Hands on: Google Pixelbook review

Chrome OS injected with Android and Google Assistant

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

We’ve yet to test out the performance of the Pixelbook, but the design is peerless and the package is angled most at enthusiasts of design, Android and Chrome OS. That price though…

For

  • Gorgeous design
  • Google Assistant integration

Against

  • Very expensive
  • Glass rear will be fragile
  • Pen shouldn’t be optional

There are already an abundance of 2-in-1 laptops to choose from, but the Google Pixelbook aims to stick out from the rest. 

How? 

By combining the learnings from the Google Chromebook Pixel (a Chrome OS machine) and Google Pixel C tablet (which rand Android Oreo). And not just in the sense of its sharp design and impressive specs, moreso by the fact that the Pixelbook is the best of both worlds – it runs both Chrome OS and tons of Android apps natively out of the box.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, Google has enabled Android app support on select Chromebook models. But, the Pixelbook is the first Chrome OS device released with more than enough built-in storage to actually realize the dream of installing any Android app that you desire.

Also, to make using Android apps easier with a touchscreen, the Pixelbook’s optional (but shouldn’t be) intelligent pen works to combat the issue of Android apps not translating well to the keyboard and trackpad configuration. You can also also invoke Google Assistant to chime in on anything on your screen.

While Google was among the first manufacturers to make a premium Chromebook and Android tablet, the Pixelbook now comes at a time when its competitors have already laid most of what it's trying to do.

For instance, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is well-built, compatible with Android apps and includes an S Pen. Sure, it doesn’t have the smarts that the Pixelbook Pen does, but you’ll need to decide if those Google Assistant smarts are worth the cost.

Now, let’s talk price. The Google Pixelbook, like the other members of the Pixel family (Google Pixel 2, Google Pixel 2 XL), isn’t the most affordable device within its category. 

Buying into the 2-in-1 from Google will cost $999 or £1,199 for the 128GB model stocked with 8GB of memory and a 7th generation Kaby Lake Intel i5 processor, and that's the the lowest configuration. The top-of-the-line model features an Intel i7, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of NVMe SSD storage for $1,649 or £1,699. The Pixelbook will release on  October 31st and pre-orders are open now.

We’ve only just had a brief look at the Pixelbook at Google’s big hardware event and what follows are our first impressions. You can expect our full review in the coming weeks.

Design

The Google Pixelbook is startlingly thin at 10mm when closed and it weighs just over two pounds. Not completely different in looks compared to the Chromebook Pixel, this model carries along the company’s love for bold, angular design.

Google calls this a “4-in-1” device, though it’s a 2-in-1 as you know it, through and through. You can use the Pixelbook as a standard laptop, wrap the keyboard around almost 360-degrees to use in tablet mode or set it up in tent mode, the latter of which is great for watching a movie.

The laptop is compact, to put it simply. 

Starting with the palm rests, it’s coated in a grippy material that feels comfortable, though it’s hard to tell how long it will maintain its pristine color – a worry we share with the Microsoft Surface Laptop’s fabric-covered keyboard.

Otherwise, the keyboard and trackpad are a full offering, sans a number pad. In addition to the usual suspects, Google has added in a Google Assistant key, which calls up the Assistant.

Around the laptop, you’ll find a USB-C port on each side and a 3.5mm headphone jack on its left. The controls for power and volume sit along the left-hand side as well.

Borrowed from the company’s smartphone lineup, the Pixelbook features a mixture of glass and aluminum here. Glass on the exterior of a laptop is definitely a bit worrying, especially given its high price.

Performance

During our hands-on testing, the units were locked to kiosk mode only, so we couldn’t test out the specs ourselves. That said, it’s easy to parse that we’re sure to get the best-ever Chromebook performance here, whether you need it or not.

Again, the Pixelbook starts at 8GB of RAM and features a 7th generation Intel i5 processor. And, as stated earlier, feeding Google an extra $650 will get you a big upgrade not just in processing speed (you’ll get an i7, though the specifics of the CPU weren’t stated), you will also nab a total of 16GB of RAM and 512GB of on-board storage.

Interestingly, this is just another Chromebook and doesn’t necessarily require the specs inside, but if you need them, it’ll likely be for the compatible suite of Android apps. The workign app library is said to be expanding and Google mentioned that the likes of Adobe Lightroom and Snapchat will soon be running in full-form instead of just a beta version of the experience you’ll have on your phone.

The Pixelbook Pen was shown off, but demonstrations weren’t provided, so we’ll have to take Google’s word for it that it expands on the Pixelbook experience. Indeed, it does look interesting beyond its obvious drawing applications. You can circle anything at all on the screen and it will ping Google Assistant to see if it can provide more information. 

You’ll know if this is up your alley right away, but at $99, it’s worth considering if it will be crucial for your experience.

Early verdict

The Google Pixelbook is a gorgeous machine with a price tag to match. Its specs and Google Assistant integration seem promising and provide an experience beyond what other Chromebooks are currently capable of.

If you’re in need of a computer, and more specifically, a 2-in-1 computer, it’s worth checking out the Pixelbook. We can’t vouch for the performance just yet, and while the price is rather high, this could be a worthy option for Android and Chrome OS enthusiasts.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.