Google Pixelbook Go review: Value is in the eye of the beholder

Google’s track record with laptops and slates has been uneven. Last year’s Pixel Slate was a wonderful piece of hardware crippled by poor software choices. The 2017 Pixelbook was and still is a high-end beauty that seems to get everything right. This year, the company is back with the Google Pixelbook Go, a scaled-back Pixel Chromebook. Will this device help set a new bar for mid-range Chrome OS laptops, or get lost in a sea of mediocrity? Find out in Android Authority‘s Google Pixelbook Go review.

About this Google Pixelbook Go review: I used the Google Pixelbook Go as my primary laptop for more a week. Google provided the review unit to Android Authority. During the course of the review it updates from Chrome OS, build 77.0.3865.105 to build 78.0.x.
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Google Pixelbook Go review: The big picture

Google Pixelbook Go Review closed with Pixel 4

The sweet spot for Chromebooks falls between $200 and $500. While entry-level fare will get you a computing device for basic browsing and media consumption, the Chromebooks priced over $400 are better options for those who need to be productive. The 2018 Pixelbook remains a lonely member of the Over-$1,000 Chromebook Club. That’s what makes the Pixelbook Go so perplexing. The device slots in between the middle and high-end of the market for Chromebooks, where it might have a hard time competing with the devices that cost less.

Rather than go head-to-head with the rugged, economical models available to students, the Pixelbook Go tempts users seeking an experience that’s a cut above. Let’s see if Google delivers.

What’s in the box

Precious little: The Pixelbook Go, the 45W charger and USB-C cable, and some documentation. The box is really nice, though, if you care about that sort of thing.

Design

Google Pixelbook Go Review G logo

  • 311 x 206.3 x 13.4mm
  • 1.06kg
  • Painted magnesium
  • Corning Concore Glass
  • USB-C x 2
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

Many affordable Chromebooks are made from low-cost materials and thus feel cheap to hold and use. The Google Pixelbook Go feels anything but cheap. An attractive magnesium shell forms the Chromebook’s profile. Where the top is flat metal with gently rounded corners, the bottom is a ridged plate. Google says the ridges are meant to make the Pixelbook Go easier to grab and hold. I have to wonder if heat dissipation is also a factor.

There are a million black laptops out there, but not all of them have the Go’s matte-paint-on-metal finish. The texture is fantastic. While I generally find black to be boring, the Just Black Pixelbook Go is simple yet sophisticated. The Not Pink colorway will surely appeal to some people, but I’d have loved to see a rich blue or matte white model instead. One can dream, I suppose.

Google kept the Pixelbook Go’s profile as small as possible. The 13.3-inch display allows the Chromebook to reign in the dimensions. It’s smaller and lighter than my Apple MacBook Pro, which has the same screen size as the Pixelbook. My shoulders can confirm that the Go weighs less than the MacBook, too, as they were less fatigued after lugging the Pixelbook around Manhattan for a day.

Google Pixelbook Go Review rear profile

The ports could be better. The Go has just two USB-C ports, one on each side. Because the Chromebook charges via USB, you’ll need to reserve one of those ports for the power cable at times. There’s also a dual 3.5mm headphone jack. There are no USB-A ports, nor is there a memory card slot/reader.

A notch helps your thumb take hold of the lid and push it open when the Chromebook is seated on a table. The weight of the lower half means you don’t need two hands to open the Pixelbook Go, and I appreciate this. The hinge is strong and holds the lid wherever you set it. (FYI, the Pixelbook Go is a standard clamshell; the lid does not swing all the way around.)

The 16:9 screen fills most of the display area. Bezels could be thinner, but they really aren't too bad.

A full-sized keyboard, oversized trackpad, and stereo speakers fill the lower deck. Google selected the right options for the function keys, which include controls for volume and brightness, back/reload, multitasking screen, and music playback. The keyboard features a dedicated Google Assistant button, as well as quick access to the app drawer.

Speaking of the keys, Google calls the Pixelbook Go’s keyboard Hush Keys. Minimal travel is meant to help reduce the noise generated when tapping away at the keys. I have to say, I really like this keyboard. It’s much better than the keyboard of the Asus C434 Flip, which felt mushy in comparison. The Go’s keys were immediately comfortable to me, and my fingers did not become fatigued despite hours of typing. I’d say this keyboard is second only to the excellent Pixelbook in the Chromebook space. The keyboard is backlit, so you can see the keys in the dark.

The trackpad is decent, but not the best I’ve used. For me, a good trackpad is hard to come by; it’s the single biggest pain point with Chromebooks in my experience. The Pixelbook Go gets it mostly right. First, it’s large so it feels natural to use. Speed and response time can be set high, and you have the option to select a gentle tap or a full click to interact with items on the screen. The tap option is a little too sensitive, but it’s better than the intense clacking made when you press the trackpad down.

In all, the Pixelbook Go is a much better-looking, higher-quality option than pretty much every other Chromebook out there — but you’ll pay for it.

Display

Google Pixelbook Go Review display

  • 13.3-inch LCD
  • 1,920 x 1,080 Full HD
  • 16:9 aspect ratio
  • Touch panel

Nothing about the Pixelbook Go’s display truly stands out. It’s a common size, shape, and resolution. Even so, it’s a good display, if not quite a great one.

To my eyes, colors looked accurate, the pixel density is just enough to prevent jagged edges and keep text legible, and the screen can put out a decent amount of light. I had no trouble using the Chromebook in my sunny office or a dimly lit Starbucks.

The glossy finish of the Concore Glass is crazy reflective. You will have an issue with lights reflecting on the panel. This meant I often had to position the lid at an angle I didn’t necessarily like. On the flip side, if you touch the display often you’ll cover it in fingerprints which will reduce the reflectivity. Pick your poison I suppose. The touchscreen is accurate and responsive to touch.

Bottom line, the display works just fine.

(A 4K variant will be available later this year for a lot more money, but we were unable to evaluate that screen.)

Performance

Google Pixelbook Go Review side view open

  • Intel 8th-Gen Core i7, Core i5, Core m3
  • 8GB or 16GB RAM
  • 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB storage
  • Titan-C security chip

Google sent us the middle-of-the-pack build of the Pixelbook Go — that means a Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The high-end Core i7 CPU is only available to the forthcoming 4K model, which costs three times as most other Chromebooks.

The Pixelbook Go ran well. I’ve experienced plenty of pokey Chromebooks before, and the Pixelbook Go felt quick and responsive in comparison. Apps opened in a blink, multi-tasking was fluid, and the Chromebook reacted to all input immediately.

The only time the Go felt slow was when interacting with physical media cards. I plugged an SD memory card into the Go via a USB adapter, and the Pixelbook struggled to read the card and load image previews. Several thousand images were on the card, which is a lot. Still, my five-year-old MacBook Pro loads images from the same card much faster.

I've tested pokey Chromebooks before; The Pixelbook Go felt quick and responsive in comparison.

I often ran the Chrome browser with a mix of web pages open, and a number of Chrome OS and Android apps on the Go all at the same time. The Chromebook truly had no trouble jumping from one app or window to another. The few simple games I played on the Chromebook performed well. I also used Lightroom to edit photos. The experience was fine.

In other words, the Pixelbook Go bested every Chromebook I’ve tested other than the OG Pixelbook.

By way of comparison, Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo have dozens of Core i5 Chromebooks with similar RAM/ROM options for well under $600.

More posts about Chromebooks

Battery

Google Pixelbook Go Review ridged bottom

  • 47Wh battery
  • 45W charging brick
  • USB-C charging
  • Rapid charging

The Pixelbook Go’s battery provides all the power I need to get through a day, though not everyone’s day nor workload is the same. Google claims the battery can hit 12 hours of mixed use (including standby time).

I used the Go at various brightness settings and always with the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios on. Whether I was browsing the web or watching Netflix, the Pixelbook kept running and running and running. My worst result was 10.5 hours, while my best was 11.4 hours. That’s pretty close to Google’s rated uptime of 12 hours and it’s certainly more than the original Pixelbook offered.

The Pixelbook Go kept me productive and working from 8AM to 6PM.

Either way, the Pixelbook kept me productive and working from 8AM to 6PM on multiple days. That’s good enough for me, as it’s more than double the battery life I’m getting with my MacBook Pro these days. Streaming media was about the only activity that squeezed more juice from the battery. 

As for accelerated charging, plugging the Pixelbook Go into the included charger for 20 minutes will give you about two hours of battery life. That’s enough to get through a meeting or a lecture.

Software

Google Pixelbook Go Review browser open

  • Chrome OS 78

Chrome OS is Chrome OS, which is to say it’s the same across all Chromebooks. There aren’t manufacturer-created UI skins the way there are for Android phones. As noted earlier, the Pixelbook Go was running Chrome 77 when it arrived and it automatically updated to Chrome 78 after several days. These updates are a good thing, because it means Google is keeping the platform secure. It’s part of the pitch behind Chrome OS, and is why Chrome OS is trusted by schools.

All you need do is sign in with your Google account and you’re good to go. If you’ve taken the time to set up the Chrome browser on any other machine, all your bookmarks and settings are instantly mirrored on the Chromebook. A handful of Chrome OS apps, such as the Google Calendar, are on board, though most run in the browser itself. You can edit photos in Snapseed or Lightroom, or edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents in the browser.

The Pixelbook Go supports Android apps, and the Google Play Store is preloaded. There, you can find apps, games, and other content to download. For the most part, Android apps run in small, phone-shaped windows on the desktop, which makes interacting with them less than ideal.

Chrome OS is incredibly lightweight and was designed that way on purpose. The Pixelbook Go does it justice.

More posts about Chrome OS

Camera

Google Pixelbook Go Review open profile

  • Duo Cam:
    • 2MP sensor with an ƒ/2.0 aperture
    • 1080p at 60fps

The Duo Cam is located where it should be, above the display. Duo is, of course, Google’s app/service for video chats. Using Duo, you can chat with other phones, Chromebooks, and even Nest Hub/Home devices, as long as they are configured.

I tested the Duo Cam and quality varies widely depending on the light. When using the camera indoors (which is where most people are likely to use the Pixelbook), lots of grain and noise permeate live video. This is mitigated a bit if you move to a sunny or otherwise brightly lit space. The 60fps frame rate helps a lot with smoothing motion.

You can take still images with the Duo Cam if you want, but I don’t know why you’d want to. The 2MP pictures look pretty rough.

Your phone is probably a better Duo Cam than is the Pixelbook Go.

Audio

  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Stereo speakers
  • Bluetooth audio

Google covered the basics with respect to audio. None of its auditory avenues is overly impressive, but they all get the job done. Music routed over wired headphones sounded decent. I wish there were better (or any) EQ controls on board. Perhaps this can be overcome with a third-party app. 

I found the stereo speakers to be bright and punchy. Not all reviewers agreed. I tested a wide range of music styles and came away impressed not only with the clarity, but the volume. The Pixelbook can get crazy loud. If anything, bass tones are a bit weak. 

Bluetooth connections are via simple A2DP stereo Bluetooth as far as I can tell. Google has not indicated exactly which profiles are supported. Music and movies sounded good but not great through my favorite set of Bluetooth cans. 

Specs

Pixelbook Go  
Display 13.3 inches
1,920 x 1,080 Full HD
LCD touchscreen
Corning Concore Glass
Processor Intel 8th-Gen Core m3
Intel 8th-Gen Core i5
Intel 8th-Gen Core i7
RAM 8GB or 16GB
Storage 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB
Size 311 x 206.3 x 13.4mm
1,061g
Battery 47Wh
45W USB-C charger
Fast charging
Wireless Bluetooth 4.2
Dual-band Wi-Fi
Ports USB-C x 2
3.5mm headphone jack
Camera Duo Cam:
1,080p @ 60fps
2MP
Colors Just Black
Not Pink

Value for money

Google Pixelbook Go Review standing with Pixel 4

  • Pixelbook Go: Core M3, 8GB RAM, 64GB storage, Full HD display — $649
  • Pixelbook Go: Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage, Full HD display — $849
  • Pixelbook Go: Core i5, 16GB RAM, 128GB storage, Full HD display — $999
  • Pixelbook Go: Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB storage, 4K display — $1,399

Here’s where the Pixelbook Go gets a bit lost. Google still sells the 2017 Pixelbook, which has a refined, convertible design, pen support, and still-decent specs for $999. The vast majority of Chromebooks, however, have prices below $600. 

From my perspective, the $849 Core i5 variant is the bare minimum anyone should consider. That makes it as much as $300 more than the $550 Asus C434, which is a 2-in-1 design with more ports (albeit worse battery life). The Asus C302CA sits a small step behind the C434, but is a great value at around $500. There are dozens and dozens of solid options for less than $400, including the Acer Chromebook 714.

So, what makes the Pixelbook worth the larger investment? Pros include the appealing design, fine screen, and better-than-average battery life. It also has a superior keyboard. Cheaper Chromebooks are made of plastic as often as they are made of metal, and can include 720p screens with kludgy designs. In other words, the Pixelbook’s value is in the eye of the beholder. 

Google Pixelbook Go review: The verdict

Google Pixelbook Go Review on a blue ottoman

Despite the lingering appeal of the original Pixelbook, it remains a too-expensive device even today. The Pixelbook Go is a better all-around value when compared to its predecessor, but it is hard to justify the price considering the wealth of options in the market. 

The excellent design, materials, and construction are surely highlights here, as are the crisp display, and robust performance. If these are worth the price premium to you, then you won’t be disappointed. More budget-conscious buyers will find their needs easily fulfilled by lesser Chromebooks.

This concludes our Google Pixelbook Go review. What do you think? Are you interested in Google’s latest Chromebook? Be sure to let us know. 

More posts about Pixelbook

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