Right now, all the buzz surrounding Google hardware is focused primarily on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. I get it and I totally understand it. Actually, I’m riding the hype train right there with everyone else and have pretty high expectations as I make my plans to return full-time Pixel phone ownership. I’ve been out of the Pixel world for about a year and half at this point, so the Pixel 6 holds more than just a passing bit of interest for me. It is my likely destination for the most-used computing device I own.
All that being said, I’m just as invested, interested and excited by new Chromebooks. As I pointed out in the initial impressions with the new HP Chromebase, there’s a tried-and-true formula for Chrome OS devices by this point and we’ve arrived at a critical juncture where manufacturers are finally beginning to separate themselves based on hardware fit and finish, not on new feature add-ons.
There was a time where the addition of a fingerprint scanner was a Chromebook first and we would forgive the other parts of the device that were so-so just because of a small innovation. Stowed stylus pens had this affect, USI compatibility, NVMe storage, convertible form factors, detaching keyboards, and new keyboard layouts have all been part of a similar story for Chromebooks. Now that these things are quite standard, hardware makers are settling on the fact that they simply have to make better Chromebooks to stand out, and ASUS’ latest laptops are a testament to this. We’ve unboxed both the new ASUS Flip CX5400 and ASUS CX9 and these Chromebooks don’t have any new gimmicks to speak of: they are just well-crafted laptops that feel amazing to use. Period.
Google did it first and did it best
Right away after handling both of these new Chromebooks, I immediately drew comparisons to Google’s own hardware. Why? Because for years, Google has been making Chromebooks that stand head-and-shoulders above the rest in one key area: build quality. Ask anyone who’s used a Google-made Chromebook what they love about it and I guarantee you they will have a hard time nailing down the exact thing that makes them so great. But I can tell you exactly what it is: attention to detail and thoughtful build quality.
Pick up a Chromebook Pixel, Pixelbook, Pixel Slate, or Pixelbook Go and you’ll notice right away that these devices have a fit and finish that is in another class from any other Chromebooks you can get. Even nicer devices like Dell’s Latitiude Chromebooks or the HP c1030 haven’t quite matched this aesthetic and feel, and for a long time I’ve wondered if any other devices would be able to do so.
The ASUS CX9 is as close as it gets for me, but I’ve not spent much time with it yet and, for the purposes of this post, it doesn’t even matter. What matters is Google has consistently designed and built Chromebooks that carried a certain pristine charisma and regardless of how good Chromebooks get, I think there’s still a continuing need for them to keep doing it. As we get into a phase of Chromebook adoption where the new features are going to slow down a bit (think of where we are with new smartphones), the most important thing for Chromebook makers to focus on is the build quality and the materials they use to craft these devices from. Most don’t do this well, but Google has routinely been great at it.
Keep the Pixelbook Go, just update the insides
All this ‘features versus design’ philosophy came to a head with the Pixelbook Go. Again, before anyone else was moving in this direction, Google decided to make a Chromebook that was light on headlining features and instead build a more-affordable Chromebook that still carried Google’s attention to detail and style. And I’d argue that the Pixelbook Go nailed this in just about every way possible.
For over a year after we first saw that Chromebook, it was everyone’s go-to recommendation. It didn’t have an eye-popping, pixel-dense screen, but it was good enough. It didn’t come with a fingerprint scanner, pen support, or a convertible shell. But it didn’t matter. Time and time again I would return to that Chromebook because it was crafted with care and an attention to the small details that most manufacturers gloss over.
Though the processors are aging a bit at this point, the Pixelbook Go is still a fantastic device to use every time I pick it up. A few small tweaks two years after its launch could make for another absolutely fantastic Chromebook, and I finally think there’s a path forward for Google to actually deliver it.
The device I’m typing this post on right now – the ASUS Chromebook CX5400 – has a processor inside that we previously didn’t know existed until its announcement. It is still 11th-gen Intel with the integrated Xe graphics, but it’s TDP is lower and allows for a chassis that needs no fan. Even as I have multiple tabs open, tons of windows, and multiple desk running, this thing is staying cool as a cucumber. While every 10th-gen Intel Chromebook had fans (or should have had fans, Samsung), it looks like we may see a few large-core, fanless Chromebook from the Intel side of things this year.
And that’s precicesly where I see a Pixelbook Go refresh in the cards. While I never dreamed Google would iterate the Pixelbook Go with a fanned processor, I can definitely see a refresh with this same fanless Tiger Lake processor inside that is currently humming along in the ASUS CX5400. Think about it: Google could swap in one of the countless ‘Volteer’ base boards into the existing Pixelbook Go chassis, add in a fingerprint scanner, a screen with USI support, and ship the thing!
If I’m asking for things, maybe give it a 400 nit screen and a few more USB Type C ports. Other than that, they don’t even have to touch it. With these updated processors, the device would be plenty fast, have no need for an adjustment to the outer chassis, and could eventually take advantage of some casual Steam games when Borealis shows up later this year. It would be a killer Chromebook with the same lovely build, firmness, speakers, keyboard, and trackpad that we all still swoon over to this day. And it feels like they could do it really, really easily if they wanted.
But will they? We have no idea. The ‘Volteer’ board we were tracking that had the best chance of being a Google-made Chromebook has all but stalled out the last few months. While not deprecated, the lack of development momentum over the past few months makes me dubious as to whether or not it will ever become an actual Chromebook. Apart from it, we have no other solid leads, leaks or hints that anything like an updated Pixelbook Go is actually in the works. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still digging and still hoping that Google could show up with a surprise this fall when the highly-anticipated Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have their full unveiling. All the pieces are there and even though there are tons of great Chromebooks already here and likely coming, I know plenty of people that would snatch up an updated Pixelbook Go in a hurry.