OK GOOGLE, let’s cut to the chase; your Pixelbook is good but hold your horses, we’ll have to see if it’s worth the £1,000 price tag.
In case you haven’t figured it out, the Pixelbook is Google’s 100 per cent in-house designed laptop aimed at offering a premium Chrome OS experience that sails wildly in the opposite direction of cheap and cheerful Chromebooks from the likes of Acer, Asus and Samsung.
Essentially, it’s meant to be the ultimate Chromebook and it pretty much is. But it’s not perfect.
Clad in a light-grey aluminium chassis with a refrigerator-white glass panel on its lid, the Pixelbook looks like it’s been created by Apple’s Jony Ive were he a high-end Scandinavian furniture designer.
The Pixelbook seamlessly merges attractive industrial design with utilitarian function.
With flush edges and a slim hinge supporting a 12.3in display, the laptop measures in at a mere 10.3mm thick and weighs a light 1.1kg, yet sports the build-quality of a MacBook Pro.
Yet function drives it’s attractive form, with a silicone rubberised palmrest making typing for any length of time feel comfortable with less hand slippage than on brushed aluminium.
A neat yet unassuming hinge allows the Pixelbook to easily bend back on itself to be used as a tablet or have the keyboard deck prop the screen up a bit like a kickstand with the palmrests acting as anti-slip pads. Or it can be flipped on its head and made to stand in a tent-like fashion for tablet use.
With only a brace of USB Type-C ports on offer to take care of connectivity and charging, the Pixelbook epitomises minimal design.
The only superfluous part is the glass panel on the top of the part of the laptop’s lid, which is in keeping with the those found on the Pixel smartphone family, though its white colouring may not be to everyone’s taste.
To the touch the Pixelbook is rather lovely; all smooth and tactile. And that extends to the keyboard which offers a responsive typing feel with decent key travel; our fingers were dancing across it at speed and accuracy in no time.
It’s backlit which is handy for typing in low light conditions, but the keys light up dynamically depending on an environment’s ambient light which we found to be a tad annoying. Manual control is on offer but it’s not immediately intuitive which is a minor irritation but easily fixed with a quick Google search.
A smooth glass trackpad sits amid and slightly sunken below the palmrests and is accurate, responsive and just feels lovely to the touch.
The click button is at the bottom part of the pad which may annoy people used to the being able to physically click anywhere as is the case with MacBooks, but the pad is so good at registering taps that we found this layout to not be a foible.
To our eyes the Pixelbook is a lovely looking machine that’s a joy to use out and about or at a desk, providing you don’t need a load of peripherals, and it genuinely stands out from other ultraportables on the market.
The 12.3in 3:2 aspect ratio touchscreen display on the Pixelbook packs a QHD 2,400 x 1,600 resolution squeezing in 235 pixels per inch.
As such it’s sharp and clear, comparable to 13in MacBook Pro and Surface Pro, while contrast is good and colours bright and accurate. Brightness hits 400 nits which makes the display great to watch movies and view photos on.
The glossy coating may not appeal to some and we found it picks up fingerprints quite quickly and isn’t great in direct sunlight or bright light sources. But at the same time, we felt the glossiness helps colours pop and contrast seem more dynamic.
However, the major drawback to the display is its rather chunky bezels. Whereas the likes of Dell are trimming bezels down with its Infinity Edge laptop displays, the PixelBook’s chunky screen surround feels rather outdated.
There’s an argument for the bezels helping give somewhere to grip when using the Pixelbook in its tablet mode in both landscape and portrait orientation. But we’d much happier sacrifice perfect touchscreen taps over thick bezels which slightly marr the otherwise excellent screen.
Given Chrome OS is mostly a web-based experience and has been designed for low-power machines, putting the Pixelbook performance into context is a little more tricky than with Windows or Mac laptops.
Our test model came packing Intel’s seventh-generation Kaby Lake Core i5-7Y57. This dual-core chip has 4MB cache and a base clock of 1.6Ghz that can boost up to 3.3Ghz, pretty much on par with many ultrabooks in the market.
RAM measures in at 8GB of LPDDR3, running at 1,866MHz in case you’re asking, while storage on weighed in at 256GB of eMMC solid state drive space shared with the lightweight operating system.
The entry-level model for £999 has the same spec but with 128GB on storage, while the top of the line £1,699 Pixelbook has 512GB of storage and an arguably unnecessary Core i7 processor with 16GB of RAM; you’d have to have been smoking something particularly strong to opt for the latter.
We feel chip and memory in the mid or entry-level models is more than enough to handle anything Chrome OS and its web and supported Android apps can currently throw at it.
Using the Octane 2 benchmark our Pixelbook racked up a score of 29,126, which makes it pretty much the fastest Chromebook around.
In real-world use this means zipping through Chrome OS, accessing apps, watching videos, and pretty much anything else a Chromebook can be expected to do is super slick. There’s no need to worry about opening too many tabs in the Chrome browser as was the case with the lower specced and cheapests Chromebooks in the past.
Having a decent Intel mobile chip also appears to be the trick to getting Android apps to run smoothly on Chromebooks, which has been a struggle in the past, and makes the Pixelbook both an excellent Chrome OS experience and decent, if far for perfect, Android tablet; more on the later later.
Google reckons the battery will last 10 hours from a full charge providing the Pixelbook is used in a mixture of web browsing, standby and “other use”.
We found it doesn’t quite get there, but puts in around eight hours of solid work and browsing use, though that’s with the brightness cranked up to around 80 per cent.
Other ultraportable laptops can beat the Pixelbook for battery life, but we felt a good working day’s use is perfectly acceptable, especially when fast charging can juice the machine very quickly; in a pinch you can get two hours of battery life from just a 15-minute charge.
One hiccup we did encounter on the hardware side is the tinny sound the speakers produce.
In the past slim laptops weren’t expected to have good audio chops, but the 2in MacBook proved that good sound can come from a svelte machine. So the poor speakers on the Pixelbook are a bit disappointing, though a 3.5mm headphone jack at least means you can plug in a decent set of headphones.
In short, the Pixelbook is offering ultrabook performance in a Chromebook. That may be overkill at the moment but it’s likely to stand up to any more demanding apps that come to Chrome OS and Android’s way in the near-future, and it offers the slickest Chromebook performance we’ve experienced.
Chrome OS 61 is the smoothest version of Google’s own operating system to date. It’s easy to navigate, responsive, and can pretty much do 80 to 90 per cent of everything you expect from a Windows or macOS laptop. That’s pretty impressive for an operating system that a mere six-years-old.
There are a few bugbears, such as clumsy file management and awkward resizing of windows, and finding certain settings is not as intuitive as it is with macOS or Windows 10, though that could be down to our familiarity with those platforms.
If all you do is web browsing, emails and word processing, then Chrome OS is more than enough. For other tasks like demanding video and photo editing and desktop gaming, Chromebooks still fall short, and this remains the case with the Pixelbook.
But the combination of a nippy processor and lovely hardware make navigating Chrome OS a joy on the Pixelbook.
The integration of the Google Assistant activated by a dedicated key is also pretty neat, offering access to the smartest virtual assistant around.
Google Assistant also works with the Pixelbook Pen, a £99 optional stylus that annoyingly doesn’t come bundled with the Pixelbook or attach to it like the Surface Pen does on the Surface Pro, which we feel is a bit of an oversight – those chunky screen bezels could have held a magnetic strip.
Press and hold the Pen’s main button and circle an image or some text and the Google Assistant will do its best to work out what’s been highlighted and serve up related information. It’s occasionally hit and miss but a neat little feature all the same.
While we aren’t really big stylus users, the Pen is responsive and accurate to use with apps that are compatible with it. But at the moment that’s only a handful so the Pen can’t quite live up to its potential, though that will likely change over time as more support is added to third-party web apps.
And then there’s the support for Android apps, something that’s finally come out of beta for Chromebooks. This brings a whole range of apps to Chrome OS, notably with the recent addition of Microsoft Office apps which now play nice with Chrome OS, effectively turning the Pixelbook into a form of Android tablet.
The processing grunt in the Pixelbook means these apps run well on the whole, but there are more than a few issues.
Firstly you end up with duplicate app icons in the app launcher for both the web and Android app version of say Gmail and Play Music, which is a bit fiddly and not great for people with a penchant for neatness.
Then there’s the lack of optimisation Android apps have for Chrome OS use. This is understandable but it can make some apps awkward to use; there’s no split screening or resizing for example.
And while some apps run perfectly, others can crash or throw up annoying problems.
A pop up full-screen advert in Popcap’s excellent Plants vs Zombies was very difficult to get rid of in the Pixelbook’s tablet mode thanks to the lack of the back and home soft buttons found on pure Android tablets, in the end forcing us to restart the app.
However, the addition of Android app access is very welcome and no doubt these issues will be ironed out over the course of 2018. Just don’t get a Pixelbook expecting it to double as a high-end Android tablet as well, because that side of things is hit and miss at the moment.
Simply put, the Pixelbook is the best Chromebook money can buy, the only problem is you need a good wad of said money.
While the Pixelbook does have a few flaws, its build quality and hardware combined with an ever-improving Chrome OS goes some way to justifying that £1,000 price tag.
But around that mark, it ends up butting heads with some very capable Windows 10 laptops and for a little more you can get hold of a entry-level MacBook Pro, both of which are likely to meet all of your workload and entertainment needs.
And with some very capable Chromebooks like the Asus Chromebook Flip and HP Chromebook 13 for a lot less than a grand, the Pixelbook faces some stiff competition in its own backyard.
If you’re a diehard fan of Chrome OS and want a premium machine to swaddle it, then the Pixelbook may just be the laptop you’re looking for.
For everyone else, we suggest thinking hard about what you need a laptop to do before taking the plunge with the premium Pixelbook, and perhaps wait and see what a second-generation Pixelbook could bring to the table.
But putting price aside, the Pixelbook, much like Microsoft’s Surface lineup, doesn’t actually need to sell by the bucket load to create an impact.
Rather it acts more as a halo device, resetting the hardware and design standards for Chromebooks, shifting them out of the shadows of low-end, cheap machines and into the light as credible potential alternatives to Windows 10 and Mac machines.
If the likes of Samsung, Acer and Asus follow the example set by the Pixelbook, then we can expect to see a swathe of impressive Chromebooks crop up in the near-future. Vive la Chromebook resistance. µ
Excellent build quality, impressive performance, lovely keyboard.
Expensive for a Chromebook, Chrome OS can’t do everything, Android apps are hit and miss.
Chunky bezels and tinny speakers.
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