It’s been quite a while since I last published a Chromebook review on GeekDad. About six years, as a matter of fact. The devices have certainly changed a lot since then. They’re still an affordable alternative to Windows and Mac laptops, running the no-fuss and secure Chrome operating system. But Chromebooks have really grown up since then. They may not be as expensive as other laptops, but that no longer has to mean “cheap.” In fact, some can go toe-to-toe with the best of the competition when it comes to design and specs. A great example is Google’s Pixelbook Go: a sleek Chromebook with plenty of power, a great display, and a $649 starting price.
Unique, Premium Style
I really like the look and feel of the Pixelbook Go. The body is painted magnesium alloy (available in Just Black and Not Pink), with a uniquely rippled and grippy bottom case. Both colors are attractive. I preferred the Just Black, although it is prone to fingerprints. My wife and daughter were fans of Not Pink, which is quite subtle (although the bottom of the case is considerably brighter).
This Chromebook weighs just 2.3 pounds, and it’s only 0.5-inches thick. Both USB-C ports can be used for charging, and fast-charge delivers two hours of power in 20 minutes. The overall look and feel is that of a premium laptop, but it also feels pretty solid.
I wouldn’t be giving this to a child as a first laptop (something a little more rugged would be more appropriate), but it should be able to stand up to a teenager—maybe make sure they take it to class in a nice padded sleeve, though.
What Are You Giving Up?
The question that always used to be asked with Chromebook is: what are you giving up? Chrome requires less processing power than Windows or macOS. With its focus on working online and with Google’s G Suite, the expectation is that most documents would be stored in the cloud. Early Chromebooks were also designed to be as inexpensive as possible.
The answer to the question then was typically the use of a seriously outdated CPU combined with minimal RAM and storage. Cases were usually plastic. In addition, many early Chromebooks were equipped with dim, low-resolution displays and suffered from mediocre keyboards.
The Pixelbook Go experience is nothing like that.
Processors are 8th generation Intel Core CPUs. Not the latest, but far from ancient and still very capable. All the models come equipped with at least 8GB of RAM—the same base configuration as the latest MacBook Pro. Even the least expensive version has 64GB of SSD storage. The displays are bright and crisp with touch support, and there’s even a 4K option. There are two USB-C ports. Wireless is Bluetooth 4.2 and 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2×2 (MIMO) dual-band Wi-Fi. Again, not cutting edge, but this was what premium Windows laptops were shipping with last year. There are stereo speakers, dual mics, and a 1080p webcam. The case is magnesium.
In other words, the Pixelbook Go may cost less than most Windows and Mac laptops, but it does not look or feel like a compromise. Quite the contrary.
The Sweet Spot Configuration
Google offers a range of configurations for the Pixelbook Go. The base version comes with an Intel Core m3 processor, 8GB of RAM, 64GB of solid-state storage, and a 13.3-inch Full HD display in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
At the top end is a version with an Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 4K Molecular display. That will set you back $1399.
For my money, the configuration that hits the sweet spot has a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and that Full HD display. It goes for $849 and provides a nice balance of performance and affordability.
Plenty of Performance for School, Entertainment, and General Computing
My review unit was the Core i5/8GB/128GB configuration, and I found it up to anything I was using it for. It streamed 1080p video smoothly, and the built-in speakers were the best I’ve heard in a sub $1000 laptop. I connected to a 4K monitor using USB-C and it was able to stream 4K video without missing a beat.
I checked a few times and I had over 30 tabs running simultaneously—including a few that were streaming video—and there was no sign of choppiness. Running Android apps can be hit or miss on a Chromebook, but at least you have the option.
The backlit keyboard with Hush keys offered an excellent typing experience and the glass trackpad was responsive. Battery life easily hit the 12-hours that was advertised during typical use, although it could go down an hour or so if streaming video with the display brightness and speaker volume cranked.
A Chromebook doesn’t offer the software variety that Windows does, and you’re not going to be using this laptop for gaming (other than Android apps or Google Stadia), but it is a useful little laptop for getting things done. I actually have one on a long term loan, and I’m just starting to experiment with writing on it and giving it a run as a work machine. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.
The Pixelbook Go isn’t the cheapest Chromebook, nor is it the most expensive. The Core i5 configuration with 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD should hit the sweet spot for most people. You get a slim, light Chromebook with attractive styling, 12-hour battery life, a beautiful display, and plenty of performance for everyday use—not bad for $849.
And, of course, the Pixelbook Go brings all the advantages of the Chromebook experience, including support for multiple users each with their own customized experience, automatic system updates, and built-in antivirus protection.