Google’s efforts with its various Chromebook partners this year haven’t been going all that well. The Samsung Chromebook Pro and ASUS C302CA give you a lot on paper, but after using them, I find myself unimpressed. Back in the day, the Chromebook Pixel was the top-of-the-line machine everyone looked to as the golden standard, but it’s been gone for some time, and its effective replacements haven’t quite matched it.
Now, we have the Pixelbook, another top-tier laptop in both price and quality. It’s running on Chrome OS, and its claim to fame is the same as the original Chromebook Pixels: amazing hardware and specs. Has Google finally made a Chrome OS machine worthy of a massive price tag?
Nomad case for Pixel 3
Despite anything marketing might tell you about the Pixelbook, the selling point here is hardware —nothing else. You can get Android apps, powerful specs, and even a stylus on much cheaper machines, but what you won’t find anywhere else in the Chrome OS ecosystem is hardware that is this good.
The Pixelbook’s hardware is incredible. This compact laptop/tablet hybrid is absolutely gorgeous with its silver aluminum unibody and white accents. The glass “third” on the back gives it that signature look that makes it a part of the Pixel family, and the overall design just screams Google.
There’s clearly a lot of the original Chromebook Pixel in this design, but it’s been refined a lot. This new machine is thin, lightweight, and still manages to pack everything you’d expect from a laptop in 2017. For one, there are two USB-C ports for charging, data, and display output, a high-resolution 2400×1600 touch-screen display, 2-in-1 hinge, and a solid keyboard. I’ll get to those a bit more in-depth later on, but the long story short with the hardware here is that it’s amazing.
The Pixelbook feels well thought out, not rushed out the door. One of the best examples of this is how Google handled the accents you’ll probably never think of. For one, there’s the empty space your wrists will rest on when typing. Unlike most laptops which just leave this portion metal, the Pixelbook has a silicone layer here that is very comfortable.
Further, the underbody of this machine has that same white silicone. While some might think this would take away from a premium feel, it actually gives the machine extra grip when in use on your lap, and it protects the glass panel on the lid when you have the machine in tablet mode.
The Pixelbook’s hardware is, simply put, wonderful. It feels like a product that would come from the brains at Google more than anything else I’ve used from the company, and that’s great given how good it has been getting at design.
As you’d expect with an expensive laptop, the Pixelbook ships with a pretty killer display. The 12.3-inch LCD screen is high-resolution at 2400×1600, and it’s great. The 3:2 aspect ratio is a little off-putting, but if you primarily use this machine for writing or reading, it’s great. The display is sharp for those tasks as well, and the colors and brightness are great for any work with photos or even watching a movie.
The touchscreen on the Pixelbook is also great. It’s very responsive when using your finger and feels just like using a tablet when you take advantage of Android apps in tablet mode.
My sole complaint about this display, however, are the bezels surrounding it. The size of this laptop is nearly perfect, but Google could and probably should have thinned out the bezels to make room for a bigger display.
The story on the Pixelbook when it comes to software is a straightforward one we’ve known for years — it’s Chrome OS. Google’s lightweight internet-first operating system is blazing fast on the Pixelbook, and it’s been getting better and better over the years.
If you’ve used pretty much any Chromebook in the past few years, you’ll be familiar overall with the experience here, but things have definitely been upgraded. For one, there’s a new app launcher, lots of Material redesigns, an upgraded notifications center, and a bunch of other new features.
One of those new features Google wanted to show off with the Pixelbook and its new Pixel phones is Instant Tethering. Just like on Android tablets, this feature allows your Pixelbook and nearby Pixel (or Nexus) smartphone talk to each other and set up a hotspot if you want to do so. It’s a neat and useful feature that really shows that Google is creating an ecosystem based on hardware and software.
The biggest story in the world of Chrome OS, however, has been the arrival of Android apps. It’s been in testing for a long time, but on the Pixelbook this functionality finally sees what feels like its final form, and it works really well.
The Play Store is enabled out of the box on the Pixelbook, and you’ll immediately be able to download your favorite Android apps on the machine. While simple use cases for this include communication tools like Slack or music apps such as Spotify, Android apps are really the answer to a lot of Chrome OS’ shortcomings.
Apps on Google Play make the Pixelbook more useful offline and can give it a more familiar experience with things such as Microsoft’s Office suite. Further, you can enhance the machine’s capability by downloading Adobe’s versions of Lightroom or Photoshop which are actually being enhanced for hardware like this.
Obviously, this still isn’t a “real” laptop with proper, full apps and programs, but Google’s efforts in this area are obvious, and they make the Pixelbook a much more viable daily computer.
Google Assistant continues to expand to new platforms, and the latest is Chrome OS, or at least, the Pixelbook. For now, the Pixelbook is the only laptop on the market with Assistant built-in as a native app, and it’s a pretty excellent addition.
Simply tap the dedicated button on the keyboard or long-press the “home” button and Assistant will launch in a small window on the left side of the display. The Assistant can immediately help you with any question your fingers can type, and it can also analyze what’s on screen to give you more information.
It’s a handy feature that I hope extends to other platforms in the future, but I wouldn’t say it’s a key selling point for this machine. Really, it’s just an added bonus which will certainly make its way to other Chromebooks in the future.
Another aspect that really sets the Pixelbook apart from every other Chromebook is performance. Most Chromebooks out there today run on Celeron processors with some of the higher-end ones adopting Core m3 processors, but nothing has had a Core i5 or i7 since the Chromebook Pixels.
Under the hood of the Pixelbook, you’ve got an i5 or i7 (7th gen. Kaby Lake) with 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and that combined with the 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB SSDs give you the fastest laptop experience you’ll find anywhere.
Chrome OS flies on this hardware. I’ve spent nearly two weeks using the Pixelbook as much as possible in my daily workflow, and in that time it’s only had one instance where it lagged or had trouble processing anything I’ve thrown its way. The cause was unclear, but it required a reboot.
The lack of issues makes sense given how lightweight Chrome OS is, but it’s still something you can’t say about any other laptop.
It’s also interesting to note that, no matter which model you buy, the Pixelbook has no fans. To my surprise, this didn’t affect the machine heating up at all. By some wizardry, the Pixelbook just doesn’t get hot, even if you’re using it over extended periods of time. So on top of being the fastest laptop, it’s also the quietest.
KEYBOARD AND TRACKPAD |
As I mentioned earlier, Google really thought through the hardware on the Pixelbook, and the keyboard and trackpad are proof of that. Starting with the trackpad, we’re looking at an actual piece of glass with a “soft” matte coating that is just fantastic. Your finger glides over this surface and it’s a true pleasure to use. It even still clicks like a proper trackpad should — no vibration trickery here.
Further, the keyboard is awesome. The keys are well-spaced and are all a comfortable size. I was easily able to transition from my HP-made Windows laptop to the Pixelbook and get up to full speed in a matter of minutes (although I’m having trouble saying the same about doing the opposite).
There are also some nice touches with this keyboard. The backlighting isn’t too bright, nor too dim, and you can easily adjust it based on your environment. I also really appreciate the amount of key travel on this keyboard. Google has struck a balance here between having a thin machine without a lot of key travel and a keyboard that’s actually usable.
The keys move 0.8mm and have a relatively tactile feeling, but what I really appreciated was the silicone coating on them. This gives you a little bit of extra “grip” that you probably never realized you wanted/needed. It’s comfortable to type on for long periods, even around 1500 words into writing a review.
BATTERY LIFE |
Another big perk for Chromebooks is battery life, and that extends to the Pixelbook. Google quotes 10 hours of mixed usage on this machine, and my usage lines up with that quite closely. You’ll very likely be able to make it through a full day of use on this machine, and if not, charging is simple over USB-C. There’s a 45W charger in the box that works well, but you can even power this device with a portable battery bank.
Another point worth talking about on the Pixelbook is audio quality. There’s a headphone jack, thankfully, and that’s as good as it is on any other laptop. However, I do want to focus in on the speakers for a moment.
If you look at this machine up close, you won’t see any speakers, anywhere. There’s nothing along the top of the keyboard, nothing on the bottom, just nothing, anywhere. That’s because, like on the Chromebook Pixel, the speakers are hidden under the keyboard.
I won’t spend too much time talking about this, but the speakers here are great. They get very loud with minimal distortion, have plenty of depth to their sound despite a slight lack of bass, and sound great regardless of how you’re using the machine. It’s a great design.
PIXELBOOK PEN |
Lastly, there’s the Pixelbook Pen. Google’s new $99 stylus is, well, a stylus. Look, there’s really not much to talk about here. This is a Wacom-based stylus that works very well. You can draw with it with pressure and angle sensitivity, and it works great for controlling Android apps or just general web navigation. It’s also comfortable to hold and the white & silver design matches up well with the Pixelbook itself.
The Pen also has a neat trick to summon the Assistant when you press its button. Simply hold that down, draw a circle around something on screen, and the Assistant will use that to give you relevant results.
I’ve got to be honest, the Pen is the least exciting part of this machine to me. It does what it’s designed to do and it does it well, but personally, I wouldn’t buy it for $99. To me, it feels more like a “Look! We have a stylus too!” move than anything revolutionary.
FINAL THOUGHTS |
The Pixelbook is amazing. It’s a great laptop and an even better Chromebook, but the question you have to ask about this product is if it is actually worth $1,000 to you. In short, I still can’t see myself ever shelling out that much cash for a limited machine.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people who should buy the Pixelbook. If you’re a college student who spends 90% of your time writing papers and taking notes, this is a great machine. If you write for a living and rarely use things like Photoshop, this is a great machine.
For most people, though, the Pixelbook just isn’t worth it because of its price. You can easily buy a capable Windows machine for $999, and for a few hundred more, you can even buy a Macbook Pro (or an even better Windows machine).
There’s a lot that’s good about the Pixelbook and Google knocked it out of the park, but even as capable as Chrome OS has become, it’s still hard to sell anyone on a super expensive machine that functionally can’t do half of what others in its price range can.