Thanks to its clean design and powerful internals, Google’s Pixelbook remains one of the best Chromebooks on the market today and a capable Windows or Mac replacement. However, it’s been almost a year since the Pixelbook went on sale, and although rumor was rife that Google will announce a Pixelbook successor at its October #madebygoogle event in New York, that didn’t happen.
Instead, this year, Google changed its hardware focus for Chrome OS, opting instead to focus its attention solely on the Pixel Slate, a Chrome OS tablet that comes with an optional folio keyboard. Like the original Pixelbook, the 2018 Pixel Slate can convert between tablet and laptop modes, but it accomplishes the transformation by using a detachable keyboard instead of the Pixelbook’s convertible 360-degree hinge.
A tale of two Pixelbooks
Early leaks suggested that Google was developing two devices internally called Nocturne and Atlas. Both devices made appearances in the Chromium repository and seem quite likely to be two different renditions of a second-generation Pixelbook. When Atlas first showed up in the repository, it was said to be “closely related to eve,” with Eve being the codename of the original Pixelbook. Atlas also has the same number of ports as the original Pixelbook.
Nocturne, as we now know from Google’s event, launched as the Pixel Slate. The Pixel Slate, according to Google executives, represents the company’s new vision for Chrome OS to deliver productivity and entertainment on the go. The Slate is Google’s first Chrome OS tablet, but also one that can convert into a laptop thanks to an optional $199 keyboard folio accessory. This makes the Pixel Slate more competitive against other devices with similar form factors like the iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro.
Atlas was then believed to be the codename for the Pixelbook 2, a Chrome OS convertible laptop that would share a similar form factor to the original Pixelbook.
Release date and price
Given that the original Pixelbook was announced at a similar event almost a year prior in October 2017, many had anticipated that the Pixelbook 2 would follow a similar trajectory. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and it’s unclear if Google had delayed the Pixelbook 2’s launch or if the device was canceled entirely.
For now, if you’re interested in this year’s Chrome OS Pixel hardware, the Pixel Slate starts at $599, though the price quickly increases depending on the configuration selected. Google hasn’t given a specific date on when the Pixel Slate will ship — it just mentioned that the device will be available later this year. Best Buy recently leaked that the Pixel Slate could ship by November 22.
Like Apple and Microsoft, the Pixel Slate’s keyboard and pen accessories are optional extras. The Pixel’s folio keyboard case will cost an extra $199 while the Pixel Pen will add $99 to the purchase price.
Thinner bezels and a higher resolution display
Dell was one of the first PC companies to experiment with barely-there bezels on its XPS laptop, and the feature has proven to be so popular that other notebook manufacturers followed suit. Even if Google recycled the current aluminum-clad design with glass accent on the current Pixelbook for its second-generation laptop, thinner bezels would not only help the laptop appear more modern against competitors, but it’s a feature that also brings business appeal. A design with slimmer bezels would help the Pixelbook 2 occupy a smaller footprint on a desk or a laptop bag.
A leaked Google advert appeared to show a near-bezel-free Pixelbook-like device, potentially giving us our first look at what the next-generation Pixelbook looks like. This would confirm rumors reported by VentureBeat’s Evan Blass, who recently tweeted that smaller bezels are part of this year’s upgrade. Another key display feature that was rumored was 4K resolution.
Neither of those rumors actually panned out given that Google didn’t announce a Pixelbook 2 at its recent event. In fact, even the Pixel Slate’s bezels didn’t appear to be cut down from the original Pixelbook.
When it launched in late-2017, the original Pixelbook shared the same 7th-generation Intel mobile processors as Apple’s 12-inch MacBook, making it a capable machine, especially for a Chromebook. However, with most laptop manufacturers (including Apple) recently making the switch to newer 8th-generation processors, many in the tech community expected Google to make similar upgrades when it refreshes the premium Pixelbook.
There was some debate about which Intel chips Google could us in its second-generation Pixelbook(s). There are the mainstream U-Series (Whiskey Lake) Core i5 and i7 8th-gen chips to consider, as well as Intel’s newly announced Amber Lake Y-Series 8th-generation processors. They come with built-in LTE connectivity and support for gigabit Wi-Fi, so they could offer a performance upgrade and greater connectivity options out of the box.
If Google stays aligned with the original Pixelbook, we’d expect its sequel to come with an option for Whiskey Lake 8th-gen Core i5 and Core i7, as well as the Amber Lake Y-Series in more affordable models. The supply issues with Intel’s recent release of chips, however, could delay such an update.
Sticking with Intel chips this year would have helped the Pixelbook 2 improve on the performance of the original, but it could also help Google bring dual-boot support to Chrome OS. The feature could have allowed Chrome OS hardware to also boot into Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system, making the Pixelbook 2 a more competitive device for business users. Unfortunately, Google did not debut the dual-booting feature when it unveiled the Pixel Slate earlier this month, and as we all know, the Pixelbook 2 also failed to materialize at the event.
Improved tablet support
Chromebook partners have already begun experimenting with new form factors for Chrome OS. Though the Pixelbook brought the convertible form factor to the premium segment for Chrome OS, Acer has since debuted a Chromebook Tab 10 tablet and HP launched its Chromebook x2 with a detachable form factor, similar to Microsoft’s Surface Go.
Google gave a stab at the Chrome OS tablet market by launching the Pixel Slate at its October hardware event, but it did not announce any upgrades to the Pixelbook. Given that Google executives were selling the tablet form factor as the company’s vision for Chrome OS, the fate of the convertible laptop form factor of the Pixelbook remains unclear. Currently, Google will sell the Pixel Slate — when that device ships — alongside the Pixelbook as the company’s flagship Chrome OS hardware.
When Google announced the Pixel Slate, it also announced a new tablet-optimized UI. True to prior speculations, the new UI allows Chrome OS to switch to a touch-friendly mode with larger icons when used as a tablet. When a keyboard is attached, the Pixel Slate switches back to a more productive desktop view. It’s just unfortunate that the Pixelbook 2 was not also announced to take advantage of this new flexible UI, though that may come in an forthcoming update.
Google also offered a color upgrade to the Pixel Pen. The pen doesn’t add any new buttons or features to the original Pixel Pen that launched with last year’s Pixelbook. However, rather than a silver option, Google is making a color-matched version of the pen to coordinate with the new Pixel Slate. Original Pixelbook owners looking to add some color to their minimalist Chrome OS notebook can also pick up the midnight blue pen as well.
Fingerprint and facial recognition security
Leaked code found on the Chrome developer channel suggested that fingerprint scanning and facial recognition and will be available on Nocturne, giving users the ability to login to their device without the need for a password. That would be useful for tablet logins where onscreen keyboard typing is far from ideal, and fortunately the feature did materialize on the Pixel Slate when Google announced that tablet.
However, since the Pixelbook 2 wasn’t announced at the event, it appears that biometric security on Google’s Chrome OS-powered hardware remains an exclusive feature to the Pixel Slate, at least for the time being.
Having a built-in LTE modem on the Pixelbook 2 would be more than just added convenience. With better Android support on Chrome OS devices, and the operating system’s potential to supplant and replace Android tablets, having always-on connectivity would be a huge advantage. This is the same vision that rival Microsoft has for its Always Connected PC platform.
The feature wouldn’t be too hard for Google to accomplish, given that it already operates its own virtual mobile network through Project Fi, which relies on T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s network infrastructure for the backbone. Google’s experiment to deliver voice and mobile data service on its Android smartphone hardware has been met with positive reviews. Google could potentially apply a similar business model to take on data-only devices, like Chromebooks and Chrome OS-powered tablet.
If it had opted for Intel’s new Y-series processors, Google could had added mobile broadband without needing any dedicated LTE hardware, since it’s baked into the chips themselves. However, since the Pixelbook 2 wasn’t announced, and the Pixel Slate did not come with an optional LTE option, rival Samsung filled the void by adding LTE support to its updated Chromebook Plus V2 model.