If you still want to lug a laptop around with you (other options are possible these days), there are few better places to start looking than the Chromebook.
Google’s Chrome-based operating system is simple, light, and is used on a range of laptops at just about every price level imaginable from a variety of manufacturers. You can spend less than $100 on one, or over $1,000, for various levels of quality and gimmicks, but overall, the experience will be roughly the same across devices: a powerful system for simple tasks, powered by Google’s services and the Android App Store. If you’re looking to browse the web, check email, do homework, watch Netflix, and maybe work on a document or spreadsheet every so often, a Chromebook is really all you need.
Google’s first attempt at building its own Chromebook, the Pixelbook, seemed based around the idea of trying to make the best possible machine to support the operating system. It had a 360-degree hinge for its HD touchscreen, a glass-and-metal design, stylus support, and a host of other flourishes intended to help it compete with high-end laptops from Apple or running Windows.
In reality, though, Chromebooks succeed when they’re light, simple, and durable. They’re meant to be connected to the web wherever you are (as most of its services work better with or require internet access to function), but they’re also meant to be wherever you are. Two years on from the Pixelbook, Google’s hardware team took a look at what was on the market, what it had produced, and tried to create something that matches how many people use its products, without throwing out the history it had created. The result is the Pixelbook Go. “This is an expansion of the Pixelbook lineup, not a replacement,” Ben Janofsky, senior product manager on the Pixelbook team, told Quartz.
The Pixelbook Go lives up to the team’s vision. After a week testing out the Chromebook, I found the diminutive laptop to be one of the most comfortable devices I’ve used in a while.
The Pixelbook Go is extremely portable. It has a 13.3-inch display, but it only weighs 2.3 pounds and is about 0.6 inches thick. A comparably sized MacBook Pro weighs over 3 pounds, and a MacBook Air weighs 2.75 pounds, about the same as a Dell XPS 13, and a little less than Microsoft’s Surface Book 3. The curved edges across the entire laptop also make it easy to actually hold in your hand, without some of the sharp corners and edges you find on other devices—including the original Pixelbook. The laptop also features a corrugated “grippable” design on the bottom, which is meant to help keep the Go in your hand, in your lap, or in place. It also looks pretty neat.
Janofsky explained that while the laptop has a comparatively small hard drive (options start at 64GB), it’s “over-indexed” on memory, with each model having 8GB or 16GB of RAM. This is basically because of how Google envisions the interplay between its software and hardware. Instead of jamming up a large on-device hard drive with a ton of photos, music, videos, and other files, the Pixelbook comes with a one-year subscription to Google One, the company’s cloud storage service. The laptop saves space (and a bit of cost) by having a smaller hard drive, relying on the cloud for space. The result is a laptop-shaped device where most of the content it accesses lives online, and only the information needed at any given moment lives on the computer. Many of the popular services people use today operate in much the same way: instead of owning a music library, we subscribe to Spotify; instead of renting movies, we join Netflix; instead of buying software programs for work, we subscribe to Google’s G Suite or Office365. Little actually lives on the devices we own anymore, instead existing primarily in servers plotted around the world. Why not make a laptop that’s built specifically for apps and services that operate that way?
The Chromebook also takes advantage of the Google Play Store, and Google Assistant, allowing users to download their favorite apps that might exist only on mobile platforms (social apps like Snapchat and TikTok are common examples), and tie together Assistant data from other Google products users might have, like the Nest Hub or the Google app, on a smartphone.
The team also built in other considerations for users who aren’t tied to a desk when using the Go. The laptop has one of the quietest (and strangely, smushiest) keyboards I’ve ever typed on. As Janofsky described it: ”We don’t think people want everyone in the coffee shop looking at them when they’re typing,” which you may well have noticed if you’re using certain other laptops on the market. The Go also has a long battery life, with Google saying it should be able to last around 12 hours on a single charge (which I found to be perhaps even an understatement), making it ideal for stuffing in your bag and forgetting about it until you need it. The laptop also charges quickly, holding about two hours of battery life after a 20-minute charge. It also features a set of powerful front-facing speakers.
But Google’s vision for the Pixelbook Go isn’t one that will be attainable for all who want to use a Chromebook. The Go starts at $649, far above many of the entry-level Chromebook models available today, but a fair drop from the $1,000 the original Pixelbook costs. For the price, there are other very good Chromebooks on the market (like Samsung’s Plus V2), as well as some decent Windows machines. But if you can afford the price tag—and can get over any reservations you may have about the world’s largest digital advertising platform being at the center of your operating system—then there are few devices that better realize the simple, fast, reliable promise of a Chromebook.