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October 5, 2017

Google Pixelbook hands-on review

by John_A

Research Center:
Google Pixelbook

The Google “Pixel” brand may be most known for the smartphones, but the first ever Pixel-branded device was the Google Chromebook Pixel — a top-of-the-line Chromebook with an eye-popping price tag. At its October 4 hardware event, Google announced a new version of the Chromebook Pixel with a similar price tag, but with a new name: The Pixelbook. It’s accompanied by a stylus accessory called the Pixelbook Pen. We took a closer look in our hands-on review at the event.

Great specs mean a fluid Chrome OS

Google takes on the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with its new Pixelbook and stylus combination, but Chrome OS is quite different from the Windows 10 operating system. Most of your functions will be performed through the Chrome browser, but you can also install Android apps thanks to support for the Google Play Store. The Play Store first debuted on Chrome OS earlier this year on the Samsung Chromebook Plus, but it’s now exiting beta on the Pixelbook.

The Play Store felt fluid and fast, apps opened quickly, and there are far more optimized apps than before.

We did not have a good experience using Android apps on the Samsung Chromebook Pro — the Play Store was buggy, Android apps often crashed, and the interface was just plain slow. In our brief hands-on time with the Pixelbook, we were impressed with how much the experience has improved. The Play Store felt fluid and fast, apps opened quickly, and there are far more optimized apps than before. Spotify, for example, can go into a full-screen mode rather than a portrait mode (like on your phone). It certainly makes us think we’ll be installing more Android apps on the Pixelbook.

The rest of the OS felt fast and uncluttered, and that’s likely thanks to the 7th generation Intel Core i5 processor. There’s an Intel Core i7 model as well, and you can choose between 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of SSD storage space.

Assistant on the Pixelbook worked incredibly well in our brief use. You can activate it by saying “OK Google,” (it’s tied to your voice), but there’s also an Assistant key on the keyboard for quick access. Tapping it opens a floating window to the left of the screen, where you can type to the Assistant. The laptop screen can be rotated back 360 degrees if you want a tablet-experience. To trigger the Assistant here you can press on hold on the circular icon — similar to Assistant on Android phones.

Juliana Jara/Digital Trends

Juliana Jara/Digital Trends

Juliana Jara/Digital Trends

Juliana Jara/Digital Trends

One of Assistant’s killer features is its ability to read what’s on your screen and offer up relevant information or tools. For example, if you’re in an email and someone mentioned a restaurant, you can activate the Assistant and you’ll see a “What’s on my screen” icon you can tap. The Assistant will detect the restaurant’s name, then provide a card with additional information, such as its website, menu, phone number, address, and more. It’s much faster than having to open a new tab and search for the restaurant.

This feature is improved with the Pixelbook Pen. There’s a button on the pen that specifically works with the Assistant. Press and hold it while you circle something of interest, and the Assistant will automatically pop up a card with more details. It doesn’t just work on text — it accurately discovered the location of an image we circled, as well as an actor’s face. It worked impressively well in our brief testing, but we’ll save the verdict for the final review.

Sadly, Assistant will be exclusive to the Pixelbook for the remainder of 2017. Google told Digital Trends it will expand to more Chromebooks in 2018.

A unique, lightweight design

The Pixelbook has a unique design we haven’t really seen before on a laptop. A quarter of the front chassis is covered with glass, mimicking the design theme of the Pixel 2 smartphone. Unlike the smartphone, however, this glass design actually serves a purpose: better wireless connectivity.

The rest of the chassis is a silver aluminum unibody, but the Chromebook is impressively lightweight at just 2.4 pounds. The 12.3-inch LCD screen looks a little dated because it’s flanked by massive bezels — Google said this is to help hold the device when it’s used in tablet mode, since the screen can be rotated 360 degrees. The display looks bright, colorful, and plenty sharp thanks to its incredibly high 2,400 x 1,600 pixel resolution (235 pixels-per-inch).

Juliana Jara/Digital Trends

Google wants you to use a Pixel smartphone with the Pixelbook, and provides several unique capabilities when the two are paired to sweeten the deal. For example, you can tell the Pixelbook to instantly tether to your Pixel phone whenever it doesn’t have Wi-Fi. Both devices can also charge with the same USB-C cable. The Pixelbook has two USB-C charging ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack — we would have liked to see a USB-A port or two and an SD card slot, but that may be asking too much these days.

Google Pixelbook Compared To

HP ZBook 14u G4

Acer Swift 3 SF314-52-557Y

Microsoft Surface Laptop

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook

Dell XPS 13 (Kaby Lake)

Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35-C3350

Lenovo Ideapad 100S Chromebook

Apple MacBook (2015)

Lenovo Yoga 11e Chromebook

Samsung Chromebook 2

Google Chromebook Pixel

Dell XPS 13

ASUS Zenbook Prime UX32VD

Lenovo ThinkPad X230

Sharp M4000

The front camera sits at the top center and is capable of 720p video recording at 60fps; it should really do 1080p though, for the device’s price. A gyroscope on board means you’ll be able to play Android games that require you to tilt the device around.

The chiclet trackpad offered nice feedback and was spacious, but we’ll have to spend more time on it for a final verdict.

The $100 pen

To enhance your Pixelbook experience, you can purchase the Pixelbook Pen for $100. Google worked with Wacom to perfect this stylus, which offers more than 2,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, 60 degrees of angular awareness, and only 10ms of latency.

We saw virtually zero delay when putting the stylus to the screen, and its ability to pick up the varying degrees of pressure when writing and drawing was impressive. The stylus itself is quite chunky, though — it feels more like a chalk marker than a pen.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Writing with it was fun, but the palm rejection technology was particularly neat. We were able to place our palms on the touchscreen without triggering anything; it would only pick up on input from the Pixelbook Pen. Will this be the new slate for the creative types? We’ll have to keep testing to find out.

The only button on the Pen activates the aforementioned Assistant; it only works on the Pixelbook at the moment, but the rest of the functions will work on any Wacom-supported device.

Sadly, there’s no fancy charging mechanism here. You’ll need an AAAA battery, and it’s not clear how long it will last.

Availability and price

The Pixelbook starts at $1,000, but it can go up all the way to $1650 for the Intel Core i7 and 16GB RAM model with 512GB of SSD storage space. The base model is available for pre-order now, but you’ll have to “join a waitlist” for the higher end variant. The base $1,000 Pixelbook is expected to ship at the end of October.

The Pixelbook Pen, on the other hand, is available for pre-order now for $100, but it won’t ship until the end of November.

We enjoyed using the Pixelbook in our brief time with it, but we’re not quite sure yet if it’s worth the high price tag — especially when Chromebooks are known for affordability.

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