Chromebooks have a reputation for being cheap -- both in cost and construction. However, a handful of premium models have always challenged that preconception, from Samsung's Chromebook Pro ($273 at Amazon) and , to Google's own models. Recasting its flagship Chrome OS device as a two-in-one hybrid, Google is positioning the new Pixelbook ($800 at Amazon) as the top of the Chromebook food chain.
The mostly metal Pixelbook is a great everyday work machine for those heavily dependent on Google's suite of apps. Like most modern Chromebooks, it also has access to the Google Play store, meaning it can download and use a wide range of apps, just like an Android phone or tablet. The laptop's useful convertible design, which can be propped up like a tent, flipped over like a stand or folded back like a tablet, adds to the overall usability and utility.
The Pixelbook ups the ante for all Chromebooks, and it does so at a high cost -- literally. The laptop starts at $999 (£999), which is almost double that of the Samsung Chromebook, previously one of the most high-end Chromebooks around. The review unit we tested cost $1,200 (£1,200) and had a 7th gen Intel Core i5 CPU, 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. To be fair, Google's earlier attempt at a premium Chrome OS system, the Chromebook Pixel, cost even more at launch.
There is no official Australian pricing or availability yet, but the price converts to about AU$1,275.
Google Assistant everywhere
Google Assistant has its own dedicated button on the Pixelbook's keyboard. It's on the bottom left corner, located in-between the ctrl and alt buttons, and pressing it launches Google Assistant.
After pressing the button, the Google Assistant window pops up on the bottom left hand corner of the screen. You can then type out what you'd like to search.
Google Assistant can analyze your screen as soon as it launches and offer popular search results based on what you're looking at, similar to Android phones.
The feature can also be summoned by saying "OK Google" out loud. It understands voice searches, but don't expect the Pixelbook to replace a Google Home ($99 at Target), because you can't like a smart home speaker.
Google Pixelbook Pen
The Google Pixelbook Pen is a stylus that works with Google Assistant. It's closer in design to the Microsoft Surface Pen than the Apple Pencil, doesn't require charging, pairing or a Bluetooth connection and currently only works with the Pixelbook. Battery life should last about one year.
- 10ms of latency
- 60 degrees of angular awareness
- 2,000+ levels of pressure sensitivity
- AAAA battery
Like the Pixelbook's keyboard, the Pixelbook Pen has its own Google Assistant button. It works by pressing it once, then using the stylus to circle an image or highlight text on the screen. Google Assistant then searches whatever you've selected.
I found the image search function to be quick and handy, though sometimes inconsistent. The text search needs some improvement. It was only useful when searching one word or very specific terms.
Otherwise, the Pixelbook Pen was a comfortable stylus for navigating the touchscreen, as well as writing down notes, drawing and taking screenshots. Unfortunately, there's nowhere to store the pen on the laptop. For people who often lose things like me, that can tack on the extra cost of a pen clip. Samsung's Chromebook Pro, in contrast, has a built-in stylus slot.
The Chrome OS we've been waiting for
No longer is Chrome OS an odd operating system that's practically useless without Wi-Fi (although it's still limited in its offline capabilities compared to a windows or MacOS computer). Chrome OS is still mostly centered around the Chrome web browser, but now the Google Play store is available on the newest version, allowing you to download, install and run millions of Android apps, just like an Android phone or tablet.
Android apps on the Pixelbook can be dynamically resized like any regular window. They favor the same dimensions as they do on a phone. App windows are moveable when using the Pixelbook as a laptop, however, apps only work in full-screen mode when in tablet mode.
Most new Chromebooks can use Google Play apps. Performance, especially for games, depends on the device's processing and graphics capabilities.