What to expect in the Chromebook Pixel 2

Google confirmed what we noted two weeks ago on our Chrome Show podcast: There is a successor to the Chromebook Pixel after all. OMGChrome caught the confirmation on a YouTube video, which was subsequently marked private to mask the news. Luckily the site transcribed the part where the next Pixel was discussed.

Pixel gaming


In the video, which was recorded at a Team Work 2015 event, Google’s Renee Niemi had this to say:

We do have a new Pixel coming out and it will be coming out soon. We will be selling it but I just have to set your expectations: this is a development platform. This is really a proof of concept. We don’t make very many of these — we really don’t. And […] our developers and our Googlers consume 85% of what we produce. But yes, we do have a new Pixel coming out.

Niemi, who runs the Android & Chrome for Work and Education group at [company]Google[/company], didn’t share any more specifics and is clearly setting expectations. Although Google will sell the next Chromebook — I’ll call it Pixel 2 for lack of a better name — the company doesn’t intend the device to be a mass-produced, consumer laptop. That message got lost on the first model, as some have considered the original Pixel a flop, while I’m sure Google internally considers it a success.

Small changes, big impact

So what can we expect in the Pixel 2? I don’t actually expect many changes. I’m basing that off the tidbits and evidence of the Chromebook Pixel 2 spotted earlier this month and discussed on our podcast. Between my own usage as an owner of the first Chromebook Pixel and what we’ve found in the Chromium bug tracker, here’s what I think we’ll see:

  • Little to no change on the outside of the laptop. There’s little there that needs an update or refresh. The trackpad is as good as the best of them out there, the keyboard is excellent and the overall design is thin, even if it’s not sleek.
  • The same 2560 x 1700 resolution touchscreen display. Again, this is one of the best features of the original Pixel and it still stands up against current screens. I wouldn’t mind if Google opted to lose the touch capabilities in a lower-priced model, though.
  • The biggest upgrade we’ll see is in the processor. Instead of a third-generation [company]Intel[/company] Core i5, Google can use a fifth-gen Broadwell chip. That would provide a slight performance boost, even though the Pixel may not need it. More importantly, it would allow the Pixel 2 to overcome one of its few disappointing attributes: poor battery life. The chip change, along with any battery improvements, could let the laptop run for nine hours or more on a charge. The original Pixel topped out around five hours.
  • Google will likely carry over the same connectivity options from the original Pixel but upgrade the capabilities due to available technology. Expect the Wi-Fi to include 802.11ac support, and the Bluetooth 3.0 of the existing Pixel will surely be 4.0 in the new one. I’d expect an LTE edition like Google offered two years ago, although I’m not sure it will use Verizon as its partner again. I could see T-Mobile make a play here, if not AT&T. Early evidence of the Pixel 2 suggested reversible Type-C USB ports as well.
  • I don’t see Google adding more local storage to the Pixel 2. The Wi-Fi model comes with 32GB while the LTE version doubles the storage. It could add more, of course, but the intended audience for this device doesn’t really need it, particularly with Google Drive integration and offers of free space. I received 1TB of Drive storage for three years with the Pixel I bought, for example.

Long story short: Don’t expect major changes in the Pixel 2, just look for the ones that will have the biggest impact.

One last note on the chip inside Pixel 2, though: Why not Intel’s sixth-generation Skylake chip inside? It depends on when Google wants to release the Pixel 2. Skylake isn’t expected in mass quantities until the second half of the year. Additionally, a Skylake board was only just reported to be used for Chromium OS a few weeks ago; it can take months for the software team to get the software working with a new chipset. With Niemi saying a new Pixel is “coming out soon,” that suggests Google isn’t going to wait for Skylake.

It can be yours, if the price is right

The final question is about price. Will Google keep the same pricing scheme as the original Pixel: $1,299 for the Wi-Fi model and $1,449 for the LTE version?

Photoshop on Chromebook Pixel

Having bought the latter edition in 2013, I hope not. Google probably isn’t going to make millions of these laptops, so it’s not going to get the best chip pricing from Intel. That puts pressure on Google to find other ways to cut the cost, use economies of scale, or reduce profit margins on a device that’s not really meant for the general population.

My best guess for the Pixel 2: Google may be able to cut $200 — $300 is a long shot — from the original Pixel prices by reusing much of the existing design and components which have come down in price over time. That would mean starting prices of $999 or $1,099 for a high-end Chromebook with solid performance, outstanding screen and build quality, and the sorely needed improved battery life.

Even if Google keeps the same prices as the first model, the Pixel 2 will still find an audience. Compared to the rest of the Chromebooks available, that’s at least a 3x premium, so the Pixel 2 still won’t be a hot seller by comparison. For those who want the best possible Chrome OS experience, however, I think it will be worth it.