My Pixelbook Experiment Was a Bit of a False Start

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So I ended up returning the Pixelbook that I picked up to review and wrote about a couple of weeks ago. This was more of a false start than a failure, though. I hit day 14 (BestBuy’s last day to return) without being able to say if it was something I would be willing to part with $1000 for, or if I would even be able to take a small monetary hit to have it for a while and then sell it for less. The fact is, I just wasn’t able to spend as much time with the device as I had hoped, and couldn’t be sure about it. It’s better to safe than sorry in that case, but I can’t say that I won’t go back any try again later on.

Here are a few things that I did glean from my brief time with the device:

Google’s Pen is nice, but it doesn’t justify spending $99 extra dollars

One of the reasons that I went ahead and bought the Pixelbook was because BestBuy had a deal including a free Pen. I had tried it briefly in the store, so this $99 savings was definitely a selling point for me. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it clear that it didn’t come in the box, and the salesperson at the BestBuy I purchased from didn’t follow on-screen instructions to either give me one from stock or order one for me.

I was out of town when I purchased the Pixelbook (working out of town a lot lately is another reason I didn’t have time to spend on this device), so I waited until I got home and went to my local store. They were very helpful, and ordered one for me at no additional charge. Unfortunately, it didn’t come for a week, and by that time, I had very little time to try it out. However, in the little bit of time that I did, I saw that it is extremely limited in what it can do right now.

A perfect example of this is how few Android apps show up as compatible and recommended when you follow the link in the Pen Settings. Basically you have the built-in Google Keep (which is a customized version for the Pen and actually works well), a few different drawing apps, and some compatibility for highlighting and searching throughout the Chrome OS. That’s about it.

I will say that the Pen does work well in practice and feels good in the hand. Lines flow and writing on the screen is easy. I wouldn’t quite put it in the class with the Apple Pencil or Microsoft’s Surface Pen, but it is still very good as a drawing and writing tool. The Pen’s tight integration to Google Assistant also shows promise. However, it just doesn’t do enough besides these basic features. You also have the very familiar problem of nowhere to put the thing, as it isn’t magnetic and has no dedicated storage solution. Of course, Apple isn’t any better in this regard, but Microsoft and Samsung seem to have a good handle on how to do this well.

One other oddity is that Google went with a AAAA battery for power. If that sounds strange, that is because it is a smaller, non-standard battery. I didn’t have any issues in my short time with the stylus, but this is still a problem waiting to happen for users. These batteries are difficult to find outside of Amazon or your local Batteries Plus, so if you find yourself out of juice when trying to use this Pen, you are probably out of luck. I’m really not sure why Google didn’t go the rechargeable route here, but I would bet that the next version will ditch the user replaceable battery.

I imagine that Google will figure this all out in time for the Pixelbook’s follow-up. However, I would definitely pass on the Pen unless you are getting it for free or at a large discount based on how little you can do with it right now.

Still missing on some basics

While Chrome OS has come a long way, there are still enough gaps to remind me that it isn’t as far along as my iPad Pro. For all Google may want to intimate that the two are comparable products, they definitely aren’t. An iPad Pro with a good keyboard case isn’t much bigger and heavier, but is FAR more powerful.

Unless you live in the web (and some people do, primarily), there are going to be things that you cannot do on the Pixelbook without some major workarounds. Access to Android apps helps, and you can go the Remote Desktop route for some things, but I rarely have to do this my iPad at this point, and you likely wouldn’t have to at all with a Microsoft Surface. Once Google gets Android apps integrated to the point where they don’t feel “bolted on,” Chrome OS will feel more complete.

Not all bad by any stretch

The Pixelbook really is very good at the things it was designed to do, and that did make using the device very enjoyable for the most part. It was just when I came up against the gaps in functionality, such as not being able to use about 75% of the services at, which would have bridged some of the Apple gap for me. I’ll be honest- that was a big disappointment.

The fit and finish of the Pixelbook hardware is obviously very alluring. There is no doubt about that. The screen is great. The keyboard is first-class and is backlit. It feels very nice in the hand, no matter the configuration. The Pixelbook feels like a premium piece of kit in every respect.

It really comes down to cost

The problem at the end of the day is simple. The Pixelbook just doesn’t do enough to justify its $999 starting price tag. There just isn’t any getting around this for me, especially when I can go get a pen-enabled Samsung convertible Chromebook for exactly half the price. I’ve played around with that device at my local BestBuy, and it doesn’t come anywhere close to the Pixelbook in terms of hardware feel and design. However, since they are both somewhat limited in terms of the functionality of Chrome OS, it’s a lot easier to stomach parting with $550 than $1000.

Not closing the door

I cannot say that I won’t revisit the Pixelbook at some point down the road. I ended up keeping the Pen, as the BestBuy Customer Service Rep I returned the device to said the Pen was a free gift and didn’t need to be given back. I thought that was strange, but I didn’t argue. Since I still have the Pe , I honestly would be opposed to looking at a used, refurbished, or open box Pixelbook down the road. I would probably be very happy to spend $550 or less if the opportunity presented itself.

In the meantime, I may end up looking at the Samsung to get a better feel for the current version of Chrome OS. My local BestBuy has an open box model for around $350 or so, which is tempting. If I take the plunge again with either device, I will let you know, but for now at least, the Pixelbook experiment is over.

James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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