Google announced the Chromebook Pixel this week, with a 13in touch display with the highest resolution of any laptop on the market, a premium aluminium build and a powerful processor, but at more than £1,000 and with just 32GB of storage has the search giant made a product without a buyer?

Chromebook Pixel
The Chromebook Pixel costs £1,050 for the Wi-Fi 32GB model in the UK.

There's no two ways about it. £1,000 for a Chromebook is a bit steep. Up until now, Chromebook has been shorthand for a budget laptop made from cheap materials, with so-so performance and using the Chrome operating system, which is little more than a web browser and a desktop.

That's not to say they aren't good machines - quite the opposite in fact, as I found out when I recently used the Acer C7 Chromebook for a week and decided that the average PC user doesn't need much more than what the Chrome web browser offers.

Every time I caught a sharp edge of poorly manufactured plastic and failed to get a response from the terrible trackpad, I remembered the £200 price tag and forgave it for being the very epitome of cheap-and-cheerful.

For £50 less than an iPod touch I had a laptop that could do just about everything. Build quality and its ability (or not) to play Crysis at 60 frames per second simply didn't matter.

But increase the price by a factor of five? No matter how much Google talks up the aluminium chassis, glass trackpad and hugely impressive HD touch screen of the Pixel, a Chromebook will never feel like a proper laptop, and it shouldn't be priced like one either.


Sure, you can browse the web, store stuff locally (and online), play games, work on documents that are Office friendly, and even play iTunes content, but everything still feels like a compromise.

You can never quite forget that you are living entirely in the browser, so when the 13in MacBook Air is slightly cheaper than the Pixel and a 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display is just £200 more, it starts to look like Google has bitten off more than it can chew.

But Google is famous for experimenting. Remember Wave? The company had a go at something new, decided it didn't work, and scrapped it. Now look at Google Glass, and the autonomous car. I'm not saying they will be consigned to the scrap heap, but they are experiments, hugely expensive punts on what the future might be like, and without those Google and others are less likely to make meaningful steps forward.

Chromebook is the same. It's an experiment which takes the laptop, filters out what most users don't need, and streamlines it to offer just the basics in the most efficient way possible - this works perfectly in the £200 to £300 range, but for more than a MacBook Air? I'm not so sure.

Perceived Value

An issue I have with the Pixel is one of perceived value. A £1,200 MacBook Pro with Retina display does just about everything you could want a laptop to do, and does so with an incredible screen and excellent design and build quality.

The Chromebook Pixel also has these visual traits - there's no denying it looks great and that screen will be fantastic - but inside it's still just a browser and a desktop. We might not use a MacBook Pro or high-end Windows 8 laptop for everything it's capable of, but it's good to know the extra functionality is there, waiting for us in the background.

Behind the web browser of a Chromebook - even a £1,000 one - there is nothing more.

Tech firms often speak of 'disruptive new products', and while this is usually no more than a meaningless sound bite, it's exactly what the Chromebook ethos is, and what the Pixel could be, years down the line.

We've become so set in our ways, in believing that a laptop must have dozens of applications, all arranged neatly in a folder or dock, that when this is stripped away and we are left with little else it feels uncomfortable and wrong. It feels like you should get more for your £1,000, even if you aren't going to use it.

This change is a difficult thing to accept with open arms, and even more difficult when it costs £1,000, but if Google can tempt just a few well-heeled, tech-savvy customers over to the Pixel, and in return they convince others that the grass on Google's side is greener, then it could eventually be a success.

I don't doubt that the future is one where our data is stored almost entirely in the cloud, making local storage redundant, but until we have an infrastructure to deliver that data wherever and whenever we want it - and cheaply - the Chromebook philosophy should stick to its cheap-and-cheerful roots.