In 2013, Google released the Chromebook Pixel, a beautiful, weird, unabashedly high-end device meant to show other manufacturers what Chrome OS could do with more power than it needed. Google nerds were into it, but it didn’t have much impact on the greater Chrome landscape. Following a 2015 hardware refresh and 2017’s similarly pricey convertible Pixelbook, Google tried and failed to catch more mainstream attention with last year’s Pixel Slate, an overpriced, badly-optimized two-in-one that sold so poorly the company actually gave up on making tablets. This year, Google is taking a different tack in trying to sell to normal people with the Pixelbook Go, a regular ol’ Chrome OS laptop with regular ol’ specs, starting at $650. It’s a very Google product, and I kind of love it — but for the price, there’s still not much reason for most folks to care.
Design and hardware
Google Senior Product Manager of Hardware Ben Janofsky says the Pixelbook Go’s more traditional form factor was chosen with an eye to affordability and longevity: 360-degree hinges and detachable keyboards add cost and reduce internal space that could otherwise be filled with battery. The Go isn’t here to replace the original Pixelbook or the Pixel Slate, he says; it’s its own thing, meant to coexist with Google’s other Chrome offerings.
The Pixelbook Go’s design language is peak Google.
More so than with those other Chrome devices, the Pixelbook Go bears a strong familial resemblance to products like the new Nest Wifi and last year’s Chromecast. Like those, the laptop comes across as playful and unassuming to a degree that borders on toylike. Its design language is peak Google, with rounded corners, a soft-touch finish, and a needlessly fun corrugated underside. The whole aesthetic is straddling the line of being a touch too Googley for my taste, but the design decisions aren’t impractical: the smooth edges are comfortable to hold and help the laptop slip into bags, and its painted exterior repels fingerprints admirably — a task the Pixel Slate’s anodized aluminum chassis wasn’t quite up to.
Speaking of aluminum, you won’t find any here. Instead, that matte paint job is applied over magnesium. Magnesium is a particularly light metal, which is part of why the Pixelbook Go tips the scales at a surprisingly airy 2.3 pounds (or 2.4, if you spring for the 4K model with a larger battery). That’s about the same as the first Pixelbook, despite the Go being a slightly chunkier device. This wasn’t by accident: Google says the laptop was expressly designed to be lightweight — hence its name. I appreciate how negligible its heft is in a backpack, but the combination of the Go’s insubstantial mass with the paint that obscures the feel of its metal body lends to the impression that the final product isn’t quite as premium as it ought to be given its price. The Pixel 2 had a very similar vibe, and just as I was with that device, I’m concerned about how the Go’s finish will age.
There’s a USB-C port on each side for charging, data, and audio and video output, and a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack on the left edge (hooray!). That’s it, as far as ports go — there’s no legacy USB and no micro SD card slot. Then again, I didn’t really expect there to be.
Zooming out, though, the Pixelbook Go is generally a joy to handle and interact with. It’s light enough to carry around all day, and its lines and finish are pleasing to the touch. The hinge is fantastically engineered, too, with just the right amount of resistance to allow for single-finger opening — a seemingly inconsequential detail I always miss in convertibles like the 2017 Pixelbook.
Keyboard and trackpad
Guys, let me tell you about this keyboard. It is, without question, the best laptop keyboard I’ve ever used. It’s just… *chef hand-kissing gesture.*
Unlike a lot of my peers, I was never particularly enamored with the first Pixelbook’s keyboard; it felt just a little too shallow, and it often failed to register my keystrokes, especially on the spacebar. The Pixelbook Go’s, on the other hand, doesn’t have either of these issues — or, from what I can tell, any issues at all. It’s backlit and full-size, with extremely responsive keys that have just the right amount of travel and resistance, and a satisfying bounce on the way up. They’re also super quiet — Google calls them Hush Keys(™). I can’t think of a single thing I’d change.
Without question, the best laptop keyboard I’ve ever used.
The trackpad hardware, by comparison, doesn’t hit the same transcendent highs, but it’s still very good. It’s etched glass, and it’s got a pleasant texture that provides a comfortable level of drag. Its click is firm and satisfying, too. Chrome OS continues to have an annoying quirk with tap-to-click, though. With tap dragging — where you double-tap the trackpad and hold, then slide your finger to drag an item across the screen — switched on, tapping to click has a frustrating delay between when your finger hits the pad and when the software registers a click. It makes the whole device feel slow. Toggling tap dragging off in the settings fixes it, but you shouldn’t have to choose the usability of one feature over another.
Speakers and display
Last year’s Pixel Slate set a high bar for on-board audio prowess, and I’m pleased to say the Pixelbook Go clears it. The speakers nestled on either side of the keyboard are loud and clear, and there’s more bassy oomph than a body so slim has any business mustering. With the volume cranked, I can actually feel the vibrations in my desk. The sound won’t fill your living room, but it’s about the best you could hope for out of an ultra-portable laptop, and you won’t feel like you need headphones for casual listening.
Google saw fit to stick a 1080p display in most Pixelbook Go models. Janofsky says this, like the Go’s form factor, is about cost and battery life — higher-resolution panels are more expensive and more power intensive. Indeed, the forthcoming 4K version is spendy in the extreme at $1,400, due in part to both the higher-rent screen itself and to the battery required to keep it running — the cell is about 19 percent larger.
From normal viewing distance, the resolution is perfectly serviceable.
Generally speaking, though, the 1080p panel isn’t bad at all. It’s still a touchscreen, and it’s got vibrant colors and good viewing angles. Brightness tops out at 400 nits, which is identical to the original Pixelbook’s output and fine for indoor use. It isn’t great outside, though — it can’t compete with even the softest sunshine, and it’s super reflective.
From normal viewing distance, the resolution is perfectly serviceable; the only time I really miss the older models’ higher-res displays is in multitasking. On the Pixelbook or Slate, even in tiny app previews, text is legible. The downgrade makes some tasks — glancing at Slack, for example — an ever so slightly bigger hassle. The Go’s screen is also 16:9, a first for the Pixelbook family. That wider aspect ratio suits me just fine, really; it makes it easier to use two apps at once, and I can fit more tabs on screen at any given time than I can on the Go’s older siblings’ squarish displays.
Still, for as decent as the display is overall, and even in a device that starts at $350 cheaper than the first Pixelbook, it’s hard not to be disappointed that the only option available at anything resembling a reasonable price point is such a step back from Google’s older Chromebooks. I would’ve at least liked to see 1440p displays in the mid-range trim levels — at $850 and especially $999, 1080p feels stingy. There’s also no Pixelbook Pen support; given the form factor, that makes sense, but plenty of returning customers will be left with an expensive, useless peripheral.
Performance and battery life
On the mid-range model I’ve been using, performance is everything you could hope for in a Chromebook. I never feel like I’m waiting on anything, and even with several Android apps and more Chrome tabs than I can feasibly pay attention to at one time open, everything stays snappy. That’s thanks more to the inclusion of eight gigs of RAM than the Core i5 processor found in the $850 and $999 SKUs. The entry-level trim has the same amount of memory paired with a Core m3, and that’ll absolutely satisfy most people’s Chrome OS needs. There’s very little reason to splurge on any upgrades here.
The poor Bluetooth quality that plagued prior Pixel Chrome devices has finally been addressed; no more laggy, choppy audio with wireless earbuds. Other peripherals I tested — a mouse, a keyboard, and a gamepad — all performed the way they should, too. Bluetooth connectivity is outright embarrassing in Google’s older Pixelbook models, and it’s great that it finally just works in the Pixelbook Go.
Google pegs the Go’s battery life at “up to 12 hours;” as you might expect, that’s a bit rosy. Real-world, I’m seeing closer to nine or 10 hours with mixed use — medium-high screen brightness, some music, a couple videos, and plenty of open tabs. It’s not unbelievable that you could get 12 hours of intentionally conservative use, but even 10 is good for more work than I’d care to do in a single day, and it’s pretty impressive in such a slim package.
Should you buy it?
Yes, if the form factor speaks to you and you’re not worried about getting the best bargain. Although the Pixelbook Go is positioned as Google’s entry-level Chrome OS hardware, there are other Chromebooks that offer similar specs for less money, and even the Go itself will certainly see sale prices by the holidays. It’s also important to note that the original Pixelbook and Pixel Slate are still available, often at a discount, and the Go isn’t necessarily an upgrade over either. If you’ve already got one of those, this probably isn’t for you.
But there’s a lot to love about the Pixelbook Go: its immaculate keyboard, its svelte build, its surprisingly robust speakers. On top of all that, Google has become something of a tech designer brand in recent years, and like its forebears, the Go seems to have been made for people who prize the company’s signature style over sheer practicality. If that’s your jam, go for it — just don’t spend more than you have to.
- You like the aesthetic and you don’t care about convertibles.
- A comfortable keyboard is your top priority.
Don’t buy if:
- You’re on a budget. There are other Chromebooks that’ll perform the same tasks just as well for less money.
- You already have a Pixelbook or Pixel Slate. The Go’s improvements aren’t worth the upgrade, and it actually has a worse screen (unless you want to drop $1,400).