected to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem, via its WAN port. When this happens, the Wi-Fi signal of the local network will also provide the connection to the Internet for its connected clients. So Wi-Fi is just one way to bring the Internet to a device.

Internet: Generally known as the wide area network (WAN), the Internet connects computers from around the world together. In reality, as far as the current state of how the World Wide Web is run, the Internet actually connects many local networks together, via many routers. With the Internet, your home local network is no longer secluded but becomes part of one giant worldwide network.

The Internet is generally beyond the control of the users. The most they can do is pay for the desired connection speed and hope that they get what they pay for. The Internet’s speed has progressively increased in the last decade. Ten years ago, a fast residential broadband connection generally capped somewhere between 1.5Mbps to 3Mbps; now it’s about between 20Mbps to 50Mbps and even faster.

That said, most of the time, the speed of the Internet is still slower than that of a wired local network, which is either 100Mbps or 1,000Mbps. For a Wi-Fi network, the speed of the local network depends on the standards used by the Wi-Fi router (access point) and the connected clients, and can sometimes be slower than a fast broadband Internet connection.

Types of broadband Internet connections

Wired Internet (aka residential broadband): This is when you connect to the Internet using a physical cable, be it a telephone line (DSL) or a cable line (cable), or a fiber optic line (FIOS). This type of Internet connection is fast (especially cable and FIOS), affordable, and is the most popular. A wired Internet connection generally comes with no data caps or at least very high caps, so users don’t need to worry about how much they download or upload.

Satellite Internet (aka satellite broadband): This is similar to the wired Internet but instead of connecting to the service provide via a cable, the home network connects to a satellite disk on the roof. The disk then communicates with satellites to provide the Internet access. Satellite Internet tends to be slightly more expensive and slightly slower than wired Internet but is still an affordable option for remote areas with no cable, DSL, or FIOS services.

Cellular Internet (aka wireless broadband): Cellular Internet uses the cell phone signal to carry data and connect the supported device directly to the Internet. There are several cellular data standards and starting with 3G, it’s fast enough to be called “broadband.” The latest standard, called 4G LTE, offers the speed equivalent to that of a midrange residential broadband connection (somewhere between 5Mbps and 20Mbps download speed).

Cellular Internet is generally expensive because it tends to come with very low monthly data caps (about 5GB or less) and customers have to pay more than the fixed monthly cost when they go over the allowance. This type of Internet access is very popular with mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. There’s also another popular type of this connection, called mobile hot spots, which combines Wi-Fi and cellular Internet into one solution and is one of the main reasons Wi-Fi and Internet are confused with each other.

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The Verizon version of the new iPad offers the Personal Hotspot feature, which enables users to share the tablet’s 4G connection with other Wi-Fi devices.

 

The combination of Wi-Fi and Internet

If you have a laptop, such as the MacBook Air, the best way to connect it to the Internet is via Wi-Fi since the machine doesn’t come with a built-in network port, nor does it support a cellular connection. At home or at the office, this can be done via a Wi-Fi-enabled router that connects to a residential broadband Internet connection. When you’re on the go, however, you can’t bring the router or especially the residential broadband Internet connection with you. This is where a mobile hot spot comes into play.

As mentioned above, the prime example of the combination of Internet and Wi-Fi is a mobile hot spot, such as those on this list. This is a little device that connects to the Internet using a cellular connection and then shares that connection via its own built-in Wi-Fi network. Other Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as the MacBook Air, can connect to the mobile hot spot’s Wi-Fi network to gain access to the Internet. In this case the sole purpose of Wi-Fi is to connect to the Internet, and the speed at which the MacBook Air connects to the Internet depends on both the cellular connection of the hot spot and the Wi-Fi connection between the Air and the hot spot, and is whichever speed is slower.

A mobile hot spot lets more than one Wi-Fi-enabled device to share a single cellular connection. Many smartphones can also work as mobile hot spots; on the iPhone this is called Personal Hotspot and can be turned on in the phone’s settings.

FAQs

Q. My Wi-Fi connection is very strong (full bars) but I still can’t stream YouTube video without long delays. I often even have to wait for a long time for a Web site to load. Why?

A. This is because the Wi-Fi speed has nothing to do with the Internet speed, which is what decides the quality of your Internet experience. For example, if you have a slow Internet connection that caps at, say, 1Mbps for download, and you share that connection using a high-end Wi-Fi router that offers a Wi-Fi speed of 100Mbps, a computer connected to this network will still access the Internet at 1Mbps at most. You should check your Internet connection.

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As far as Internet speed is concerned, not many places can beat CBS Interactive’s HQ.

 

Q. My broadband Internet connection is at least 50Mbps when I connect via a network cable, but via Wi-Fi it’s only about 20Mbps at most. Why?

A. This is normal since the real-world sustained speed of all Wi-Fi standards are much slower than the ceiling speeds. For example, the current most popular standard 802.11n (Wireless-N) generally offers a speed of just around 20Mbps on the 2.4Ghz frequency band; things get worse if you use older Wi-Fi standards, such as 802.11g. To improve this, use a dual-band router and connect via the 5Ghz frequency band, but this only works if the clients also support this band. The iPhone 4 or the iPad 2 for example, only support the 2.4Ghz band. Note that the speed of a Wi-Fi connection also degrades as the client moves farther from the router/access point.

Q. If I plug my PC directly in to my cable modem, I get the full 60Mbps download speed, which I pay for, but when I connect via my Linksys WRT54GS router, still via a network cable, I now get only 40Mbps. What’s wrong?

A. The WRT54GS (as well as most 802.11g wireless routers) is a very old router and was made when the available Internet connection capped at just around 3Mbps. For this reason, its WAN port might have not been designed to handle speeds much faster than 10Mbps. If you have a broadband connection faster than 30Mbps, it’s best to get a Gigabit router with a Gigabit WAN port to make sure your router is not the bottleneck.

Q. I use Speedtest.net to test my Internet connection and the results change dramatically between different test servers; how do I know what the speed of my Internet connection really is?

A. Take the best result as your official Internet speed. This happens because the connection speed depends on how far the test server is, how busy the server is at the time of testing, and how many bridges the test data has to cross to get to your computer. Generally, the test result changes based on the ping time (how long it takes for information to do a round trip between the server and your computer), with the shorter ping yielding faster connection. Your connection, however, should be measured by the speed at which it connects to the server that yields the highest result.

Q. My Internet speed is very fast, both via wired and Wi-Fi connections, but sometimes it still takes a long time for me to download a relatively small file; what’s the problem?

A. Having a fast Internet connection doesn’t guarantee an all-around good Internet experience. This is because the Internet is a community, and the interaction between any two parties depends on both. If you download a file from a party with a slow connection to the Internet, the downloading process still takes a long time and unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Q. I have cable Internet with 30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload. Things are going well generally but sometimes when I upload a large file, my download speed also becomes very slow; is this normal?

A. Yes, downloading and uploading work together. Information is transferred via the Internet in packets. Each time a packet is received, the receiving end needs to send back a confirmation before it can receive the next packet. When you upload a large amount of data, there’s not much bandwidth left for the computer to send the confirmation back to the server and hence slows down the download speed.

Ubuntu Touch beats Firefox OS to win best of MWC from CNET

BARCELONA, Spain–We’ve seen lots of interesting hardware at Mobile World Congress, and yesterday when the team met to talk about what product should get our best of show award, there were plenty of gadgets in the mix. Asus’ Padfone Infinity was in the running, along with its FonePad, the Nokia Lumia 720, and Sony’s Xperia Z tablet.

But the nine-strong judging team from our San Francisco, New York, and London offices quickly discounted those products. We were much more interested in the product category that has arguably generated more buzz at MWC and is potentially much more disruptive: new mobile operating systems.

The two we zeroed in on, Mozilla’s Firefox OS and Canonical’s Ubuntu Touch, were hotly debated. Lots was said about the impressive number of carriers and manufacturers Firefox OS has lined up behind it. But once put to a vote, Ubuntu Touch was the clear winner, with Firefox OS the runner-up.

The team thought that Ubuntu Touch, the tablet version of which we got our hands-on for the first time at MWC, feels more like the complete package at this point. We liked its slick, elegant interface that makes use of every side of the screen and puts your content and contacts front and center, minimizing the time spent hopping back to a home screen.

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Ubuntu Touch has won the best of Mobile World Congress award from CNET

Brilliant touch screen, hefty price

Google’s Web-based Chromebook laptops seem to be heading in two different directions. On one end, there’s the Samsung Chromebook Series 3. At the time of his writing, it’s the best-selling laptop on Amazon.com. Perhaps not surprising, given its $249 price tag — it’s basically filling the low-end gap left by the collapse of the netbook and the rise of the 7-inch tablet.

At the other end of the spectrum is Google’s new Chromebook Pixel. This is the first Google-designed laptop — not one that was farmed out to a partner like Acer or Samsung. And Google has upped the ante, adding a high-res touch-screen — with a pixel density greater than that of Apple’s vaunted Retina screens — and a real Intel Core i5 processor. But the 3.3-pound Pixel also has a high-end sticker price: it starts at a whopping $1,299. That goes to $1,449 for the step-up model, which adds a built-in 4G LTE cellular modem (and won’t ship until early April of 2013).

For die-hard denizens of the cloud, this may look to be the ultimate online-only laptop. But like its less-expensive predecessors, the Chromebook Pixel comes with a long list of caveats — all of which are amplified by its high price. The screen is gorgeous, but — unlike Windows 8, which has been designed to interact well with touch — the Chrome OS itself is not particularly touch-friendly right now.

And unlike every other laptop in this price range, the Chromebook Pixel can’t run familiar desktop software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop — only the Chrome-compatible Web-based alternatives such as Google Docs and Pixlr Express. Want to do video editing? Even if you think WeVideo is as good as Final Cut or Adobe Premiere, be prepared for long upload and download times as you manipulate your video clips in the cloud.

Until Google can provide a Web app ecosystem that’s as robust as the vast software libraries for Mac and Windows, and a cloud-based architecture that’s as convenient as working on your local hard drive, this sort of high-end Chromebook is going to remain a tough sell.

We like to think of the Chromebook as a Google experiment — a physical playground upon which a handful of wealthy consumers play out a utopian Google Fiber future that anticipates gigabit wireless everywhere. When that future arrives, the Chromebook Pixel may be just the hardware to navigate it.

Battery testing for this product is ongoing. We’ll update this review with those results once they are available, and adjust the rating if necessary.

The screen
The marquee feature of the Chromebook Pixel is its multitouch-enabled screen, with enough pixels to match Apple’s Retina Display. In person, it’s nothing less than spectacular.

The 12.85-inch, 2,560×1,700-pixel display has a taller-than-usual 3:2 aspect ratio, and is covered with a layer of Gorilla Glass for protection. It also gives you an unusually high 400-nit brightness.

There’s no doubt that the 3:2 ratio, as opposed to the more common 16:9 ratio, is a difference that becomes apparent in two ways. The first is with the touch screen’s height: if you’re typing away and then move to tap the screen, it feels just a hair further away than the shorter, wider Windows touch screens. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it is noticeable.

The second difference with the 3:2 ratio is that you get more vertical space. (In that regard, it’s a throwback of sorts to the older, squarer 4:3 screens of the pre-HDTV era.) If all you use your laptop for is watching movies, you may lament the return to larger, black letterbox bars. But Chromebooks live in the cloud, which means the Web, and in terms of design, the Web is nothing if not vertically-oriented. You scroll down through your online docs or to read stories, blogs, and reviews such as this one. It’s a natural fit for something so centered on the Web.

The screen density of 239 pixels per inch means it edges past the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s Retina Display at 227ppi, making fonts smooth and graphics sharp. As with Retina devices, though, a lot of software and Web pages must be updated before graphics will look their best, but text is a pleasure, and going back to ordinary resolution displays is no fun.

Using the touch screen itself was a smooth experience. You’ll encounter more problems from using Chrome, which does not have a touch-friendly interface, than you will from anything related to the Pixel’s screen. For example, Chrome’s tabs are thin, and it may take two or three taps to switch to the right one. Using the screen to draw or pinch-to-zoom was flawless.

Hardware features: Under the hood
Inside the Chromebook Pixel is a dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor, integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, and 4GB of memory. That’s a huge step-up for Chromebook power; previous models use low-end Celeron or ARM chips. Essentially, it puts the Pixel at the same computing parity as other Mac and Windows PCs.

There are two versions of the Pixel: the $1,299 Wi-Fi-only model has a 32GB SSD (flash storage), while the $1,449 64GB model adds built-in 4G LTE wireless. Both come with an impressive 1TB of cloud storage with Google Drive for three years. While LTE costs have not been fully revealed, if you go over the Google-comped 100MB per month, you can add the Pixel to your Verizon Share Everything plan for $10 per month. Per day access is available as well, although the price has yet to be revealed.

On the outside, the Chromebook Pixel has two USB 2.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort for external monitors, an SD Card slot, and a combination headphone-microphone jack. Google promises five hours of battery life with typical usage. Bluetooth 3.0 and USB 2.0 mean that the Pixel is a version behind the latest standards. Likewise, you can get a Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter, but nearly all other laptops in this price range (with the notable exception of non-Retina Macbooks) offer built-in HDMI.

Even the $250 Samsung Chromebook Series 3 comes with one USB 3.0 port.

Google put two microphones, an HD camera, and a light detector above the screen. The two microphones are for better noise cancellation, but Google also tucked a third below the keyboard to help cut out typing noises.

Despite this being the best hardware design for a Chromebook yet, small blemishes keep it from truly shining. Video-out options are limited. Google picked a Mini DisplayPort so it could drive large external displays without having HDMI power consumption burdens, but let’s face it: there are a lot more HDMI TVs and monitors out there, and nearly every other laptop in this price range (with the notable exception of non-Retina Macbook Pros) has HDMI outputs.

There’s also the keyboard oddity. Google’s intent on making this a thing, but heavy typists familiar with traditional keyboards still will miss the Caps Lock key and right-Delete key. Alt-Delete just isn’t as fast, and overall the keyboard feels a bit mushy, especially compared to the snappy laptop keyboards of a Lenovo or newer MacBook Pro.

Performance
Normally at CNET, we test laptops by running specific software benchmarks on Photoshop, iTunes, Quicktime, as well as games like Far Cry, Metro 2033, and Crysis. Of course, none — absolutely none — of those programs can run on a Chromebook’s Web-based operating system. As a result, we did some more anecdotal testing instead.

For video playback, we tested streaming HTML5, streaming Flash, and locally-saved video files on the Pixel and on a Samsung Chromebook Series 3 for comparison. There was virtually no difference between the two streaming video formats that couldn’t be chalked up to buffering issues. Local playback was identical on both, even though the Pixel is currently running a more recent version of Chrome OS — version 25 versus the Series 3’s version 23.

However, when using more processor-intensive Web apps, the Pixel’s superior hardware came to the fore. Whether running the Flash-based Pixlr, WeVideo, or the HTML5 deviantArt Muro app, the Pixel was provided an invariably smoother rendering, editing, and saving experience.

There are problems with the operating system, too, although Google generally has made good its promise to improve Chromebooks by issuing regular update to Chrome OS, which updates every six weeks.

One of the most memorable Chromebook fixes that came from an OS update was when the Cr-48’s trackpad suddenly started working much better than it had previously, thanks to an update about six months after the Cr-48’s release. So we know that Google can make substantial improvements through OS fixes.

With that caveat in mind, there are still some big hang-ups with the Pixel. Its 4GB of RAM isn’t enough to save it from the same multiple-tab managing problems of Chrome-the-browser. Since Chrome OS’s Web apps are essentially glorified browser tabs, this can quickly slow down your zippy Pixel experience.

Fine-tuning things like the keyboard refresh rate or battery use is impossible. That’s a noticeable limitation when compared to Windows, Mac, or Linux-driven laptops.

And Web apps still don’t match native apps for performance, features, and offline support. The fact that Google Drive will soon automatically sync 1,000 of your most recently used documents, up from 100 of them, is less important than the overall offline experience.

QuickOffice integration is coming to Chrome OS, a clever boon to businesses, and it’ll arrive first on the Pixel — but not for at least two to three months.

Should you buy the Pixel?
In a word, no.

While the Pixel makes manifest our subconscious expectations of the Chromebook when it first launched two years ago, the expensive, high-end, touch screen laptop still falls short in some key areas. Yes, there’s a lot to like about the hardware, but the Web-based Chrome OS just has far too many caveats and compromises to justify its exorbitant price tag.

At $1,300 to $1,500, every other PC — Mac or Windows — will give the vast majority of users far more options for the money, though right now they’ll have to choose between a high-res Retina screen (MacBook Pro, starting at $1,349) or a touch screen (many, many Windows models).

The Chromebook Pixel is an interesting “halo product,” and the design chops Google has shown bode well for future models. But for now, this is laptop is targeted at a niche of a niche. The vast majority of people who use Google services would be better served by sticking with the Samsung Chromebook Series 3. It lacks the high-res touch screen and zippy Intel processor, but at $249, it’s a lot easier to overlook its flaws.

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