It looks and feels like a smartphone, which is a strange way to start out a laptop review. The Google Pixelbook, at 0.4 inches thick and only 2.4 pounds, reminded me so much of a high-end Android smartphone that I almost felt like I should have been able to make phone calls with it (you can, actually–using Skype online). Typing on the keyboard is pure heaven, and you can use a stylus on the touchscreen; I’ve never tested a laptop that helped me dive into work so quickly and efficiently without any hiccups.
That’s one of the main strengths of Chrome OS, which powers the laptop. Note to gamers, photo enthusiasts, video editors, or anyone who uses custom apps or likes Windows or the Mac for the extra features–this is not the laptop for you; nothing to see here. For everyone else–those who mostly stick to the cloud, browse the web, like Google Docs and Gmail, tend to need a laptop to do research or write business documents, or connect with people on social media (a.k.a., most of us), the Google Pixelbook just has a super-streamlined feel. It’s fast, reliable, and won’t impede your productivity.
I know this because I used one for a week at coffee shops and cafés. Like one of my all-time favorite laptops, the Google Chromebook Pixel released way back in 2013, you open the lid, hit the power button, and in about one second you can log in and start checking email. (Maybe that’s a bad thing, depending on how much you like email.) With the slimmer size and lush aluminum design–all light gray and white, like the Pixel 2 smartphone–the Pixelbook is even more “in the moment” and steps out of the way so you can do actual work. It seems more like a direct portal to the web than ever before.
I tested this theory several times, accessing some of my favorite sites like Gmail.com, SproutSocial.com, Google Drive, and a few news portals, and the laptop behaved more like a smartphone in that there wasn’t any extra software clutter, settings to worry about, or apps to install. Of course, you can run Android apps on the Pixelbook, but I focused on typing, email, Slack, and research. The “instant on” is really instant, and the sites I used all loaded quickly. I even skipped the laptop bag one day and just grabbed the laptop by itself with some earbuds for one workday. The laptop is powered by an Intel Core processor and is lightning fast. I also used sites like Google Music, Parse.ly, and Flipboard and was never bothered by the fact that there are no desktop apps.
On every trip, the Pixelbook lasted all day, from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., without needing a charge. Google has noted that the laptop will recharge up to around 20 percent (or two hours of use) in 15 minutes, so it’s nice to juice up that quickly. The “no frills” approach to the operating system applies to the hardware as well. There’s a USB-C port on both sides for attaching a phone charge cable or the laptop charger. Thankfully, there is also a normal 3.5mm headphone jack. And … that’s about it. A power button and volume controls, but no camera card reader, no HDMI port, no normal-size USB ports. You can use an adapter like those made for the latest Apple MacBook models to add normal USB and HDMI-out. It seems weird to say it, but I never missed the extra ports. I was content seeing the Pixelbook as a cloud-based laptop that is hyperfocused on helping me get work done.
And I loved using the Google Assistant. Like with a phone, you can say “OK, Google” and ask the voicebot questions about directions, the weather, and sports scores. Nice. The laptop folds all the way around to work like a touchscreen tablet–perfect for books.
Are there any gotchas? You might wonder about the price. The base model costs $999, which is quite a bit more than most Chromebooks made by Samsung and Acer. You’re essentially paying for the trim design and the look. I wasn’t too happy about the smaller-than-normal arrow keys–due to the slim size–and missed pressing them once or twice.
The display is phenomenal, but this is a 12-inch notebook, so don’t expect movies to rock your world. (If you care about that or looking at online photos, you will want a different laptop that is either a 15-inch or a 17-inch.) I love the keyboard and typed faster than I have on many slim Windows models, but I had to reorient myself to a keyboard with no function keys and a slightly different layout. (There’s only a CTRL and an ALT key, so no Windows key or Command key.) And I did miss Adobe Photoshop, even after all these years.
These are minor issues. You open the laptop, press the space bar or power button, and start working. The reason I recommend the Google Pixelbook over other recent laptops is because it suits my working style. It’s slim and fast. I don’t care about the extras. I care about finishing my work. If that’s you as well, this is your laptop.