Google’s Pixelbook Go is a genuinely nice Chromebook. With its ribbed back, the 2-pound laptop fits very nicely in one hand and has a reassuringly solid build. Its challenge, however, is how much people are willing to pay for Chrome OS.
The Pixelbook Go is a slim laptop with a 13.3-inch screen and a roomy keyboard. It has very few ports, just a USB-C on either side. There’s no SD card slot, and it connects to the internet with 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Google decided to leave 4G out to save money and because you probably have a phone with a hotspot anyway. It has a 12-hour battery life, and a 45W charger can juice up the battery for two hours of use in 20 minutes.
Except for the ports, this looks like a great laptop for classy people “on the go”—which in Google’s parlance doesn’t mean the traditional K-12 users of Chromebooks, but wandering workers and families who tote their laptops around a lot. Google’s existing high-end Pixelbook is still in play; the Pixelbook Go is an attempt to broaden the market beyond Linux developers (who love the Pixelbook) and 8-year-olds (who all use cheap Chromebooks in class.)
“The goal here is to make Pixelbook, which is a high-performance Chromebook, more accessible to more people,” said Ben Janofsky, Google senior product manager.
From a hardware perspective, it succeeds. Yes, the case is a little whimsical; this isn’t a Lenovo. It’s a little artsy and I’d dare say a little childish, but also classy and well-built, without the flimsy flex you get on plastic Chromebooks. Applications, whether native Chrome or web applications, popped up speedily and were easy to manipulate using the large trackpad.
That said, one of the big questions about higher-end Chromebooks is how they’ll deal with Android apps, a perpetual struggle. Too many Android apps are still designed for smaller-screen devices. But Thomas Reidl, director of product management for Chrome OS, said OEMs’ push into foldable phones will finally crack the problem of not enough Android apps being designed for tablet-or-larger form factors.
“I do think that the user expectation is crazy high now … also, partners like Microsoft and others who are now in the Android ecosystem, they’re investing in these larger-screen devices. So the bar is higher to delivering a good experience, but it actually benefits these devices,” Reidl said. Microsoft Office apps are front and center on this laptop, the way they are on the new Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Google made a big deal about the keyboard, and it’s a nice keyboard. It’s designed to be quiet but tactile—it does make a sound, but it’s not a loudly clacky sound, and the keys have enough throw that they don’t feel horribly flat like the keys on MacBooks. I also love how they got rid of the Caps Lock key and replaced it with one that pulls up the app launcher. Nobody needs a Caps Lock key in this day and age. The keyboard is also backlit for typing in the dark.
“I have young children at home, including a 1-year-old baby,” Janofsky said. “My wife has a device from another manufacturer, right? And her keyboard is very loud. She wakes up our baby constantly. So not only do I like quiet keyboards, I’d like my wife to switch to them as well.”
There are a bunch of spec options. The $ 649 model is an Intel Core m3, 8GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. An $ 849 model has an i5, 8GB, and 128GB. There will also be a $ 999 model with an i5, 16GB, and 128GB for $ 999 and a top-end model with an i7, 16GB, and 256GB coming later. The larger storage options are for people who download a lot of media; you can download YouTube videos locally on Chrome OS, Reidl pointed out.
The laptop has a touch screen—the version I saw was 1080p, but the highest-spec model, with an Intel Core i7 and 256GB of storage, has a 4K screen. The screen isn’t pen-compatible, however.
“It doesn’t have a 360 hinge, and so it didn’t really make sense for stylus applications,” Janofsky said. I agree; this is a traditional laptop, and it works very well as such.
The black Pixelbook Go is available for pre-order today; a pink version will be available soon. The $ 649 and $ 849 models are set to start shipping on Oct. 28.