For the past two years, Google’s high-end Pixelbook has helped inspire a trend of “mid-range” Chromebooks that offer premium build and specs on the lightweight Chrome OS platform. Now, the Pixelbook Go is coming in to compete in that market, and it’s a truly excellent machine, but it might be a little overpriced.
Google almost nailed the form factor
I like Google’s hardware designs, but I think their laptop division is where the company really shines right now. The original Pixelbook may still be one of my favorite laptop designs of all time, and this latest product is in the same ballpark. It’s very slim and practical.
The outer shell has a pleasant matte texture that doesn’t pick up too many fingerprints, while the bottom has a funky ridged design. Admittedly, this was a very weird choice, but it’s for the better, I think. This machine is clearly designed for people working on the go, and that texture offers more grip both when holding the machine and when it’s sitting on your lap, too. That grip is certainly welcome as the Go feels incredibly thin when it’s closed.
All of that said, the Pixelbook Go is a bit of an odd duck in the laptop world right now. Whether it’s Chrome OS or Windows, the vast majority of laptops are gravitating to the 2-in-1 form factor, but that’s not what the Go is. Rather, it’s a traditional clamshell laptop, something that feels reserved mostly for high-end gaming laptops and professional machines nowadays.
This design also allows Google to focus and, in turn, keep things very simple. The Pixelbook Go’s hinge still isn’t quite a one-hander, but it’s smoother compared to the original Pixelbook. The Go also doesn’t have to think about tablet use, so there are no extra buttons along the sides. Instead, there’s just the two USB-C ports and a headphone jack with a power button as part of the keyboard. Unfortunately, Google didn’t have the foresight to throw any kind of biometrics on this machine.
Put simply, I think Google basically nailed the design of the Go, but there is one reservation to that. The move from a 3:2 display to a 16:9 panel is a strange one. That aspect ratio feels more natural to a tablet than it does a laptop. It’s a shame, but I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker either. The 1080p model I tested has a sharp display — a little less so than the Pixelbook — which is bright, with great colors, too. The slimmer bezels also look good, and really, I had no issues using this wider display. It all comes down to personal preference.
Somehow, the Pixelbook keyboard got better
Google’s keyboard on the original Pixelbook has been my absolute favorite since the moment I first laid my hands on it. The keys have been comfortable to type on, without weird layout decisions, and with great backlighting and key travel. That keyboard is something I wish I could bring to the other laptops I have to use, but I sadly cannot.
Somehow, Google figured out how to make that keyboard even better on the Pixelbook Go. Key travel isn’t quite as far on this keyboard, but the clicks are less noisy, the backlighting is better, and the spacing feels much more comfortable too, even if the keycaps don’t feel quite as soft. Perhaps it could be the wider footprint just because of the Go’s altered aspect ratio, but it’s immediately obvious just how great this keyboard is seconds after you start typing on it.
Chrome OS is finally ready for premium hardware
Since I’ve started using the Pixelbook Go, there’s something that’s kept coming to mind — this is the first Google Chrome OS product that actually has its software completely ready at launch.
Chrome OS has never been better than it is right here, right now, and the Go benefits greatly from that. Just in the past year, Google has made great leaps including virtual desktops, improved notifications, better support for Linux apps, and more.
The Pixelbook Go feels natural with everything Chrome OS has to offer because the machine plays to the platform’s strengths. There’s no new form factor or feature to worry about. This is a simple laptop to get things done, and that’s exactly what Chrome OS does right.
I worked on the Pixelbook Go for a full week while preparing this review for everything my job entails. That includes writing in WordPress and Google Docs, keeping up with email, and even photo editing. Thanks to newly discovered web services and Progressive Web Apps that just keep getting better, Chrome OS is ready to handle my workflow, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. The only gap left to fill is video editing.
Even on the base model, performance is excellent
How about performance? Chrome OS is a lightweight platform, and on the Pixelbook Go it went really well. Unlike most reviewers, I spent my time with the base Core m3 model, which has 8 GB of RAM onboard. While the Pixel Slate has issues with these specs, Google seems to have been able to better optimize things for the Go.
Even when running a dozen Chrome tabs, Spotify’s PWA in the background, and keeping Slack open, the Go never lags or slows down. The machine is able to handle everything I throw at it without breaking a sweat, although I did notice that over longer sessions the bottom of the machine would heat up just a bit.
Performance is excellent on the Go, but it’s a shame the processor inside is as old as it is. The Pixelbook Go uses an 8th-gen Intel chipset on all models that looks bad compared to new Windows machines using 10th-gen chips. Chrome OS is traditionally slow to adopt new chips, but I wish the Pixelbook Go was using something a bit newer. The 10th-gen chips especially have a jump in performance and efficiency that all Chromebooks would benefit from. At the very least, the older hardware should have helped lower the price further.
Definitely an all-day laptop
How’s the battery life? Google claims about 12 hours on a charge and, in my testing, I think that’s accurate. As mentioned, the Pixelbook Go was my only work machine for a full week, and not once during that week was I able to kill it during a normal workday.
On average, my nine-to-five schedule couldn’t bring this machine below 40% before it was time to sign off for the evening. Of course, your results may vary, especially if you’re cranking up the brightness to use the device outdoors or in brightly lit areas. In these winter months, my apartment is fairly dark, which means the screen brightness was low. Still, I can’t imagine most people will be able to kill the 1080p model in a day.
What black magic are these speakers?!
My favorite thing about the Pixelbook Go isn’t its performance, design, or even its fantastic keyboard. It’s the speakers.
The two top-facing speakers are extremely loud, but more importantly, they sound very full. Bass isn’t what you’d get from a proper speaker, but for a laptop of this size, it’s incredible. Normally if I’m working on a laptop in my living room, I’ll cast tunes to my Google Home Max, but with the Go, I actually preferred to listen on the laptop itself.
Coming from the original Pixelbook, which I always thought sounded fine, I’m seriously wondering how Google got so good at speakers so quickly. When that original laptop gets a proper refresh, I hope these speakers are part of the package.
Is it worth it?
The Pixelbook Go is a truly great Chrome OS laptop. It focuses on simplicity and, as a result, ends up perfecting a thin form factor with a good screen and arguably the best keyboard available today.
However, Google wants a lot of money for this machine. $649 is much more than Samsung or Asus charge for similarly specced Chromebooks and Google is approaching Windows territory at that point, too. The high-end models are worse with the 4K, Core i7 option costing a whopping $1,400.
I don’t think the Pixelbook Go is crazy overpriced, but it would be nice if $100 were dropped across the board. Sadly, that probably won’t happen.
Google’s Pixelbook Go, at the moment, is the best Chromebook on the market for most people. It delivers almost everything that made the Pixelbook great in a more affordable package with some great improvements. If it fits your needs, I don’t think you’ll be at all disappointed by it.
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