Google Pixelbook Review

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Intro

Déjà vu… But here I am after a prolonged break from the blog! It’s all come down to a distinct lack of things to write about… I’ve not had much to say about new kit (mostly because I haven’t been buying much of it!) however I’m back and ready to review 🙂

I’m writing all of this post on a Chromebook… But this is not ordinary Chromebook, no. This is an M&S Chro… wait, it’s a Pixelbook! Google’s latest and greatest, top-est end, most premium Chrome OS device to date and I don’t love it! Do you know why that is? Because it’s still not ‘there’ yet.

If I was asked to define ‘there’ I’d struggle because my definition will differ to yours, or anyone else’s for that matter. Here’s how I see it from where I sit; the hardware (which I’ll get into shortly) is nothing short of breathtaking, tbc. The software however, that’s where it all falls apart for me. It’s not as simple as ‘the OS isn’t fast enough’ or ‘the battery isn’t good enough’ or ‘the keyboard is bad’. It’s more of a systemic issue with everything that Chrome OS isn’t (yet).

Software

I’ll start off with the bad here and try to end it with the good stuff! It’s QUICK, everything is lightning fast it’s as if it knows what I’m about to do before I want to! The ability to switch to mobile data automagically with the Pixel XL and the addition of Android apps (disappointingly these are still buggy despite reaching a “stable” release) and the speed, did I mention how fast this thing is?

The OS, Chrome OS, is lean, mean – a killing machine! The updates come through quickly, the boot times are unbelievable and tablet mode is nice. I said I was going to start off with the bad though, so here I go.

Android Apps

On the Pixelbook apps are definitely available. I’ve got Jetpack Joyride installed (not a sponsor) and it runs super well, just a shame that at the native resolution of the Pixelbook the app looks a tiny bit blocky, this is resolved by dropping the res down to 1280×800 (or thereabouts). Other apps, Slack, Plex and Google Play Music… These I dislike a lot, firstly I run a work and personal Google account on the same device and if I login to both at once I’m unable to run Android apps on both accounts?! What’s that about! So I’m limited to the account I signed in with first. Secondly the Android apps, on several occasions, have outright ceased to work, as if nothing was installed whatsoever; including the Play Store.

What else can I say about them? Sometimes they’re active in the background without me having visibility of them, i.e. Plex started playing Friends outloud despite me stopping my viewing and exiting the app, yay. Slack doesn’t scale well to the high resolution, meaning text and buttons are tiny. And furthermore when I’m in tablet mode, Android apps are stuck in fullscreen mode!

The only good thing about Android apps seems to be that they exist, IMO they’re far from “stable” and the availability is still lacking on what is essentially an Android tablet. Meaning that my phone has the potential to get more done than my laptop does. Hmm, that doesn’t feel right.

Back to the OS; outside of Android, the Pixelbook does nothing that a Chrome browser can’t do, it has file storage – without native SMB or SFTP support, another app I need to install… The browser is super duper nice though, 8GB of RAM is needed for a Chromebook, 16GB on the base model would’ve been perfect though.

One final niggle with the OS, the way it interprets touch screen inputs feels janky to me, say I want to long press a bookmark in the browser, I hold it and instead of a menu coming up (like it might in Android) I release it and it was ready for me to drag it, at which point a right-click-esque menu finally appears and I can press a small button to open in a new tab. Not perfect in terms of UX.

Hardware

One word? Astonishing.

Section complete 🙂

Ok for real though, this hardware is flawless, I can’t knock it! (Physical hardware) the keyboard feels lovely to type on, I prefer it over any desktop keyboard I’ve used to date (weird I know). The CPU is a mobile i5-7Y57, this is a 4.5W Dual Core (with Hyperthreading) unit. Performance of this seems fine, it isn’t entirely lag free, i.e. I can make the Pixelbook crawl if I really push it but day-to-day it holds up just fine.

A slight aside here, I had the Chromebook Pixel (2015) model from Google back when that came out and the 2017 Pixelbook is a massive step up over that, the previous Chromebook would choke and splutter when I loaded up a 4k YouTube video, it’d run out of RAM if I opened too many tabs, etc. So between software changes (up to version 62 of Stable Chrome OS) and the Kabylake CPU vs the much weaker i5 used in the previous Chromebook both go towards making the Pixelbook a fantastically performing machine!

The screen, as far as colour accuracy and sharpness goes; it’s immense! Google (LG) is using a 2560×1700 resolution, which equates to a 3:2 aspect ratio, which for web apps is wonderful, the additional vertical space makes browsing lovely and it still works well for playing 16:9 content. So why did I put “LG” in brackets? Well that would be because the Pixelbook, though a Google device, was manufactured by LG under the codename ‘eve’. So the resolution is great, the IPS panel displays wonderful colours but is there a problem with this display? Yes. I think there’s some room for improvement on the brightness side, 400 cd/m² means a whole lot of nothing to me! But even indoors, if sunlight strikes at just the wrong angle, the screen is a challenge to view, the backlit keyboard also has some room to grow in terms of brightness… Unless the room is pitch black, the keyboard backlight is useless (which is arguably true of any backlight?) but I’ve seen plenty of laptop keyboards which look lovely in standard lighting conditions, such as the Razer Blade Stealth with its lovely Chroma RGB keyboard.

The touchpad is nice, despite having received a defective unit… And here’s a good time to say that I’ll be returning my unit for a refund. Overall, though the experience is great! I’ve essentially spent £1098 on an Android tablet with a keyboard… It’s not worth it yet, I thought two years since Google’s last top of the range Chromebook would be more than enough time for the OS to grow into something wonderful – a Windows replacement for me. But that still remains to be an optimistic hope! The screen and touchpad are both made of Gorilla Glass and that makes them feel wonderful to interact with. Both surfaces are incredibly smooth and I was surprised at how few fingerprints this device has picked up.

I’m almost ready to wrap up the hardware portion of this review. I’m just going to mention battery life and the silicon pads! I’ll start with the easy one, resting my palms on laptops is normally not fun… It’s either cheap flimsy plastic, an uncomfortably warm surface (because some daft engineer stuck a CPU or a HDD under there!) or the hard metal body. But Google have done something genius! They’ve got a couple of silicone ‘pads’ where your hands naturally fall, they’re white so I’m concerned that they’ll discolour over time. But in terms of comfort, they’re lovely, well and truly perfect!

Battery life: I can’t say too much as I’ve only had the device for 5 days… But I’ve not had to charge it mid-day. I can happily use it all day for basic productivity on medium to high brightness without even bringing a charger. I’m happy with it but it’s definitely not the 10-Hours that Google like to brag about 😉

Rounding Up

I love the Pixelbook, if this was a £500 device, I’d keep it. If it ran Windows, I’d keep it. If it was provided to me for free by Google for review, no surprises…. I’d keep it!! But this is a lot of my own money and for what it’s capable of it just doesn’t cut it for me. When Chrome OS gets to a point where I don’t still go “Oh, I just need to go back to Windows to do this” then I’ll be prepared to spend money on a Pixelbook (or whatever the name changes to) and maybe that’s me being optimistic again – Maybe Google never want to replace Windows or Mac OS! But if it ever gets close, I hope they let me know.

I did have the Pixel Pen with the Pixelbook but I’ve got nothing nice to say so I shan’t bring it up. I will say one thing though… Unless you’re an artist, it’s a gimmick!

Nearly at the end now, the packaging of this device was lovely. A truly nice unboxing experience that I’ll relive in reverse when I send it back.

If you know the Chromebook is for you then get one, you’ll love it. But if you think for a second that it might be missing ‘something’ then avoid it… Spend your money on something better or wait in the hope that Chrome OS will expand into something glorious.

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