Chromebooks have evolved. Their initial limitations have been overcome. Some models have emerged as contenders for development machines and theres probably no better place to look than at the Google branded Chromebooks.
Once relegated to lightweight note-taking, these devices now have prowess, thanks to Google Play compatibility and the ability to run Android apps. The discerning developer audience, particularly those creating and testing Android apps, find a sweet spot here. This where Chromebooks flourish, enabling app development without the sluggishness of emulators—offering the real deal with an authentic Android experience. But beware, not all Chromebooks have this capacity. Crucially Chromebooks must support of Google Play apps and Linux, a feature not universally available on all models.
Post-2019 Chromebooks all have Google Play, but not all Chromebooks have the Linux capability. Do check, regardless of whether you are looking at a second hand machine or a new one.
Not all Chromebooks are created equal; specifications are of paramount significance. My inaugural Chromebook was an Asus Flip (technically a C302C/M3-6Y30/4GB RAM/64GB HDD/13). It served well and was beautifully engineered, as well as embracing Google Play for Android apps. Nevertheless, it fell short, incapable of supporting the Linux subsystem—a limitation that urged me to part ways with it reluctantly.
For tasks bounded by ChromeOS and especially if you use Google's Workspace tools like Gmail and Google Docs, or can use Android apps these laptops excel. But development demands Linux support so that you can install Android Studio. This Asus also lacked storage and memory—64GB merely scratches the surface, and 4GB RAM falls woefully short for mobile app development on the Android front.
Google ChromeOS devices
Enter Google's own Chromebooks, clearly tailored for software craftsmanship: the now discontinued Google Pixelbook range.
There's a choice here between a renewed Pixelbook Go, or a renwed original Pixelbook.
Google Pixelbook Go
The Google Pixelbook Go was available with a maximum specification of an Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB RAM, 256 GB storage and a 13.3” 'Just Black' case. When new it had a princely price tag of £1,329. The i7 models are hard to find but you can find a refurbished i5 Pixelbook Go for £599.99 on Amazon.
I traded my Pixelbook for a Pixelbook Go. It has a very similar specification to the original, but there are some important differences. The 'Just Black' case for example isn't as sturdy as the aluminium unibody of the original, but is ok. The screen is a widescreen 1920 x 1080 display which is somehow not as good for editing a single document but is better for having Android Studio and an Android app running side by side. The dimensions of the Pixelbook Go are different too. It is lighter and the design is ribbed so its easy to carry without it slipping out of your hands.
The storage is a maximum 256 GB SODIMM rather than the NVME based 512 GB on the previous model too. Its slower. It doesn't really notice in use.
I highly recommend the Pixelbook Go though. It doesnt let me down. The battery lasts for ages. I dont care if I lose it as theres nothing that isn't in the cloud anyway and it will continue to get ChromeOS updates until June 2026 so its still absolutely current.
The least costly path to a Pixelbook (pictured at the top of this article) is the original model. Search for the refurbished or second-hand Google Pixelbook, again with an Intel Core i7, with 16GB RAM, a luxurious 512GB of fast storage, and a 12.3-inch display, all for a far more modest investment of £270 at CeX (August 2023). i7 models are hard to find but you can find a refurbished i5 Google Pixelbook on Amazon too.
This inaugural Pixelbook adapts to your world with a 4-in-1 design. The original Pixelbook's 10.3mm super-thin unibody and 2.45lbs lightweight design includes a 12.3" 360° 2400 x 1600 touchscreen display built with Corning Gorilla Glass. It seamlessly adapts to whatever you are doing with laptop, tablet, tent and entertainment modes. Its really lovely to use.
Google's is aluminum unibody resonates with a hint of Apple-esque charm (both giants share the same Chinese manufacturers). Despite being the oldest Pixelbook this is a modern embodiment with USB-C. Its screen, a flexible marvel, folds flat, mimicking a tablet.
You can check the spec with the 'Cog' extension and with my go to apps, Android Studio, Authy, and Google Workspace apps in the dock this is a great device.
A razor-sharp 12.3” 2400x1600 Quad HD LCD display, fortified by Corning Gorilla Glass, touchscreen magic, and optional Pixelbook Pen compatibility.
A seventh-generation Intel Core i7 i7-7Y75 (Kaby Lake-Y) processor.
16GB of memory the maximum.
512GB, of NVMe storage, faster than the Pixelbook Go in face. and a far cry from the cramped 126GB and 256GB alternatives.
A non-removable battery, with remarkable stamina, Google's promise is up to 10 hours.
USB-C through two ports, primed for swift charging—2 hours in 15 minutes, 7.5 hours in 60 minutes, with 4K display output. The accompanying USB-C power adaptor extends its utility to Pixel phones.
Audio via a 3.5 mm headphone jack, dual speakers, and a quartet of microphones.
A backlit keyboard, full-sized, with 19mm pitch and 0.8mm travel, a delight for the wordsmith and the code-crafter.
The trackpad, made of etched glass.
Wireless: Wi-Fi with 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2x2 MIMO, dual-band (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz), and Bluetooth® 4.2.
A front-facing camera—720p @ 30FPS, ideal for video conferencing.
Enhanced on-device security, thanks to the TPM Chip.
But, a narrative remains incomplete without acknowledging the nuances, the cons that serve as cautionary markers:
A warranty tale; a choice between Computer Exchange, offering two years of warranty, or Amazon Renewed, which promises only one year.
Not the current model—a consideration if the shiniest object beckons.
Absent ports: no Ethernet port, SD card slot, or HDMI port, but you can use adapters such as the Belkin 5 in 1 Multiport Hub Adapter (Optimized for Chromebook with 4K 60hz HDMI Port, USB Type C 86W Power Delivery, 2 USB A 3.1 Gen 1 & Small, Portable, Compact Size, Black).
A graphic bug, with corrupted text, elusive yet intermittent on my Pixelbook so I don't know if it was a widespread problem—a minor blemish, a potential reminder of its aged status and that its not going to get fixed now.
Despite the hefty price tag at its debut, the present-day landscape has validated its early adoption of USB-C. Google Play support empowers it, enabling the orchestration of virtually all Android apps, syncing harmoniously with the Android phone's content. Linux support provides an oasis for developers and power users, and supports.
A noteworthy detail, the 4:3 screen aspect is actually better for editing and authoring tasks, than the Pixelbook Go's 16:9 widescreen, which is tailored more for content consumption, especially for movies.
I still love the original Pixelbook. I had one for a year and a half and its still truly a great laptop. I used it whenever I need long battery life and know I have a good internet connection either WiFi or because of the instant Tethering I can use my Pixel phone's data connection, and even automatically login when my unlocked phone is nearby. The original Google Pixelbook continues to get ChromeOS updates until June 2024 so its still absolutely current.
Comparing performance between the Pixelbook i7 and the Pixelbook Go i7
Not a lot to see here apart from the details of the different revision of Intel i7 processor used. These two devices dont feel all that different in real world use to me.
Google's Android tablet
What about the Google Pixel Tablet?
New kid on the block, this is a tablet not a laptop. It is available for £599 from Amazon. It runs Android 13, not ChromeOS so it can't be used for development. It has the Tensor G2 chip built in, for Google AI, smooth streaming, high-quality video calls and more. Departing from previous designs and perhaps indicating a home use direction of positioning the Pixel Tablet's speaker dock keeps it charged and ready and lets you play music. The reviews are terrible though for the dock quality and the speaker sound.
When docked the Pixel Slate moves into hub mode with a smart display with a digital photo frame, smart home controls and hands-free help. It has Chromecast built in so you can cast to your docked tablet.
Sharing is easier with nearby share you can quickly and securely share photos, videos and more between your Pixel Tablet and other nearby phones and laptops.
The 11-inch screen with brilliant colours and adaptive brightness is 1600 x 2560 resolution for streaming your favourite entertainment and editing photos and videos.
Its no use for me for development so I don't plan to get one.
There is a list of Linux supporting Chromebooks from Google so at the very least start there Official list of CheomeOS Systems Supporting Linux.
Pixelbook final software update dates are published by Google. All ChromeOS devices have an end of support date baked in to them. https://support.google.com/pixelbook/answer/9413900?hl=en