The Google Pixelbook Go is my PC

Marc Bilodeau/ ItsADevLife, Minimalism

For years, I’ve been using my smartphones as my PCs to run my day-to-day life both personally and professionally. Since 2013, the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Google Nexus 6P, and then the Google Pixel XL, let me do everything my day required including writing code for work projects. However since the Pixel XL is no longer supported, I decided to take a deeper look at the Pixelbook Go before I upgraded to the Pixel 4 XL as my next day-to-day work PC.

I had high hopes that Android 10 would include desktop mode as a major feature. Although, after the first beta of Android Q (later to become 10) the hype around desktop mode faded. In retrospect, I believe that Google is likely to keep smartphones and laptops separate due to their latest hardware offerings and the proliferation of Chromebooks.

There are smartphones out there that have a desktop mode similar to my Pixel XL setup. However since Samsung discontinued DeX, I believe that vendors see Chromebooks as the future direction.

Using a chromebook wasn’t an easy decision since my current smartphone setup works so well. However, since the Pixel XL is no longer supported, it was a good time to look at the Pixelbook Go. Chrome OS has been making great strives to replace traditional laptops.

The Pixelbook Go For Developers

Chrome OS works well if all of your day-to-day activities involve web applications. Furthermore, many modern Chromebooks support Android Apps which increases the number of people who can retire their traditional laptops and use a Chromebook instead. However, I need access to Linux and development tools. Currently, I do this with Termux and a virtual environment in AWS to run my code from my Pixel XL. Ultimately, I want to do all my work locally without requiring an internet connection.

Even though I no longer write code for my current role, I still write code for many personal projects. Thankfully, the Pixelbook Go has Crostini which provides a terminal to those who are familiar with Debian style distributions. Although it is still considered beta, it works quite well. I was able to install Perl, Python, Emacs, Docker, Postman, GIMP, DBeaver, tmux, and Postgres quickly and easily. Since November, everything is working great for both day-to-day tasks and my development environment.

Pixelbook Go running Linux (Crostini)
Termina (Linux Terminal) running tmux, with the Debian version of Emacs opened

Furthermore, I can work completely offline now that Docker, Postman, and DBeaver are running on the Pixelbook Go instead of using termux to remotely connect to AWS and use them. Overall, this worked quite well from my smartphone setups over the years.

CPU, disk usage, and memory usage from my Pixelbook running my projects and dev tools

With all these development tools running locally, I use the Pixelbook Go with 16GB of memory and an i5 processor. Although having extra horsepower is nice, I could use a Pixelbook Go with less resources and work fine with this setup. I’m sure the extras may come in handy someday when I run more intense applications.

Day-To-Day Productivity

Regardless of my development needs, daily use is important to progress any of my work. Even though many applications run within a browser, I still prefer some applications over their browser interfaces.

The latest version of Chrome OS supports running Android Apps from the Google Play Store. Currently, I have no issues using Audible, Duolingo, Google Translate, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Word, Spotify, and Telegram. Overall, these Android Apps work great.

Since I use a Pixel 4 XL, I can take advantage of some integration between the two devices. For example, the Google Messages web interface let’s me respond to texts directly from the Pixelbook Go. I can also click phone numbers to dial them on my Pixel phone. Furthermore, some apps like Spotify that are running on my phone can be controlled from the Pixelbook Go.

The Pixelbook Go Hardware

Specs and Pricing

Overall, the Pixelbook Go is a solid system with several options available:

  • m3 (Intel 8th-Gen), 8GB RAM, 64GB storage, Full HD display
  • i5 (Intel 8th-Gen), 8GB RAM, 128GB storage, Full HD display
  • i5 (Intel 8th-Gen), 16GB RAM, 128GB storage, Full HD display
  • i7 (Intel 8th-Gen), 16GB RAM, 256GB storage, 4K display

At the time of this writing, these options range from $649 – $1399. These prices are more than some chromebooks with similar specs. However, there are some features and design choices that I feel sets the Pixelbook Go apart.

Design

The keyboard is an absolute dream to type on. The keypress response is fantastic, it provides just enough touch feedback, and it’s quiet. I’ve typed on many different keyboards and this one is my number one choice so far.

There is one USB-C port on each side, and a headphone jack. Furthermore, I can charge the Pixelbook Go from either USB-C port. However, it does lack other types of USB ports, a MicroSD card slot, and an HDMI port. Although, I use an all-in-one solution which solves all these problems.

The size of the Pixelbook Go is nice and is the perfect combination of compactness when carrying it around, and roominess when using it to do work. It’s rugged and feels sturdy, yet thinner than any laptop I’ve seen or used including a Macbook Air with the same screen size.

Battery Life

The battery life is fantastic. Google says that you can get up to 12 hours of battery life. Even with all my software running, I can easily go through an entire day without charging. Normally, the battery lasts between 10 and 11 hours depending on how much I use my development tools during the day. If I need to charge the battery, the 45W charger quickly gets me a couple hours of battery life in roughly 20 minutes.

What Needs Improvement

Overall, I feel more productive with the Pixelbook Go. However, there are still some things that aren’t quite working correctly, or I haven’t found a setting or a workaround.

First, I can’t record audio with Audacity through Crostini. Thankfully, this is a known issue and there is a way to test it before it’s officially supported. However, in the meantime I will have to use another system. There may be other USB devices that lack support at this time. I recommend doing some research on USB devices that are important for your daily use. One that I haven’t tested yet is flashing a micro SD card from Crostini.

The camera is nothing spectacular, but works well in the right lighting. Whenever I have a video conference call, I have to make sure there isn’t any sunlight shining behind me. Otherwise, people and objects are dark. However, this camera works well for video calls and video conferencing in a typical indoor office environment.

While there is support for Android Apps, the font sizes in some Pixelbook Go resolutions need improvement as they can be very small.

However, within the Manage Android preferences a user can change the font size for Android Apps installed from the Google Play Store. Unfortunately, this screen is currently hidden. One has to search for display, click display, then scroll down to find font size setting. Even more unfortunate is this setting has to be set every time the Pixelbook Go reboots. Either this is an oversight or there are still issues with this functionality.

The Pixelbook Go: Verdict

Overall, the Pixelbook Go costs more than some other chromebooks of the same caliber on the market. However, what I feel makes this machine stand out against its competitors is the sturdy design, screen, and battery life. For me, the extra money is well worth these differences. Furthermore, software and security updates will come more quickly than other vendors.

Unless you have to run a legacy windows application, chromebooks have come a long way and I feel they are ready to challenge the traditional laptop as a primary machine. In the perspective of a developer, I can run everything I need to continue to write, compile, and test software in my IDE of choice.

I am a little sad for shifting away from my Pixel XL setup. However, I find using the Chromebook and Pixel 4 XL together is more productive while slimming down the necessary cables and devices. Now, I simply take my backpack with the Pixelbook and go.

If you’re in the market for a new laptop, determine your needs and take a serious look at chromebooks. So far, I haven’t been disappointed and enjoy using my Pixelbook Go to do my work.