(Pocket-lint) - In its early years a Chromebook was essentially seen as a modern replacement for the humble netbook. It was an affordable laptop for people who didn't need to do a lot of heavy lifting. Indeed, it wasn't uncommon to hear the "it's just a web browser and nothing else" comments.

Fast forward to 2020, and save for maybe professional creatives who need powerful tools for editing photos, video and recording music, pretty much anything you want to do can be done using a Chromebook. And with most now supporting Android apps and featuring touchscreens, there's versatility that wasn't there in the beginning. 

When it comes to Google's own Chromebooks, however, they've often bucked the budget trend. The Pixelbook, released back in 2017, was largely impressive, but four-figures pricey. Even the two-in-one Pixel Slate wasn't exactly affordable relative to its competition. Which, for 2020, is where the Pixelbook Go sees the company take a different step: this is one attractive, effective and inexpensive Chromebook. Has it finally got the balance right?

Soft, grippable and minimal aesthetic

  • 'Not Pink' and 'Just Black' colour options
  • Soft textured painted magnesium finish
  • Rippled/corrugated underside
  • Weighs just 1.1kg

Google's hardware design, regardless of product, has been this idea of taking a softer, friendlier and minimalist approach. It's what sets the Google Pixel range apart from most smartphones - they're instantly recognisable with their matte finishes and uncomplicated colours. It's a similar story with the company's smart speakers - now part of the Nest brand - which aren't just boring-looking cylinders. 

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With the Pixelbook Go, that ethos is extended to create a laptop which looks and feels vastly different to anything else out there. Whether you go for the subtle Not Pink or simple Just Black finish, you're getting a device with few unnecessary embellishments. There's no excessive branding, lines or accents to be found.

The one part that does stand out is the corrugated ripple effect on the Go's underside. It certainly flies in the face of the standard' laptop, there to make it "grippable" according to Google's marketing efforts. We'd even go further than that: the unique texture makes it one of few laptops we'd actually like to carry around in our hand or under the arm, because it feels great.

That's partly down to the overall size, weight and dimension of this Chromebook. The rest of the Pixelbook Go has soft curves around the corners and all around the edges of the top cover, making it feel nimble and slim. The painted magnesium external finish has a soft-to-touch and subtly textured feel to it too, so it really is a delight to the senses. 

This practicality is also evident in the design and feel of the keyboard. The unfussy, simple square keys have just enough travel and tactile feedback to make the process of typing a lightweight joy. It's one of the nicest keyboards we've used on a Chromebook to date. 

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The only thing that takes a little time to learn is the position of some of those keys, if you've not used a Chromebook before or primarily use Windows or Mac. There's no Caps key, instead Google has built in a dedicated search button, while there's an Assistant button between the left side's Ctrl and Alt keys. 

Similarly, the function key row at the top features a dedicated full-screen button, for taking whatever window or app you're in, removing any tabs or search bar from the top and the app dock from the bottom of the screen, letting you focus on your work. You do get the usual volume and screen brightness controls, as well as a refresh and back button though.

As for other design elements: you get two USB-C ports (one on either side), plus a 3.5mm input for your wired headphones. 

Display and hardware

  • 13.3-inch display (Full HD or 4K options available)
  • 8th Gen Intel Core M3, i5 or i7 processor options
  • 8GB / 16GB RAM; 64GB / 128GB / 256GB SSD
  • Up to 12 hour battery life

You have two screen options for the Pixelbook Go. The most expensive model comes with a 4K (3840 x 2160) 13.3-inch panel on it, while the other three models feature a Full HD (1080 x 1920) panel, which is the one we used on our review unit. 

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This display is plenty good enough for anything you'd want to use it for as well. Colours are certainly vibrant enough and whites are clean, and despite being an LCD panel the contrast is strong too.

If you've been used to looking at 4K displays or more pixel dense screens on other devices for some time, it does start to look a tiny bit lacking in detail. It's not a major deal, and probably not one that's jarring enough to recommend spending the extra £500 to get the 4K model with a Core i7 processor.

If there's any complaint, it's that we think the more modern 3:2 ratio would be more useful than the wider 16:9 screen being used here. It makes it great for watching movies, but we just like the extra space on offer from wider aspect ratios, especially when it comes to work tasks.

To the side of the keyboard is where you'll find the speakers, which are actually very good. You get plenty of volume from them, really effective stereo separation, plus lots of bass and mids to properly fill out the sound. There's nothing tinny and quiet about these at all. 

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Now, the USB-C ports on either side aren't just there so you can plug in a charger or connect some external storage, although you can of course use them for that. They're also capable of driving external monitors, and we typed a good section of this review driving a 4K 60Hz LG monitor from one of the Type-C ports on the Pixelbook Go. 

That means you can have your fast, nimble little laptop on the go, and come home and plug it into a big screen to carry on your work without the need to have a "proper" computer at home. It's up to the task, and a lot of that comes down to the processing power inside.

Our review unit is the second tier model with an 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor, which is more than powerful enough for any daily task. It's comfortably able to drive a second monitor without any noticeable struggle in speed. That's perhaps something the cheapest Core M3 model would struggle with, but without testing, we can't compare the two.

This particular review model also comes with 8GB RAM, as does the base Intel Core M3 model, but the third and fourth tier models come with 16GB. Regardless, thanks to Chrome OS - the Chromebook's operating system - being a relatively lightweight software and interface, the Pixelbook Go always feels fast and responsive. 

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Battery life is impeccable too. Google promises up to 12 hours of use from the battery before it empties. We never quite got it to last that long, but it's more than capable of doing a full eight hours, which is essentially an entire work day of nonstop writing and browsing, which is all you can ask for from any laptop. 

When it does run flat, the included 45W charger with Power Delivery will fill it up in just over two hours, and will top up your smartphone quickly as well (providing your phone supports Power Delivery fast charging). 

Software

  • Chrome OS operating system
  • Touchscreen support

Chrome OS has evolved over time from just being essentially a web browser, in to being a user interface with more layers and capabilities than was previously available. Of course, if you want, you can press that full screen button on the top row and have your web page, document or whatever fill the entire screen, but you can also have a permanent dock or tab running along the bottom in a similar way to Windows or Mac. 

Instead of having a complex file, folder and desktop based system, the Pixelbook Go has a swipe up 'app drawer' which isn't too dissimilar to what you'd find on Android phones, or - comparing Apples with oranges - the Launchpad UI on MacOS. 

Press the dedicated search button and you'll bring up a quick search field, which can find answers on the web as well as any apps, files or documents stored on the machine itself. Swipe up on the arrow above it (or click on it with the cursor) and you'll get to the aforementioned app drawer. 

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All these animations and layers are fluid and snappy too, so you're never left waiting for things to happen. The transitions are smooth, ensuring nothing gets in the way, ensuring your experience with the Pixelbook Go is one that's productive and easy. 

If you want, there's Google Assistant voice support, meaning you can use it to do all the things you might use GA for on a phone, or even a Google Home product. Whether that be checking the weather, calendar events or controlling your smarthome devices, it's all possible here.

A note on Android app support

  • Built-in Play Store for Android apps
  • Still issues with optimisation

In order to bridge the gap between Chrome OS and what some would term real computers, Chrome OS enabled Android app support a couple of years back.

While the idea of having millions of apps on tap for a laptop sounds just fine and dandy, the actual implementation of it can leave a lot to be desired. Because smartphone apps - which were already not very well optimised for big tablet displays - tend not to always look so good on a laptop screen either. 

Opening the Slack app, for instance, gives you tiny text that's badly spaced, with far too much white space and words that are difficult to read. It's a much more convenient and useful service to use in its web-based form in a tab within the Chrome browser. 

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Likewise, we tried using our usual writing app, iA Writer, in its downloaded app form, and it just plain refused to let us hit Enter to create a space and a new paragraph. So we switched to Google Docs, in a browser, which works perfectly fine. 

But you could say the same about so many different apps and services. Facebook, Amazon and so many other popular apps for social media and shopping work great in their typical online form and so the need for Play Store apps isn't always abundantly clear. 

Yes, you could just use it to slice up some virtual watermelons in Fruit Ninja using the laptop's touchscreen, and actually, some games aren't too bad on the Pixelbook. We played a little The Room Old Sins and were pleased to find it responded to both trackpad swiping/click and touchscreen swipes. If you just want something to pass the time, even if it's not fully optimised, it'll certainly keep you entertained. 

Verdict

On the whole, there's very little about the Pixelbook Go that we don't like. It's nimble, lovely to use and looks great, plus it's speedy and has a battery that lasts all day without even trying.

It might still be a bit more expensive than other brands' Chromebooks, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper than previous Pixelbook models, which we think makes it a real winner. 

Also consider

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Asus Chromebook Flip C434TA

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If you want a solid touchscreen Chromebook with a slightly lower price tag, the Asus Chromebook Flip range often delivers great value for money, and this model is no different. It has a great keyboard, screen and decent battery life. 

Writing by Cam Bunton.