As we come closer to the end of 2020, it is becoming clear that this will be the first year since 2017 that Google doesn’t grace us with a new Pixelbook. Sure, one could argue that 2018 didn’t technically have a Pixelbook release, but the Pixel Slate was clearly a Google-made Chromebook in the Pixelbook line of devices. It used the Pixelbook Pen, after all. With 2017’s Pixelbook getting a bit of a cold shoulder welcome before being widely regarded as one of the best overall laptops ever made in the years following, the Pixel Slate felt like a massive miss.
Last year, however, it felt like Google got its Chromebook groove back as the Pixelbook Go hit the ground running. To this day, it is one of my favorite laptops to use. Where the Pixelbook and Pixel Slate went all-in on high-end build and internals, the Pixelbook Go was a more subtle approach to Chromebook building and took a paired-down approach to the Google-made Chromebook formula. Compared with the two Chromebook Pixels, the original Pixelbook and Pixel Slate, the Pixelbook Go’s restraint was notable.
A page from the Pixel 4a’s book
Before the launch of the Pixelbook Go, I’d mused a bit about the idea of Google taking the Pixel 3a approach to Chromebooks and what that could look like. While I do think it was important for Google to set the bar for what is possible in the consumer Chromebook space, I also thought a more affordable Pixelbook would do well. When the Pixelbook Go debuted and had a starting price of $649, I felt like Google got about halfway there. Much like the Pixel 3a, it felt like Google dipped a toe in the affordable waters and liked what it found.
As we all know, the Pixel 4a has been a pretty big hit mainly because they took what was great about the Pixel 3a (paired-down hardware, great software, A+ camera, lower price) and went all-in on it. Where the Pixel 3a came in at $399, the Pixel 4a starts at $349 and has more storage, more RAM, and a far better overall aesthetic with its nearly bezel-free display.
In the same way, I think Google would be smart to take the same approach with the next Pixelbook and go all-in on the basics. At this point, Chromebooks are becoming more popular than ever before and demand is through the roof. In this climate, a more-affordable, competitive Pixelbook could be a massive hit for Google. With the market full of fantastic devices like the Acer Spin 713 and HP Chromebook x360 14c for sub-$500 prices (when on sale), it’s impossible to ask consumers to go and spend far more money on an entry-level Pixelbook Go that has an older processor and less storage.
If Google were to have a new Pixelbook with either 10th-gen or 11th-gen Intel chips, focused on the basics (solid build, great aesthetics, good screen/keyboard/trackpad, and decent specs) and could get the starting price for a device with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage on the shelves for $499 MSRP, they would have a hard time keeping them in stock. People want the Pixelbook experience, but increasingly it is becoming hard to justify the Pixelbook price tag.
Google makes great hardware. Period. All of their devices across the board have an attention to detail, fit and finish that make me want them even when the hardware isn’t quite what I’m after. The new Pixel phones are a perfect example of this. I love my OnePlus phone and its much-faster internals, but I still find myself wanting a Pixel phone. I love the Acer Spin 713 I’ve been relying on for months now, but I’m still drawn to the Pixelbook Go we have in the office even though it is inferior from a spec-driven perspective in almost every way.
If Google could take the detailed approach they use on their phones and apply it to a new Pixelbook, I’d imagine we could see a new Google-made Chromebook that gets the price down where it needs to be and still retains that Google magic. I don’t think Google needs to set the bar at the top of the line any longer. With all the Tiger Lake Chromebooks on the way in the next 6-9 months, my bet is we’ll have all the high-end Chromebooks we can stand. The battle for supremacy in this market is going to be fought in the middle ground. Consumers don’t mind sinking $400-$600 into a device that will be relevant for 8 years and feels fast and nice to use. Google needs to join in that fight, and they’ve shown that they have the ability to do so in very effective ways. Now, it’s time for it to happen with the Pixelbook line.