Leaving Windows: How the Pixelbook replaced my Surface Pro 4, no regrets

The world continues to move to the cloud and less is being done with offline apps. Last month I put my Microsoft Surface Pro 4 on the shelf and connected my new Google Pixelbook to my external Dell monitor as I went all in with a Chromebook.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

My first Surface Pro computer was purchased five years ago and since then I moved onto the Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4. While these are fantastic computers for the daily train commuter and business traveler, Windows can also be a frustrating experience and there may be another alternative that meets your needs better.

I tested out the original Google Chromebook in 2013 and ever since then I have lusted after the Google hardware. The Surface Pro line is also rather stunning, but the high-end Google Chromebook hardware is even better.

Since a Google Pixelbook was not sent for evaluation, I bought one to test out in October at a time when I was testing it against an Apple iPad Pro 10.5. I ended up returning the Pixelbook within the two week period and since then I also sold off my iPad Pro. ZDNet's Jason Cipriani tested the Pixelbook and posted his full review, which discussed many of the great aspects of the Pixelbook.

While the Google Pixelbook was out and available, my Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10 continued to cause daily frustration. For example, in order to use the Microsoft Arc Touch Surface mouse I had to completely restart the Surface Pro 4 each time I came back to it after it went to sleep. I also had to pack along a specific charger when I traveled. The Windows updates appeared at inconvenient times and took time to install. Google Chrome, my preferred browser, also seemed to slow down with many tabs open. Overall, the Windows experience was just wearing me down.

While I am a professional engineer by day and a mobile tech blogger by night, I'm at a point in my engineering career where I don't have the daily need to run AutoCAD, Rhino, or other Windows engineering apps. I spend most of my time in Word, Outlook, OneNote, and other document and drawing review apps. Writing for ZDNet just requires a text editor, web browser, and basic photo editor. Thus, my life has evolved to the point where Windows is no longer a required operating system.

As Christmas approached and Google offered $100 off the Pixelbook, I decided it was time to gift myself a Pixelbook and try it again. This time, as soon as it arrived, I took the Surface Pro 4 off the dock and put it on the bookshelf. I picked up an Aukey USB Type C hub and plugged in my external touchscreen Dell monitor while connecting the Microsoft Surface Arc Mouse via Bluetooth. With both the HDMI cable and USB cable plugged into the hub from my monitor, I have full touch capability on the monitor as well as on the Pixelbook. The Aukey hub also charges up my Pixelbook at the same time.

Over the past month, I have used the Pixelbook with an external monitor at my desk, around the house as a portable computer, on my daily train commute, and on the road to Vegas and San Francisco. The Pixelbook hardware is as glorious as I remember with the only questionable design element being the rather large bezels around the display. I have used the Pixelbook in laptop, tablet, and tent mode media viewing orientations.

CNET: Google Pixelbook review: The best Chromebook (a lot of) money can buy

There has been only one reason I have had to pull out the Surface Pro 4 and that is to record the MobileTechRoundup podcast with Skype and Audacity. I may be able to figure out a solution with Android apps, but that is truly the last hurdle I have to jump to forget about the Surface Pro 4.

Here are some of the key apps I have discovered and why I use them on the Pixelbook:

  • Text: I've been writing articles online for 17 years and continue to write everything in HTML. Text is a Chrome OS app that gives me the basics I need to be extremely productive with writing articles in offline mode. It is exactly what I want and available for free.
  • Google Keep: I capture thoughts and ideas all day and use Google Keep as my quick note taking application.
  • Wunderlist: This app is used to list all of my planned ZDNet posts while also serving as my shared todo list with my family.
  • Files: I use this app to manage my downloaded files and those found on Google Drive.
  • Chrome photo editor: With ZDNet I have basic photo editing needs so I take photos with my phones, upload to Google Photos, and then perform basic editing (crop, resize, basic touchup) with the default image editing tool found in Chrome OS.
  • OneNote and Evernote: I used these two apps for cross-platform note taking and plan to use them more with the Pixelbook pen.
  • Google Docs, Sheets, and Microsoft Office: I use these apps to create and edit various Office documents. They work well on the Pixelbook and the excellent keyboard helps me crank out work.
  • Google Play Movies and Netflix: I download content before I travel and have enjoyed several movies on recent trips. I also stream Netflix content at home on one display while I browse the internet on my external monitor.
  • Deltek Touch Time and Expense: This is an Android app I use for my weekly engineering timesheets. It has a rather terrible user interface, but the full application requires Internet Explorer. I understand it will be updated in 2018 to support other browsers and hope it gets better as it is rather painful to enter hours in its current configuration.

For everything else I need for work, there are websites that let me be productive on the Google Pixelbook. With the desktop class browser, I am able to fully engage with the ZDNet CMS and have been able to enjoy a fully functional experience. With devices like the Apple iPad Pro, there were browser limitations that prevented me from a full and complete CMS experience.

It's a joy to forget about virus scanning, security updates, and other failures (such as Bluetooth mouse connections) while using the Pixelbook. I have been more efficient and happier using the Pixelbook and have absolutely no regrets about spending nearly $1,000 for this new device.

CNET: Google's PixelBook in pictures: a sharp-looking, folding Chromebook

In addition to apps, there are both keyboard shortcuts and touchpad gestures that have made my life more efficient. Due to the $100 discount, I also purchased the Pixelbook pen, but so far I haven't yet integrated the pen into my daily usage routine.

I will soon be posting my thoughts on a couple WaterField Designs bags that help me carry the Pixelbook on my daily routine. Jason also recently let me know about a free Pixelbook pen loop that may make carrying the pen less painful too.

The Google Pixelbook will not work for everyone, but it also will work for a lot more folks than you may think. As I perform more of an engineering management role, rather than an engineering calculation role, there is less need for dedicated unique ship design apps. With the Pixelbook, OneNote, Google Sheets, Outlook Web Access, and other apps and websites meet my needs.

The Google Pixelbook is expensive, but it is also well built and performs flawlessly. I have been able to write more ZDNet content at a faster pace with the Pixelbook than with the Surface Pro 4. The hardware is so fantastic that I want to use it daily and look forward to creating content, browsing the internet, watching media, communicating with people, and computing on the go.

Seamless updates, lightning fast startup and performance, Android application support, and long battery life make the Google Pixelbook a serious contender for an ultimate computing device for those looking for the best.


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