Google’s relationship with its own Chrome OS hardware has been a peculiar one. While other OEMs regularly push out new Chromebooks for users with various budgets, Google continues to refresh its hardware just once a year. Until now, those updates have produced luxury Chromebooks with varying degrees of popularity: 2017’s Pixelbook won many hearts with its unique design, versatility as a convertible, and solid performance, while 2018’s Pixel Slate tablet was a decided flop.
For 2019, Google is again trying something a little different: the $649 Pixelbook Go, a more modest Chromebook with a starting price that many will find easier to stomach than the Pixelbook’s $999 price tag. While the Pixelbook Go may not be a luxury device, it’s not a dirt-cheap Chromebook either. It sits in a category of higher-end Chromebooks that’s getting more populated as companies including Acer, Asus, HP, and others make more capable devices.
The biggest draw of the Pixelbook Go is that it’s made by Google, and since we saw the company bring so much to the table with the Pixelbook, it’s fair to assume that the Pixelbook Go would offer something inherently Google-y that other OEMs can’t match. The company is hoping that X factor (along with a more affordable starting price) will bring Chrome OS lovers flocking to the Pixelbook Go. But after using the Pixelbook Go for almost a week, I found that, like most things in the consumer tech world, the reality is not that simple.
Look and feel
Chassis and display
|Specs at a glance: Google Pixelbook Go|
|Screen||13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080, 166ppi) touchscreen||13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080, 166ppi) touchscreen||13.3-inch 4K (3840 x 2160, 331ppi) touchscreen|
|CPU||Intel Core i5||Intel Core m3||Intel Core i7|
|HDD||128GB eMMC||64GB eMMC||256GB eMMC|
|GPU||Integrated Intel GPU|
|Networking||Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2×2 (MIMO), dual-band (2.4GHz, 5.0GHz), Bluetooth 4.2|
|Ports||2 x USB-C, 1 x 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Size||12.2 x 8.1 x 0.5 inches (311 x 206.3 x 13.4 mm)|
|Weight||2.3 pounds (36.8 ounces) (1.04kg)|
|Battery||47Wh battery||47Wh battery||56Wh battery|
At launch, it was easy to compare the Pixelbook Go to a MacBook in style, but Google’s new laptop feels noticeably different from Apple’s signature laptop. Both are minimalist in their own way, and they share a scarcity of ports—the Pixelbook Go only has two USB-C ports (both of which support charging, data transfer, and display output) and one 3.5mm headphone jack.
But the similarities stop there. Magnesium makes up most of the Pixelbook Go’s chassis, giving it a pleasant yet strange feeling in your hands. It doesn’t quite feel like metal, but it also doesn’t quite feel like a plastic laptop. It lies somewhere in-between, but thankfully that limbo doesn’t make it feel cheap. On the contrary, the Pixelbook Go has a build quality that I’d expect in a mid- to high-end laptop. The lid had a slight bit of flex, but the chassis itself doesn’t flex at all, and the unique texture of its ribbed bottom keeps the device in place on a flat surface without being distracting.
Google outfitted the Pixelbook Go with a 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080p touchscreen that seems just fine for a Chromebook like this at first blush. However, a few things could be improved or changed based on our usage—first and foremost being the incessant glare that appears when any amount of sunlight falls on the display. It was frustrating to work on the Pixelbook Go in my home office in the same position I test other laptops because that spot gets so much natural light. Also, the display has chunky bezels hugging its top and bottom that I wish had been shrunk—doing so may have allowed a 16:10 or a 3:2 panel rather than the cramped 16:9 panel we got on the Pixelbook Go.
The display also didn’t need to be a touchscreen because the Pixelbook Go is a laptop, not a convertible like the Pixelbook. Admittedly, some users may find it easier to navigate Android apps on a Chromebook using their fingers, just like they would on an Android smartphone. However, touchscreens just aren’t as comfortable to use on laptops as they are on convertibles and I generally find no use for them on the former devices. It’s also disappointing, and slightly confusing, that the Pixelbook Go’s screen can take input from your finger but not from a stylus like the Pixelbook Pen.
The top-tier configuration of the Pixelbook Go is the only one to have a 4K panel, and that’s not the only perk that increases the value of the $1,399 model. The specs on that model are also better: Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage—arguably more power than anyone needs in a Chromebook. Nevertheless, aside from the 4K display and internal specs, the top-tier model is identical to all the other Pixelbook Go models in hardware design.
Keyboard, trackpad, and features forgotten
We’ll get into the consequences of that fact after we discuss the keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard has a standard Chrome OS layout—the Launch key replaces the Caps Lock key and the top-right Delete key is slightly smaller than I would like. The page navigation keys are also slightly narrower than normal, but they won’t impact most users too much.
Google claims the new, backlit keyboard on the Pixelbook Go is quieter than that on the Pixelbook, and that’s true to a degree. The keycaps have a softer sound when you click them, so you don’t get any satisfying noises out of them. But the Pixelbook’s keyboard wasn’t all that loud to begin with, so I see this as a minor improvement rather than something that will have a massive impact on the number of people buying a Pixelbook Go.
It seems Google tried to translate the Pixelbook’s uniquely Google-y design for a more affordable device, and I think the company did so to a certain extent. The Pixelbook Go has the same aesthetic as the Pixel 4, which, depending on your personal preference, could be a great thing. If you like thin-and-light laptops with few frills, the Pixelbook Go will be right up your alley.
It also makes for a solid mid-range device, but its validity as a high-end device is debatable. I’m disappointed that the top-tier configuration only adds better specs and a 4K display. I wish Google gave users more for their money and included more hardware differences like pen support or a fingerprint sensor (remember the Pixel Slate had one?) in the $1,399 model. Plenty of Windows laptops in the $799 to $999 range include such features—and even some competing Chromebooks in that price range include them as well.
Google’s rationale for this is that it wanted to make the Pixelbook Go more affordable in every way possible—not only for consumers to buy, but for Google to make. Doing so meant stripping out any features that Google felt were unnecessary to on-the-go use and refactoring features of the Pixelbook that were fan favorites, such as the keyboard. We could debate the usefulness of certain features on an ultraportable until we’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t bode well for the Pixelbook Go that other Chromebooks in the same price range are more capable.
Take the Acer Chromebook Spin 13, our current favorite luxury Chromebook—while it’s not as thin or light as the Pixelbook Go, it can be outfitted with similar specs, includes a stylus that lives in its chassis, has an FHD+ display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, and offers solid performance all for around $725. You’ll get more for your money, if you can sacrifice a bit in the design department, than you would in our $849 Pixelbook Go review unit.