The “pointless” Chromebook Pixel leads to a much bigger question

∞ Thu, 21 Feb 2013 · Comments

Google introduced the Chromebook Pixel today, a $1299 laptop that can run Chrome… and that’s it. It’s been rightly ridiculed – if someone has that much money to spend on a laptop, they’ll probably want to run advanced programs like Office, Photoshop, Visual Studio or play resource-intensive 3D games. In that light, the Chromebook Pixel is utterly useless, and consequently I don’t think it will sell particularly well.

However, there’s a much bigger question this apparently pointless device poses: why hasn’t anyone else made a laptop with a 2560×1700 touchscreen (note the 3:2 ratio)?

In other words: why is Google only the second manufacturer, after Apple, to create a laptop with a retina-level screen? Where are all the Windows OEMs?

To be fair, the OEMs aren’t entirely at fault. While the Metro interface in Windows 8 is designed to be scalable across a wide range of pixel densities, the desktop still isn’t. Most applications don’t play nice with the system dpi setting or ignore it altogether, so a 200+ dpi screen on a Windows laptop simply isn’t feasible.

There’s no doubt that high-dpi screens are the future. For most things apart from photos and videos – i.e. text – an IPS panel will be outperformed by a TN panel with higher pixel density (having used both a 4th-gen iPod touch and Surface RT). Of course, most high-dpi screens are IPS, so it’s really a no-brainer. After you’ve seen a high-dpi screen, you’ll never want to go back. And until the dpi reaches laser printer-like levels (600 to 1800 dpi according to Wikipedia) there’s still room to improve. 1080p smartphones like the HTC One are getting close.

All I can say is kudos to Google for having the balls to introduce a premium laptop, even if it may not be a very useful product (yet?). Hopefully it will push Microsoft to fix dpi scaling in Windows so high-dpi laptops can finally break out of the Mac niche.