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Google Pixelbook review: The Chromebook you’ll absolutely want to buy


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Google’s next-generation Chromebook is here. Just like its predecessor, the Chromebook Pixel, the Google Pixelbook comes with a powerful processor, a premium design and a hefty price tag. The name’s been tweaked, though, as if to reflect the fact that this isn’t simply an updated version of the Pixel: rather, it’s an evolved successor that brings some major new features to the table.

As usual, the big question is whether any Chromebook can possibly be worth £999. It sounds like a lot to pay for a stripped-down computer but for certain roles we think the Pixelbook could be the perfect laptop. Here’s why.

READ NEXT: The best Chromebooks of 2017

Google Pixelbook: What you need to know

The Pixelbook has a tasteful slimline chassis, measuring 10.3mm thick, decked out in aluminium and white plastic that echoes the design of the latest Pixel smartphones. Open it up and you’ll find a 12in display with a native resolution of 2,400 x 1,600 pixels. The 3:2 shape means there’s less tedious scrolling up and down than you’d get with a conventional widescreen display and the 235ppi pixel density means it’s very slightly sharper than one of Apple’s “Retina” displays.

It’s also fully multitouch capable. That’s not a change in itself; older Pixel models also came with touchscreens. But it’s a lot more useful than it used to be because the Pixelbook comes with full access to the Google Play Store, so alongside traditional web-based apps, you can now download and run Android apps.

It’s here that the touchscreen comes into its own since these apps are almost invariably designed primarily for smartphones and tablets. You can even flip the Pixelbook’s screen all the way around and use it as an oversized Android tablet. And, in either mode, the optional £99 Pixelbook Pen can be used to tap, draw and write directly onto the screen, making this one versatile laptop.

The internals are superior to any previous Chromebook, too. The Pixelbook comes with a seventh-generation Core i5 or Core i7 processor, though note that these are ultra-low-power models that are closer kin to older Core m chips than to high-end laptop CPUs. They’re partnered with up to 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of NVMe storage.

For communicating with the outside world there’s built-in dual-band 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi, plus Bluetooth 4.2. There’s little in the way of physical connectivity, though: you get just two USB 3.1 Type-C ports and a headphone socket.

Google Pixelbook: Price and competition

As I’ve mentioned above, the Pixelbook ain’t cheap. It starts at £999 for the basic model with a Core i5-7Y57 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. An upgrade to 256GB of storage costs an extra £200, and if you can stretch to £1,699 then a version with a Core i7-7Y75 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage will be available in December.

While those prices are steep, what you get is a laptop with a pretty unique combination of capabilities. If you want to save money, you’re going to have to compromise. For example, if you’re mostly interested in Android apps then the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is a superb Android tablet, which you can find for around £600 – plus £119 for the optional keyboard cover. Google’s own Pixel C tablet is another contender that can be had for just under £500 with the keyboard included.

If you’re more interested in the Chrome OS side of things then the HP Chromebook 13 might be an attractive alternative. It’s slightly less powerful than the Pixelbook, thanks to its older Core m3 processor, but the svelte design and sharp 13.3in display make it just as nice to use, and you can find it online for around £550. Play Store support is coming soon too – although the screen doesn’t support touch, so it’s never going to be a great fit for Android apps.

What if all you really need is a low-profile laptop? In that case, the 12in Apple MacBook is well worth a look. At £1,249, the 256GB model is similarly priced to the equivalent Pixelbook – and while macOS may not be quite as slick and simple as Chrome OS, it runs a wider selection of professional software and is still a more low-maintenance platform than Windows.

Finally, there’s the Dell XPS 13 to consider, our ultraportable Windows laptop of choice. Prices start at £1,299 for the entry-level model with an eighth-generation Core i7 CPU and 256GB of storage. It’s not as stylish as the Pixelbook, and the basic display is only Full HD, but it costs just £30 extra to step up to the 3,200 x 1,800 touch-enabled version. It’s much more powerful too and, of course, you get Windows 10 Home – handy if you need to run any specific apps that don’t exist for Chrome OS or Android.

Google Pixelbook: Ergonomics and performance

Make no mistake, when you hold the Pixelbook in your hands it absolutely feels like a thousand pounds’ worth of laptop. The build quality is rock-solid, and the use of multiple materials – including sturdy aluminium for the outer casing, warm grippy rubber on the wrist-rests below the keyboard and smooth, cool glass for the trackpad – adds both visual interest and ergonomic class.

It’s a delight to work with, too. The backlit plastic keys have short travel but a very positive action and zero give, making this one of the nicest laptop keyboards I’ve ever used. Plus, its backlight is linked to the ambient brightness sensor, so never enables when you don’t need it.

The trackpad is just as agreeable. It’s a decent size and scrolling and swiping feels instantaneous and rock solid. The only thing I’d change is the way physical clicks only register along the bottom edge; personally, I prefer Apple’s “click-anywhere” design.

That super-sharp screen, meanwhile, goes up to a dazzling maximum brightness of 462cd/m2, with a stunning contrast ratio of 1,725:1. It looks fantastic, and everything feels impeccably responsive thanks to those nippy internals. In the JetStream JavaScript benchmark, our Core i5 sample system achieved an overall score of 140 – the highest score we’ve ever seen from a Chromebook, nearly 10% ahead of the HP Chromebook 13.

In all, it’s a laptop that you’ll be happy to work on all day, every day. Even better, thanks to Chrome OS’ low power demands, you won’t even need to plug it in to do so. We were able to enjoy 8hrs 25mins of video playback on a single charge after which, impressively, it took just over an hour to fully recharge.

Google Pixelbook review: Software

So far, so tempting, but inevitably you’ll have to ask yourself whether Chrome OS meets your computing needs. If you need to run AutoCAD, After Effects or Visual Studio on the go then the answer is obviously a no. However, you can do more than you might think, especially now that Android apps have been added to the mix.

Notably, if Google Docs doesn’t hit your buttons, this means you can now run the full mobile edition of Microsoft Office 365, allowing you to natively create and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

The apps don’t have the full feature-set of their desktop counterparts, but they’re rich enough to make the Pixelbook a viable everyday laptop for most people, and they integrate seamlessly with Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive for easy access to your documents.

Similarly, Adobe’s new Lightroom CC app for Android lets you correct and process your photos directly on the Pixelbook, while the high-res originals live in the cloud so as not to devour your precious onboard storage. If there’s a catch, it’s that for both Office and Lightroom you’ll need to pay separate software subscriptions. Plus, of course, while Chrome OS’ offline capabilities are now pretty mature, functionality is inevitably limited if you’re not within range of a wireless network.

On that note, the Pixelbook showcases a few neat new Chrome OS features, including easy tethering to Pixel smartphones. If you’re in an area with no Wi-Fi, you can just plonk one of Google’s own-brand phones on the desk next to the Pixelbook and it’ll be automatically detected, so you can share its mobile data connection. Of course, you can tether to any phone with a little bit of tapping through the menus, but it’s a thoughtful convenience that makes Chrome OS easier to get on with.

Another thing that’s new in Chrome OS is the updated Launcher, although this isn’t exclusive to the Pixelbook, as it recently rolled out as part of the Chrome OS 61 update. When you click or tap the new Launcher icon in the bottom-left of the screen, a small tray of recent apps slides up, for easy access to common tasks.

You can type to search for other apps, or tap the down arrow to open up a full-screen view of all installed apps. It’s notably slicker and more Android-like than the old Launcher. The Pixelbook also comes with a dedicated Launcher key in the Caps Lock position, replacing the Search key that occupies that position on older Chromebooks.

Lastly, Chrome OS now comes with the Google Assistant built in. You can invoke it by tapping the new Assistant key that nestles between the Ctrl and Alt keys at the bottom of the Pixelbook’s keyboard, or simply circle items of interest with the optional Pixelbook Pen to capture or look them up.

Alternatively, you can say “OK, Google” out loud, within earshot of one of the Pixelbook’s four integrated microphones: this is a fun feature I found handy for lazy shortcuts such as “open Settings” or “stop playing music” but I’m still to be convinced of the real usefulness of virtual assistant technologies on a laptop.

There are just a few aspects of the Pixelbook I’m not so keen on. Folding the screen around into tablet mode is a nice idea, but at 1.1kg this is a heavy thing to carry around in one hand. What’s more, Android apps simply aren’t designed for a 12in screen, so everything tends to look absurdly oversized. And as usual with fold-around designs, the keyboard ends up sticking awkwardly out the back: it’s disabled in this mode but it still feels a bit weird.

The folding hinge also gives you the option of propping the thing up in “tent mode”, so you can watch movies without taking up too much desk space. Alas, this brings us onto the one aspect of the Pixelbook that feels cheap: the built-in speakers, which have no bass whatsoever. They go pretty loud, and don’t distort, but TV shows and videos sound annoyingly tinny, and music is simply too harsh and hollow to enjoy. In this case you’ll want to avail yourself of the built-in 3.5mm headphone socket (mercifully, Google hasn’t taken it out) or hook up some Bluetooth speakers instead.

Google Pixelbook review: Verdict

Without a doubt, the Pixelbook is the best Chromebook yet. It nails the look and feel of an upmarket, aspirational laptop and support for the Play Store opens up a whole new world of potential for the platform.

Before you splash out, be aware that you don’t have to pay this much to get Android apps on a Chromebook. There are plenty of cheap and cheerful alternatives that will run all the same software, such as the £249 Acer Chromebook R11.

Frankly, though, the difference between a bargain-basement Chromebook and this new flagship is night and day. With its Core i5 processor, the Pixelbook feels smart and snappy, where cheaper Chromebooks tend to lag. Storage options starting at 128GB mean you can download and hoard as much local content as you like without having to worry about running out of space, not something you can say for the sub-£300 crowd. And the latest Wi-Fi standard means you can whizz documents to and from the cloud at lightning-fast speeds.

More than that, the sheer ergonomics of the Pixelbook make it a laptop you’ll want to use. Yes, it’s still true that for some jobs a Chromebook isn’t the right choice and probably never will be. But take a look at your own everyday workflow and you might be surprised by how easily it maps onto the Pixelbook. Factor in all the simplicity and security of Chrome OS and you’ve got a highly persuasive alternative to the traditional ultraportable laptop.

Core specs
Processor Dual-core 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-7Y57
RAM 8GB
Memory slots (free) 1 (0)
Max memory 16GB
Dimensions 290 x 220 x 10mm
Weight 1.1Kg
Sound Realtek HD Audio (3.5mm headset port)
Pointing device Touchpad
Display
Screen size 12.3in
Screen resolution 2,400 x 1,600
Touchscreen Yes
Graphics adaptor Intel HD Graphics 615
Graphics outputs USB-C
Graphics memory N/A
Storage
Total storage 256GB SSD
Optical drive type N/A
Ports and expansion
USB ports 2x USB-C
Bluetooth 4.2
Networking Wireless
Memory card reader N/A
Other ports N/A
Miscellaneous
Operating system Chrome OS
Operating system restore option Chrome OS Power Wash



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