Amid reports that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) was readying a touch-enabled, Chrome OS laptop for sale later this year, poof! The hotly rumored system appeared—the search giant’s first non-smartphone or tablet branded hardware, a snazzy cloud-based number called the Chromebook Pixel, sporting a slew of nifty features and a rather lofty $1,299 price tag.

There’s hardly any other way to see Google’s hardware venture than as a bold bid to fight fire with fire to contest Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows 8 technology. What should be obvious is Google isn’t satisfied with its prior blueprint for Chrome OS as an adjunct to Windows, and now it wants to widen its appeal well beyond that of a sidekick. With Pixel, Google has what Microsoft has in a touch-enabled laptop and what Apple doesn’t yet have. Still, Chromebook's Achilles heel—and it’s a big one--is that it only runs Web-based apps, which aren’t nearly as powerful as native apps.

“With the Pixel, we set out to rethink all elements of a computer to design the best laptop possible, especially for power users who have fully embraced the cloud,” wrote Linus Upson, Google Engineering vice president, in a blog post.

Pixel features a 12.85-inch touchscreen (the first Chromebook to offer touch technology) and a resolution of 2,560x1,700 pixels at 239 pixels per inch (ppi). Google contends it is the highest pixel density of any laptop screen on the market, exceeding the 13-inch Macbook Pro’s Retina display resolution of 2,560x1,600 pixels at 227 ppi. The goal, Upson, said ironically, is to “make the pixels disappear, giving people the best web experience.”

The unit is powered by an Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Core i5 processor, comes equipped with a 32GB solid state drive, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and 1TB of free storage on Google Drive for three years. Battery life is a somewhat pedestrian five hours. Chromebook Pixel is available in Wi-Fi and a 4G LTE edition that also comes with 64GB solid state drive. A 720p webcam for video chats is built in, along with three microphones.

At this point, few other details are available--such as OEMs working with Google, how Pixel will be positioned with existing touch-based Android-based tablets, developers already on board—but one thing is for certain, Google is betting big that it can shift software development away from PC-tethered apps to cloud-based apps. To be successful with Pixel, it will have to influence such a changeover.

With Chromebooks producing more buzz of late than expected—four leading vendors, including Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Samsung are selling the cloud-centric notebooks—along with Google chief Larry Page’s Chromebook-endorsing comments during a recent earnings call, it’s clear the vendor intended to make a strong push with the platform.

“We’re tremendously grateful to our partners—Samsung, Acer, Lenovo and HP—for their commitment,” wrote Upson. “The momentum has been remarkable--the Samsung Chromebook has been #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list for laptops every day since it launched 125 days ago in the U.S., and Chromebooks now represent more than 10 percent of notebook sales at Currys PC World, the largest electronics retailer in the U.K.”

The Pixel already is available for order on Google Play in the United States and the United Kingdom and retailer Best Buy will be selling it soon, Google said. The Wi-Fi version will start shipping next week and the LTE edition, priced at $1,449, will ship in the United States sometime in April.