Following a credible leak recently – and just hours after The Wall Street Journal reported that “Google is developing touchscreen devices using Chrome Operating System” – the Internet giant on Wednesday introduced its premium Chromebook with a Retina-class display. Tentatively named Chromebook Pixel, it features a 12.85-inch 2,560-by-1,700 screen that Google proclaims “the highest pixel density (239 pixels per inch) of any laptop screen on the market today.”

By comparison, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a 2560-by-1600 220 pixels per inch screen and the 15-incher has an even crisper 2880-by-1800 display at 220 pixels per inch. The Pixel’s 400 nit display also has a 178-degree viewing angle and is driven by the same crappy Intel HD Graphics 4000 platform as the MacBook Air. Other specs of the 3.35lbs computer include a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 chip with 4G of RAM, mini DisplayPort, two USB ports, a 2-in-1 card reader and 32 gigabytes of built-in flash storage.

But unlike Apple’s notebooks, Google’s responds to touch, potentially opening door to the Gorilla arm syndrome which, according to Apple, rules out multitouch on notebook screens…

The Pixel’s battery is rated at up to five hours of run time. Judging by the press shot below, the Pixel looks like an older and boxier version of the MacBook Pro.

According to Google, the Pixel’s chassis is made from an anodized aluminum alloy that features hidden vents, invisible screws and the stereo speakers “seamlessly tucked away beneath the backlit keyboard.”

Like the Air, the Pixel’s touchpad is made from etched glass that Google says has been “analyzed and honed using a laser microscope to ensure precise navigation.”

Chromebook Pixel (piano hinge)
A piano hinge augments the range of the built-in Wi-Fi antennas while doubling as a heatsink to help keep the machine cool.

A 0.55mm layer of touch-enabled Gorilla Glass is fused directly to the screen and Google says its touch enhanced Chrome OS can be used to organize windows, swipe through apps, edit photos, tap on targets and pinch to zoom.

Like previous Chromebooks, the Pixel runs Google’s Chrome OS, which is designed to power HTML5 web apps and games that Google carries in the Chrome Web Store. There’s also a built-in 720p web cam and three noise-canceling microphones, useful for Hangouts on Google+.

Sounds interesting, though I’m wondering whether people will still dig Google’s implementation of multitouch over prolonged usage. It all depends on how Google optimized the Chrome OS itself for multitouch.

Judging by the small buttons in the toolbar, this needs some more work. Apple on its part clearly is not fond of vertical touch surfaces on notebooks and instead has chosen to implement multitouch throughout OS X via touchpad gestures.

Here’s Steve Jobs pooh-poohing notebooks with touchscreens.

Google’s VP of Engineering Linus Upson rather proudly proclaimed in an announcement blog post that now is “one of the most exciting times in the history of personal computing, thanks to a rapid pace of change, innovation and consumer adoption of devices.”

In my view, Microsoft should be way more concerned about Google’s foray into desktop computing than Apple because Windows 8 is supposed to power a wide range of touch-enabled desktop and notebook form factors. And, the Pixel is a direct threat to the Surface Pro, which wants to be a notebook disguised as a tablet.

Chromebook Pixel (two up, open lid, black)

A lot of people seem to be disappointed with Windows 8, however, and Google clearly figured it should take advantage of an opportunity that has presented itself. The search giant is now in an interesting position where it has two Linux-based operating systems, Android for smartphones and tablets and Chrome OS for computers.

Google previously said it’s OK with that, but it’s unclear whether or not these two pieces of software merge into a single OS down the road. Be that as it may, with the Pixel Google has gained more credibility in the notebook space. Those rumored Google Stores are starting to make a lot of sense now, do they?

Unfortunately, the problem with Chromebooks persists – these machines are dependent on the Internet connection. That said, paying $,1299 for a notebook than only runs Chrome and none of the desktop applications available on Windows and the Mac may not be a good investment. Long term, Apple should clearly pay notice as I’m sure Cook & Co. already have done so already.

 

Other perks include twelve free GoGo Inflight Internet passes and one terabyte of free Google Drive cloud storage for three years, otherwise a $1,800 value. I’m guessing people living in the cloud will welcome free storage as soon as they fill up a rather paltry 32GB of built-in storage with rich media and documents.

Cnet spent some hands-on time with the computer, here’s their video.

And here’s The Verge’s review.

The Chromebook starts at $1,299 for the Wi-Fi-only variant and $1,449 for a model with LTE modems built-in. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these prices don’t compare favorably to Apple’s MacBook Air, which starts at just $999 for the 11-inch 64GB version or $1,099 for the 13-inch version with 128 gigabytes of flash storage.

Heck, you could throw in an additional $200 and get a Retina MacBook Pro instead (now you know why Apple earlier this month slashed notebook prices by up to $300).

Chromebook Pixel (touchscreen, Google Maps)
Google Maps on the Pixel’s multitouch display should be fun.

Google said the Chromebook Pixel will start shipping next week and is now accepting pre-orders via its Play store in the United States and United Kigdom (and soon through BestBuy’s online store).

What do you think of the Pixel?

Would you rather buy a Retina notebook from Google or Apple?