After a month of coding on my new Pixelbook, I'm super happy with this computer. Chromebooks have long been my machine of choice over Windows or Mac for coding. The Pixelbook is by far the most capable Chromebook, but it does come at a hefty price. Here are my overall ratings for this computer on a 5 star scale:
As a developer, I want my machines to be super fast and efficient. I experimented with my first Chromebook back in 2013, and was blown away with the speed and simplicity.
As with all Chromebooks, the Pixelbook does not disappoint. You can literally flip the machine open and be coding immediately. For anyone who's ever steamed in frustration over Apple's rainbow spinner pulling you out of your coding zone, you'll pretty much never experience that on a Chromebook.
The Pixelbook is a pricey machine, with the 8GB model priced anywhere from $750 to $1000, and the 16GB anywhere from $1350 to $1650. You can probably find a Windows machine with equivalent hardware for cheaper. Apple machines with equivalent hardware will run more. Both Windows and Apple will have a better selection of standard productivity software or gaming apps.
So why go Chromebook?
- When 95% of what you do on a computer can be done in a Chrome browser
- When you want a killer Linux/Ubuntu interface
Why go Pixelbook (which is super expensive compared to most Chromebooks)?
- It's the closest Chromebook to a real computer, with 128GB or 512GB storage, 8GB or 16GB RAM, i7 processor, and solid state hard drive 🤓
- You can download Android apps! (but, they are a bit buggy on the Pixelbook)
In my case, I typically use my computer for coding, browsing, and watching Netflix. I wanted the extra 16GB ram and 512GB memory to process images and video, and will eventually write an article on that subject alone. The ability to pull up a Android versions of Twitter and Instagram, was a nice added benefit. In summary, I have no buyers remorse from purchasing this machine.
Developer Capabilities ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Chromebooks are my favorite machines to develop on. In my opinion, their speed and efficiency cannot be beat.
Ubuntu is available for Chromebooks
Anyone familiar with coding on Chromebooks know that these machines can be deceptively powerful, with a little bit of hacking involved. You can boot these machines in developer mode, and get the latest version of Ubuntu up and running within an hour.
What Ubuntu on Chromebook means:
Ubuntu is a super powerful Linux style operating system, that is heavily supported by the open source community. So if you want to see what type of coding environments you can setup thru the CLI, simply check if there is a Linux/Ubuntu version. Here's what I've been running:
- VSCode: You open it thru the command line, setup as a Crouton integration. It works fine.
- MEAN/MEVN Stacks: Nodejs works great.
- LAMP Stacks: I've done a few wordpress sites with the pixel book.
Getting Ubuntu Setup:
To get started, just google installing crouton on a chromebook. Upon entering developer mode, you are, however, greeted with a friendly warning that you may seriously mess up your computer and void the warranty. I've used developer mode for many years with my former Chromebook and never once had an issue. That said, you think twice when proceeding on the super expensive Pixelbook.
Once you're up and running, the terminal is accessible directly from the Chrome browser, and generally works well. Only a few minor complaints here:
- When crouton is in use, I have trouble playing any media (e.g. YouTube, Netflix) at the same time. Hence, you'll have to hook up the headphones to your smartphone to get in the coding zone with your preferred music.
- The nano editor sometimes flickers, which eventually goes away when you play around with it.
- If you restart your computer in non-developer mode, you will loose all of your local data, so you pretty much always have to boot in developer mode. Minor problems aside, the Ubuntu CLI on a Chromebook is powerful!
PixelBooks additionally have Linux
I was excited to see a beta option for Linux built into the Pixelbook, and gave it a try. Unfortunately, after a day of playing around with it, I gave up. The Linux terminal is still a bit buggy and challenging to work with. Additionally, there isn't much of a support community around it. I got stuck trying to open more ports on the system. After many Google searches, I unfortunately found more questions than answers.
I'm still excited to see where Google goes with this, and would love to see an Ubuntu version. That said, I would not buy a Pixelbook for the Linux terminal alone.
Overall, the hardware is darn impressive, and a little weird! I'm torn on this one, as the Pixelbook is really exceptional in some areas, but is missing some pretty basic things (i.e. USB and SD ports).
The storage and memory do not disappoint with a 128GB/8GB model and a 512GB/16GB model. Both models have an i7 Intel Core processor and solid state hard drive. There is no Chromebook currently available with better specs.
The Pixelbook is super compact and light. Weighing in at only 2.4 lbs, its super easy to take everywhere you go. The screen size is small, at 12.4", but not so small as to hinder use-ability. I find the overall size makes me pretty effective in office or on the go.
R2D19: I've become pretty effective at supporting my #apps by carrying my #Pixelbook everywhere I go. 🤔— Andrew Akagawa (@andrewakagawa) December 28, 2018
The battery lasts about 10 hours and takes about 2 hours to fully charge. The battery life is not as good as some other Chromebooks, but still fully capable to handle a day's work before charging for the night.
This is where the Chromebook is lacking in comparison to other computers, with only 2 USB Type C ports, and an audio jack. You charge the machine from either of the USB Type C ports, hence it's nice that there is one on each side to match up with wherever is more convenient for your cable to exit. Unfortunately, if you want additional ports, you'll have to buy a converter.
What Chromebook doesn't have regular USB ports? 🤨 ChromeOS even tells you at times to back up your files on a USB! Not super convenient if you can't directly plug one in. All the Pixelbook really needs is a USB and SD slot for the system to feel complete. Buying and plugging in an adapter is not ideal.
The casing is solid aluminum, hence I anticipate it will be durable enough to withstand the test of time, however I'm terrified to get my first scratch or ding, which commonly ruins the aesthetics on anodized aluminum.
The silicone padding makes for a nice palm rest, however I'm hoping this does not get dirty and discolored over time. I've created my own concoction of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol to keep it clean.
The flip to tablet can be convenient, but weird that the keyboard remains exposed on the back side. I feel compelled to design a fancy accessory to cover the keys, maybe with magnets. 🤔 Feel free to comment if you know of a good one. You can also flip it to form a tent, which is nice for watching Netflix.
Software for the Pixelbook is different but decent, and seems to be getting better over time. In summary, if you function well mainly over browser only, and have adopted to Chrome apps, the Pixelbook is great.
Where the Chromebook struggles
You will not find all of the supported software that you will for a Windows or Mac computer. If you commonly use software such Microsoft Office or Apple applications, the Chromebook may not be for you.
Where the Chromebook shines
There are lots of apps and plugins available through the Chrome web store. I recommend that you see what alternatives are available on the Chrome browser, to see if you can live without Microsoft or Apple apps that aren't available on the Chromebook. Web apps delivered over a web browser are becoming more common and powerful. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are pretty capable tools.
Another great thing about Chromebooks is that ChromeOS always stays up to date. After owning a Chromebook for over 5 years, I'm very impressed with how Google has supported ChromeOS on my old Toshiba Chromebook. It's still running super fast with the latest ChromeOS, long after it's plastic outer casing had broken down from over use.
Where the Pixelbook shines
The Pixelbook can run Android apps! My daily Twitter posts are much more effective, as I get the best of both worlds from browser and mobile. I can save drafts, get hashtag suggestions with info on hashtag reach. The Pixelbook is also Instagram capable.
All of that said, many of the Android apps just don't seem to be there yet. Twitter and Instagram seem fine, however Facebook and a few other apps seem to crash quite often. This is an area where I'm holding out hope that the developer community will improve, but I wouldn't buy the Pixelbook solely for Android apps alone.
On a final note, I bought the 16GB Pixelbook for photo and video editing. I still have yet to fully explore these capabilities and look forward to sharing more in a separate post.
I love the Pixelbook, and I don't think there would be a better choice of computer to fit my developer needs. Is it worth it? Sure, I bought it and never looked back, however if you are strapped for cash, check out some of the other Chromebook models, which are also very capable. My first Chromebook was $200 and crushed all of my developer needs for over 5 years. Thanks for reading, and happy coding!