With the new Pixelbook Go laptop, Google presented me with a legitimate quandary: How good does a laptop have to be for me to get over the restrictions of ChromeOS?
I’ve reviewed a couple of Chromebooks this year and my hangups about Google’s proprietary OS haven’t shifted much in that time. Even when the hardware is sleek and handsome, like HP’s Chromebook 15, I usually have a hard time dealing with the limited storage capacity and the fact that not every app works with it.
Google’s new Pixelbook, announced last week, is the closest I’ve come to embracing the ChromeOS lifestyle. Its diminutive new form factor, top-tier keyboard, and admirable performance have made it a real pleasure to use as a primary work machine all week.
ChromeOS is still ChromeOS, but for students and people who need to do quick work on the go, it hits a decent sweet spot between performance and affordability.
Love those ridges
The most radical and immediately noticeable changes between 2017’s Pixelbook and the Pixelbook Go are physical. The older Pixelbook started at $1,000, came with a stylus, and could fold into tablet mode.
This time around, Google went with something a little more traditional. Starting at $649.99, it’s much more akin to a MacBook, with a 13.3-inch display, half an inch of thickness, and just 2.3 pounds of heft. One difference: it has a touchscreen, which I found pretty responsive. Most models of the Pixelbook Go have a typical 1080p screen, but you can get 4K if you’re willing to pay up. We’ll get to that later.
Between the numerous pre-launch leaks and Google’s official unveiling, the one thing everyone noticed about it was the new ridged underside. In layman’s terms, the bottom of the laptop now has the texture of a plastic washboard to make it a little easier to grip when you’re carrying it around during your undoubtedly busy day.
I don’t feel passionately about this one way or another. It feels nice enough, but the marginally increased grip could easily be something of a placebo effect. Still, it’s kind of neat and is a good conversation starter, if nothing else.
Ridges or not, the Pixelbook Go is a joy to carry around. It’s light as hell and takes up a minuscule amount of space. I typically use a MacBook Pro for work and I genuinely enjoy the physical acts of holding and using the Pixelbook Go a little more.
A big part of that, of course, is the keyboard. Apple’s recent efforts in that department are downright sinful, while Google has produced something that’s equal parts comfortable and functional. The keys on the Pixelbook Go feel just substantial enough to be satisfying without going overboard. Most importantly, they are quiet. You’re very unlikely to annoy everyone around you by typing furiously on this thing.
I don’t love the trackpad as much. Hard clicks on the trackpad are way too loud for a device that’s otherwise almost entirely silent. Meanwhile, its placement near the keyboard caused more than a handful of accidental clicks from my palms during my week with the Pixelbook Go. It’s a perfectly responsive and usable trackpad otherwise, but I wouldn’t call it best in class.
Glow up aside, not much is new
When it comes to actually browsing the web, working, streaming, or whatever else you typically do with a Chromebook, the Pixelbook Go doesn’t offer much in the way of unique perks. That’s not necessarily a dig at it, as everything it does, it does well.
It comes with a minimum of 8GB of RAM and either an Intel Core m3, i5, or i7 processor, so it’s pretty adept at keeping pace with daily tasks. I never noticed a performance hit while keeping several tabs open, streaming HD video, or doing anything else that might slow down a lesser Chromebook.
Based on the specs in even the low-end models, none of that is surprising or especially noteworthy. Battery life, however, is naturally going to make or break a device that is targeted toward students and workers. I’m happy to report that it’s more than adequate.
Google’s spec sheet claims up to 12 hours of battery on a full charge, and while I didn’t quite get that much out of it, I got close enough to be satisfied. Pixelbook Go made it through a full, eight-hour work day with a little bit of juice left over. I would peg the life expectancy of a full charge at a little closer to 10 hours than 12, but that’s going to depend on what you do with it.
Thankfully, USB-C with fast charging is a thing now. Pixelbook Go has two USB-C ports (and a headphone jack!) and charging is quick. Google claims it can get two hours on 20 minutes of charging, and my experience did nothing to dispute that.
Again, as with all Chromebooks, none of this will matter at all if you can’t stand ChromeOS. Google’s home-grown operating system works the same as it always has: Everything works through Chrome, app compatibility is limited to Android, and on-device storage is held back in favor of cloud storage.
Everything is laid out cleanly and it’s all searchable through a search button where the caps lock key would normally be, but it’s still not quite as versatile as Windows or macOS. That’s by design. At this point, you likely know if that works for you or not. Personally, I don’t think I could work full-time on ChromeOS if other options are available, but the excellent physical aspects of Pixelbook Go are enough to make me briefly consider it.
That’s a victory for Google.
A good value, to a point
One of the big justifications for Pixelbook Go’s existence is affordability over its older sibling from two years ago. The last Pixelbook came with some sweet features that most people probably didn’t need, so Google scaled Go back into a more traditional device and dropped the price accordingly.
The base $649.99 model comes with 8GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and Intel’s m3 processor. There are three more expensive models that gradually add more storage, RAM, and processing power, all the way up to a $1,399.99 model with a 4K display.
You … probably don’t need that one. If you’re going to spend north of $1,000 on a laptop, get something with a less restrictive operating system and more than 256GB of storage. There’s a great deal to like about Pixelbook Go in the lower-end models, but I wouldn’t recommend the beefiest variant unless you’re absolutely flush with cash.
Feel free to help out with my rent, while you’re at it.
Still, Google’s newest attempt at a Chromebook is largely a success. The keyboard, weight, and overall build quality feel fantastic. It’s got enough power under the hood to keep up with the majority of daily tasks and you don’t need to take out a loan to get one if you don’t want to.