This one hurts quite a bit. Back in August, we reported that the Pixel Slate (then known as ‘Nocturne’) was being tested with the ultra-fast NVMe storage available in the Pixelbook’s top-level configuration. The commit was pretty straightforward and everything was pointing clearly towards the Pixel Slate equipping this much-improved storage at least on the highest configured model.
We honestly didn’t give this much of a thought after those commits surfaced given the fact that the Slate shares so much in common with the Pixelbook: namely the pricing structure.
With an extremely high price tag on the highest-configured model, it never occurred to me to reach out to Google for clarification on the storage type on the i7 model after the unveiling in New York: I simply assumed NVMe was part of the package. But shortly after our review went live, we were made aware of a Pixel Slate reddit thread that seemed to confirm the ludicrously-priced i7 Pixel Slate does not equip NVMe storage. We did some quick digging and Gabriel came across this commit that shows Google has the proper internals for NVMe, but has chosen not to use them.
A quick refresher for those of you who aren’t sure what NVMe is: it stands for Non-volitile Memory Express and provides much faster read/write speed over standard SSD. eMMC memory that is often used in Chromebooks is the slowest of the solid state storage types, however, and that is what you’ll be getting with every model of Pixel Slate.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have issue with eMMC in Chromebooks. Because of the nature of the OS and the devices, Chromebooks don’t really take much advantage of super-fast storage. Additionally, eMMC storage is much kinder on battery drain as well, so in a device that is only 7mm thick, I can see the case being strong for choosing a storage type that conserves battery, especially when those savings don’t really kill the user experience. Sure, there are times when faster memory will speed up a certain task like editing massive photos or videos, but those tasks aren’t really what Chromebooks are great at. Sure, you can edit photos and videos on your Chromebook, but if that is your primary use case, I’d advise a different device entirely.
With Linux apps starting to find their footing and the Android experience getting better by the day, a future where Chromebooks are purchased without thought of use case is entirely possible. In that type of future, faster and more voluminous storage will become a much, much bigger deal. I could see a time in the next few years where users purchase a high-end Chromebook to do the standard cloud-based tasks Chromebooks excel at while also using things like Lightworks or GIMP to do some serious, professional photo and video editing as well.
But that future isn’t here yet. And that future will require support for other things as well, like discrete GPUs and Thunderbolt for fast file transfers, speedy external drives, and powerful external GPUs when needed. That’s a ton of “coming soon” stuff that I think we’ll see in the years to come, but it will be a bit before any of that is a reality.
So, with that in mind, two things: First, I don’t think the lack of NVMe on the Pixel Slate is going to change much in the near term. Sure, users may purchase this device with the hope that they can use things like Lightworks one day down the road, but that seems like a niche group at this point. For most users who want a premium Chrome OS experience, the difference in eMMC and NVMe on a day to day basis is negligible. I’m not saying they are the same speed. I’m just saying with standard Chromebook tasks, the speed of your internet connection matters much more than the speed of your hard drive.
Second, I think the pricing on the Pixel Slate borders on insane. Many balked at the $999 for the Pixelbook with a Core i5 and 8GB of RAM a year ago, and now Google is asking $1200 for the same configuration of the Pixel Slate when you factor in a keyboard. Yes it is premium and yes it is gorgeous and yes it is fast. Sure, the screen and speakers are fantastic and it feels like a million bucks. Even if I can fully get on board with the pricing for the 4 lower models, the $1600 asking price for the bump to a Core i7, 8 more (not really necessary) gigs of RAM and double the (disappointingly non-upgraded eMMC) storage just makes no sense to me. eMMC storage and RAM are not expensive, and the Core i7 doesn’t push the performance up much at all, but the pricing going up $600 feels crazy.
When I assumed this also upgraded the storage to NVMe, I could at least legitimize a bit of the price hike. Though I’ve clearly made my case for not really needing it, NVMe storage is far more expensive than eMMC and could at least help explain away the bonkers pricing of the i7 model. Now that we know the upgrades are not that flashy, I simply cannot in any way, shape or form recommend the top-tier Pixel Slate at the current price. Though expensive, the Core i3 and i5 models are definitely where you should stay, especially given this latest development. And I still stand by our review: this is the future of Chrome OS and Chromebooks. I just wish Google wasn’t charging so much for people to experience it.