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Review: Google Chromebook has grown up while you weren’t looking

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My first experience with Google’s operating system Chrome OS and notebook was in early 2011. Google had finished sending a free Chromebook laptop to randomly selected participants and I was lucky enough to know someone who received the (then) coveted Cr–48.

As soon as I unboxed the mysterious device it was clear the laptop was part of a testing program. The keyboard was horrible to type on, the battery lasted only a few hours and the entire thing was coated in a weird rubber. It was obvious Google was more interested in how users would find its new operating system.

Unfortunately Chrome OS was just as equally disappointing: Google more or less had repackaged its Chrome browser, loaded it onto a laptop and called it an operating system. Users were restricted to a browser window with little functionality. After two days of using the Chrome OS and Cr–48, I eagerly returned it.

The stigma of Google’s desktop OS being nothing more than a glorified browser tab has followed the company throughout the years, but hasn’t stopped it from improving the platform. Thankfully, its dedication is finally starting to pay off and produce results. Schools are now adopting Chrome OS in lieu of Windows, Mac OS X and iOS devices. It has services that update software regularly thanks to its cloud-based operating system and has even become an appealing option for IT departments. As Chrome OS and the Chromebook continues to make headway, perhaps it’s time we start paying more attention to it.

After my experience with Google’s early prototype, I’ve sporadically dabbled with Chromebooks and its operating system. Each time, I noted minor improvements.

Unfortunately, over the years I was often less than impressed with its updates. Sometimes, it was because of the cheap hardware, which I felt could break at any moment. Other times it was unresponsive software and its limited selection of apps and services.

Still, I tried my best to keep tabs on improvements or any changes Google made. Then, last week as I unboxed the new Chromebook Pixel, I finally had that coveted ‘wow’ moment I had been waiting for all this time.

Since then, I’ve been working primarily on Google’s newest iteration of the laptop. I’ve taken advantage of Google Docs and the Pixel’s unbelievably smooth keyboard (it’s one of the best I’ve ever used). I’ve used Tweetdeck to keep up with breaking news, Gmail for managing emails and Pixlr Editor for editing photos taken on my Fuji X100S camera, which I transferred to my laptop using its built-in SD card reader.

The high-resolution screen is crystal-clear, measuring 12.85 diagonally. It touts multi-touch capabilities, though I’ve hardly ever touched the screen. (I’m not fond of fingerprints on my computer screen, even when the screen is begging to be touched.)

After giving the Pixel a full charge, I was able to coax a little over eight hours of usage as opposed to the 12 Google claims is possible. Although, eight hours is more than enough to get me through an entire workday while streaming music with multiple open tabs.

Flanking the left side of the aluminum notebook is a headphone jack, two USB 3.0 ports, and a single USB Type-C port (a new type of connector that’s faster at transferring data, providing power to an alternate device or pushing pixels to an external monitor) located towards the back. On the right side is the SD card reader and another USB Type-C port.

While I would love to describe in detail how much the USB Type-C port has improved my life, I can’t. The only interaction I’ve had with it was when I would charge the Pixel (a task a normal port can carry out).

Chromebooks have always had a somewhat inexpensive feel to them, going all the way back to the Cr–48, but that’s thankfully not the case with the new Pixel. It screams of thoughtful design, includes materials intended to withstand daily use and abuse as well as specs (such as its Intel Core i5 or upgraded Intel Core i7 processor) normally associated with ‘real’ computers one would expect to find in a Apple or higher-end Windows offering. The operating system once viewed as nothing more than a browser has grown up right underneath my nose.

The 2015 Chromebook Pixel is without a doubt the best Chromebook on the market and its $999 base price reflects that fact. Google’s notebooks have traditionally cost between $199 and $400, but the new updates have understandably upped the cost.

Still, despite its improvements, I cringe at the price even after having thoroughly enjoyed using one. It’s going to take more applications, developer support and better integration with services outside of Google’s ecosystem to give Chrome OS a real shot at being a full-fledged competitor to other popular brands.

But, that’s not to say the newest generation of the Chromebook Pixel isn’t perfect for a student who wants nothing more than a reliable keyboard and screen that’s going to connect to the Internet. In fact, that’s exactly what Chrome OS would be best suited for.

And as for me, Chrome OS is now mature enough to tempt me—thanks in part to its ease of use and expanding features—but not enough for a full commitment.