Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Chromebooks are designed to be relatively low-cost laptops that can get you online and handle basic offline apps. They’re meant for the education market and consumers who want a second laptop where they can stream Netflix and check Facebook.
But Google wants the Chromebook to be more than that, which is why the company unveiled its new $999 Pixelbook during its big hardware keynote in San Francisco on Wednesday.
I spent some time with the Pixelbook and found it intriguing and confusing, largely due to its price tag.
Available for pre-order Oct. 4, the Pixelbook is a laptop-tablet hybrid, sporting a foldable 12.3-inch, 2,400 x 1,600 resolution touch screen display. Outside, the laptop is quite stunning. Google used the same design language on its notebook as it does with the Pixel, right down to the two-tone color scheme.
The Pixelbook doesn’t have any large logos that scream its parentage. In fact, the only notable exterior design feature that tells you this is a Google device is the small G in the top corner of its lid.
Inside, the Pixelbook continues the two-tone coloring. The lower portion of the keyboard deck where you rest your hands is a nice white color, while the rest of the area is a subtle grey. Google added soft-touch material to the keyboard’s palm rest to make it more comfortable to type on.
Still, I have a feeling the deck is going to pick up some dirt and dark spots the more often you use it. In other words, you might not want to eat Cheetos while using this baby.
Android and Assistant
Like other Chromebooks from manufacturers such as Samsung and Acer, the Pixelbook can run Android apps as well as Chrome OS offerings. Google says it’s even working with Snap to ensure the Snapchat app is optimized for the platform.
What sets apart the Pixelbook from its contemporaries, besides its relatively sky-high price, is the addition of a dedicated Google Assistant button. The button allows you to type questions to Google Assistant when you don’t feel like asking them out loud.
This is the same Assistant found in Google’s new Pixel 2 smartphones and Google Home smart speakers, so you’ll be able to ask it a litany of questions and Assistant will pull up the answers.
Interestingly, Google has also developed a stylus specifically for the Pixelbook called, appropriately, the Pixelbook Pen. Priced at a hefty $99, the same as Apple’s Pencil, the Pixelbook Pen is designed for taking notes and drawing on your Pixelbook, but more important, works with Google Assistant.
By pressing a button on the side of the Pixelbook Pen and circling an item on your screen you want to know more about, Google Assistant can recognize what you’re looking for and provide you with the relevant information.
I circled a picture of Ryan Gosling using the Pen and Assistant was able to determine who the actor was, and pull up information about the upcoming movie “Bladerunner 2049.” I then circled a photo of a painting, and Assistant told me who created it and when.
As far as performance goes, the Pixel Book will be available with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive for $999. You can upgrade to a 256GB SSD for an extra $200, or shell out an extra $650 for an Intel Core i7 chip, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.
I’m not quite sure who would need that kind of power in a Chromebook, and spending $1,649 on a device that can’t run full programs seems a bit excessive.
Which cuts to the biggest issue with such an expensive Chromebook. It simply can’t run the kind of heavy-duty software that a Mac or PC can. Instead, you can only run apps built for Android and Chrome OS. And for most consumers that’s probably enough.
In the end, what you’re paying for is the Pixelbook’s fantastic design. But to ask people to spend $999 on a laptop that can’t do it all when you can spend the same on a Mac or PC with greater capabilities sounds like a losing proposition.
Still, the Pixelbook could prove me wrong. Maybe it’s simply too good of a device to ignore. But to find that out, I have to get my hands on one for a full review. Stay tuned.
More from Dan:
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Email Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.