Pixelbook - the marriage of laptop and tablet that I'd been waiting for

So ... a long time ago I had been super excited for netbooks.  I scoured eBay all over the best deals as they were awesome.  I loved when I could bring my mini keyboard with my Palm Pilots... it was functional and they had that 'wow factor'.  The netbooks offered the same.  Showcasing to people that I didn't need to lug around this mega-sized screen with a keyboard attached and could do what was needed.  It was great to even start to showcase to people that all that was really needed was a browser.

Then quality issues, rising costs of SSDs and the growing size of Windows to be able to install just stopped making them the fun toy they were.  I was often having to tweak and modify to make it work for me.  The debate to go to a full laptop size was moot as it just seemed way way too large for practicality.  As it is now I hate to bring my work laptop anywhere.  The charging block is just huge, and even with the special extended battery we have put on it it will not last more than an hour ... just a horrid experience.

So, what's the alternative?

Lately, I've been enjoying having a tablet again.  I had been using one in the early days, the Asus Transformer was my ideal... but it was costly and almost as cumbersome.  So, I had sorta given up for a while until the LG Tab IV and it's been great to have something a little more than just a phone for my media consumption; but, when I needed to rattle off an article or something of substance it was not as simple.  It's possible on the tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard but requires a little more finesse and work than my desktop.

And then there was the #MadeByGoogle event.  The Pixel 2 looked amazing, the Google Home lineup looked fun ... but the Pixelbook ...  It's what really attracted me the most.

For the longest time I've been super intrigued by Chromebooks, it's really all I need, but would it really be enough.  I was torn about actually diving in for it.

The launch of the Pixelbook really solidified it for me.  This is what I wanted.  $1300 is just a hard pill to swallow (add another $300 if you want the 256GB storage instead of just 128GB... tho' I think 128GB is just fine).

I've been fortunate enough that Google had sent us over one to play with ... and I'm smitten, you probably could tell by my Unboxing.

Let's look over the specs (as if that's going to mean a lot tho'... just use it)

  • 12.3" 2400x1600
  • Intel i5 (or i7, but it's a lot more expensive)
  • 8GB RAM (there's a  16GB model, but again, way more expensive)
  • 128GB-512GB storage
  • 41Whr battery (uses PD charging) ... not sure what that converts to mAh
  • 2x USB-C ports (for charging or accessories)

Okay, so first up you say "it's a laptop", sure.

But, holy hell it's a skinny, thin laptop.  And it's so minimal.  Aside from the 2 USB-C ports (one on each side, and let me tell you how convenient that really is, to be able to not worry what side or how far do I have to move the cord to charge) there is a headphone jack (hahahaha, yup) and 2 buttons.  One near the front end on the left hand side that controls display.  Press it to turn off the screen, long press it to turn it all off.  The animation is pretty cool how it slowly 'dims'.  The other is the volume rocker and it's also on the left hand side but up higher to the USB-C/back end.

As I said, I'd never used a Chromebook before, so I was curious as to what I was really getting into.

Powering it on was extremely fast.  Setting it up with my Google account didn't take too long and then I was off and running.  My 'apps' that I had on Chrome were coming in and then I noticed it also had the Play Store.

Ooooh, that just entered a whole new realm.  Okay, more on that in a bit.

So, yeah, the device is hella skinny, to the point that to open it up when closed you have to really watch how you do it as it may be too thin at points to do it without lifting it.  Pretty awesome problem to have.

There's a whole keyboard (more on that in a second) but it's also touch screen enabled.  I'll discuss the PixelPen in a separate review.  But yeah, you can just touch away.  Flip the screen all the way around and you can enable an on screen keyboard to type away on.  So neat; except, I'm worried that the keyboard is now facing 'down' meaning some keys would get scratched and / or the trackpad.  I worry about those kinds of things ... something pressing down too much ruins the springs or the switch in it... so far no issue, but I really hardly ever use it in that manner tho'.  But it's nice to know that it can.

So the keyboard.  Now, it lights up (yup, I'm entertained pretty easily) ... but when you use it you start to notice its just slightly different than your typical keyboards.  Oh, the letters are all in the right place, but there are no function keys... there's no home/end ... my entire workflow might need some adjusting.

Wait?  There's no caps button either?  This is weird people.

The trackpad ... well first off what's nice about it is that it's surrounded by a very nice textured 'pad' where you can rest your wrists comfortably.

The pad itself is nicely sized and easily accommodates a wide range of movement (when you're drag and dropping across the screen you can pretty well have no issues).  The pad is very sensitive, not overly, but enough ... it took me a while to realize that if you tap with 2 fingers, it acts like a right click (could also ALT+tap).  See, I get very used to using shortcuts and when I use a laptop I want to use the trackpad and not have to lug a mouse around.

One weird part for drag and dropping... I'm used to being able to tap, then tap-drag to move things about, however, to do that you actually have to 'click' the trackpad in order to drag things around.  I rarely ever click except for that feature.

Plus you get to have some new gestures, I can't tell you how much I'm liking 2 finger slides in order to go back/forth when reading on the web.  First things first tho', when you get it, out of the box it does the 2 finger slide up/down in reverse scrolling.  Apparently, how I like it, sliding upwards to scroll downwards is called "Australian style".

So that works well.

Then there's the whole keyboard.  Like I said, I like the efficiency of shortcuts... and you'll find a few of them missing.  Like Home/End, Page Up/Down, F5, CTRL+F4 ... sigh.

There are still the standard ones, but learning a new keyboard flow to know that page up is CTRL+Up, or End is Search (the circle key that replaced caps lock) + Right.  And Delete ... it's ALT+Backpace ... that's the oddest command sequence I've seen.

Check out  this page for their list of shortcuts:  https://support.google.com/pixelbook/answer/7503852?hl=en-CA

It doesn't take too long to get used to it tho'.

The buttons up top are just as simple; back, refresh, full screen, etc...

Okay, outside of the physical interface (and remember it is a touchscreen too) there's the software.

Now, this is the part where it gets a little weird for me.  It's part Chromebook and part tablet.  I'm not really sure where to draw the line.  The web apps work in Chrome (Gmail, docs, etc...) but you can install apps like Boom Beach.

Maybe Chromebooks have been like this for a while (I remember something about it), but it's just great to be able to switch between reading my emails, writing articles and playing BoomBeach.  So much fun.

It was neat to see in the 'app drawer' that apps listed would have a 'chrome symbol' on it if it would load on the browser, or not if it was a 'native app'.

you can see Play Books as a native app and a browser
still can't figure out how to make it sort alphabetically tho'

The settings for the Chromebook (accessible by clicking the lower right hand side; which also the notifications show up just next to there too) are also a nice mix of Chrome browser settings and Android related settings. It's familiar, but still fresh... new

It's a wholly interesting experience for me.

The neat thing was that this comes with the Assistant button on it.  This is pretty handy actually.  My son's hitting that point where he needs to be doing real 'homework' these days and sitting him down at the table to work on it and find out how many different species of penguins are there ... well, we can hit the assistant button.  Now the button doesn't automatically start up the conversation, we still have to either click the microphone or say "hey google", but it'll give the verbal responses and then he can click through and learn more.

He's getting really good with Google searching.

Another neat feature was that when it recognizes you have a Pixel that and it loses WiFi it will have the option to automatically tether off of the phone.

Pretty simple to set up (but, in Canada, we're paying some of the highest rates for cellphone data, so be warned).

Let's get around to seeing how well it performs.

Well, it's using the web, so it's doing quite well.  I think the only limiting factor here is the bandwidth.  I've not seen it stutter or anything.  Running web apps, running Android apps... this thing has not faltered.  Installing apps has been fast, loading them up just as fast.  No waiting.

Now, that speed comes at a cost.  The battery on board does last a pretty good length of time.  I was getting about 5 hours or so of usage before it needed to be charged.  And closing it put it in that low power sleep that I could put it away before work and pull it out at lunch with only a few percent being lost.

Not bad at all.

The issue comes in with the fact that the charging is using the PowerDelivery standard.  I get it, it's what's optimal for this kinda of deal.  But I have the same issue with it as I do with my Pixel 2 XL... I don't have the plethora of chargers for it that I do any of my Qualcomm QuickCharge adapters.  So, I have to lug around its wall wort ... which is a pain.  Something I wanted to avoid with a nice small laptop.

I'm stubborn and didn't take it out of the box so used any of the chargers I had lying around. Unfortunately, because they can't deliver PD I would get the "Low Power Charger.  Your Chromebook may not charge while turned on".  Depending on what I was connected to, that could mean that my discharge rate would be slower, or significantly slower.  If I closed the lid and left it charging it would slowly increase its percentage.

Kind of a bummer, that if I want to have a good charging rate, I'd need to bring my only charger with me, or buy some spares.

I once had a 6,000mAh portable battery charger and it sucked the crap out of that charger in no time flat without really raising any percentage (but it didn't have much drain during that time).

Like I said, it's a really good thing that the battery lasts a very long time.

Now, there's a couple accessories I want to talk about, but I'll do separate reviews on; first is the Pixelbook Pen, and then there's the Pixelbook Sleeve.  One I was excited about the other I wasn't... but my views have totally flipped.

So, performance is awesome, the experience is really unique ... it's truly the marriage of a laptop and a tablet that I'd been waiting for ever since I first saw folks modding netbooks for touchscreens and the first Android tablets came out.

It's unfortunate that the price is so high, but for this ... it's warranted.  Look what a decent laptop will cost you ... something with touch capabilities and such a low profile, it won't be cheap.

Sure, someone will say "but you can't run Photoshop on it", or "you can't plug it into a projector without an adapter" ... maybe you need to have those things; if so, then this isn't for you.  But if you're me, and you just need something to bang out an article, but then let it double as your Boom Beach distraction ... essentially be your tablet ... then this is your beast.

What I love about it is that it's Chromebook, everything is always up to date, nothing on here that isn't on the cloud ... everything's always going to be up to date.

And as a Pixel, it'll get updates as fast as possible.  In fact I got an update already for a bug in the touchpad (I did have some issues where it sorta froze and I had to reboot it, but it's been bang on since the update).

So, peace of mind using it.

There is a small issue/concern that I have about the buttons.  I Alt+Tab a lot ... now, I'm not sure if it was like this before, or after a couple weeks but the Alt key on the left of the space bar it feels like it's about a millimetre more depressed than the other keys, like there's a definite height difference.  Is this intentional?  I don't think so.  I'm sure it's nothing, but I'd hate to have to worry about a key.  Especially for this price.

Overall, this is an awesome device.  It's really changed my mind on how I use computers.  Before, I had no problem 'consuming media' with my phone, but if I wanted to get work done, I used my desktop downstairs.  With this laptop, I haven't gone downstairs in a while.  I can do 99% of what I need right here; it's small enough that it's very convenient to do so.  Not many laptops are so ... 'convenient'.  Heck, many tablets aren't even as convenient.

So weigh out in your mind what ease of use means to you.  I think you'll like this.