Today, Microsoft announced a bunch of new Surface products — and they all look very, very good (and some of them look very weird). Perhaps the least sexy, but most utilitarian, of them was the new Surface Laptop 3. But in one fell swoop, Microsoft proved that it had both the platform and the vision to build a professional-grade laptop that Google could only dream to. And it was in that moment I knew, whatever the next Pixelbook will be (and we have a pretty good idea), it will be a disappointment.
I say this not for the sake of being harsh, but as someone who has lived with and loved Google's original Pixelbook from the day it was available. My Pixelbook has been my steadfast travel companion, my couchside composition tool, and my portable theater for the better part of two years. And I still do love the Pixelbook — I believe even after all this time, it remains the very best Chromebook anyone can buy, bezels be damned. It's light, it's portable, it lasts a long time on a charge, it has a beautifully tactile keyboard, and it's easily the most complimented personal electronic device I own (seriously, people ask all the time what kind of laptop I'm using). The Pixelbook, despite its numerous limitations, is a great product.
The Pixelbook is still undeniably, unapologetically, a browser.
But in 2019, the Pixelbook is slowly, but surely, becoming dated. Its screen makes comically poor use of the space it is afforded. Its processor is, effectively, a year older than the laptop itself. And for as far as Chrome OS has come since launching, the Pixelbook is still undeniably, unapologetically, a browser. Local media management is painful. Even cloud storage is hardly a crown jewel on an allegedly cloud-first OS: after all these years, I still have no Dropbox integration on Chrome OS (and please don't peddle me a plug-in). Android apps never acted as more than a band-aid for a local content-starved platform, and the powerful suites of photo and video editing tools we were teased never really arrived. I never really expected to use my Pixelbook's pen, but I expect there are people who bought one that did!
There is nothing we have have seen at this point suggesting the new Pixelbook Go will fix these problems. Chrome OS has never used hardware launches to announce major platform revamps (this could change, I admit), and the Pixelbook Go itself looks, at best, like a modest reimagining of the last two generations of Google's Chrome OS hardware. There's going to be a Kaby Lake processor (again), a couple of USB-C ports, and a headphone jack. Google is ditching its beloved 3:2 aspect ratio display for an absolutely pointless 16:9 layout in the name of making this new laptop more portable (I have never found my Pixelbook mobility-impeded). There's a 4K screen option and more powerful speakers, but perplexingly, it sounds like Google's web-first laptop will still forego LTE connectivity. Like AboutChromebooks' Kevin Tofel, I was disappointed to learn much of what we have about the next Pixelbook so far.
Microsoft all but annihilated any remaining hopes I have for Google's next notebook.
And with the Surface Laptop 3, Microsoft all but annihilated any remaining hopes I have for Google's next notebook, and I really don't see anything Google could announce to change that. Even promises of things like native Dropbox integration, a cloud version of Photoshop, or enhanced local storage functionality would just be token gestures — yet more band-aids atop a platform that itself is often defined by compromise, as opposed to merely encumbered by it. It's sad, but the more thought I give it, the more true I realize it is.
I am no Windows apologist: the last time I used a Windows 10 laptop (a Dell XPS 13), I found it to be a less elegant, less streamlined mobile experience than Chrome. It felt weighed down by years of legacy, by what to me feels sometimes a genuinely old way of doing things that Chrome's cutthroat minimalism has allowed me to avoid. Still, I use Windows on my desktop frequently, and it always feels at home in that world. And while MacOS is far from perfect, it was years ahead of Microsoft on things like desktop and window management (things Microsoft has now, too, embraced), and it made a MacBook Pro an easy choice during my college years. But Microsoft has shown a willingness to learn and to change, and the sheer size and clout of the Windows ecosystem has made those changes worth paying attention to. In 2019, it would be foolhardy to suggest that the Windows of today (and the Windows hardware) feels like the Windows of 10 years ago. Microsoft, PCs, and mobile computing have changed a lot in that time.
Microsoft's Surface brand has had its share of growing pains, but its maturity is evident — cutting-edge hardware (there's even USB-C now!), genuinely impressive engineering (the SL3's hard drive is actually removable), and a platform underpinned by an ecosystem of essentially limitless software. Oh, and a current-generation of processor capable of doing more than just-barely managing 4K YouTube playback. The Surface Laptop 3 looks to be Surface's hardware at its very best meeting Windows at its very best — Microsoft has an obvious winner on its hands. Meanwhile, the next Pixelbook appears to be Google at its worst: pretending the competition doesn't exist, that the comparative benchmarks don't apply, and that there are no use cases beyond those its platform can accommodate. I'm a bit sad to know I'll finally be saying goodbye to my Pixelbook, but even officially-sight-unseen, I know Google's next laptop announcement will let me down. The Surface Laptop 3 will be my next laptop, and I have a feeling the Pixelbook Go could be Google's last.