It's not the first time we've seen Google bust out a £1,000 Chromebook - back in 2013 the company went all-out with the massively mediocre Google Chromebook Pixel.
But the Chromebook landscape has changed a whole lot since then, which makes a more compelling argument for the existence of the Google Pixelbook, which Google clearly hopes has the smarts to take on the Microsoft Surface Laptop and Apple MacBook.
Following the second annual Made by Google event we got to play around with the Pixelbook and its Pixelbook Pen stylus. It's certainly a gorgeous looking laptop - but is that enough for it to earn its place?
Google Pixelbook review: Design
- 10.3mm thick; 1.1kg weight
- 360-degree hinge design for multi-position use
- 12.3-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1440) LCD touchscreen
- 2x USB-C (one doubles as charger), 1x 3.5mm headphones jack
- White silicon wrist rest; grey and white finish to match Pixel 2 phones
We've certainly never seen a better-looking Chromebook than the Pixelbook, there's no doubting that. But would you expect anything less for its £1,000 starting price?
At just over 10mm thick, it's a slender slice of aluminium that weighs just 1.1kgs - which feels genuinely light, although not as ultra-light as the sub-1kg Acer Swift 5, announced earlier this year.
Interestingly, Google has opted for a 360-degree hinge, which positions the Pixelbook as a competitor for the likes of the Lenovo Yoga 720, for example. That's one design choice that sees it more versatile than the Surface Laptop or MacBook, for sure, but whether you'll genuinely use this device as anything other than a laptop is for debate - we often think the same of other 360-degree laptop devices.
That said, switching the Pixelbook into its tablet mode does get it as close to tablet form as a laptop has ever been. The keys don't protrude beyond the frame, so it sits flush on a desk, while the hinges fold perfectly neat for a flat edge.
We're also very pleased to see two USB Type-C ports. As one is used for charging, you won't run into troubles with having to switch things out, like you would with the single-port MacBook.
Announced alongside the Pixel 2 phones, the Pixelbook also adopts Google's increasingly cohesive design language. The laptop is a grey/silver aluminium, paired with a white silicone to give it real distinction - as if it's been dipped in the polymer like a lollipop into white chocolate.
The only aspect that doesn't look hyper modern is the screen bezel: it's just too significant for today's market. When Dell, Lenovo, et al, are delivering "infinity" displays (or other such marketing names), the Pixelbook having fatter bezel seems unnecessary.
The screen itself is impressive, however, thanks to a pixel-dense Quad HD resolution spread across that 12.3-inch LCD panel. So many pixels comes with the price territory.
Google Pixelbook review: Software
- Google Chrome OS
- Works online and offline
- Access to Google Play Store for apps
Software has always been a core part of Chromebook. This isn't Windows 10. It's not Windows 10 S - although that's a little closer to what Google's Chrome OS achieves.
When Chromebooks first began to surface the idea behind this was for an always-online style of use - which proved divisive. But Chrome OS has evolved a lot over the years and the software can be used online or offline as you please. There's even an always-connected feature called Instant Tethering where the Pixelbook auto-connects to your mobile data plan without prompting, when it needs.
Core apps come built into the operating system, such as Gmail, Microsoft Word and more, with additional apps available from the Google Play Store. Yep, Chrome OS pulls on Google's mobile phone operating system: Android. Sure, Chrome OS isn't Android in style, per se, but some may think of it like a version that's setup for greater productivity.
In our demo we played around with Adobe Lightroom, as that's available from the Play Store. It's pretty decent, too. That said, there's no full Photoshop and you can forget about installing the latest and greatest games - unless they're mobile-style games downloadable from the store, of course.
In many respects, however, Chrome OS gives Windows 10 S a run for its money - the software as first seen in the Microsoft Surface Laptop, which is a full version of Windows at its core, but only allows access to the Windows Store for apps, rather than being wide open like full Windows 10 for additional app installs from anywhere. The idea here being that of greater security - an increasing concern in the modern world.
How you feel about Chrome OS depends on what you want from a laptop. For us, if we were dropping £1,000+ on one then it simply wouldn't do enough for our needs. No full Photoshop, no full video editing suites, no deal. If you're just after a fancy word processing, browsing, video playing machine, however, then it'll do the job - but, that said, you could save some cash and shop elsewhere instead.
Google Pixelbook review: Keyboard, trackpad and Pixelbook Pen
- Google Assistant button integrated on backlit keyboard
- Glass-topped trackpad surrounded by silicone rest
- Pixelbook Pen stylus sold separately (£99)
Where the Pixelbook tucks into the latest of Chrome OS' software is with the integration of a Google Assistant button, allowing for quick and easy direct access to Google's voice assistant. Just like you can with Google Home and many Android phones, it's possible to get Assistant to answer your queries - and contextually, too.
Press-and-hold the Assistant button and it functions like Google Now, reading the page in front of you and presenting greater context of what you're looking at. Ask it the weather. Ask it to control your Philips Hue lights or adjust your Nest smart thermostat. There's lots of potential here.
Broadening that potential is the Pixelbook Pen stylus, which comes complete with a single button which, when press-and-held, can highlight areas on screen for the attention of Assistant. Circle a photo and Assistant will tell you where it was taken. Circle a celebrity's face on a news site and Assistant will tell you who they are.
Plus, if you just want a decent stylus with 2,000 pressure levels, low latency writing/drawing and 60-degrees of angle available for its tip then you could do worse than the Pixelbook Pen. It's not as sensitive as some stylii out there, mind, but will still appeal.
If the Pen isn't for you then the Pixelbook's solid keyboard and trackpad proposition is solid. We've already mentioned the great design and comfort of the trackpad surround; the pad itself is glass-topped, ultra-sensitive and looks great. The keyboard is comfortable to type on, with a crisp response - none of this ultra-shallow MacBook limited response - and has a tidy backlight illumination too.
Google Pixelbook review: Power
- Intel Core i5 and i7 processor options
- Up to 16GB RAM available
- Up to 1TB storage
At the heart of it all the Google Pixelbook is perhaps surprisingly powerful. With Intel Core i5 as its entry-level base, there's a lot of power available. You can even go all-out and opt for Intel Core i7 with up to 16GB RAM - which, we think, is overkill for a device of this type. It's a Chromebook with access to the Play Store, not a hyper gaming machine.
Battery life is purported to last for up to 10 hours, which isn't something we've been able to test out in our brief test of the machine. As the Core i5 version doesn't need fan cooling, however, it could go the distance. The Core i7 will likely drain the battery quicker - and given the small footprint and slenderness of this laptop, there's only so much physical space for the battery to squeeze in. That said, with USB Type-C recharging, Google says that just 15 minutes at the plug will deliver two hours of usage time.
The Google Pixelbook is certainly the most impressive Chromebook we've ever seen. It's great to look at, feels excellent in use and its 360-degree hinge adds flexibility to its potential use cases. The inclusion of Google Assistant to Chrome OS is a fun new feature for contextual interaction.
Problem is, it costs a grand for the entry-level model. That's a whole lot of mullah for what is, at the end of the day, a Chromebook. Off the shelf it's not going to deliver those high-end apps that you'll get from Windows 10 or MacOS.
It might match your new Pixel 2 phone and it certainly elevates Chromebooks up a notch, but we can't help thinking the Pixelbook falls into the same trap as its spiritual Chromebook Pixel predecessor…