Pixelbook Go hands-on review: A return to Chromebook tradition

In a world where libraries, coffee shops, and computer desks are dominated by the glowing white Apple, Chromebooks have slowly managed to become popular. Once only coming in clamshell laptops, they’re now found in all shapes and sizes.

But the creator of the platform, Google, has had a tough time cracking the scene with its own hardware. The Google Pixelbook was too expensive. Last year’s Google Pixel Slate was a shot at the Surface Pro lineup, but it missed.

This time, Google is back with a conventional clamshell laptop at an affordable $649 MSRP. It’s called the Pixelbook Go.

Combining a form factor that everyone knows with some unique design choices, the Pixelbook Go marks a return to Chromebook tradition. And it’s affordable.

So round, so beautiful

Let’s face it. Clamshell laptops can be boring. They often feature an elegant, smooth aluminum metal finish that mimics Apple’s MacBook line-up. Google wants to change that.

The Just Black painted magnesium matte lid of the Pixelbook Go is smooth as you’d expect from most laptops. It’s also available in Not Pink, similar to the Google Pixel 3. Overall, the top finish feels like a MacBook Pro.

But it is the bottom that steals the show.

Google Pixelbook Go bottom
Arif Bacchus / Digital Trends

Instead of being uniform and flat, the bottom of the Pixelbook Go looks like a modern washboard. Google calls it a “wavy bottom.” It’s a rough texture that’s visually unique and easy to grip. This is a complete 180 turn from the older Pixelbook, which had a smooth glass finish that made it way too easy to drop.

The Pixelbook Go is also thin and light at just barely 2 pounds in weight and 13mm in thickness. That’s still a bit off from the Pixelbook, however.

Google didn’t opt for rough or square corners, and overall, the Pixelbook Go is easier to hold than most clamshells, like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3.

But be ready to get your dongles ready. The Pixelbook Go has a USB-C port and headphone jack on the left, and USB-C on the right. That’s two USB-C and one headphone jack in total.

A keyboard so quiet

The keyboard on the Pixelbook Go is simple. Gone are the rounded keycaps from the Pixel Slate, and in its place is something similar to the Pixeblook keyboard. Google says the keyboard is designed to be comfortable and quiet.

Google Pixelbook Go keyboard
Arif Bacchus / Digital Trends

It features what Google calls Hush-Keys. They’re meant to be whisper-quiet, though that was hard for me to judge on the floor of Google’s event. What I was able to judge was its performance. I happily typed a 97 percent accuracy in Bing’s typing test.

The trackpad is also light. It flanks near to the bottom of the device and is easy to reach. While it’s not as solid as what you can get in a MacBook, its light touch adds to the overall sleekness of the device.

But the bezels, though

Another thing worth noting is the screen. I was hands-on with the standard FHD model, but Google is also offering an option for 4K touchscreen. Google tells me the standard FHD screen goes up to 400 nits of brightness, which is normal for most laptops. However, in bright light, the screen a bit hard to see.

If you want the 4K touchscreen, you’ll have to speed a lot more than the base $649 MSRP. That will only be available in a high-end model at $1,399. The 4K screen will be paired with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

Back to the bezels. While the bezels on all models aren’t as slim as competing Windows 10 laptops, it’s adequate for productivity. That’s thanks to its 16:9 aspect ratio. I tested this by opening-up some spreadsheets and web pages. I easily scrolled and made my way through the common tasks I do at my desk.

Lots of Intel power, but not the latest.

Screen and build quality mean nothing if a laptop isn’t powerful. Luckily, Google gets that. It’s offering options for the Intel Core m3, i5 or i7 processors, with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and 64GB to 256GB of storage.

These are older 8th generation Intel processors. I was hands-on with the Core i5-8200Y model with 16 GB RAM, and it was fast enough for watching YouTube videos, navigating the web, and most of my common day to day tasks. Even Asphalt 9 ran beautifully.

Choosing to use the 8th-gen processor in late 2019 may raise some eyebrows, but Google is confident that it provides the best balance of portability, price, and performance.

Google also says that the battery powering the Pixelbook Go is 15% larger than the older Pixelbook. It should last for 12 hours, though you can get two hours of battery on just 20 minutes of charging.

Chrome OS continues its slow evolution

The Pixelbook Go of course runs Chromes OS 77, the latest version of Google’s desktop-lite operating system. Like Windows 10 and MacOS, Chrome OS has reach a point where changes are minor and don’t drastically alter the operating system. The latest update added Google Assistant and Virtual Desks.

Kevin Tom, a software engineer, said “There aren’t any exclusive features to [the Pixelbook Go].” Instead of developing Chrome OS exclusives, Google is trying a broad approach. “We actually want to bring all of our features out to as many people as possible,” said Tom.

Worth every dollar

With prices starting at the $649, the Pixelbook Go is worth every dollar. From screen and build and design, it is visually impressive. It even sports some options under the hood similar to competing Windows 10 laptops. We’ll need to test it more, but for now, we’re amazed.

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