Google Pixelbook hands-on: Who wants this?

Does anyone want a $1000 Chromebook? We asked the question in 2013, and then again two years later, in 2015. Both of those laptops were exactly that — bulky, heavy notebooks that, while powerful, felt like overkill for the capabilities of Chrome OS.

Today, we have the spiritual successor to those laptops, the Pixelbook, a $999 convertible that promises to do a lot more than just make Chrome beautiful.

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On the Surface

I got to spend a bit of time with the Pixelbook at Google's October 4 event in Toronto, and came away immediately enamored with the hardware. Built with a unified body of aluminum, the Pixelbook is solid and carefully designed to feel like something modern. It looks a bit like the Surface Book, but without the crazy jewelers hinge — and, being a convertible, the screen doesn't disconnect.

This is a cross between a Chromebook Pixel and a Surface Book, and I couldn't be happier about it.

Instead, the Pixelbook has a hinge that flips the 12.3-inch display all the way round, into either a tablet mode with the keyboard on the other side, a tent mode for airplanes and tight spaces, a movie mode with the keyboard hidden, or a traditional laptop. The modality isn't new — we've seen this from countless Windows partners, from Dell to HP, but Google makes it seem fairly natural on Chrome.

Furthering the Surface comparisons, there's also a $99 Pixelbook Pen which, when combined with the Wacom-optimized touchscreen, allows users to write, draw, and navigate the OS. As Jerry pointed out in his excellent editorial, Chrome OS has come a long way to making Chrome touch- and pen-friendly, but we're going to have to wait for developers to design apps to explicitly take advantage of the enviable 10ms latency in the pressure-sensitive pen.

At launch, only a handful of apps will be optimized for the Pixelbook Pen (Evernote and Google Keep among them), but more should be around the corner. Unfortunately, there's no way to charge this thing — it uses a replaceable AAAA battery (opens in new tab), and like many other powered pens out there, there's nowhere to put the damn thing once you're finished with it. At least Microsoft's $99 Surface Pen (opens in new tab) has magnets.

Intro to input

A laptop is always as good as its input mechanisms, and while it's possible to go pen-only, you'll likely be typing and navigating using the built-in trackpad and keyboard. While some Chromebooks have been bogged down by problematic trackpads, Google's own Chromebooks have never been among them — fast, smooth and accurate mouse navigation was present in the 2013 Chromebook Pixel, and it's back in 2017 with the Pixelbook.

The keyboard is slightly different, though, if you're upgrading from a previous-gen Pixel. Shallower than before, with less travel and notably less noise, the Pixelbook's keyboard may take some getting used to, but it should do the job.

An assistant

On that keyboard you'll find a dedicated Google Assistant button, one that can be used to bring up Google's take on the omnipresent contextual helper at any screen.

Google Assistant could be a game changer for the way people use Chromebooks.

As on its phones and tablets, Assistant on the Pixelbook works both as a search tool and a screen reader, providing additional details on what you're reading, watching, and listening to.

Assistant can also be called using the "OK Google" command at any time — just be prepared for all your other devices to light up at the same time — or with the Pixelbook Pen, which lets you circle anything on the screen to ask Assistant for a bit more information.

Software

It's hard to really evaluate the software on a particular Chromebook, since it's basically the exact same experience as on any other, from the $158 Acer CB3 all the way to the most expensive Pixelbook. Of course, this one supports Android apps out of the box, which is nice, and combines that functionality with Assistant and the mature, capable Chrome browser to deliver as robust a Chrome OS an experience as you'll find today.

But it's still Chrome. Most productivity apps come in the form of browser extensions or, at best, finely-tuned Android apps that have been tailored for the larger display. I'm not writing off the idea of using the Adobe Creative Cloud suite on a Chromebook, but it's a certainty that the experience isn't going to be as robust as that of a Windows or Mac, whose native versions have been in development for years.

Hardware for days ... or years

The Pixelbook comes with a battery that should last 10 hours, and two USB-C ports that let you recharge up to two hours of use in 15 minutes. That's pretty great, but Chromebooks have never wanted for longevity.

At the same time, this is definitely the most power bestowed upon a Chromebook to date: the cheapest $999 model ships with a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage — more than enough for the average Chromebook user, who has been trained to rely on cloud services to mitigate traditionally low storage counts.

An extra $200 brings the storage up to 256GB of storage, for a $1199 price, while the most expensive model, a $1649 version with 512GB of NVMe SSD and 16GB of RAM, will be available later in the year.

Dual speakers, four microphones, a headphone jack, two USB-C ports (both of which accept charging) and a 720p camera round out the specs, which should bode well for those who want to make the most out of the Pixelbook as an entertainment device.

Should you buy it?

A $999 Chromebook is a less divisive proposition today than it was a few years ago, but it's still interesting that Google's only branded laptop sits near the high end of the category. Like its phones, Google is trying to showcase the best of its software with this hardware, and in my short time with the laptop, it seems like that's exactly the case.

It's a beautiful piece of aluminum, with the exacting standards that the Chromebook Pixel line came to stand for. I doubt Google intends to sell millions of these, but I hope it gets more people on the Chrome OS train, because in it Google has one of the most versatile, power-efficient, secure, and enjoyable operating systems out there.

Now it has the hardware to match.

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

63 Comments
  • I'm probably going to buy one. A bit concerned about the small screen size, but we will see how it goes.
  • Also plan on getting one. Need to pull the trigger today. Right now delivery is 5 weeks out. What people do not realize, I guess, is that ChromeOS is Linux based so the Pixelbook is optimized for Linux and includes all the drivers, etc. I will use ChromeOS for regular things and then I use Android apps for things like Google Home, WiFi, Snap and other things today on my CB. But then you get the best Linux experience you can get.
  • Does this mean that Chrome OS is the best Linux experience, or do you mean you can install Linux on this device for the best experience? (Pardon my ignorance. )
  • Chrome OS is not Linux in the classic sense when compared to distributions like Redhat or Ubuntu. Chrome OS uses the linux kernel. It's Chorme OS. You can easily "install" linux through something called Crouton. https://www.linux.com/learn/how-easily-install-ubuntu-chromebook-crouton I use quotes because it's a very bastardized method of running linux. Usually you won't be able to overwrite and delete the Chrome OS from the hardware and just replace it with your chosen flavor of "traditional" linux distributions. I'm not sure how current that article is, but my understanding is that things haven't changed much. I don't own any chromebooks but I've ran linux on a number of my machines and at work.
  • I really don't see how this is worth 3 times my Asus Flip.
  • I was going to say something similar.
  • Exactly. I have an asus flipbook I bought for around 500$. I don't see why I should buy a chromebook for 1000$. it's not a computer. it's not even full fledged android.
  • "it's not a computer' Humm I don't think you know what you are talking about. Is it a toaster then? "it's not even full fledged android" It runs android apps from the play store and is out of beta.
  • Same. I have the "cheap" Asus Flip C100 and I love it for travel, and I paid $200 bucks.
  • I also have the C100, LOVE IT, and am pre-ordering the Pixelbook. Can't wait!
  • Yeah, My C100P is a champ....love it.
  • If you are talking about the high-end flip then it is only double the cost for (in my opinion) double the computer.
  • I want one, just can't afford it.
  • Samesies
  • Indeed
  • Ditto.
  • 🤔 What is this "made prove" you speak of?
  • Wasn't chromebooks made to be affordable?
  • There are still plenty of affordable Chromebooks. The existence of an expensive one doesn't change that.
  • There is a range with Chromebooks. IMO, the best value in any laptop is the Acer 14 Chromebook. I have puchased several refurbed for my kids and they are simply fantastic machines for the price. I prefer using CB for development and will probably get this PixelBook because they are the best machine you can buy to run Linux. They include all the drivers and optimized for Linux. Have heard Linus himself uses a Chromebook. But when I am surfing or need Android apps I also get it with the CB.
  • I'm concerned about how well the keyboard will stand all the abuse it'll take. From using it in tent mode, to tablet, to a stand, I feel like it's going to ding the crap out of this thing, scratch up keys, and maybe even break some stuff. For something that's $1000+, I couldn't use it that way. Any thoughts about that?
  • Can't speak to this model, but I never had any problems on other convertible laptops I used.
  • I always love Google products but damnit... A super expensive Chromebook is not what I need...
  • I mean, a less expensive Chromebook isn't going to be any different. I'm fairly certain Assistant will roll out to every Chromebook eventually
  • For the life of me, I don't get the Chromebook. Why not just get a laptop? $1600 will buy a pretty nice laptop.
  • Or just buy a macbook air. Same price, bigger screen. You have to be a Google fan to choose this over a MacBook air at the same price.
  • This might shock you, but Macbooks are laptops...
  • I am a Google fan. I also like touchscreens, which MacBooks do not have. I also strongly dislike the MacOS and Apple products in general.
  • Maybe I can answer it. Chromebooks have the "meat and potatoes" (surfing, reading email, etc) and do it really well. So the core things you need on a laptop. CBs have long battery life, boot fast and for me the biggest thing is they are super secure. No viruses or malware or any of that hassle. But then now you also get Android apps. So I get my Google WiFi app and Snap and other things that you just can NOT get on other laptops. I was flying United not long ago and the only platforms their entertainment system supported was iOS and Android. SO I was watching the NBA finals live at 30k feet on my laptop and the Windows and Macs were unable. Then there is the key for me and that is GNU/Linux. CB are Linux based so you get the best GNU/Linux experience with the least hassle. I hate chasing down drivers and setting GNU/Linux up on a laptop. It is a hassle and often you do not get the best solution and it is NOT secure.
  • Or buy the really nice $999 one? Or the $200-500 Chromebook options that are out there. We do have options.
  • I don't need it but impulse purchase made me buy it 😋
  • I want. (but won't get... too much 💸💰💲💵. And I'm still loving the Asus Chromebook Flip c302!)
  • I'll get it somewhere down the line. I just spent a ton of money on the Pixel 2 XL.
  • You know, truth be told, I was prepared for the exuberant prices. All I wanted.... All I was hoping for, was LTE availability included. The past one had it. So, I was hoping. And alas... Nothing. Guess I'll continue using my Asus C720. It continues doing what I need it to.
  • +1
  • Slap a keyboard on my Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7.... Does the same thing for a lot less!! If I wanted to spend that much money on a laptop I'd get a Windows machine!!
  • I'm definitely interested in getting one!
  • Don't forget the Samsung Plus is essentially the same thing for a lot less. The pro is even closer
  • You're kidding right? It is not essentially the same thing. Literally everything on the Pixelbook is an upgrade compared to the Samsung Plus.
  • All the demos of this I saw Microsoft office apps like Excel on this. If that's the case this will make Chromebooks real laptop replacements.
  • Something wrong with this statement. Might want to correct it. "An extra $200 brings the storage up to 256GB of RAM."
  • Psychologically $899 would've sounded "reasonable" for a high-end Chromebook. I picked up a 2015 Chromebook Pixel for a little less, and don't regret it...
  • This makes the iPad pro look tempting.
  • Except the iPad pro is not close to the performance this thing will have. And the Pixelbook will have a proper laptop layout for those wanting a more even balance between a tablet and a laptop.
  • I want one but I think I'm still good with my Samsung chromebook pro.
  • Wow, the battery lasts 10 years ? Now that’s what I call a breakthrough in technology ;)
  • S3 tablet with keyboard and Bob's your uncle.. For a fraction of the cost..
  • I am really digging the entire pixel lineup. I am holding off until this gets in the wild and see how the tablet side of things performs. If that works good, I may ditch my iPhone, ipad air 2 and windows laptop, get the pixel 2 and pixelbook.
  • I was hoping Google would surprise us with a Pixel tablet.
  • Completely agree. I need a tablet replacement for my N7 that runs stock Android or Chrome OS.
  • How long will it take to charge a battery that lasts 10 years. I would probably only have to charge this thing once and never again. Pretty cool. I doubt I will have it for more than 10 years. Crazy. Put this type of battery in my phone please.
  • I believe they said you can get 2 hours from 15 min of charge and it takes 2 hours for full charge. Could be wrong on that last part.
  • "The Pixelbook comes with a battery that should last 10 years, and two USB-C ports that let you recharge up to two hours of use in 15 minutes. " I guess you mean 10 hours?
  • If it only had a sim card slot to replace my iPad Pro...
  • Can't believe a pen doesn't come with this thing....and can't believe there is no place to store it. Especially at the price level.
  • The Pixelbook is very worth it, if it can be Hackintosh-able. It has i5 or i7 CPUs so it's more possible. To experiment with things,
    I was able to put Windows 10 on my Acer 720P Chromebook, so I assume it would be easy to do the Window 10 again with these Pixelbook's.
    But my preference would be the MacOS and being able to Hackintosh it.
  • I'd love to see that. If it supports Linux drivers, that might be decent. Especially with the touchscreen.
  • hi folks...
    So... I am a super happy owner of a asus c100 too...
    Annnnnnd... Would be really, really nice if, now, with this "advent" of "Google Assistant", we could config the "special search button", on the "normal" chromebooks, with the special function of "Google Assistant"... That simple...
    With this, we can continue do the our "old best searchs and shortcuts" yet, and, also, all the other special activities of the Assistant...
  • i gave mine to a friend and it is still running like a champ after more than 5 years.
  • I want one. Hope I can get it from Santa lol
  • Wow 10 Year battery life!
    Thats amazing. Gonna go tell everyone.
  • Is there any way to run iTunes on this?
  • But why there's no black edition?