There’s a dose of ‘love at first sight’ when it comes to Google’s new Pixelbook. It’s the best ever Chromebook offering — and you get your first sense of that before you even open the box.
Guest blogger Roger Kingkade, who’s owned several Chromebooks, has taken on this review for us, and writes that while Chromebooks may have limitations, the Pixelbook is actually a pretty great choice.
Google Pixelbook Review
My take on Chromebooks has always been that they’re a kind of ‘junior laptop.’ They’re definitely not as capable as their cousins in the Surface or Macbook lines, but they also don’t come at such a hefty price. I’ve owned two Chromebooks; a Samsung Series 3 and an Acer R11. My relationship with each was an almost even split of love and hate.
Love the price. Hated the design. Loved the operating system. Hated the components.
If you feel the same way about Chromebooks, prepare for an awakening.
Sleek and sexy: the new look of Pixelbook
The Pixelbook is beautiful. The design is sleek and modern and has some very nice ergonomic touches like the silicone pads on the keyboard deck that give your palms a comfortable resting place while working the keys. The trackpad is suitably large. The backlit keyboard is a nice touch in darker environments.
Pixelbook also has a 360-degree hinge that allows use in four different modes; laptop, tent, tablet, and entertainment. (Tent and entertainment are pretty much the same thing.)
Google Pixelbook specs
Pixelbook’s base model comes capably equipped with a 7th generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and 128GB SSD. If you want, you can crank the Pixelbook up a few levels with a 7th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and 512GB NVMe SSD. The model I test drove is the base version with upgrade storage capability to 256GB SSD.
I put the Pixelbook through the paces as much as I could. It’s a brand new unit and my experience with Chromebooks has always been that they start out fantastic and decline from there. As obvious as that statement sounds, what I mean is that the Chrome OS claim (and Pixelbook makes it too) that “it will stay fast throughout its entire life” hasn’t been my experience with the two previous Chromebooks I’ve owned. As I type this, I’ve got about 70 tabs open on five browser windows. Today, Pixelbook doesn’t seem to mind. (Fellow tab monsters might know what I’m talking about.)
Naturally, Pixelbook comes equipped with Chrome OS. It has full Android app support and the aforementioned Google Assistant to speed up tasks and help you be more productive.
What’s a Chromebook, BTW?
If you’re new to Chromebooks, the idea behind them is that you’re not going to store a tonne of stuff on the device itself. It’s meant for cloud computing. The Pixelbook picks up on this theme. You’re not supposed to store your whole life on it, and that’s what helps keep it fast. For example, all your documents should live in Google Docs, and your mail lives on G-mail’s servers.
Taking your Pixelbook on a long flight and hoping tO get some work done without paying for Wi-Fi at 30,000 feet? No problem. Offline apps and Chrome browser extensions can help you. Just install them ahead of time, and make sure you have enough free space to save your files while you’re up in the air and you’re good to go.
Added touch of Pixelbook Pen
There’s also the Pixelbook Pen, a stylus made to interact with the Pixelbook’s touch screen and provide access to the Google Assistant at your fingertips.
Hands on with Pixelbook
One of the selling features of Chromebooks in the past has been compact, lightweight design which leads to undesirable trade-offs like a cramped keyboard area. Pixelbook still delivers on the promise of compact and lightweight, but nothing about it seems cramped. In fact, it feels big and it looks like there’s a lot of room between those keys.
Google Assistant built in
Speaking of those keys (or speaking TO those keys, if you will) the Google Assistant button is a neat touch. Touch the button and ask a question. Google Assistant pops up a response in a sidebar window without disrupting your workflow. The Pixelbook Pen has the same button right at your fingertip. Very handy while using tablet mode. You can also train Google Assistant to respond to your voice saying “Ok, Google…”
There’s no doubt this will be standard on all Chromebooks in short order as Google will want Google Assistant and all the juicy query data it collects as widespread as possible.
Will the keys last?
More durable keyboard on Pixelbook?
A YouTube viewer asked about key durability. Since my experience with previous Chromebooks has also been that the keyboard feels a little… brittle, I wasn’t surprised at this question.
Pixelbook’s keys have a softer silicone feel and don’t feel like they’ll shatter after a lot of use.
The Pen is an add-on for CAN$129. (Note: I’m not big on styluses, so please bear that in mind. Your mileage may vary.) It was easy and novel to tap and scroll around the screen with the Pen. It gave me the feeling of being some sort of “King of Chrome,” flicking items up and down the screen with a wave of my sceptre. If a Harry Potter/magic wand reference is your preference, please provide one for consideration in the comments.
Using the Pixelbook Pen pen
The Pen has tremendous application for taking notes in tablet mode with an app like MyScript Nebo or marking up PDFs with Squid. You can edit photos in Adobe Lightroom and publish them straight to Instagram. You can also annotate books in Google Play Books. The Pen is pressure sensitive which makes drawing or painting with Infinite Painter quite an enjoyable experience.
Chrome OS is impressive in its current state and continues to expand its capabilities. Google says they’re working with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to optimize their apps for the Pixelbook’s larger screen. Apps like Netflix, Slack, and a host of others are already there.
Tethering to Pixel phones
If you’ve already got a Pixel phone, you’ll enjoy instant tethering with the Pixelbook when you’re away from WiFi. Also, the same charger works for both devices.
Windows apps available on Pixelbook
You can run Windows apps on the Pixelbook if you want to. A nice touch if that’s the circle you prefer to run in.
Overall review of Google Pixelbook
When I started this mission, I thought I was doing a Chromebook review. It’s not. This is a laptop review. Please let me explain…
The Pixelbook belongs in the big leagues. My past experience with Chromebooks has always been that of tradeoffs; typically, inferior hardware, capability and design in exchange for lower price and stability and security. Google Pixelbook erases most of that.
The stability and security of Chrome OS has always been a big draw. G-Suite speaks for itself. On the operating side of things it seems that offering full support for Android apps was the next big leap and Google has done that with Pixelbook.
Can it replace a Windows or Apple laptop?
Which brings me to my point about this being more of a laptop review. Simply put, it’s a very good machine. It’s powerful, it boasts long-battery life (all-day, claims Google), it’s well-designed and well-built. With all the software upgrades and peripheral connections and accessories, the Pixelbook should be considered against the Surface Pro and the Macbook Pro, not other Chromebooks.
With the option of Lightroom for photo editing, and the full G-suite, plus the option of adding Windows software, it can definitely be considered a powerful device, but if you need to do something like edit video with Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier, you’ll need to find more power (and other compatible software) elsewhere in the laptop universe.
The Pixelbook may not be as powerful or configurable as some Windows laptops or a MacBook, but it’s stellar for a Chromebook.
In fact, when it comes to other Chromebooks, there is no more competition. Pixelbook is the best one ever. That’s why it costs what it does.
Chrome OS and all the simplicity it brings.
The Pen is a versatile stylus.
Google Assistant is a bonus.
The black frame on the display eats a lot of potential screen space.
Pen sold separately.
Audio performance is lacking.
The Basic model Google Pixelbook with 8gb ram 128 gb SSD memory costs $1299CAD and it goes up from there. The pen sells for about $129 CAD separately.