Pixelbook Go's unique design and smooth performance make it a compelling laptop

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Fri October 25, 2019

It's been nearly two years since Google launched the Pixelbook, an ultra-high-end Chromebook that has a 360-degree hinge, a sharp display and touch screen. Unfortunately, it was over $1,000, which was a lot for a ChromeOS device.

Now we have the Pixelbook Go. It's a lot more affordable, starting at $649, and features a new, classic clamshell design. At well over $600, it's still more money than most Chromebooks -- for instance, Samsung just launched the $249 Chromebook 4 and $299 Chromebook 4+. But there's something about the Pixelbook Go, namely a surprisingly long-lasting battery and memorable design that's also functional.

After a week with Google's latest ChromeOS laptop, I'm ready to tackle the question of whether it is worth spending at least $649 on a ChromeOS laptop.

Here's what I've been testing

First things first, I've been testing the $849 model of the Pixelbook Go. It's the first step up from the base and doubles the storage, while also swapping in a more powerful processor.

$849 Pixelbook Go

  • 8th Generation Intel Core i5 Processor
  • 8 GBs of RAM
  • 128 GB of SSD

You can also opt for an even more powerful Pixelbook Go, one with an Intel Core i7 and up to 16 GBs of RAM, but it won't come cheap. It's much closer to $2,000 but shows that Google wants to offer consumers a choice with power.

However, even the $649 model with an Intel Core m3 processor performed well during my testing at a hands-on event. There wasn't that much of a noticeable difference between the m3 and my unit with the Intel Core i5 with core applications and uses. We'll dive into this about more later in the review.

A unique design that's super portable

While Apple and Microsoft opt for metal and aluminum, Google went with magnesium, and boy oh boy, does it feel great to use. Similar to how Apple went for titanium for the new Apple Watch material, Google's choice of magnesium gives their devices a sturdy and visually pleasing design, but it's also thin and light at just 2.3-pounds and 0.5-inches thick.

It comes in two color choices: Just Black and Not Pink. I've been testing the former, and Not Pink will be launching in a few weeks. Just Black is really what the name sounds like, and the matte finish really ties it together while doing its best to hide fingerprints. It's also fairly smooth, with an outer layer that feels as if it has been freshly sanded. The top case has a simple light gray "G" logo in the corner, and the rest is black.

Google mixed things up on the bottom, giving it a ribbed design that offers the most grippable surface I've encountered on a laptop to-date. It makes it really easy to carry the Pixelbook Go with one hand or sling it under an arm. This trait is certainly unique and utilitous; it doesn't feel much like a gimmick.

You won't find a ton of ports on the Pixelbook Go. There's a USB-C port on the right and left sides, both of which can handle charging. The left side also has an audio jack, but that's it. There's a nice lip to easily open the Chromebook with just a thumb or finger. It's weighted quite well and the hinge is smooth.

The first thing you'll notice is a fairly wide display measuring in at 13.3 inches and offering a 16:9 ratio. There are thick bezels above and below the display, while the left and right sides are thinner. The top only houses a tiny front-facing camera, so it doesn't make the best use of space.

And of course, you have a typical QWERTY keyboard and a wide trackpad. It's pretty packed. There's a subtle Pixelbook logo directly above the keyboard, but the trackpad stretches basically to the edge. Flanking the keyboard on the left and right are two speakers.

A terrific and quiet typing experience

I loved the keyboard on the original Pixelbook and I similarly like the keyboard here. It's a great in-between with just the right punch, but not a lot of noise With a laptop as thin as this, you don't want it to feel or sound like a typewriter. It's tactile enough, but you don't really hear it. Google calls this "hush-keys." Simply put, it's impressive.

I was banging away on the keyboard to write this full review in a quiet car on the train, and none of my fellow commuters on NJTransit gave me side-eye., and no conductor asked me to quiet down. It passed the commuting test.

It's a comfortable experience even for longer writing sessions. And even though it's a bit cramped, my wrist was comfortable even while a typing out a thousand-plus-word review.

On the other hand, the trackpad is more of a letdown. Yes, you can lightly tap the trackpad to click and engage with the OS, but the physical click is quite loud. It feels a little cheap to my touch and my ears, and it's not nearly as large as the one on a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or the Surface Laptop 3. It's not a dealbreaker, but the trackpad is a little disappointing, even compared to the one on the Pixelbook.

It's incredibly fast

Overall, performance is not an issue with the Pixelbook Go, even on the $649 model. A core m3 is plenty to power even the most intense Android apps.

ChromeOS is not the most strenuous operating system. It's essentially based on the Google Chrome web browser and supports nearly every Android app found in the Google Play Store, depending on whether the developer has updated it or not. But apps like Microsoft Office including Outlook, Adobe Lightroom, Slack, Dropbox, Google Drive and many others also run just fine.

Still, you don't have access to every application that runs on the Mac or Windows. Those who use enterprise apps likely won't find them.

A big benefit of ChromeOS is the frequent updating and security that provides. It's similar to Android: you have an app drawer, access to settings similar to preferences in Google Chrome, and you get multitasking. It's pretty fluid, and you'll get a nice walk-through when you first setup the Pixelbook.

As a good rule of thumb, if you're mostly web-based, a Chromebook is a viable option. You can write on Google docs, browse the web with ease, and of course stream all the Netflix you can imagine. I could see college students using it, and even some professionals, but the mileage might vary.

Solid battery life

You should get up to 12 hours of battery life and fast charging is supported. With 20 minutes of charge time, you'll get two hours of use, and it's pretty on the money. You can easily monitor the battery level in the bottom-right hand corner.

Since Google Stadia isn't out yet, I used Shadow's (a service that lets you rent a gaming PC) app for Android to test out some hardcore performance. So yes, I was able to play GTA V, StormWorks and even Fortnite on a Pixelbook Go. Since it's all web-based, it didn't kill the battery life.

I definitely got close to 12 hours even when I was pushing it. It'll likely last a day full of meetings or even several classes with plenty of note-taking.

Bottom Line

Even though a Chromebook can't do as much as a Mac or Windows device with high-performance apps, it's still a really intriguing device, and at $649, it's cheaper than a MacBook Air or Surface Laptop 3. It's lightweight, has good performance, an awesome look and feel (especially the keyboard), and lasts all day. Plus, that 13.3-inch display can fit a lot. As a journalist on-the-go, I could see myself loving one of these.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.