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Google Pixelbook Go review: Who needs Pro?

Google Pixelbook Go
(Image: © Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Our Verdict

Bottom line: The Pixelbook Go is a stupendous all-round laptop that doesn't pretend to be anything different. It can't fold to become a tablet, but it can last nearly 10 hours on a charge and make typing feel fun again. This is the premium Chromebook to buy right now.

For

  • Amazing keyboard, trackpad & speakers
  • Excellent performance
  • Commendable battery life
  • Light and super portable
  • Well-built

Against

  • Android apps still feel like a hack
  • No biometrics
  • Still expensive for a Chromebook

It's an unwritten rule (hah!) that you have to write a review about a laptop on the laptop itself. So here I am, tapping away on the feather-smooth keys of the new Pixelbook Go, my favorite Chromebook in years and the one I'm happy to recommend to anyone who thought the OG Pixelbook was a bit too pricey.

But in a market where the best Chromebooks abound for half the price of the Pixelbook Go's cheapest model (this thing goes all the way to $1400 if you want a lot of power), is this really the Chromebook to get?

What I love about the Pixelbook Go

Pixelbook Go

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)
SpecsPixelbook Go
Display13.3 inches, 1080p
16:9
CPUIntel Core i5-8220Y
1.3GHz boost to 3.9Ghz
RAM8GB
Camera2MP
1080p
Ports2x USB-C
Dimensions12.2 x 8.1 x 0.5 inches
Weight2.4 lbs

If you're the type of person who's for years dismissed Chromebooks because Chrome OS is a "lesser" operating system, try to leave your cynicism at the door. Yes, this is still the same browser-first experience it was when the first Chromebooks debuted in 2010, but the scope and scale of the project have changed significantly: Chrome OS can do practically anything well (though there are still some limitations, which we'll get to).

And doing anything on the Pixelbook Go feels like a privilege. The hardware could not look more different than its eponymous predecessor, but where the original Pixelbook was all angles, metal, and glass, the Go feels organic and seamless. It's as much a pleasure to hold as it is to unlip and use.

Such praise is due to Google nailing the fundamentals: the 16:9 display, while not the brightest, is plenty sharp for my needs (I'm using the 1080p panel that ships with the Core i5/8GB variant), and its touch response is perfect. The trackpad is around 20% larger than the one on the Pixelbook and just as capable, with spot-on responsiveness while scrolling, tapping, and gesturing. Of course, the keyboard is really the most fundamental aspect of any laptop, and Google nailed it.

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Key travel is outstanding, with pillowy feedback and a matte finish that invites each finger press after press. This is fundamentally the same keyboard as on the original Pixelbook, but that's totally fine, since for two years that's been my favorite way to type an email, write a review, or tell a story.

I/O is limited, but both USB-C ports are capable of taking a 45W charge from the included power brick, which quickly re-ups the already-ample battery in short fashion. Like my colleague Michael Fisher, I achieved between seven and nine hours per charge while using the Pixelbook Go on the... damnit. You know what I mean. It's not quite the 12 hours Google claims, but my guess is that Google tested the laptop at lower brightness levels than I tend to use it.

This is one of the best keyboards you'll ever type with.

Sound quality from the dual speakers is also outstanding, and I spent more than a few minutes with headphones unplugged or otherwise unconnected just jamming along to the music coming out of these things. Similarly, the 2MP webcam provides decent 1080p video quality for conference calls.

Pixelbook Go

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Overall, the Pixelbook Go just feels like a well-made laptop, one that would probably cost more if it ran Windows. The design is both subtle and opinionated — the choice to use magnesium as the shell and to paint over it a matte black finish is something I can't help but respect — and entirely Google. The ribbed bottom means it won't fall off surfaces as easily, and my coworker Jerry Hildenbrand would like me to remind you it also results in much more stable use while perched on his wheelchair. Accessibility FTW!

What else can I tell you? The computer is fanless, but it rarely gets hot under heavy use. I'm a bit worried for people who buy the Core m3 version — though my colleague Ara Wagoner, who's used that same chip in other Chromebooks says it's perfectly capable for 99% of people's Chrome OS workflows — but my review unit, a 1.3Ghz Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, stayed speedy throughout.

Pixelbook Go

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

And here's what I did: I loaded tabs, lots of 'em; I used Lightroom, which is an Android app optimized for Chrome OS; I watched a bunch of YouTube; I wrote; I played a couple rounds of Chameleon Run; I streamed hours of music from Spotify's web app.

In other words, I did what I usually do on my daily driver, which happens to be a 2018 MacBook Pro. And yes, there are native apps on macOS and Windows 10 that perform better than the web- or Android-based equivalents on Chrome OS. Lightroom is a good example — it chugs along and feels awkward to use with a trackpad and keyboard — but it still works. I don't do a lot of video editing, but there are options to do that, too, on a Chromebook.

Let's talk about Google Assistant. There's a dedicated Assistant key on the Pixelbook Go, as there was on the Pixelbook. Assistant used to be Pixel brand-exclusive, but as of Chrome 77, which was released in late September, it's not. That means practically every Chromebook out there can take advantage of voice- or keyboard-activated help.

Pixelbook Go

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

But because there's an Assistant key on the Pixelbook Go, I found myself using it all the time — to turn off lights, or check the weather, or send quick emails. I used it way more than I did on the Pixelbook, not because it was worse on that laptop but because I use Assistant way more now in general than I did in 2017. That's one of Google's desired outcomes, too: ambient computing means having an assistant everywhere and at all times.

At the end of my week's review period with the Pixelbook Go — and especially once I connected the same desktop keyboard and mouse combo I use with my MacBook — it felt almost identical to using my MacBook.

The main difference? That when I disconnected from all the cords and peripherals, I loved the 2.4-pound weight, the eight-hour battery, and the tremendous keyboard. Can't say that about my MacBook Pro, that's for sure.

What I don't like about the Pixelbook Go

Pixelbook Go

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

This laptop's main criticism boils down to whether you value subtlety, nuance and material when associated with a Chromebook. As I said in the intro, you can find Chromebooks with more I/O — this one only has two USB-C ports, that's it — and better displays, with hinges that twist all the way around, or with pen support, or with slimmer bezels, or faster processors, or cheaper prices. There's a whole ecosystem of Chromebooks that supports every type of user.

It's an expensive Chromebook but a cheap Pixelbook, so who exactly is the Go for?

And I'm not really sure where this one fits in. It's a cheaper Pixelbook, yes, but it's still $649 for the cheapest model — and $849 for the one I'm using here. Sure, that's $150 cheaper than a similarly-spec'd Pixelbook, and this one comes with a newer, faster processor, but that's still a lot of money.

Pixelbook Go

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

It's the same argument we've been having about Chromebooks for years, even as Google's spent time constantly improving the operating system itself while also being a pretty ambivalent ambassador for premium laptops.

It's kind of a bummer that the Pixelbook is just a clamshell and doesn't fold back into a tablet or tent, though I'll admit to never taking advantage of those particular gymnastics on any of my 2-in-1 notebooks. I don't love the fact that its display is in a 16:9 aspect ratio, nor that it's not as bright as it could be.

Android apps still feel like a hack on Chrome OS, and that's a problem.

There's an argument to be made, too, that the Pixelbook Go should be the laptop to popularize biometrics in the Chromebook ecosystem. Sure, the Pixel Slate had a fingerprint sensor, but no one actually bought that thing; it would have been nice to see something similar embedded into the power button, for instance.

Pixelbook Go

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

I also don't love the fact that it's been three years and Android apps still feel like an afterthought on the platform. For every app or game that performs well, I'll find one that feels scrounged together from tape and lint. For example, I prefer to use native email apps over the Gmail site, so I hoped my Android client, Spark, would work well on Chrome. It... doesn't. It's slow to load, even slower to navigate, and regularly force-closes.

While it's understandable that some highly complex Android apps would run with difficulty on a Chromebook given they're emulations run inside a sandbox, this is an email client. An email client should be able to run just fine on a Chromebook. But I digress.

Pixelbook Go Competition

Updated September 2020

Acer Chromebook 715

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central The Acer Chromebook 715 (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Since this review was written, there has been a massive influx in high-quality premium Chromebooks, including options from Acer and ASUS, which has had the effect of dulling the Pixelbook Go's shine somewhat.

When I wrote this review in October 2019, Project Athena Chromebooks were not yet ubiquitous, and 10th Gen Intel chips were still a few months away from debuting on Google's platform. Since then, the market has grown more competitive than ever, and even though it's difficult to find a Chromebook right now due to COVID-related shortages, the Pixelbook Go, as good as it is, doesn't quite offer the value it once did.

Should you buy the Pixelbook Go?

Pixelbook Go

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

I really like this machine, as I did the original Pixelbook. I appreciate that Google's doing what it can to lower prices without sacrificing build quality and performance, and I'm sure that the vast majority of people buying this thing will be elated with the performance from the entry-level Core m3 version.

4 out of 5

Chromebooks aren't dinky little word precessors anymore, and the Pixelbook Go reflects that attitude in 2019. It's beautifully made and precisely designed, and it does everything I need it to with a better keyboard, better battery life, and a genuinely fun user experience.

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

8 Comments
  • Nice review. When the Go was first introduced, I felt it left a lot to be desired, but it has grown on me. It doesn't feel that it's worth an upgrade from my ASUS Flip C302, but it is a nice machine that Google decidedly chose function over form.
  • I'm with you on the Asus c302. There are some machines that are incrementally better in some areas, a lot better in others, but nothing's been so good that I've said "I definitely need to upgrade from this"
    It's a great little notebook I use daily.
  • This looks and sounds good but I would rather get the HP 14 from BestBuy for $599. It's usually on sale for $100 less. It has 360 hinge, touch screen, backlit KB, core i3, 13.5hr batt life, 1080p, 8gb ram, 64gb rom, USB C and a card reader. It's a pound heavier but nice CB.
  • You really shouldn't list "Android apps still feel like a hack" as a Con for the Pixel Book Go. That's subjectively a Con for Chromebooks in general.
  • I have found this to be a great laptop. I did buy the top of the line 4K version. Expensive but worth it.
  • Even though I have been, and continue to be, a full time IT professional for the last 35 years, and must use Windows at work in my IT Analyst position, I have used Chrome OS at home and for a volunteer effort my wife and I run exclusively for over the past four plus years. I've had a variety of ChromeOS devices, Asus Chromebox, Acer R11, Samsung Chromebook Pro, 2017 Pixelbook, and recently the Pixelbook Go i5 variant with 8gb ram. While I'm late to the party in some respects, I finally got up the nerve to order a Pixelbook Go thinking it could not possibly replace my 2017 Pixelbook, and really just wanted to see what all the raves were about and then planned to return it. A month later it's still on my desk in daily use at home and for work that doesn’t require Windows (Office 365, Outlook, Teams, Onenote, etc), and the 2017 Pixelbook? Sold it after 2.5 years of heavy use and yellowing wrist wrests, but otherwise working famously. Call me crazy for giving up 3:2 aspect ratio, use as a tablet and pen input, but after trying the Pixelbook Go I just couldn’t go back. The rounded corners and light in the hand feel brought me back to my favorite Chromebook before the Go, the Samsung Chromebook Pro, but without the creaky frame, this thing is solid. The keyboard, others have said it hundreds of times, is really good. But I will warn you, if you’re coming from the original Pixelbook, you won’t understand the greatness of this keyboard until you’ve typed on it for a while. A quick try in Best Buy numerous times never convinced me as the OPB takes more pressure on the keys. Once you learn to lighten up, it is so wonderful. The backlit keys are absolute perfection, especially compared to the fail of the 2017 OPB that requires you to turn off backlighting when there is just enough ambient light to make seeing the keys extremely difficult with backlighting on. I appreciate the larger trackpad, but will say there hasn’t been any improvement in palm rejection, still need to keep tap to click disabled. Otherwise the trackpad is better than the OPB, though it still needs a bit more force than I would like to click, but the OPB was worse. To be honest, as far as its use as a tablet, I haven’t really missed the OPB as I mostly use my Pixel 4xl to browse, the web, social media and email, and it's big enough to serve the same purpose. For pen input, I didn't really use it that much lately anyway. So there you have it, this 65 year old IT pro traded in his OPB for the Pixelbook Go, and am loving life with my new daily driver. J
  • Hi John, are you a developer? I'm tempted to pull the trigger on the I5 and use it for VS Code - do you have any experience using that on the PB Go?
  • I would love to know if VS Code can run on it too
    My Lenovo Yoga2Pro is showing sign of age after 7 years