Tech Review: Pixelbook
High-end Chromebook is powerful and beautifully designed for demanding user
The Pixelbook takes the Chromebook spec and crams a 128GB drive into the case with 8GB of RAM and a Core i5 or i7 chip.
Product name: Pixelbook
Where to buy: google.com
Choosing a laptop is a bit of a minefield. Do you go middle of the road and a little chunky, or high-end and impossibly thin? Do you try to cram as much power and RAM in there as possible, or do you scrimp on some things to get a better price? Is a huge hard drive with lots of storage your priority, or could you settle for something smaller but faster and store online instead? And that’s before you get into the different chip speeds and graphics capabilities.
The key thing is, what exactly do you use your laptop for? For most people, that means a bit of web browsing, watching Netflix, maybe typing a few documents. A lot of social media. The odd bit of photo editing.
If that’s all you need to do with it, then you can probably get by with a Chromebook. Built on Google’s operating system, the Chromebooks usually come in for under €400. Generally, they rely on the web for storage, so there’s very little on board. And if the software you need isn’t on Chrome as an app – or, more lately, have an Android version – then you’re out of luck.
So why would you spend €1,200 on a Chromebook? The answer: when it’s as powerful and as beautifully designed as the Pixelbook.
The Pixelbook is a Google product, hence the Pixel moniker. It takes the Chromebook spec and essentially throws it out the window, cramming a 128GB drive into the case with 8GB of RAM – you can choose up to 16GB – and a Core i5 or i7 chip. The Pixelbook means business.
Thin and light
First up: how does it look? The Pixelbook is thin and light, with a 12-inch screen. After several years of 13-inch displays, that 12-inch display took a little getting used to, but the quality of the display can’t be argued with.
The device is speedy, and although you don’t have access to the same range of software on a Mac or Windows system, you have to ask yourself if you really miss it. It’s the same argument that can be made for ditching the laptop in favour of a tablet on a more permanent basis.
So why would you need a Pixelbook? The laptop neatly sidesteps this argument by doubling up as a tablet when you use that hinged display. It’s a little thicker than a normal tablet but thinner than some of the other convertibles on the market, which gives it an advantage.
As you’d expect, the integration with Google’s systems is tight. Everything works quickly and cleanly. There’s also a push towards the Google Assistant, Google’s answer to Alexa and Siri. On the Pixelbook, Google Assistant has its own button that you can use to call on it at any time; unfortunately, it replaces the capslock button that you’d find on a regular keyboard. How often do you use that button anyway? You’ll probably find it’s not all that often. But as soon as it’s taken away, you notice.
The Pixelbook tag teams with the Pixelbook Pen, which is an optional extra that interacts with some of the software pretty well. One of its best uses is the ability to search the web for something simply by circling it while activating Google Assistant.
The Pixelbook looks sleek, and it is lightweight too. That glass panel that looks a bit like plastic on the rear? That’s to help with wifi signals. It weighs in at 1kg, and the screen flips around to turn it into a tablet of sorts. There’s a decent spec too. Unlike some of the cheaper Chrome-based devices, the Pixelbook comes with 128GB of on-board storage, 8GB RAM and a Core i5 chip.
The not so good
If you think Chromebooks are cheap and cheerful you might be surprised by the price. At €1,200, the Pixelbook is more of an investment than, say, a €250 Asus Chromebook. But it earns its price with a bumped-up spec and better features.
At its heart though, it’s still a Chromebook, so if you need specific software that isn’t included as part of the Chrome/Android app world, this won’t suffice. That subset of laptop users is shrinking though.
The Pixel Pen is a nice extra, but is probably a bit limited in its real usefulness to regular users.
A high-end Chrome device that will satisfy more demanding users.