Pixelbook First Impressions

My wife and I have been looking to upgrade her laptop for about a month or so. Our options were to buy her a new one directly or to find a replacement for me so she could use my old one. Last week we came across an interesting option: a used but great condition Pixelbook for basically half price.

I’ve been using this Pixelbook for about a week now, and I think I’m ready to give my first impressions.

First, some context

I’m a computer science student with an emphasis towards security and web programming. I already have a serviceable desktop PC for occasional gaming and class projects. My previous laptop was a Dell Inspiron from 2015. It worked well enough --- a bit heavy, but it was powerful enough to serve as my primary machine for several years. Since building my desktop I no longer need quite as much power on the go, so it was time to find something new.

Not everyone is in a position like mine, nor do we all have the same expectations with our devices. Because of this, you may disagree with my observations or conclusions. That's okay --- this isn't meant to be a review, but only a personal account of my experiences with the device.

The Hardware

I purchased the i3 / 128 Gb model Pixelbook. It’s surprisingly lightweight when compared to any laptop I’ve ever owned. I’ve not ever intentionally bought a lightweight device before though, so take that with a grain of salt. The keyboard is okay - it’s a bit soft and the lack of delete or end keys really bothers me. On the upside: the adjustable keyboard backlight is a nice touch.

The touchscreen is responsive and seems to be accurate. Its pen is useful for note-taking or annotating documents. Overall the hardware is not disappointing, but there's nothing particularly remarkable about it.

It's real strength in this category is the versatile tablet mode. It works well when propped up as a tent, and this has quickly become my favorite orientation to use for D&D sessions!

The Software

This is where we get into the contentious topics! ChromeOS is ... okay. It’s really not consistent and still feels very unfinished. Installing Linux apps in a container helps, but there are definitely some issues. Linux apps are inconsistent in how they handle the high-dpi screen, and sometimes the whole container sems to crash. This wouldn't be so bad if the integration was a bit more seamless --- an easy way to expose development ports, or integrating the clipboard perhaps.

Coming in with a slightly better overall experience is the Android app support. Clipboard works, the text is scaled properly, and these apps generally feel better to use. Not every app is available, and even those that are can sometimes seem stretched to fit the screen. On the whole though, Android apps are a much more delightful experience than Linux ones.

Chrome apps are of course the star of the show on ChromeOS and franky I don’t really use them that much. Other than the core OS I don't use Chrome on my Pixelbook. For development I need a browser running inside the container, so I've kept on using Firefox for now.

Conclusion

Pros:

  • Very convenient form factor
  • Tablet mode is fantastic for annotations, note taking, etc
  • Linux support works fairly well
  • Powerful enough for my development, although your workflow may vary

Cons:

  • ChromeOS settings are quite limited
  • Keyboard lacks some keys I really do miss (del, home, end)
  • Can’t remap the Google Assistant key to function more like a traditional Super key
  • Minor bugs here and there … nothing game-breaking, but they add up

Overall, I’m happy enough with my new Pixelbook. ChromeOS is just barely good enough that I put up with it, but who knows! I may still flash it with real Linux just for fun one of these days. If I do I'll be sure to update this post to include my experiences with Linux driver support, bootloader issues, etc.