Hands-on: Google Pixelbook review

What is the Pixelbook? In short, it’s Google’s idea of what a laptop should be in 2017. It follows the Chromebook Pixel both in its stunning design and eye-watering price.

But this time it’s a heck of a lot more versatile. It's designed much like Lenovo's Yoga Book, so you can use it like a normal laptop or fold the screen right back and use it like a tablet. Or you can prop it up in 'tent' mode when you want to watch a film.

It runs Chrome OS, but it isn’t just a fancy, overpriced Chromebook. At least that’s what Google wants you to think. The company says that what people want is a device that’s the best of a laptop, tablet and phone and that the Pixelbook is the answer.

But is anyone asking that particular question? And is anyone willing to part with as much cash as Google wants for even the entry-level Pixelbook?

We suspect the answer is probably no, but it may well appeal to the odd enthusiast who – for some reason – doesn’t want Windows 10 or macOS on their laptop.

Separately, we've compared the Pixelbook and Microsoft Surface.

Note: we’ve spent a limited amount of time with the Pixelbook, trying to get a grip on whether it’s genuinely brilliant or – like the Chromebook Pixel – just a well-engineered bit of kit that no-one’s willing to pay for. We'll update this to a full review once we've been able to run our benchmarks and find out how long the battery lasts.

Google Pixelbook: Price

There are three models, with the Core i5 / 8GB / 128GB version costing £999 in the UK. If that’s not enough for you, you can spend £200 to double the storage, or an extra £700 for an i7 processor (a Y-series) 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD.

You can read more about the Pixelbook’s release date and where to buy it. 

Those prices put it in competition with a lot of very, very good laptops including the Surface Laptop, the MacBook and HP's Spectre 13.

Google Pixelbook: Features & Design

The Pixelbook is crazy thin at just over 10mm and it weighs a fraction over 1kg. The Yoga Book beats both figures, but the Pixelbook has a 12.3in screen rather than 10.1in.

It’s a great screen, too, with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a 2400x1600 resolution. The IPS tech means viewing angles are superb and it appeared to be very bright, although we were in a fairly dim demo room.

Google Pixelbook review

The whole chassis is made from aluminium aside from strip of Gorilla glass on the back which allows the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antenna to do their thing.

It’s clear that the tiniest of details have been considered. For example, when you fold back the screen under the keyboard, the signal from the antennae can still pass through thanks to the silicone 'window' that's on the palm rest and underneath the keyboard. The touchpad, pleasingly, is also made from Gorilla glass.

Google Pixelbook review

You’ll find a USB-C port on either side so you can charge from whichever side is most convenient. And there's a little hole by each port which is for both a microphone and status LED. The latter is recessed so it doesn't light up the room when you're charging at night.

The speakers are cleverly hidden behind the screen hinge so that you can hear audio whether you're in laptop or tablet mode. The only blemishes in the smoothness of the design are the two screws in the rear panel, but otherwise there are no fixings on show.

There’s a decent sized keyboard and although the keys have less than 1mm of travel they’re surprisingly comfortable to type on, and the backlight automatically turns on when it gets dark.

Google Pixelbook review

Google says the battery lasts up to 10 hours and charging it for 15 minutes should give you 2 hours' use. Handily, a Pixelbook will charge from a standard Pixel phone charger.

And if there's no Wi-Fi available, the Pixelbook will automatically tether to your Pixel phone with no setup. We do take issue with the absence of a headphone jack and SD card reader, though this just means you’ll need USB-C versions or adapters.

Pixelbook Pen

Optionally, you can buy the Pixelbook Pen, an active stylus that was developed with Wacom. It has a 10ms latency, 60 degrees of angular awareness and 2000 levels of pressure sensitivity. And you’d expect all that for £99.

The Pen can be used for writing notes, sketching or even to quickly select an area on the screen to capture as a screen shot. If you’re presenting, you can switch it into laser pointer mode – it doesn’t actually have a laser - so your audience can see on the big screen which area you’re drawing attention to.

Google Pixelbook review

The barrel is made from aluminium and there’s a button which you can press before circling something on screen.

The Google Assistant (which is now part of Chrome OS) will then give you information on whatever you've highlighted. When studying, say, you can circle a word and get a definition.

Software

Thanks to the fact that Android apps now run on Chrome OS, the Pixelbook makes a lot more sense than it would have done.

Some big-name apps have been optimised for the big screen, so you can install Netflix and download episodes to watch on your travels. Others include Adobe Lightroom, Evernote, AutoCAD and Snapchat.

However, there are still a shed-load of apps which will display as they would on a phone screen: it’s still one of the problems with Android tablets. And even those big-name apps don’t have the full feature set of their ‘real’ desktop versions.

Google Pixelbook review

Plus, if you’re thinking of replacing an existing Windows PC or laptop, you won’t necessarily find all the software you need in the app store so check this first before you buy and make sure your printer is compatible with Chrome OS if you need to print stuff.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that not all apps which work with the stylus support Google’s Fask Ink feature which reduces latency. There’s a noticeable difference when taking notes in Squid (which does support it) to a sketching app which doesn’t.

As we’ve said, the Google Assistant is built in, and it's easy to interact with it on the Pixelbook. When the keyboard is folded away, you can say "OK Google" and ask it whatever you like.

But there's also a Google Assistant key on the keyboard - between ctrl and alt - so just like with Microsoft Cortana you can type your request when using the Pixelbook as a laptop – or when it’s not appropriate to speak.

Google Pixelbook review

Of course, because this is Chrome OS and not Android, the Pixelbook has a traditional desktop on which you can open multiple windows, resize them and drag them around. There are a few shortcuts to align windows, but as of yet there’s no picture-in-picture support. We’re told that’s coming to Chrome OS soon.

Google Pixelbook: Specs

  • 12.3in, 1920x1080 display
  • Intel Core i5 processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 128/256/512GB storage
  • 12.3in, 1920x1080 display
  • Intel Core i5 processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 128/256/512GB storage

OUR VERDICT

We’ve not yet been able to benchmark the Pixelbook or test out its battery life. But even without verifying Google’s claims, it’s a great-looking and well-built device. The price is a big sticking point, though.

Chromebooks have thrived, primarily in schools, because they’re inexpensive, but the Pixelbook is anything but.

Lenovo’s Yoga Book might be smaller, but it comes in Windows and Android versions and costs half as much, so before splashing out on a Pixelbook, just remember that there are alternatives.