Full offline capabilities with Android apps. Excellent build. Powerful processor. Plenty of storage.
Short on ports. Does anyone want an Android laptop?
- Bottom Line
Google's Pixelbook is a gorgeous, powerful chromebook, but it's competing with great Windows machines at the same price and chromebooks that cost far less.
Google still wants to make Android laptops a thing. The Google Pixelbook (starting at $999) is a 2-in-1 convertible chromebook that runs all of the apps from the Google Play store. It's undeniably gorgeous, but it's pushing hard uphill in convincing pro users of the need for a third major laptop operating system.
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The Pixelbook is the follow-up to Google's Chromebook Pixel, which we were impressed with, but perplexed by in 2015. This year's model goes way up on the storage, but way down on the ports.
There's no doubt that chromebooks are successful. But they're popular in a very specific, if large, niche: They're inexpensive, thin clients for educational and corporate use, virus-free, and easy to centrally manage. When you're a thin client just running Chrome, though, packing in the power doesn't add much to the experience.
Using the Pixelbook is lovely. The laptop is blade-slim and relatively light, at 11.4 by 8.7 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 2.4 pounds. The keys have a bit of a rubbery, Chiclet feel to them, but they have good throw for such a thin laptop. (They're certainly better than the Macbook I'm typing on right now.) The $99 Pixelbook Pen accessory is as responsive as the Surface Pen, supporting both pressure and tilt sensitivity. The screen folds all the way back to become a tablet, and when it's in Tablet mode, the keyboard turns off. The hinge is stiff enough to keep the laptop upright in Table-Tent mode, but not too stiff. The hardware is good.
Specs and Software
You're getting decent power for the price. There's a 12.3-inch, 2,400 by 1,600 screen; 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of storage; 8GB or 16GB of RAM; a Skylake Core i5 or i7 processor; and a 720p webcam on the front. Because this is a cloud-ish laptop, there's relatively little in the way of ports: just two USB-C connectors and a headphone jack.
As I was puttering through the interface, I found it's much more useful to think of this as an Android laptop than as a chromebook. That justifies the power, to some extent; this isn't a "cloud-based laptop," it's just a laptop running apps for the world's most popular Linux distro.
You can spawn multiple Android apps into multiple windows; ones that support full-screen mode, like Microsoft Office, appear in full-screen resizable windows, while ones that don't, like Spotify, appear in little vertical windows shaped like a phone screen. There's an application dock at the bottom where you can switch between apps. The laptop also has a file browser with a fully accessible filesystem that works like Android's. And there are productivity apps for Android. You can open three Microsoft Office apps and Adobe Lightroom at the same time.
The Pixelbook has Google's AI Assistant on board, as well. Circle something with the Pixelbook Pen, and the assistant will try to guess what it is by Wikipedia-ing text or image-searching for a picture, for instance.
I could easily see getting work done on here, if I had to. The laptop is speedy and it's easy to switch between apps.
Comparisons and Conclusions
The question here is just: Why? Businesses and schools looking for a secure, manageable solution to run their web apps will go for cheaper chromebooks that run adequately and cost a quarter of the price. And for less money than the Pixelbook, you can get an absolutely gorgeous Surface Laptop and run all the Windows apps your business needs, or get a Macbook, if you're into that sort of thing.
Honestly, I heard the best theory about this laptop while waiting on the line to get into the event. Under the hood, the Pixelbook is a powerful piece of hardware running Linux, and it can be dual-booted into various Linux distros. That makes it a cultish, high-quality developer machine for that slim thumbnail of people who still don't hew to Windows or macOS.
We'll put the Pixelbook, which is on pre-order right now and ships October 31, through the full paces in our labs in the coming weeks.
PCMag.com's lead mobile analyst, Sascha Segan, has reviewed hundreds of smartphones, tablets and other gadgets in more than 9 years with PCMag. He's the head of our Fastest Mobile Networks project, one of the hosts of the daily PCMag Live Web show and speaks frequently in mass media on cell-phone-related issues. His commentary has appeared on ABC, the BBC, the CBC, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, and in newspapers from San Antonio, Texas to Edmonton, Alberta. Segan is also a multiple award-winning travel writer, having contributed… More »
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