Google is once again trying to make a big splash with laptop computers, this time with its new Pixelbook.
Google debuted its Pixelbook, a new laptop-tablet hybrid during its Pixel 2 event in San Francisco on Wednesday, a high-end version of its barebones Chromebook laptops that rely on Google’s Chrome operating system (OS).
Google hopes its new Pixelbook, which sells for $999 to $1,649, will give it a viable challenger to Apple’s MacBooks and other premium laptops.
With Google’s low-end Chromebooks, the company supplies the OS while third-party companies like HP Inc. and Dell build the devices. But Chromebooks are bulky, short on processing power, have limited storage, and are incompatible with Google’s new Pixelbook stylus pen for drawing digital images on touchscreens.
Matt Vokoun, Google’s director for Chromebooks, emphasized that his company is serious about the Pixelbook. Although Google previously sold both high-end laptops and tablets, they were mostly “demonstration-oriented,” he said, meaning Google didn’t produce many of them and that they were instead for showing to potential manufacturers to get them on board with the idea.
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In a sign of Google’s commitment, Vokoun said that Google’s new Pixelbooks will be available at over 1,000 retail stores across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Google’s previous laptops and tablets, in contrast, were only sold through the Google Store “and maybe one retailer only,” he said.
Kan Liu, Google’s senior director of product management for Chrome OS, said that companies that have built Chromebooks have mostly focused on cheaper devices targeting a “different segment of the market.” Still, in addition to the cheaper models, companies like HP Inc. (HPQ) and Dell sell pricier Chromebooks.
Unlike some hybrid tablet and laptops like Apple’s iPad Pro, Google’s Pixelbook does not come with a detachable keyboard. Instead the built-in keyboard can be rotated so that it works like a standard tablet.
What separates the new Pixelbooks from the other Chromebooks is that they are wired to work with Google’s other recently debuted hardware products, like the Pixel phone and the Google Home web-connected speaker. For instance, a feature called Instant Tethering automatically connects Pixelbooks with Pixel phones so that the laptops can access cellular data connections when a Wi-Fi network is unavailable.
Another feature lets people use their Pixel phones to unlock their Pixelbooks, which presumably reduces the time to access the laptop.
Google’s new Pixelbooks are also integrated with Google Assistant so that people can use their voices to send emails or make calendar appointments by speaking to their laptops. Users can activate Google Assistant by either saying “Okay, Google” or by pressing a custom button on the keyboard.
The Pixelbook Pen, which costs $99, works like other stylus pens including one for Apple’s (AAPL) iPad Pro tablet. It can do tricks like automatically smooth scribbled lines or transform handwriting into computer font.
Asked why would someone buy the Google Pixelbook over competing devices like the Microsoft Surface Book, Vokoun spoke about the Pixelbook’s ability to work with Android-powered smartphones and the fact the phones and the Pixlebook laptop can access the same apps.
“We’ve married together the user experience across a phone, a tablet, and a laptop,” said Vokoun. “If you’re not on a Chrome OS device, you actually can’t do that.”