Can an older Chromebook actually be better than a new one? Here’s one answer.
tl;dr: the 2017 Pixelbook has remarkable staying power. It’s a more practical Chromebook than the newer Pixel Slate (October 2018).
Newness vs. Utility:
When I got the new Pixel Slate in October I was excited. As good as the Pixelbook* is I was ready to try Google’s latest and greatest.
The Pixel Slate is a tablet, a pretty radical departure from the Pixelbook, which is a laptop (with a 360-degree hinge). The Slate can, however, convert to a laptop with an optional Google keyboard that integrates a trackpad. And it’s faster and has a better display than the Pixelbook.
All those good things, however, don’t necessarily add up to more utility. Chrome OS running in tablet mode isn’t satisfying (read: polished) on the Slate. And there isn’t very much I can get done when I have work to do in tablet mode. And even when I’m not doing work, Chrome OS isn’t iOS on an iPad — the tablet gold standard. I’m not saying that Chrome OS can’t eventually be a viable alternative to the iPad, it just isn’t there yet.
On the other hand, the older Pixelbook’s utility speaks to the time-tested resilience of the laptop and the steady improvement of the Chrome OS as a laptop operating environment. And to the fact that the Pixelbook is a brilliant design that is still very relevant a year and a half after it was introduced.
The optional keyboard
As I said in my review of the Pixel Slate, it’s a better laptop than the 2018 iPad Pro. But that’s not necessarily high praise because the iPad Pro — even the 12.9-inch version with Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio — is not a good laptop.
One of the things that some hybrid laptop-tablet designers miss is, people actually use laptops on their lap. They don’t necessarily set it down on a desk at work or a table at Starbucks. They use it on their lap at home on a sofa or at the airport or on a bus.
Microsoft did a good job of addressing this with the Surface Book and its innovative hinge. Google’s hinge** is essentially the opposite of the Surface Book. It’s a hinge constructed from soft material that doesn’t work well when, for example, you set the Slate and keyboard on one leg — a common position for any hardened airport laptop user.
For me, a better lap experience would make a world of difference — because that’s how I’ve often been trying to use the Slate.
Pixelbook still relevant
If I had to choose between the Pixelbook or the Slate, I’d choose the Pixelbook. It’s extremely thin and light (2.4 pounds) but well constructed, has an excellent display, and offers good performance — and is often on sale, discounted hundreds of dollars off its $999 list price.
*I’ve been using the Pixelbook since November 2017. I’ve been using the Pixel Slate since November 2018.
**I’ve also tried the Brydge Wireless Keyboard G-Type for Google Slate Bluetooth keyboard. I prefer Google’s Pixel Slate keyboard because Brydge’s keyboard is too heavy and it has problems that are all too common to all Bluetooth keyboards, i.e., consistent, reliable connection.
Re tablet mode: I’m guessing there are educational settings where the Pixel Slate is an excellent solution. So, my experience doesn’t by any means apply to all usage scenarios.