The Google Pixelbook is, simply put, the best Chromebook ever made. Welcome to the Chromebook reimagined. However, getting on the ground floor of this revolution is going to cost you dearly. And, unfortunately, with its launch still fresh on our minds, we aren’t likely to see any discounts in the near future.
Luckily, thanks to the Pixelbook’s 100% Android app support, Google’s new Chrome launcher and a breathtaking new stylus experience – the price to entry is completely worth it for this fantastic Chromebook. Oh, and the keyboard is stellar, too.
This is the Chromebook set to inspire the next batch of laptops using Chrome OS in the same way the Surface Pro line has informed the path of Windows 10 devices. And, much like the Surface Pro, it’s well worth it to hop on the next wave of Chromebooks at its first swell.
Here is the Google Pixelbook configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: 1.2GHz Intel Core i5-7Y57 (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.3GHz)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615
RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 (1,866MHz)
Screen: 12.3-inch QHD (2,400 x 1,600, 235 ppi) LCD touchscreen (400 nits, 72% NTSC color, 3:2 aspect ratio)
Storage: 256GB SSD (eMMC)
Ports: 2x USB-C 3.1, headphone/mic jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2 x 2 MIMO), Bluetooth 4.2
Cameras: 720p webcam (60fps)
Weight: 2.4 pounds (1.1kg)
Size: 11.4 x 8.7 x 0.4 inches (290.4 x 220.8 x 10.3mm; W x D x H)
Price and availability
We’re not even going to try and sugarcoat it: the Google Pixelbook is an extremely expensive Chromebook. Starting at $999 (£999, about AU$1,295) and capping out at $1,649 (£1,699, about AU$2,138) – without even counting the $99 (£99, about AU$128) Pixelbook Pen – this is a premium Chromebook with a premium price to match.
(At the time of writing, the Google Pixelbook is not yet available in Australia.)
For that premium, you’re getting 7th generation Kaby Lake Intel Core i5 processors on both the entry-level 128GB option and $1,199 (£1,199, about AU$1,555) mid-range 256GB option, each paired with 8GB of memory. However, the top-end 512GB option comes packing a Core i7 processor with 16GB of memory. All of these processor options are Intel’s low-power, low-heat Y series chips, which means all of the Pixelbook models are fanless.
Now, let’s talk about how this holds up against this year’s Samsung Chromebook Pro and Asus Chromebook Flip, both of which were designed in close conjunction with Google to jump start the firm’s Android app push on Chrome OS. Both of these laptops are considerably less expensive, with Samsung and Asus’s currently selling for $499 (about £375, AU$647) and $459 (£675, AU$899), respectively.
However, they’re both markedly less powerful, containing the same 6th generation Intel Core m3 processor that’s similarly created for low power, and thus low heat, which allows it to take advantage of fanless chassis designs. That said, they’re both beautiful Chromebooks in their own right, even if they offer considerably less memory and local storage.
In the end, these two Chromebooks are a better deal for what the Chromebook platform is today, but the Pixelbook isn’t about what’s better today – it’s about the future. The Google Pixelbook is to Chromebooks of the future what Microsoft’s Surface line was to 2-in-1 Windows 10 devices that followed it.
The Pixelbook is clearly the beautiful result of years of work on Google’s part in refining a unified design across its hardware offerings. But, the Pixelbook could also be seen as a sort of coming of age for Google’s Chromebook design philosophy.
This is, without a doubt, Google’s most attractive and well-conceived computing device yet. From the brushed aluminum frame with flush edges to the rubberized palm rest and underside, every design element has achieved style and substance in equal measure.
Of course, anybody who hasn’t bought a laptop in the last few years might need some adjustment to get used to having just two USB-C 3.1 ports. But, at least it’s ready for the future. Speaking of which, the webcam is equally prepared for an increasingly video-centric future with a 720p resolution and 60 frames-per-second capture rate.
Sadly, the same can’t be said of the audio performance. As has become the growing trend in the thinnest and lightest laptops, Google crammed the speakers beneath the keyboard, and the result is awfully tinny sound. Luckily, there’s a 3.5mm audio jack here that allows you to hook up the Pixelbook to external speakers or a pair of headphones.
On the upside, the glass trackpad is a delight to use, tracking super smoothly and accurately both with single- and-multi-touch gestures. However, we found that the trackpad doesn’t like us resting our thumb on the trackpad to click while tracking with our index finger – a common use case, but not this editor’s personal preference.
Likewise, the Pixelbook keyboard is among the best we’ve ever tested. The backlit keyboard’s keys are well-spaced, and the 0.8mm travel is a delight with forceful feedback. We also appreciate the subtle, deeply satisfying clicking sound the keys make – it’s distinct from every laptop keyboard we’ve tested, and now we’re going to expect it everywhere.
The ‘Pixel’ in Google’s eponymous laptop earns its name when it comes to the 3:2 Pixelbook display. At 235 pixels-per-inch (ppi) and accurate color reproduction, this display rivals some of the best around, Chromebook or not, like the 267-ppi Surface Pro and 227-ppi MacBook Pro (13-inch).
The panel works well for movies and photos, not to mention photo editing. The 400 nits of brightness help hugely with this, but it’s still a glossy screen and as such doesn’t stand up to direct sunlight all that well. At any rate, the display is also sharply accurate to the touch, especially when underneath the Pixelbook Pen.
Pixelbook Pen and Google Assistant
First off, we’ll just say that it’s a damn shame that the Pixelbook Pen isn’t included in the price of the laptop, as it’s arguably crucial to the experience. However, we’re not about the say that the stylus isn’t worth the price of admission, because it 100% is worth it – if you can spare it.
The Pixelbook Pen works excellently as a stylus, offering plenty of pressure response as well as tilt support, making drawing on the display a pleasure. The display’s snappy response helps the digital ink follow close enough behind the pen that any delay is imperceivable.
On the Pixelbook Pen sits a single button which is essentially a Google Assistant button, but also seems to incorporate some of the new Google Lens technology found in smartphones, like the Google Pixel 2. Pressing the button while inking turns that ink into a thick blue, but doesn’t actually draw anything.
Instead, anything captured inside this blue ink is sent to Google Assistant for analysis, which in turn presents anything and everything Google’s servers can muster about whatever you encircled. Circle a picture of a hippopotamus, and Google Assistant will hit you with a Wikipedia page on the animal. In fact, Google’s knowledge graph runs so deep that we circled a picture of Office Space’s Ron Livingston, and Google Assistant spat back his character’s name – Peter Gibbons – before telling us more about the actor.
This will be an incredibly powerful tool for students, particularly, but users in general will benefit.
Another plus regarding the Pixelbook Pen is that it’s opened up Google Keep to support pen input, even from the lock screen, making note-taking that much easier. There are even apps that can transcribe the Pixelbook Pen’s scrawlings into traditional text.
However, one huge flaw in the Pixelbook Pen is that it doesn’t attach to the laptop in any way, not even via magnets, like the Surface Pro. This oversight makes it that much easier to lose this stylus that cost you so much money. Plus, it runs on AAAA batteries, whereas a rechargeable solution would’ve been much more worthy of the price tag.
As for Google Assistant, the service can be accessed either through a dedicated keyboard button or via your voice, if you don’t invest in the Pixelbook Pen. Though, the latter only works when the laptop is logged into – waking the Pixelbook with a ‘Hey, Google’ command is in the works, we’re told.
In general, Google Assistant is just as helpful as it is on smartphones and renders in the exact same way, with an OS-level chat record as well as a voice response.