With the Pixelbook, Google is asking whether a Chromebook with high-end laptop features, which runs Android apps and can become a tablet by folding in two, can really be worth £999.
The answer is complicated.
The Pixelbook is the successor to Google’s first own-brand hardware, the Chromebook Pixel line of £1,000 Chrome OS machines. It takes Google’s light and fast Chrome OS – an operating system built around the Chrome browser now with added Android apps – and puts it on high-end convertible laptop hardware to see what it can really do.
It feels like a combo of the Chromebook Pixel and Google’s Pixel C Android tablet. Like many other convertible PCs, the screen can fold all the way round on to the back. It will also stand on its end like a tent with the screen facing out, or screen out with the keyboard resting on a table. On a desk, the hinge will hold the screen at any angle without overbalancing the laptop, which is quite impressive.
Build-quality and design are exquisite, with a solid-feeling hinge and smooth lines. A white glass panel on the lid breaks up the otherwise all-aluminium body. At 10.3mm thick the Pixelbook is noticeably thin for a laptop and not much thicker than some tablets. It weighs 1.1kg, which is light for a laptop, but a bit heavy for a tablet.
The screen looks great, with good brightness, colour and a high pixel density matching top-end competitors, but it is also pretty reflective. It has relatively large bezels around the outside, which makes it look a little dated compared to the likes of the MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 13.
At times I wished the screen was a little bigger – without the bezels I suspect you’d be able to fit a 13in screen, perhaps larger, in the same body.
Both the keyboard and trackpad are great. The keys are solid, have a good feel and are well spaced for a top-class typing experience. The glass trackpad is accurate, large and well positioned enough to avoid getting in the way while typing.
Either side of the trackpad are white silicon wrist rests, which are unusual for a laptop. They feel quite nice and padded under the heel of your palms when typing, but they also aid in keeping the Pixelbook planted when used in tablet mode or various other configurations.
In my testing, using it as a work machine with screen brightness at about 60%, with around 15 Chrome tabs open, listening to four hours of music over Bluetooth headphones, and using Evernote, iA Writer, Wire and Gmail with notifications – plus an hour of Netflix on the commute home – I managed just under 10 hours of usage, which was impressive.
The battery life was long enough I would feel confident about leaving my charger at home to go to work. But the beauty of USB-C is that the Pixelbook will charge from almost any other USB-C power delivery charger.
Chrome OS’s strength is that it provides a great, low-maintenance browsing experience, even on low-end hardware. When you put it on high-end hardware it absolutely flies. The Pixelbook is without a doubt, the fastest and best browsing experience money can buy, as it should be for £999.
Beyond the browser, Chrome OS now has more of a traditional desktop feel. There’s a file browser and other various system bits and pieces. You now have access to Android apps alongside Chrome apps, which vastly increases the utility of Chrome OS.
Almost every Android app available on the Play Store works in some capacity. Media apps such as Netflix and Marvel’s Unlimited work brilliantly. As do productivity apps such as Evernote, Microsoft Office, iA Writer and others, really adding capabilities that were missing on Chrome OS.
Where Chrome OS used to do 90% of what people needed to do 90% of the time. With Android app support Chrome OS is a real rival to a low-end Windows experience, perhaps even the mid-range. Many of the media apps that are lacking on Windows are available for Chrome OS, particularly for offline viewing.
The Pixelbook also comes with Google Assistant baked in with its own dedicated key. It behaves similarly to Google Assistant on other platforms, answering questions, providing information and controlling smart home devices. It pops up in a little chat-style windowin the bottom left and you can simply type what you’re after or speak to it. It’ll even do “OK, Google” detection if the screen is on.
The Pixelbook also supports an optional stylus called the Pen, which works like most other styluses, with pressure and tilt sensitivity. It works in most apps, with some supporting tilt and pressure and others not. There was noticeable lag in some apps and less in others. It didn’t feel quite as fast as Microsoft’s combo of stylus and Surface Pro.
The Pixelbook Pen does have one neat trick up its sleeve. Press the button, circle something on the screen and Google Assistant will try and find out some information about whatever was highlighted. It’s surprisingly useful. You can also capture screenshots, create notes in Google Keep, use it as a magnifying glass or a laser pointer from a little status bar menu.
At £99 it’s certainly not a must-buy, but might be handy if you fancy sketching in Autodesk’s SketchBook or similar. There’s no way to store it attached to the tablet or similar, though.
The Google Pixelbook costs £999 (buy here) with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage or £1,199 (buy here) with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. A variant with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage will be available at a later date costing £1,699.
For comparison, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop with Windows 10S starts at £979 (buy here) and the Apple MacBook with macOS starts at £1,249 (buy here). Apple’s iPad Pro with iOS starts at £619 (buy here).
The Google Pixelbook is an exquisite piece of hardware running a limited but improving operating system. Chrome OS is actually pretty brilliant in some ways – there’s basically no maintenance, it updates automatically, it provides a first-rate browsing experience and the limited nature of it means it’s inherently fairly secure.
The addition of Android apps has helped fill the app gap for the most part, meaning if you do not rely on specific desktop apps you may never need another machine.
The Pixelbook is therefore brilliant for 95% of the time for 95% of people, ocupying that odd space between mobile tablet and full-desktop experience and making it its own.
Whether you should spend £999 on a computer that can’t satisfy all your computing needs depends on your circumstances, but in many ways it is more capable than non-Windows tablets that cost as much.
Pros: good battery life, great screen, versatile form factor, USB-C, Android app support, fast, great keyboard, good trackpad
Cons: Chrome OS not quite as powerful as Windows or macOS, expensive for a Chromebook
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