Back in 2017 when Google unveiled the original Pixelbook, I was mesmerized with it. From the screen ratio (3:2) to the ultra-thin chassis to the unique aesthetic, Google did something quite amazing with the design and construction of the original Pixelbook when you look back at it. Even today, nearly 4 years later, it still looks amazing and does a few things from a design perspective we’ve yet to see matched in a Chromebook since.
While we’ve pined for Google to simply update and iterate that cherished Chromebook (seriously, why in the world do we not have a proper Pixelbook 2 at this point, again?), I’m more convinced than ever that we might not see another Google-built Chromebook until their laptop-ready Tensor chip is in production. Frankly, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense for them to do anything other than that at this point, so this post really isn’t about begging Google to make a new Pixelbook at all. Instead, it’s a plea to Chromebook makers to see what made the Pixelbook great and try to copy it.
I know I’ve gone on about this before, but laptops and tablets alike feel so much more at home on taller screens. We don’t necessarily need square or even 4:3 screens, but 3:2 aspect ratios feel like they strike the perfect balance. In clamshell mode, they make web content a better experience and in tablet mode, they make both portrait and landscape viewing more delightful. While I can get used to 16:9 screens when we get past 14-inches, I think anything under 13-inches really should hit that 3:2 number for maximum screen real estate and usability.
All but one of Google’s own Chromebooks employed this setup. The original Chromebook Pixel, the 2015 Chromebook Pixel, the Pixelbook and Pixel Slate all came with 3:2 displays and I always appreciated it. Other manufacturers have followed suite as well, with companies like HP, Acer, and Samsung all making at least one model with the taller aspect ratio. Though a few examples of this taller screen exist in the Chrome OS ecosystem, they’ve all been tied to devices that make great Chromebooks, but not great tablets.
Don’t get me wrong: I thoroughly enjoy the 13.5-inch 3:2 QHD display I’m working from right now on this Acer Chromebook Spin 713. It looks amazing and gives me such a huge canvas to work from when not at my desk. I appreciate that very much, but I also don’t put a ton of emphasis on tablet mode, either. I’ll use presentation mode quite a bit (where the Chromebook screen is rotated to about 270 degrees open), but picking this thing up and using it like a tablet is just awkward. That mainly comes down to the overall device size and the same goes for the HP Chromebook Elite c1030. Both of these Chromebooks are great, but they both are unwieldy as tablets due to the size of the screen.
Google’s Pixelbook struck the right balance. 12-inches is a great starting point for a device that aspires to do both clamshell and tablet well. Is that for everyone? Not really, but there are many people (myself included) that would sacrifice a bit of screen real estate to have a more useful tablet experience with my Chromebook. Though the device missed on many key Chromebook elements, HP’s original x2 detachable was a similar 12.3-inches and felt great as a tablet. With a 3:2 aspect ratio, it’s enough to get work done and just compact enough to not feel ridiculous as a tablet.
Build and Design
Finally, one of the things that made the Pixelbook a standout was the way it was constructed. Sure, it was built well with quality parts and a great aesthetic, but that’s not all that was going on. There have been plenty of well-made Chromebooks that have launched since then, but none have put all the pieces together in quite the same way. I think of the HP Elite c1030, Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, ASUS CX5400 and CX9 as examples right off the top of my head that flat-out nail the build quality aspect of the high-end Chromebook. They are all seriously great.
But the Pixelbook was just better. Google clearly wanted users to flip the screen around and use the Pixelbook as a tablet in real world scenarios. I know this because of the way it is made. You see, most Chromebooks have sloping corners, rounded edges, and other aesthetic touches that honestly look good on laptops. But those design choices come at a cost and that cost is tablet mode feel. Flip around most Chromebooks and you quickly realize how poorly things align in tablet mode. It almost feels like using these devices as converted tablets was an afterthought.
The Pixelbook isn’t this way. Instead, when closed up for tablet use, the edges align, the corners meet up perfectly, and there’s a solidity to the entire thing that feels like it was done on purpose. Take a look at the images below to see what I’m talking about. It’s no deal-breaker for all those great Chromebooks out there that don’t get this right: it’s just a nice touch that the Pixelbook nailed.
And, before anyone brings up the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook or Galaxy Chromebook 2, remember the earlier parts of this discussion. Samsung did so much right with the Galaxy Chromebooks, but they totally missed by making the 13.3-inch convertibles 16:9 devices. With the big bottom bezel and super awkward portrait mode on those Chromebooks, the tablet mode still feels bolted-on at best. Yes, they have the squared-off sides that make tablet mode feel way better, but it takes all the pieces to make this work well.
So, now what?
All of this came to mind as I attempted to answer a reader’s email about what Chromebook to buy. This person loved the speed and build of the Pixelbook they currently own, but wanted something that could maybe perform a bit better in tablet mode. As I relayed to him, that device isn’t a thing right now. We have lots of awesome Chromebooks that are great at being Chromebooks, but we don’t have convertibles that are great at being tablets, too. And while we have detachables, the MediaTek and Snapdragon offerings currently out there simply don’t perform anywhere close the even the 7th-gen Intel internals on the original Pixelbook, so those aren’t really in the conversation, either.
I suppose what I’d love to see from Samsung, Acer, ASUS, HP, or Lenovo is a Chromebook that is solid in both clamshell and tablet modes. That means a bit of thought on keeping things thin, fanless, and symmetrical. It means you need to really consider the chassis, the screen aspect ratio, screen size, and how everything comes together when you have it on the desk or folded up in your hands. It means looking back a few years and realizing that Google didn’t just set the bar for high-end Chromebooks from a build quality standpoint, but from a usability standpoint as well. Take what they’ve already done, iterate a bit, and give us all the Chromebook Google seems unlikely to deliver at this point. And I guarantee you’ll sell a ton of them.