Google's Pixelbook Addresses All My Laptop Pain Points

Photographed by Madeline Buxton.

I bring my laptop practically everywhere. If you run into me during the week, you'll almost always see it tucked into my giant tote bag — I lug it from one meeting to the next, even those where my phone or a notepad would suffice. At the gym, it's a constant struggle to squeeze it into my tiny, cube-sized locker.

So when I'm looking to buy a new laptop, one of the most important things beyond the obvious (performance) is portability. This is just one area where Google's newest laptop, Pixelbook, delivers. At just 2.4 pounds, the computer is lighter than comparable products from Apple (MacBook Pro weighs 3.02 pounds) and Microsoft (the upcoming Surface Book 2 weighs 3.38 pounds).

Of course, performance plays a larger role and while I found the Pixelbook excelled in many areas, there are still a few places it came up slightly short — though, notably, not by much. Ahead, everything you need to know to make your decision before the laptop goes on-sale next Tuesday, October 31.

The Basics

Pixelbook, which joins the rest of Google's stylish new hardware family, is less colorful than some of the other products in the line but incredibly sleek. The laptop's mix of materials, an aluminum body with a glass panel edge, gives it a two-tone look. It's also incredibly versatile: You can use it as a laptop, fold it 360-degrees to turn it into a touchscreen tablet. or stand it up like a tent while streaming shows. This is multitasking to the max.

When using Pixelbook as a laptop, I was surprised by how comfortable it felt to type. The silicone palm rest was smooth and soft, and the keys were quiet and light to touch. If you have loud typers in your office, suggest they look into buying the Pixelbook.

Priced at $999, the 11.4-by-8.7-inch laptop is similar in cost to its closest competitors: The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at at $1,299, and the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 starts at $1,499.

You can — and should — buy the accompanying stylus, Pixelbook Pen, which costs an additional $99, but increases the number of things you can do on the laptop.

Photographed by Madeline Buxton.

Search Smarts
One of the Pixelbook's biggest selling points is Google Assistant — this is the first laptop to have Google's smart helper built in. I didn't think I'd use the Assistant very much — I rarely use the Microsoft equivalent, Cortana, on my Surface. But I quickly found it was one of my favorite features and I used it often.

This was in part because it's so easy to access. To the right of the control key is a special assistant key that you can use to queue it up onscreen. You can also access it by saying "Ok Google" or, if you want to have the Assistant identify something onscreen, hold down a button on the Pixelbook Pen and circle or highlight whatever you're interested in learning more about.

The Assistant worked well, with some exceptions. Occasionally, I had trouble getting it to respond to "Ok Google" after waking up my computer. The Assistant also wasn't consistent with what and who it could identify onscreen. When I circled a photo of Jenna Dewan Tatum, it correctly identified her, as well as Taylor Swift, but was unable to identify Zendaya. This seeming knowledge gap doesn't concern me much: Google is continuing to make the Assistant smarter, and there are plenty of useful things it can help with, such as adding an event to my calendar in seconds and playing an artist on demand from Google Play Music.

Photographed by Madeline Buxton.

Draw On Me

Besides a few small responsiveness issues with the Pixelbook Pen while scrolling onscreen (Google says all latency issues will be ironed out by the laptop's on-sale date), the Pen was an all-star. Using it onscreen felt like writing on paper. You can write with the point, or, as with Apple Pencil, tilt the Pen to use the edge.

The Infinite Painter app is a must for the full-fledged artist and casual doodler alike, and showcases what the Pen is capable of. I was impressed with how natural and easy it felt to draw and write with the Pen, whether I was using thick, calligraphy-style strokes or thin pencil lines.

Gang's All Here

Google's suite of software is easy to access on Pixelbook: The bottom toolbar includes the Chrome browser icon, and direct links to Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube, and the Google Play store. If you, like me, use Docs and Gmail extensively, it's especially convenient to have them built right into the home screen.

Tap the menu button in the bottom left-hand corner and you can see Google Calendar, Google Sheets, Google Photos, and more. If you're embedded in the Google ecosystem and own a Pixel or Pixel 2, too, an upcoming "Instant Tethering" feature will let you connect your Pixelbook and use your phone's data when you don't have access to Wi-Fi.

It isn't clear how much that will affect your phone, or the Pixelbook's battery life. However, the laptop is a speedy charger: Plugging in for a mere 15 minutes boosted my battery by 25%.

Pretty Perfect

Google is still new to the hardware game — 2016 was its first major outing — but it's quickly gaining ground. Pixelbook and Pixelbook Pen are the latest examples of that. As the Google Assistant becomes smarter, both products will become even more useful.

For future models, I'm hopeful Google introduces additional sizes with larger screens — the 12.3-inch LCD display on Pixelbook didn't offer the most immersive Netflix streaming experience. All signs point to continuing product evolution, with iterations on existing products and introductions of new ones, so this could very well be in the works already.

Ok Google, you're looking good.

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