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Review: Google laptop impressive, but not for all

Thursday - 4/4/2013, 4:28pm  ET

This image provided by Google shows the company's first high-end chromebook Pixel. According to a review by the Associated Press, the Machine feels light and comfortable in my hands and its high-resolution display makes photos appear sharp. (AP Photo/Google)

ANICK JESDANUN
AP Technology Writer

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) -- Google's first high-end laptop, the Chromebook Pixel, is an impressive machine. It feels light and comfortable in my hands and on my lap. Its high-resolution display makes photos look sharp and video come to life. From a hardware standpoint, it's everything I'd want a laptop to be.

But the Pixel isn't very practical -- at least not yet -- for most people. It works well when you have a steady Internet connection, but can't do much once you lose that connection. And because it uses Google's own operating system, it doesn't run enough software yet to replace your other machines.

I brought the Pixel along for a nearly three-week trip to Thailand and Cambodia, where I knew I wouldn't have the type of round-the-clock access I'm used to in the U.S. I was surprised by how much I could do, but quickly got frustrated when I couldn't do more.

Such frustration doesn't come cheap. Prices for the Pixel start at $1,299, just $200 less than a MacBook with a comparable screen and the ability to do much more offline. A higher-end Pixel with cellular access costs $150 more than the basic model and is scheduled to start shipping Monday.

For those unfamiliar with Google's entry into the laptop market -- I guess that's many of you -- the Pixel and other Chromebooks run a Google operating system called Chrome OS. Based on the Chrome Web browser available for Windows and Mac computers, Chrome OS underscores Google's vision of letting the Internet do all the heavy lifting instead of your computer.

As a result, you can power up and start working on the Chromebook right away. Boot time is minimal because there's not a lot of software to load. Those functions are pulled from the Internet as needed. That also means updates come regularly and don't need any installation on your part.

There's not a lot of storage on the machine either. The idea is to keep as much as you can online, through a storage service such as Google Drive or Dropbox.

Think of the Chromebook as a gateway to the Internet. You can download apps from Google and others to run on the Chromebook, but many of those apps do little more than access a website on your Chrome browser when you're online.

Previous Chromebooks haven't been too powerful. They have tended to be low-cost machines ideal for casual users who mostly need computers for Internet tasks such as email and Facebook.

Google is changing the dynamics with the Pixel. It's targeting power users who are willing to pay more money for the best features.

For $1,299, you get a well-built machine sporting a touch-sensitive display that measures nearly 13 inches diagonally. The screen's resolution is among the best out there. At 239 pixels per inch, it tops the 227 pixels per inch on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, though your eyes might not be able to discern that small difference.

The basic Pixel model comes with 32 gigabytes of storage and has a slot for external storage, such as a camera's SD card. Each machine also comes with a three-year subscription for 1 terabyte of online storage through Google Drive. It's normally $50 a month.

Google also offers a $1,449 model that has double the internal storage, at 64 GB, and 100 megabytes a month of LTE cellular data access through Verizon Wireless for two years. That's suitable for occasional use, but if you'll be away from Wi-Fi a lot, you'll need a data plan. Prices start at $10 a day.

The LTE model isn't set to ship until Monday, but Google lent me one to try out. I was impressed with the LTE offering, as the cellular access would help cover some of the gaps I'd have outside my home and office. But it's of no use abroad.

Nor is LTE of use on airplanes. Both models offer 12 free sessions with Gogo's Wi-Fi service on airplanes, but those are good only for flights that offer that capability. Those tend to be domestic flights in the U.S.

So I found myself trying to use Chromebook without a steady Internet connection.

Before I left, I configured the Chromebook browser to enable offline access to Google Docs, the company's set of online tools such as word processing and spreadsheets. With offline access, you're able to access and edit documents. Changes get synced with the online versions the next time you connect to the Internet.

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