This week, Google made the Pixelbook Go official and we got to spend a bit of time with it at Google’s hardware event. If one thing is for sure, Google has made the decision to make this latest Chromebook a more affordable option while still retaining the build quality and attention to detail the original Pixelbook was so great at. It feels great, looks great and will perform very well, but it is missing some of the bells and whistles we’ve simply come to expect from a flagship, expensive Chromebook made by Google.
We don’t have a review unit in yet, but I suspect I’m going to like this device quite a bit. For me, the Chromebook experience largely hinges on display, keyboard, trackpad, speed and build quality. Pixelbook Go gets all this right (from what we can tell so far), so I think it will deliver on the core parts of what make for a great Chromebook. Sure, I’d love to see it be convertible, have a fingerprint scanner and ship with the latest processors, but that would mean a higher price or less quality in the build materials, and Google clearly wanted to keep the costs down for this one in order to sell more of them while retaining a fit and finish that still feels premium and Google-y.
One of the features that was left out of this Chromebook in that move to a lower price point was the ability to leverage the Pixelbook Pen. With a name like Pixelbook Go, you would think support for the similarly-named writing utensil would be a given, but you’d be sorely mistaken. The screen simply isn’t made to accept input from Google’s pen (or any other active stylus) and I’d like to explain why I think it was the right choice for Google to do this.
The Surface Laptop
When Microsoft brought out the Surface Laptop and the Surface Laptop 2, many reviews I watched or read lamented the lack of ability to really leverage the pen it supports. Sure, the screen is able to take input from the Surface Pen, but that isn’t really the issue. Instead, users find it very difficult to digitally ink on a display that is nearly upright in most scenarios. Writing clearly tends to happen on horizontal surfaces, not vertical ones, so using the pen on a clamshell laptop quickly becomes an activity many choose not to engage in.
Whether it is discomfort or just plain awkwardness, I think those reviewers had a point, and I think Google was wise to simply leave pen support off for a Chromebook they built to be a clamshell and clamshell only. Additionally, screens in the 13.3-inch, 16×9 category are far more plentiful and thus far more inexpensive when compared with screens that are 3:2 and have a digitizer built in. Remember, the Pixelbook Go was built to keep costs down and deliver a clean Chromebook experience.
Another point of note is the frequency with which average users actually leverage their pens on current Chromebooks. I don’t have a stat for it, but I know there are at least 4 Pixelbook Pens floating around our co-working space and that none of those users pick up those pens on a regular basis. As the firm I used to work for has continued to grow, they are looking to buy more Chromebooks for employees and one thing I cautioned them about with the new Pixelbook Go was the lack of pen support. To that, the owner shrugged his shoulders and said, “No one ever uses the one’s we bought, anyway.”
Is that indicative of the entire Chromebook user base? Of course not, but it is telling and I’d wager Google did a fair amount of research on the features and functions general users rely on most when they chose what to cut out for the Pixelbook Go. For some users, those cuts will be the reason to skip over this device. For many potential users, however, those areas of lack won’t even register.
For me, I can say that I rarely pick up the Pixelbook Pen, I rarely use the fingerprint scanner, and I rarely put any of my devices in tablet mode. I’ll take a premium build, attention to design, a great screen/keyboard/trackpad and massive battery life every day. After all, there are plenty of Chromebooks on the way with way more bells and whistles that we can all choose if the Pixelbook Go isn’t a good experience. There’s just something telling me that won’t be the case, though. Either way, I think Google made the right choice in deciding to leave off the pen for this particular Chromebook.