Google Pixelbook: Hands-on with the first convertible Chromebook with Google Assistant built in

Google’s Chrome OS devices are famous for one thing: being excellent value for money. But while the likes of Del, HP, Acer and Asus all make their own more wallet-friendly Chromebooks, Google always goes for inspirational products: The sorts of devices it wants manufacturers to actually built.

The Pixelbook is the first ever convertible Chromebook from Google with Assistant baked in. But what makes it atypical is that, with pricing starting at a hefty £999, it targets the same top end market as Microsoft’s established Surface Pro and Apple’s iPad Pros and MacBooks.

Considering the application limitations of Chrome OS, which locks you to use web apps and services in the Chrome store, this makes the Pixelbook a potentially hard sell for power users. But having had some hands-on time with it, the Pixelbook has piqued my curiosity and could be one of the most interesting hybrid laptops to arrive this year.

The Pixelbook has completely different design to the iPad Pro and Surface Pro, which are both unashamedly tablets first. Google’s convertible is more akin to as Lenovo Yoga, featuring a basic clamshell laptop design, with a 360-degree hinge that lets you fold the 12.3-inch, QHD touchscreen back on itself, to turn the device into a tablet or stand it in tent mode.

Whether this is a plus or bonus or hindrance will depend on what you want to use the Pixelbook for. If you’re a photographer or creative looking for a mobile editing station, the iPad Pro and Surface’s tablet focus is a blessing, that makes them wonderfully light and satchel friendly – though measuring in at just 10mm thick and weighing just 1kg, the Pixelbook isn’t exactly chunky: quite the opposite.

Related: Best laptops

But if you’re looking for something that’ll mainly run as a laptop the physical keyboard and sturdy hinge, will make the Pixelbook a far better option.

The backlit chiclet keyboard didn’t feel quite as tactile as I’d like, and travel wasn’t inspiring during my hands-on, but it was a cut above the Type Cover and iPad Pro keyboard covers. Combined with the sizable, reactive touchpad, which didn’t struggle with any of the multi-touch commands I through at it, the Pixelbook was more than comfortable enough to use during my demo.

The £100 Pen felt intuitive and comfortable to hold, but there weren’t any apps for me to properly try it out during my demo. This is one potential killer feature that remains a bit of a mystery until I get my hands on a review unit.

Ports-wise, the device is fairly limited, however. Google’s followed Apple’s example and loaded the Pixelbook with two USB-C connectors, which means a lot of people will have to invest in new cables and port hubs.

When it comes to hardware the Pixelbook is also fairly well stacked. Below you can see the three hardware configurations Google’s going to offer the Pixelbook in.

  • 8GB RAM/128GB SSD/7th Gen Intel Core i5 – £999
  • 8GB RAM/256GB SSD/7th Gen Intel Core i5 – £1199
  • 16GB RAM/512GB NVMe/7th Gen Intel Core i7 – £1699
  • Optional Pixel Pen – £100

Related: Best Ultrabooks

Personally I’d have liked to see Intel 8th-Gen CPUs in the Pixelbook, but considering how new those are it’s unsurprising Google hasn’t made the jump. The hardware will also be more than powerful enough for most users even with seventh gen. I’m also happy to see the inclusion of an NVMe SSD option, which should offer super speedy read/write data speeds and faster boot times compared to competing convertibles, which generally still use the older, slower SATA variation.

In fact, my only concern is that it’ll actually be overkill for most of the applications and services on Chrome OS. Though the hardware is lovely and the Pixelbook looks every bit like a full on Ultrabook, the truth is serious creative suites that would take advantage of the hardware are yet to make their way onto Google’s platform.

Services like Pixlr and Photoshop Express (in beta) are fine for basic touch-up work but I still wouldn’t want to use them for a large scale digital painting or colouring job. The OS also doesn’t have any 3D modelling, CAD or video editing services to speak of. If money’s no object and you just want a laptop-come-tablet then this won’t be a problem, but does leave me concerned the Pixelbook will be overkill for most people.

That said, I am excited to see Google’s directly baked its Assistant into the Pixelbook’s software. In theory this should make if fit neatly into the company’s smart ecosystem. Making it easy to control your Nest smart home tech or Home, Home Max and Home Mini smart speakers. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to test the feature during the hands-on session as background noise was too high for it to work correctly.

Related: Best tablets

Opening impressions

The Pixelbook is an interesting beast. Featuring top-end hardware that matches powerhouse Windows 10 hybrids, alongside a pleasing,  design, it could be a great choice for convertible buyers looking for a laptop that can double as a tablet, not the other way round.

My only concern is that it’s hefty starting price and a lack of professional level creative software on Chrome OS could make it an expensive luxury.