”The Google Pixelbook can now take on the venerable MacBook Pro on pretty much any metric. Is it good enough to win over MacBook users and go mainstream? Read on.
Here is the pricing and configs I’ll use for comparison purposes. (Note that I own and use both laptops.):
–The late-2017 Google Pixelbook is seeing discounts now that are constant enough over time that it qualifies to be characterized as a sub-$80o laptop (starting price) despite its list price of $999. The entry-level model comes with: 1.2-GHz Intel Core i5-7Y57 (7th Generation) 8GB of memory, and 128GB of storage.
–The mid-2017 13-inch MacBook Pro: It’s listed at $1,299 but is typically sold at major retailers with hefty discounts so its real-world starting price is often about $1,100 — or less. The entry-level model is equipped with a 7th Generation Intel Core i5 (base speed of 2.3 GHz), 8GB of memory, and 128GB of storage (and no Touch Bar).
Pixelbook: The 12.3-inch Google Pixelbook falls somewhere between the HP Spectre 13 and 12-inch MacBook. Like those laptops, it is pushing the boundaries of extreme portability. The Pixelbook’s thinness (a tablet-like 0.4-inches) and weight (2.4 pounds) make it a totable wonder. Despite this, the all-aluminum chassis feels very solid/durable.
The Pixelbook also has a 360-degree hinge and its touchscreen can fold into various modes including tablet, tent, and stand.
MacBook Pro: The 13.3-inch MacBook Pro isn’t as light — at just over 3 pounds. But the MBP makes more efficient use of its real estate (frame/chassis) than the Pixelbook, i.e., the display bezels are narrower and the depth (at 8.36 inches) is actually less than the Pixelbook (8.7 inches). That said, the MBP is slightly wider and significantly thicker (0.59 inch) than the Google laptop. (See photo below).
Winner: No winner in this category. The Pixelbook is jaw-droppingly thin, totable, and sturdy with good weight distribution. But the MacBook Pro is a more efficient design.
As of early June 2018, both laptops have Intel 7th Generation processors. Neither uses the latest quad-core 8th Gen chips that populate other thin-and-light laptops like the Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre 13, and 13-inch Razer Blade Stealth. Apple uses a 15-watt Intel Core i5 processor (on the entry-level 13-inch model that I’m using) while Google uses a very-low-power Core i5 Y series 4.5 watt chip (on my config).
Pixelbook: More wattage typically means better performance. But not in this case. The Pixelbook is incredibly fast in day to day use with no lag. I’ve put it to the test running lots of Chrome tabs, a photo editing app, social media apps, and Microsoft Word. (See Pixelbook raw benchmark performance here and here. And the MacBook Pro 13 without Touch Bar benchmark performance here and here.)
The Pixelbook’s snappy performance is related to the efficiency of the Chrome OS. I also have a 2016 HP Chromebook 13 with an Intel 6th Gen Y series processor that is fast. You’re just not going to get that level of performance on a Windows 10 ultraportable or 12-inch MacBook that use very-low-power Intel Y series processors. I have used 12-inch MacBooks extensively (and owned a couple) and am now using a 2017 Windows 10 ultraportable with a Y series processor. There’s really no comparison, i.e., Google Chrome OS is just plain fast.
MacBook Pro: the entry-level MacBook Pro can lag a bit in some more performance-intensive applications and I do see the spinning color wheel (aka, spinning beach ball) with the 128GB SSD. By the way, I never see the spinning color wheel on my 15-inch MacBook Pro (mid-2017).
Winner: Pixelbook. While the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro isn’t a slouch, it doesn’t feel as fast as the Chromebook. The Chrome OS running on top of the Pixelbook screams (at least for what I do, which is pretty much the same things I do on the MBP 13).
PixelBook: 41 watt-hour battery (WHr) rated by Google at up to 10 hours.
MacBook Pro 13: 54.5 WHr battery rated by Apple up to 10 hours.
Both the MacBook Pro and Pixelbook have good battery life. My daily routine involves “productivity” (aka, MS Office work), light photo editing, video watching, social apps, music listening, web-based research etc. Best case: The Pixelbook, with intermittent use throughout the day (totaling 4-5 hours each day), has lasted for two days without needing a recharge (per the activity described above). The MacBook Pro is in the same ballpark.
Worst case: Constant use with processor-intensive tasks, and — like any device — you’ll see a remarkable drop in battery life. Only a few hours for both the Pixelbook and MacBook Pro.
(One obvious but easy way to extend battery life a lot: turn down the screen brightness.)
Winner: Pixelbook (but not by much). Chrome OS is really a mobile OS running on a laptop and better suited for conserving battery power.
Pixelbook: The Pixelbook has a 12.3-inch 2,400-by-1,600 (235 ppi) touchscreen. The display is bright and beautiful. Of course, “beautiful” is subjective and very unscientific. But my impression nonetheless. That said, NotebookCheck said the Pixelbook display has some “drawbacks” (see NotebookCheck paragraph under the heading of “ display”). I did not notice the drawbacks (such as backlight distribution and response times).
MacBook Pro: The MacBook has 13.3-inch 2,560-by-1,600 Retina display (227 ppi). Apple is really good at making sure its displays are the best. The MacBook Pro DCI P3 (color gamut) rating is very high (good). And nits(brightness) is very high too.
Winner: MacBook Pro 13. The MBP wins for color gamut and brightness. Display technology is a religion for Apple and it shows.
Both the Pixelbook and MacBook Pro have two USB Type C ports. The MBP supports Thunderbolt 3 and the Pixelbook supports 4K display output.
Winner: Neither stands out.
This is the bottom line for consumers. It means a decently configured system at a reasonable price with good quality.
June 10, 2018
Winner: Pixelbook. It lists at $999 but priced regularly below that (Google is consistently discounting the Pixelbook to prices as low as $749.)
Note that the MacBook Pro config I’m using can be had (discounted) for as little as $999, depending on the timing and the retailer. If you can find one on sale for that price (at places like Best Buy and B&H Photo), that closes the gap a lot.
Overall Winner: Pixelbook (with a qualifier). A great convertible design, good performance, good battery life, and a beautiful display.
Qualifier: The Chrome OS won’t run some popular applications. As I said above, though it now runs Microsoft Office and Microsoft OneDrive, Office is not quite the full-blown version you get on Windows. And while you can run things like Photoshop Express and Adobe Photoshop Light
room CC (and more Photoshop apps are available on the web), the full PhotoShop application isn’t available. Of course, applications like iTunes aren’t available, though there are workarounds, as Google spells out here.
But the fact is, Chrome is moving rapidly in the other direction: more and more popular apps are available and you can also run Android apps. So, it’s fast approaching parity with the Mac and Windows. And the fact that it runs Android apps is leg-up on both Windows and the Mac.
I really like the ChromeBook platform now because it’s secure, stable, easy to use, and self-maintains. And Chrome OS is more like mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS — a refreshingly clean break from the old, creaky DOS/Windows/Mac platforms.
Biometrics: Both the Pixelbook and low-cost MacBook Pro are missing fingerprint readers and facial recognition. (Though you get a fingerprint reader on the $1,799 MBP 13 with Touch Bar.)
Keyboard: With the goal of keeping the comparison as concise as possible, I left out the keyboard comparison. That said, I found no glaring problems with the keyboards/trackpads on either laptop. Both laptops’ keyboards/trackpads are excellent. That said, the MacBook Pro has a Butterfly keyboard, which has limited travel and the tactile feedback can be less than satisfying for some users. I may be in the minority but I like the MBP’s Butterfly keyboard.
Audio: The MacBook Pro 13 wins handily on audio. But that doesn’t mean the Pixelbook’s audio is bad. It’s tinnier than the MBP’s but acceptable.
12-inch MacBook: Some readers may believe it’s better to compare the 12.3-inch Pixelbook to the 12-inch MacBook. To be honest, it never entered my mind to compare the Pixelbook to the 12-inch MacBook. The MB 12 is really in a class by itself and performance and keyboard size, for example, don’t really compare.