Almost ten years ago, I was included in the Chrome OS pilot, one of 60,000 folks who received (for free!) the prototype CR-48 Chromebook to kick the tires and provide feedback on Google’s nascent operating system.
A ton has changed since then. Chrome OS has matured, growing into a fully-functional system that was ahead of its time in touting a cloud-first, web-centric approach. Coupled with Google’s back-end account syncing and Chrome OS is dead-easy to setup and use. I could get back up and running on a new device in minutes, and the way Chrome OS handles updates is so low maintenance it makes working with Windows 10 beyond cumbersome.
Over the years, I have switched between multiple devices and platforms, and settled away from the Windows sphere for personal computing. Over the past few years, it has been either macOS or Chrome OS, and the latter continuously wins out because it’s just so damn easy to use.
But that doesn’t mean every Chromebook is a winner.
Chromebooks – rightly so – have a reputation for being “cheap” machines. What you’ll often see at stores like Best Buy or online are sub-$300 notebooks running Chrome OS, with 4GB RAM and 32GB or (if you’re lucky) 64GB of storage. They may have a touchscreen, and more than likely these days they’ll come with Android and Linux app support.
For most people, just being able to browse the web and use social media, maybe send emails (is that a thing anymore for younger folks?), and doing light document editing is all they need. Chromebooks nail that niche, better than Windows 10 under similar specs.
This has lead to the perception that Chromebooks that are more expensive – say, $500 or more – are overpriced web browsing PCs. Not accurate, but if I’m being honest, I see why it’s a hard sell.
Then you have the Google Pixelbook, clocking it at $1,000+ (very clearly MacBook and high-end Windows laptop territory) and the conversation becomes more sharply divided.
Let me be clear: I wouldn’t recommend a Pixelbook for $1,000, even if it’s my favorite Chromebook ever. And I mean, ever.
Look, I’m a cheap ass tech guy. I love technology, I’m a recovering gadget junkie. But if 23+ years using tech has taught me anything, it’s that very little tech is worth full price.
(Arguably MacBooks because they do seem to last forever, and tend to be well-supported for longer. But never a Windows notebook. Nope. I’ll die on this hill.)
But the Pixelbook is a really gorgeous piece of hardware. Google took its cues from Apple’s playbook and crafted a sleek machine with specs that are overkill for a Chromebook: 8GB RAM, an Intel i5 processor, 128GB storage, touchscreen, thin body and convertible form factor. Throw in the Pixelbook Pen (which, like the Apple Pencil, is overpriced as well at $99) and you have a Chromebook that does it all.
But two years later, it’s still priced at $1,000+, and that’s a problem.
Google released the Pixelbook Go, a more traditional laptop (no convertible form factor or Google Pen support) that retains the slick body and impressive design. Again, Google overshot on the price; the “low-end” Pixelbook Go is $649, and that’s still $150 too much.
It’s almost as if Google can’t quite decide how to market their upper tier Chromebooks, especially since ASUS, Acer and others are putting out similarly spec’ed devices for less. Sure, they’re (arguably) lacking in the aesthetics of the Pixelbook range, but most people – I would imagine – simply don’t care about that.
Then you see the recently released Lenovo Duet 2-in-1 form factor Chromebook which retails for about $279 (and that includes the detachable keyboard) and is getting solid reviews, and the need for a (much) higher-end device becomes murkier.
To be frank, if I hadn’t come across a deal for a Pixelbook at just about 50% off the price, I wouldn’t have made the plunge. And after selling my previous Chromebook to off-set the cost, it was a no-brainer to upgrade.
And wow. The Pixelbook is amazing, particularly if you buy into the entire Chrome OS concept (is tech loyalty really any different than religion?). Great screen, slim form factor, long battery life, and wonderful performance? For the full MSRP I sure hell would expect it, but after years of dealing with Intel Celeron and ARM Chromebooks, stepping up to an Intel i5 processor (hell, even an i3 is damn nice) is a serious performance upgrade. Any complaints, concerns or reservations about Chrome OS operating smoothly vanishes into the ether if you’re even a little bit of a power user.
That’s not to say there aren’t other Chromebooks worth looking at. The Pixelbook Go, if you don’t need a convertible form factor, might be a better choice for you if you need a slightly larger screen. The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook is the current hot rod of Chromebooks, but the 4K screen and 10th generation Intel processors come at the cost of lower battery life and some heating issues. And as mentioned above, the Lenovo Duet might be the new standard bearer for balancing performance, price and utility among Chromebooks.
But the Pixelbook – the OG if you will – is still more than worthy of your time if you’re looking to get into Chromebooks and want the best experience up-front. I would just recommend digging around on eBay and Swappa for a deal. If you land one, it’ll be one hell of value.