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October 7, 2017

Google Pixelbook versus Samsung Chromebook Pro: What’s best for Android apps?

by John_A

Google’s Chrome OS platform has inspired a host of Chromebook notebooks that have taken the PC market by storm. The platform has had the most impact at the low end, particularly in education, but that doesn’t mean that there are only inexpensive notebooks from which to choose. A couple of vendors, including Samsung, have introduced higher-end machines, and Google has returned to the premium segment with its replacement for the defunct Pixel. Here, we take a look at the Google Pixelbook versus the Samsung Chromebook Pro to see which machine takes the high-end crown.

Both of these Chromebooks are convertible 2-in-1s with pens that allow for drawing, handwriting, and annotating documents, but are they actually in the same class? Read on to find out.

Samsung Chromebook Pro

Google Pixelbook

Dimensions
11.04 x 8.72 x 0.55 (in)
11.4 x 8.7 x 0.40 (in)
Weight
2.38 pounds
2.4 pounds
Keyboard
Full size keyboard
Full size backlit keyboard
Processor
Sixth-generation Intel Core m3
Up to seventh-generation Intel Core i7
RAM
4GB
8GB or 16GB
Graphics
Intel HD Graphics 515
Intel HD Graphics 620
Display
12.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology
12.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology
Resolution
2,400 x 1,600 (235 ppi)
2,400 x 1,600 (235 ppi)
Storage
32GB eMMC
Up to 512GB NVMe SSD
Networking
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Ports
USB-C/Thunderbolt (2), microSD, headphone jack
USB-C 3.1 (2), headphone jack
Webcam
720p webcam
720p webcam
Operating System
Chrome OS
Chrome OS
Battery
39 watt-hour
41 watt-hour
Price
$550
$1,000+
Availability
Now (Amazon)
Base model now (Google Play Store)
Review
4 out of 5 stars
Hands-on

Design

The Samsung Chromebook Pro is a solidly built 360-degree convertible 2-in-1 with an elegant but unobtrusive design. Its dark grey, all-aluminum chassis looks professional compared to some other Chromebooks but also won’t stand out in a crowd. An important aspect of any convertible machine is the hinge, which needs to be both stiff enough to hold the display in one of the four modes — clamshell, tablet, tent, or multimedia — while being smooth enough to effortless swivel from mode to mode. We found the Chromebook Pro’s hinge to provide just the right amount of tension. Overall, the Chromebook Pro is a well-built and attractive machine, particularly at its still-affordable price point.

The Google Pixelbook strives for a more premium design. Its chassis is also made of aluminum, but it adopts an aesthetic that’s clearly intended to mimic Google’s Pixel line of smartphones. There’s the same kind of glass cutout in the upper quarter of the backside of the chassis, which both identifies the Pixelbook as a member of its family and provides for better wireless connectivity. Bezels are a little larger than usual, which Google says is to make the machine easier to grip in tablet mode, and that makes the Pixelbook a little larger than the Chromebook Pro in width and depth. However, Google also engineered a very thin device at 0.40 inches, that’s noticeably more svelte than the Chromebook Pro.

The Chromebook Pro has a good design that’s just fine for the price point. But the Pixelbook’s design is more elegant, attractive, and useful in tablet mode, so it wins this category by a fair margin.

Winner: Google Pixelbook

Performance

Samsung equipped the Chromebook Pro with a sixth-generation Intel Core M3-6Y30 processor, which provides sufficient performance for Chrome OS — and for running Android apps — while promising better battery life. There’s 4GB of RAM on board which again is more than sufficient for Chrome OS, and the 32GB of eMMC storage won’t win any speed records, but it’s sufficient for a decent number of apps. Chrome OS still benefits greatly from cloud storage and isn’t a processor-intense OS, so while these specifications aren’t impressive, they’re good enough.

The Pixelbook, on the other hand, is equipped with strong enough components to compete with full-on Windows 10 PCs. There are full-speed seventh-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processor options, along with up to 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of fast NVMe solid-state disks (SSDs). Whether or not a Chrome OS machine needs that much power is questionable, but it’s there if you need it.

Again, the Chromebook Pro is good enough, but the Pixelbook gets the win for simply outclassing its Chrome OS competition.

Winner: Google Pixelbook

Keyboard, Mouse, and Pen

Both the Chromebook Pro and the Pixelbook offer good keyboards with decent travel, although Google equipped its machine with backlighting, and both touchpads are quite usable in Chrome OS. Both machines offer responsive touch displays that promise to provide good support for the millions of Android apps that can be installed on many Chrome OS machines. In this regard, so far, there’s little to differentiate the two machines when it comes to input.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

With regard to pen input, however, the Pixelbook puts some distance between itself and the Chromebook Pro. While Samsung’s pen support is decent across its line of notebooks and phablets, Google engineered some impressive specifications into the Pixelbook’s active pen. First, it supports over 2,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, which is competitive with many Windows 10 2-in-1s. But, it also supports the newer tilt function (up to 60 degrees of angular awareness, in fact) that’s only provided by a few other machines, and it’s significantly more responsive with a 10 millisecond latency — that beats out the previous leader, Apple’s newest iPad Pro.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Although Google doesn’t include the pen where Samsung does, the Pixelbook’s pen support is simply superior, and tips the scales in Google’s favor. Note that if you want the pen with Google’s new machine, you’ll have to wait until November 2017 to pick one up.

Winner: Google Pixelbook

Connectivity

The Samsung Chromebook Pro is minimally equipped when it comes to connectivity, with two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, a microSD card slot, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. That makes it just fine for future connectivity, but you’ll need a dongle to connect to any legacy USB-A devices.

The Google Pixelbook is even less well-connected. It has just two USB-C 3.1 ports and a headphone jack. If you’re looking for Thunderbolt 3 support or an SD card reader, then the Pixelbook isn’t the right choice.

Winner: Samsung Chromebook Pro

Display

Samsung equipped with Chromebook Pro with a very nice and high-resolution LCD. It’s 12.3 inches, sports a high 2,400 x 1,600 resolution (235 PPI) in the increasingly common 3:2 aspect ratio. That makes it great for productivity, including using the pen for drawing and handwriting, but that does mean there’s some letterboxing when watching video. We found the display to be bright with vivid colors and solid contrast, and so the Chromebook Pro checks off some important boxes when it comes to display quality.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Google Pixelbook’s display is identical in terms of specifications. It’s also a 12.3-inch LCD with 2,400 x 1,600 (235 PPI) resolution and a 3:2 aspect ratio. In our brief hands-on look, we found that it, too, was bright, colorful, and sharp.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The only thing that differentiates the two displays is bezel size, where the Pixelbook looks dated compared to more modern-looking thin-bezeled machines. As a result, we give the win to the Chromebook Pro.

Winner: Samsung Chromebook Pro

Portability and battery life

The Samsung Chromebook Pro is a relatively slim Chrome OS machine at 0.55 inches thick, and it’s light at 2.38 pounds. That makes it easy to toss into a backpack and carry around for quick work — noting that you’ll want an internet connection to be most functional with Chrome OS. The 39 watt-hour battery is on the small side, but Chrome OS is an efficient OS, and the Core m3 processor sips power. That allowed the Chromebook Pro to last for a reasonable amount of time on a charge. In our testing, it exceeded other Chromebooks, but fell short against the best Windows 10 2-in-1 machines.

The Google Pixelbook is a bit larger in width and depth than the Chromebook Pro but it’s also thinner at 0.40 inches while weighing almost exactly the same at 2.4 pounds. That makes it roughly equal in terms of how it will weigh you down when moving from workplace to workplace. The battery is similarly sized at 41 watt-hours, but the CPU and storage are more power-hungry. We haven’t tested battery life on the Pixelbook yet, but we imagine it will last somewhat less than the Chromebook Pro on a single charge.

It might be a little unfair to award a winner here given that we haven’t tested the Pixebook’s longevity, but there’s a price to be paid for all the Pixel’s power. We imagine the Chromebook Pro will end up being slightly longer-lasting on a charge and so the more portable of the two machines.

Winner: Samsung Chromebook Pro

Availability and price

As we mentioned at this beginning of this comparison, Chromebooks are typically low-cost machines — indeed, that’s much of their appeal compared to Windows 10 PCs. The Samsung Chromebook Pro was introduced as a relatively premium Chromebook at $550, with some added benefit thanks to the included active pen. We found it well worth the extra investment for anyone interested in running Chrome OS, and $550 is a truly budget machine compared to most Windows 10 PCs. You’re likely to spend $1,000 or more to get a machine that runs Windows 10 as efficiently as the Chromebook Pro runs Chrome OS.

The Google Pixelbook is in another class entirely when it comes to pricing. It starts at $1,000 for a configuration with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD, and runs all the way up to $1,65o with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. That’s a lot more money for a lot more power and a more luxury design and build, and indeed runs smack dab into some of the best Windows 10 2-in-1s made.

Winner: Samsung Chromebook Pro

A win for Samsung

If you’re looking to run today’s Chrome OS and Android apps on a pen-enabled convertible 2-in-1 machine with a nice display and snappy performance, then the Samsung Chromebook Pro is a great choice at a price point that’s still reasonable.

The Google Pixelbook is more of a hero device for the Chrome OS platform, and its main purpose is to showcase Google features like the Google Assistant. Ultimately, you’re paying a lot of money to make sure that your Chromebook will perform at its absolute best.

For now, we find that Samsung’s Chromebook Pro offers a much better value for a design that’s still excellent, and provides a great experience. We’ll give the win to Samsung here, while recognizing that the Pixelbook is a special machine that highlights the Chrome OS platform.




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