The Pixelbook brings you to Chromebook heaven

Highs

  • Excellent thin and light design
  • Very good perceived performance
  • Great power usage / battery capacity ratio
  • Can run Android apps

Lows

  • Sound could be better
  • Android apps are mostly for small screens

Rating and Price

  • Rating: 8/10

Pitched as the high-performance Chromebook, the Google Pixelbook is Google’s way to take leadership for how Chromebooks should be built and even thought about. By having a custom design that embodies the chest of its Chrome OS platform, it can inspire the industry, entertain and serve its users with the most advanced Chromebook experience. How does it feel to use a high-end Chromebook, let’s take a closer look.

Important: I’ll assume that you know what a Chromebook is, if not, I highly recommend following the link and reading. This is not a Windows computer, but it can run Websites / Web apps and a vast number of Android apps since 2016.

Usually, Chromebooks are bought and thought out as simple-to-use and value-oriented computers. This is why there is nearly no competition for the Pixelbook (2017). Most Chromebooks cost $200-$400, but HP has a business Chromebook : the HP Chromebook 13 G1 with configurations going from $520 to $1100. We will also throw in the Dell XPS 13 (9370) and the Lenovo X1 Carbon (2018) because they land in the price-range of the Core i7 Pixelbook.

Industrial Design

With 290.4 x 220.8 x 10.3 mm dimensions and a weight of 1100g (2.43 lbs), the Pixelbook (2017) is an ultra-thin / ultra-light laptop. The weight in itself is common with Chromebook laptops, however, keep in mind that most of them are 11.6” computers instead of 12.3” here. The ASUS Chromebook Flip and the Samsung Chromebook Pro (model XE510C24-K01US) have 12.5” and 12.3” displays.

The primary chassis material is Aluminum. Aluminum is often liked for its robust metallic feel. This metal can be challenging to work with, but its price is less than Magnesium or Carbon composites, that is why it is an excellent option for premium, high-volume products. Aluminum is relatively easy to scratch, especially when exposed raw, without any protective layer

This laptop adds a white glass accent in the back, which makes it look extra-classy. Using glass on the back-cover of a laptop can happen, but it is very uncommon. The other laptop we can think about is the Lenovo Yoga 920 Star Wars edition with a Gorilla Glass panel at the top (screen’s back-cover).

At the bottom, Google is using two anti-slip rubber area to secure the laptop in place. You will particularly appreciate this if you use the computer on a glass table. We know this well because hotels often have these for ease of maintenance.

This computer feels very sturdy, and doubt that something would break if you were to drop it from a coffee table, especially when closed. However, the glass accent could crack, although there is an aluminum rim around it. There is no flex, and the chassis is entirely rigid.

This laptop is sealed and the user should not try opening it. Only certified technicians to attempt to do so.

Keyboard and trackpad

The computer input system is used every time, all the time, so comfort is a critical thing to consider when evaluating a laptop.

This keyboard has keys that are 270.6 mm² (~0.42 sq in) big, which is considered to be broad (it’s comfortable). The key-travel is 1.0 mm, and that is slightly shallow by laptop standards (~1.3 mm average?) but the MacBook Pro is ridiculously shallow at 0.5mm, so 1.0mm feels relatively normal.

The actuation force of the square keys is 67g, while the rest is 60g. The conventional wisdom is that the higher the actuation force, and the more “crisp” the stroke is. Believe it or not, but 60g is actually in the upper-range, even for desktop mechanical keyboards. For instance, the Cherry Max Green switch has an actuation force of 70g. This keyboard has a first-class tactile feedback.

"THIS KEYBOARD HAS A FIRST-CLASS TACTILE FEEDBACK"

The keys are flat and seem to be coated with an anti-slip/anti-fingerprint surface. Certain laptops have slightly curved keys (towards the bottom), while others stick to a flat design. The keys switches have an agreeable “clicky” feel, and if it wasn’t for the slightly shallow travel-distance, it would remind me of the old MacBook Pros, before the super-thin new keyboards.

The key size, layout, and shapes are critical factors in making the keyboard more or less comfortable. Most of it is a matter of personal preferences, so it is important to try, if possible at all.

This keyboard is backlit with a monochrome light, which is very handy at night, in bed (you should not) or in the plane. The light is set to come up automatically in very dim lighting.

The trackpad surface material is Glass. Glass is usually found in high-end laptop trackpads that emphasize comfort over durability. Glass feels exceptionally smooth and allows extensive use of the trackpad without the fingertips becoming bothered/painful.

With a trackpad surface of ~10.59 Square-inches, the trackpad is comfortable. When compared to the competition, this particular size is hefty, but there are bigger ones: the Matebook X Pro has a 13.21 SI trackpad (+24.7%).

Like any other touch-interface, the size of the trackpad in relation to the gestures matters. On laptops, most people use scroll and pinch & zoom motions. More advanced usages require up to four fingers, and circular gestures tend to be more comfortable with a larger surface. You might want to look at the Chromebook available gestures.

Ports

  • 2x USB-C Gen 3.1 (both can charge the laptop)
  • 1x 3.5mm audio

We love USB-C ports since they can be used for both data and laptop charging. They are also compatible with other chargers and are a great thing overall. However, not having a full-size USB could lead to situations in which you need a USB-A to USB-C for a simple file copy. There isn’t one in the box, but they are cheap. It’s just of matter of having it on hand when needed.

That said, let’s not forget that Chromebooks are built around the philosophy of being connected nearly all the time, so instead of using USB keys, users are probably using cloud services such as Google Drive, but also OneDrive, Dropbox, Box and other such services.The Pixelbook’s size might have allowed for an SD/MicroSD port, but unfortunately, there isn’t one.

Speakers & sound quality

Google has hidden the speakers inside the hinges of the display. The sound quality of the Pixelbook was quite decent, and you can easily watch TV shows and movies. We found the sound to be loud enough, but there is a little bit of distortion at maximum volume.

Other than that the audio is clear but could also use a little more “body” as it seems that the bass is a bit lacking in power. To be fair, it is complicated to have outstanding laptop audio with such a small internal volume and without user-facing speakers. The Huawei Matebook X Pro remains our laptop sound reference, for now.

Display and webcam

The 2400×1600 resolution (3:2 ratio) would be considered to be very high in absolute terms and compared to the competition it would be at the top for Chromebooks on par with the Samsung Chromebook Pro. However, the HP Chromebook 13 is the exception and goes even higher to 3200×1800 pixel!

The display brightness of 460 NITs is excellent. In general, more intense display lighting is preferred to read the screen content on a sunny day (or bright environment). Higher brightness leads directly to better image quality in general situations. Many laptops, including full-on Windows laptop top around ~300 NITs.

The display can fold all the way to 360-degrees, which makes it a Multimode, or 2-in-1 laptop/tablet computer. Multimode means that a computer can be used in four positions: Laptop, Tablet, Tent, and Stand.

Webcam

It has a 0.9 Megapixel resolution, with maximum photo resolution of 1280×720 and a maximum video resolution of 720p/30FPS.

The webcam has a fixed-focus and is optimized for video conversation. It is quite common for laptop cameras. Without auto-focus, the image quality is not optimum if the subject is too close. Generally, it is OK when the subject moves further away.

The image quality is very much in line with laptops within the same price range. ,Often, the quality of these cameras are equivalent to a very basic (~$70-$100) Android phone, but it’s good enough for video calls if lighting is decent.

Pixelbook Pen (add-on)

When the laptop launched, Google also announced the optional Pixelbook Pen, a digitizer pen. Of course, you can draw with it, but the most interesting aspect is how you can select things with it, and have Google Assistant search for related data.

Powered by Wacom technology, Pixelbook Pen costs $99, supports 2000-levels of pressures and recognizes if the pen is tilted up to 60-degrees. Google claims that it has a 10ms latency, which is hugely low-latency.

Performance and battery

Generally speaking, Chromebooks are not designed to be high-performance systems as we would understand it in the Windows world. However, Pixelbook is the highest-performance Chromebook on the market. Because Chromebooks are designed to run web apps and not general computing tasks, the notion of “performance” is relative, and we want to look at the user experience outcome as well.

Important notice about in-browser benchmarks

Because of the lack of native benchmarks for Chrome OS, many people are running in-browser javascript (JS) benchmarks that have little real-world meaning, because it can neither stress the hardware nor be representative of a real-world web computing. That’s because they are not measuring computer hardware performance, but browser Javascript engines performance.

In my opinion, perceived web performance has more to do with the speed of building/managing the page’s data (DOM) and pulling/parsing data from a great many sources. Once the page is done, there is often no continuous, massive Javascript code running in the page for minutes or hours. There are exceptions, but most pages don’t execute JS like that.

In-browser benchmarks have their purpose, but they should not be used to estimate the “overall performance” of a computer.

The Core i7 version of this computer has a Core i7-7Y75 processor, which turns out to be only slightly faster. The main reason to opt for that one would be to get the extra 8GB of RAM (16GB total) and the maximum of 512 GB of SSD storage.

I benchmarked the Pixelbook (Core i5-Y757, 2-Cores, 8GB of RAM) against my old desktop PC (Core i7-3960X, 6-Cores, 32GB). The Pixelbook actually beats my desktop computer on the Jetstream benchmark with a score of 135.39 vs. 134.15. On the Kraken test, the desktop computer scrapes a win with 1500.4ms vs. 1342ms.

Is the Pixelbook more powerful than my desktop PC? Not at all. In fact, the perceived performance is sensibly better on the desktop computer, especially if you increase the load (more tabs). It makes complete sense.

CPU performance: one generation behind

Since the Pixelbook has been on the market for some time, it uses Intel’s 7th generation CPUs. More recent laptops are using the 8th generation one, which comes with double the number of cores on many CPU models. That’s why the synthetic performance is sensibly in retreat when compared to regular laptops. At launch time (Oct 2017), the difference wasn’t as significant.

The Pixelbook we have is equipped with a Core i5-7YS7 which is designed with a TDP of 4.5W. This is drastically different from the 15W TDP Core i5-8250U frequently found in 2018 laptops. Synthetic CPU benchmarks show that the Core i5-7YS7 is ~27% slower than a Core i5-8250U in multithreaded CPU tests. However, its thermal design is 66% more advantageous.

Perceived performance during use

Since we are talking about this, the Pixelbook has an outstanding overall perceived performance, which easily exceeds other Chromebooks. Unfortunately, we don’t have the Core i7 version to see how much of a difference there is, because when it comes to web browsing, more cores and more memory helps – especially if you like leaving more tabs open. That’s where ther extra 8GB of the i7 version could help.

"THE PIXELBOOK PERFORMS GREAT, IF YOU KEEP THE NUMBER OF TABS UNDER CONTROL"

When it comes to web browsing (its main activity), this computer feels as fast as similarly priced Windows computer with a more powerful CPU – like the ThinkPad L380 Yoga, despite having a slower CPU. We loaded pages side by side to see it for ourselves.

Only when you have 7-8+ browser tabs open, then the L380 Yoga starts to load pages faster – because the background processes are piling up, and some ads are running in the pages, putting pressure on the CPU across multiple threads. Obviously, the more powerful your computer is, and the more pages you can handle simultaneously – again, no surprise here. My desktop PC can efficiently manage 40-50 tabs without breaking sweat.

Bottom Line: the Pixelbook performs great, if you keep the number of tabs under control.

Butter-smooth experience

"THE USER INTERFACE IS SOMETIMES SMOOTHER THAN PCS WITH FASTER CPUS"

The thing that is particular to Google’s Chromebook is how responsive the user interface is, and how smooth things like page scrolling are. That is something that Google has done very well on its Pixel smartphones, and you can find the same spirit here. The user interface is sometimes smoother than PCs with faster CPUs.

Even though Chrome on Chrome OS and Windows use the same codebase (I think) merely scrolling down is noticeably smoother on the Pixelbook, and little things like this make the whole web experience that much better. It probably has something to do with what happened in Windows between the trackpad driver down to the scrolling events. Well done Google.

Temperature and cooling

Because the CPU has a TDP (Thermal Design Point) of only 4.5W, the Pixelbook is the coolest computer we’ve tested so far. We’re talking about temperature here. In fact, when we were running some Android benchmarks, the temperature hit 34.5C, just 10C from the ambient 24.5C temperature. Laptops throttle performance at ~40C to avoid hitting the 44C+ temperatures that are considered to have a burning potential.

When subjected to heat for extended durations (many minutes), the skin can deteriorate starting from 44C / 111.2F. Getting your skin exposed to a 41C surface won’t make you jump, but will feel warm. For short duration exposures (seconds), research indicates that a burn happens when the skin temperature reaches 62.5C / 144.5F.

Battery

The Pixelbook (2017) has a battery capacity of 41 Wh, which is excellent for its size and near the top in its own category.

In our tests, we found the charging speed of this laptop to be 0.6 Wh/mn (36 Wh/hour), which is very good, for a Chromebook, but not that fast when compared to Windows laptops. We have tested laptop that charge at 48 Wh/hour (Lenovo X1 Carbon 2018).

This may be due to the fact that the Pixelbook and select high-end Chromebooks have a 45W charger when many Windows laptops have 65W ones. Charging speed can sometimes offset brute capacity, and it is essential for anyone who cares about battery life. 45W is the best you’re going to get on a Chromebook because their power requirement is less.

Be mindful that battery benchmarks are never representative of real-world usage, because app settings, background tasks, brightness status and network conditions are always different. The most important part of battery life is to look at the battery capacity (in Wh) and the overall system power baseline (CPU thermal design point, or TDP). Again, keep in mind that the power requirements of this system are vastly lower than other laptops in the same price range.

Conclusion

The Google Pixelbook deliver and brings you to Chromebook heaven. Even with the Core i5 edition, the Pixelbook delivers an exemplary, flawless web experience, with a user interface that can be smoother than more powerful PCs. If you like having more tabs open, I recommend the Core i7 version, which has 2X the memory and a slightly faster CPU.

"BRINGS YOU TO CHROMEBOOK HEAVEN"

The exquisite design makes it a pleasure to use on a day to day basis. The build quality and the overall design are top-notch, and this continues what previous Pixelbook computers started. This laptop is easy to carry and feels good in your hand, or at your fingertips.

Most of the criticisms are often related to Chrome OS and its philosophy than to the hardware we’re reviewing here. Of course, if you prefer Windows, it’s okay, and there’s a large market for that (the computers listed in the benchmarks all cost $1000-$1200). But if you are already sold on the Chromebook experience, this is the most luxurious Chromebook money can buy.

Note: We spotted the Pixelbook (i5/8GB/128GB) for ~$758 on Amazon. The i5/8GB/256GB version was at ~$910, and the i7/16GB/512GB was going for ~$1500.

Overall product rating: 8/10

Filed in Computers >Reviews. Read more about Chromebook, Editorspick, Google, Laptop Reviews, Laptops, Pixelbook.

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