The Pixelbook is the best Chromebook you can buy, but it’s also one of the most expensive Chromebooks you can buy. The big pitch for the Pixelbook Go is that it takes a lot of what you like about the Pixelbook and Google’s aesthetic in general, and charges only $650 (UK price TBC). That’s a damn fine idea, but my limited time with the Pixelbook Go suggests there could be a hefty Google tax for embracing its “affordable” Chromebook.
The Pixelbook Go is slightly more expensive than our favourite budget Chromebook, the Asus Chromebook Flip C434. Yet it's spec’d similarly. Both devices rely on an 8th Generation m3 processor from Intel. Both have 1080p displays (though the Pixelbook Go has a 13.3-inch display and the Asus Chromebook Flip has a 14-inch display). Both come with 64GB of SSD storage. The Asus only has 4GB of RAM and one USB-C port though. The Google device comes with 8GB of RAM and 2 USB-C ports. The Asus also weighs a pound more than the 2-pound Pixelbook Go.
The available configurations. The cheapest will probably be a good choice for most people. Screenshot: Google
That ostensibly means the Google Pixelbook Go might be better right? More RAM and lighter weight – who needs that extra 7-inches of display the Asus Chromebook Flip has?
Only there’s another thing the Flip has that I’m not so sure I’ll be willing to give up to embrace Google’s device. It has a 360-degree hinge that lets it quickly convert into a chunky tablet. That’s a welcome feature on Chromebooks as they increasingly embrace elements of Android – blending the two operating systems together into a Google engineered nirvana.
The Pixelbook Go’s hinge is not nearly as flexible, and Google confirmed it doesn’t have stylus support either. This device is intended to function as a laptop and a laptop only.
That’s not as common a tact as it used to be in the budget Chromebook space. Something Google itself acknowledged when I spoke with Google VP Phil Carmack and Senior Product Manager Ben Janfosky. Janfosky said that when planning the Pixelbook Go the company was focused on portability and price and thus opted to axe some features that increase price (including the hinge and stylus support). He called it a “compromise” though he also quickly noted that the Pixelbook Go does retain a touch screen.
Surprisingly that touch screen doesn’t necessarily compromise battery life. Google is claiming the Pixelbook Go will have 12 hours of battery life. Most Chromebooks retailing for that price or lower have around 8 to 9 hours of battery life – even the £450 Dell Chromebook 3100, our current pick for best battery life in a budget Chromebook, only manages a little over 10 hours.
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)
“[S]pecifically versus the original Pixelbook? We actually have a 15 per cent larger battery,” Janfosky told me.
Carmack later added “Google goes pretty deep on a lot of the core technologies that go into the products and finding a battery with the right chemistry, with the right robustness, and size per unit of power. It’s something we’re pretty good at.”
The display might help too. It’s a 1080p touch display with a max brightness of 400 nits. It looked pretty in my limited time with the device. Though Google had all the Pixelbook Gos sitting in direct beams of sunlight where it was difficult to gauge how they’ll perform indoors (it’s hopefully better than in direct sunlight).
The speakers were surprisingly loud with a rich rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”. But again, the event space was extremely loud so I had to frequently hold the laptop up to my ears to hear. I appreciated that I could feel the music through the body of the device though.
As for the feel of the device itself – its damn nice. It very clearly has that sort of kid-friendly Google thing going for it. The bottom has a ribbed design that should be fantastic if the device ever gets super hot and you have it on your lap. Otherwise, it just has a very nice feeling and sets it apart from other devices.
Google also opted for an all magnesium body. Typically at this price range, you find either light, but flimsy plastic, or premium feeling but hefty aluminium. Painted magnesium definitely gives the Pixelbook Go a sense of quality, while also keeping it lighter, and Carmack lit up speaking of the decision to go with magnesium, a material typically found in higher-end business laptops. “If you look at where most of the industry goes it’s like extreme low end or very premium and there’s not a lot of people really targeting between.” The Pixelbook Go, Carmack thinks, targets the people seeking something more in the middle.
Which also explains why the colours don’t pop more. The black version is boring. The pink, excuse me “Not Pink,” version feels like it has a little more style, but also seems too muted in colour to really pop like Google’s colourways for other devices.
The standout feature is the “Hush Keys” built into the keyboard. They have good travel and a nice feel to them. Not quite the gold standard of Lenovo’s ThinkPad series, but extremely typable. And quiet. Google’s used some kind of material to mute the sound of the keys so they don’t have that loud clack you’re accustomed too. However, you can definitely feel the muted nature of the keys. It’s not a terrible feeling, but it is noticeable and some might characterize it as “mushy”. Personally I wouldn’t go that far.
Unfortunately, neither Carmack or Janfosky would clarify how Google’s keys work. Only noting there was some “secret sauce” involved.
The keyboard, like a lot of elements of the Pixelbook Go, is something I’ll need to spend more time with. We’re not sure yet how long the battery actually lasts on a single charge, or how those keys feel after a few hours instead of a few minutes. Will stuff catch on the ribbed bottom of the device or the exposed screws keeping the bottom plate in place? We don’t know. This device could be the new best budget laptop, and pricier configs (which include a version with an i7 CPU and 4K display) could take the original Pixelbook’s title of best Chromebook.
But we’ll have to actually review the thing to know for sure. So stay tuned.