Motorola throws back to the future with a foldable Razr reboot

The rebirth of the Razr has been rumored for several months now. And honestly, such a product is a bit of a no-brainer. The Lenovo-owned company is embracing the burgeoning (if sputtering) world of foldables with the return of one of its most iconic models.

While it’s true that Motorola’s kept the Razr name alive in some form or another well into the Android era, everything that’s come since has failed to recapture the magic of the once mighty brand.

From the looks of things, however, the newly announced Razr is a lovely bit of symmetry. The product, which was announced earlier today in Los Angeles, leans into the lackluster criticism that foldables are simply a return of the once-ubiquitous clamshell design.

Motorola Razr

Motorola Razr

According to Motorola, the company has been toying around with flexible technology for some time now. Per a press release: “In 2015, a cross functional team, comprised of engineers and designers from both Motorola and Lenovo, was assembled to start thinking about how we could utilize flexible display technology.”

The device swaps the horizontal design of its best known competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Fold. The vertical form factor looks to be a match made in foldable heaven. Certainly it loses some of the uber-thin design that made the original Razr such a hit so many years back, but makes the ultra-wide (21:9) 6.2-inch screen compact enough to fit in a pocket.

As with the Galaxy Fold, there’s another a small display on the front for getting a glimpse of notifications and the like. It’s another design feature that mirrors the O.G. Razr. Predictably, the device runs Android — Android 9 (for now), to be precise.

For full throwback appeal, there’s also a “Retro Razr” mode, that mimics the original metallic button design for the bottom half of the screen. It’s a skin that does, indeed, double as a number pad, usable with Android messaging app. Motorola clearly put a lot of love into the design and it shows. If nothing else, the new Razr could go a ways toward proving that retro handsets can be more than just nostalgic novelty for bygone tech.

After the whole Samsung kerfuffle, you’d be right to question the device’s durability, though Motorola says it’s less concerned, citing an “average” smartphone timespan for the product. Only one way, to find out, I guess. Also like the Fold, price is a pretty big obstacle to any sort of mainstream adoption for this first-gen product. The Razr will run $1,499 when it launches in January of next year.

Can a combined Google/Fitbit take on the Apple Watch?

In January 2014, Google announced plans to acquire Nest for $3.2 billion; the acquisition was completed the following day, but since then, Nest’s integration has been a controlled burn. Initially, the company existed as a subsidiary of the newly-formed Alphabet Inc., but in early 2018, Google tightened its grip and integrated it directly into its hardware division.

Over the next year and a half, Nest became the face and name of Google’s smart home offering, a division that’s grown quickly as Google Home/Google Nest has become one of the top two players in the U.S. smart home category, rivaled only by Amazon’s Alexa/Echo offerings.

All the while, wearables have been an also-ran: Google has clearly had an interest in the category, launching Android Wear in 2014. The company partnered with some of consumer hardware’s biggest names, including Motorola, Asus, Sony, Huawei and LG, but to little fanfare. A year ahead the release of Android Wear (now Wear OS), Apple brought its own smartwatch to market, effectively leaving the competition in the dust.

The Apple Watch would soon eclipse the rest of the wearable industry; numbers from Canalys in August 2019 show Apple at 37.9 percent of the total North American wearable band market. Fossil, the only Wear OS partner to crack the top five, is in a distant fifth, with 4.1%.

Samsung and Garmin have found success with their own offerings, but both are far behind Fitbit at second place. Founded in 2007, Fitbit would eventually become synonymous with fitness trackers. A humble startup when it showcased its first product (an eponymous 3D pedometer) on stage at our TC50 event in 2008, Fitbit’s rise has been an unqualified success.

Fitbit predicted and eventually came to define the wearable zeitgeist, finding itself at the forefront of the next big wave in consumer electronics after the smartphone. As the mobile category has plateaued, wearables continue to grow at an impressive pace. Let’s take a moment to appreciate what has been an impressive run.

The last few years, however, have been far rockier as Fitbit stumbled and sputtered. By CEO James Park’s own admission, the company failed to embrace smartwatches quickly and fully enough, and as it has so many times in the past, Apple entered and dominated the space, leaving Fitbit reeling with an uncertain future.

Google is acquiring Fitbit for $2.1 billion

Just days after it was reported that Google was close to buying Fitbit, Google and Fitbit today confirmed the purchase: Google will pay $7.35 per share for the wearables company in an all-cash deal that values Fitbit at $2.1 billion.

Relatively speaking, this is a great landing for Fitbit . The company’s price has fluctuated significantly as it worked to adjust to a changing market and fumbled on some of its more recent launches. In summer 2015, it hit an all-time high of $51.90, but this August it went as low as $2.81 after more than two years hovering below $7 — a pattern that changed dramatically after the first reports of Google’s interest began to surface in September.

The match could ultimately prove beneficial for both parties.

Google has struggled to make much of a dent in the wearables category. But wearables is still a young market, and at a time when Apple has been seeing its strongest category growth in the division that houses its own wearables effort, the Apple Watch, Google has never bowed out. In January of this year, the Android giant purchased a large chunk of IP from watchmaker Fossil for $40 million — a move that in retrospect looks like a setting of the stage for what was to come today.

While Google has also invested in a lot of its own in-house development, buying Fitbit represents a step-change and a bolt-on of years of effort focused specifically on the wearables category.

“Over the years, Google has made progress with partners in this space with Wear OS and Google Fit, but we see an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market,” Google device SVP Rick Osterloh wrote in his blog post announcing the deal. “Fitbit has been a true pioneer in the industry and has created engaging products, experiences and a vibrant community of users. By working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together the best AI, software and hardware, we can help spur innovation in wearables and build products to benefit even more people around the world.”

Sensing inevitable concern around Google’s upcoming access to a bevy of health data, Osterloh looked to temper criticism with reassurance that it will not be using the information for advertising. “We will never sell personal information to anyone,” the executive wrote. “Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data.”

Fitbit, meanwhile, has had issues maintaining growth in recent years. The company first pioneered and then dominated the wrist-worn tracker space, but in more recent years it has struggled as the smartwatches category has grown and encroached and taken over Fitbit’s tracker territory. The company has had luck with the Versa watch, the result of its own acquisition of Pebble, Vector and Coin, while working to pivot much of its focus into healthcare.

But following the disappointing performance of the stripped-down Versa Lite smartwatch, Fitbit announced a premium service earlier this year, set to offer users more insights into the information its products collect. Fitbit has also worked to be recognized as a serious health product, in the wake of the Apple Watch’s successes. The company has announced several partnerships with healthcare companies.

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“More than 12 years ago, we set an audacious company vision – to make everyone in the world healthier,” Fitbit CEO and co-founder James Park said in a statement. “Today, I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved towards reaching that goal. We have built a trusted brand that supports more than 28 million active users around the globe who rely on our products to live a healthier, more active life. Google is an ideal partner to advance our mission. With Google’s resources and global platform, Fitbit will be able to accelerate innovation in the wearables category, scale faster, and make health even more accessible to everyone. I could not be more excited for what lies ahead.”

 

 

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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 04: (L-R) Fitbit co-founder/president & CEO James Park and Fitbit co-founder & CTO Eric Friedman speak onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 at Moscone Convention Center on October 04, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

No immediate word on how the deal will impact either company, but if Google’s Nest acquisition is any indication, the acquisition could be a gradual one, as Fitbit continues to release products in its pipeline. Fitbit notably partnered with Amazon to bring Alexa to the recently released Versa 2 — a first for a wearable. With Google in charge of one of Alexa’s chief competitors, however, one expects future versions of the device will ship with Assistant on-board.

Beyond that, the arrival of Fitbit’s IP coupled with Fossil’s IP could finally be the shot to the arm Wear OS needs. One need look no further than Google’s acquisition of a chunk of HTC’s mobile division to build out its Pixel devices as an example of how the deal could ultimately shape its hardware, moving forward. The arrival of a Pixel Watch seems inevitable, as Google looks to build a Wear OS division as robust as its home and mobile offerings.

Notably, all have been as much the result of acquisitions (Nest and HTC, respectively) as organic, in-house growth.

The deal is expected to close at some point next year, pending the standard regulatory and stockholder approval.

How I Podcast: I’m Listening’s Anita Flores

The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs.

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

Let’s Talk About Cats’ Mary Phillips-Sandy and Lizzie Jacobs
Broken Record’s Justin Richmond
Criminal/This Is Love’s Lauren Spohrer
Jeffrey Cranor of Welcome to Night Vale
Jesse Thorn of Bullseye
Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

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Some days it can be tough to know what to do with all of those tossed salads and scrambled eggs. Brooklyn-based comedian Anita Flores started a podcast. A Frasier podcast, no less. Each episode of the series examines a piece of everyone’s favorite “Cheers” spin-off with a different guest, including recent appearances by Rachel Bloom and John Hodgman. 

Episodes of I’m Listening: A Frasier Podcast with Anita Flores can be found at purveyors of finer podcasts everywhere

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I record my podcast at More Banana Productions’ studio in Brooklyn. I’m lucky to call Caitlyn Moldenhauer, creator of More Banana, my producer. She makes sure that everything sounds great. This is Caitlyn’s studio.

It’s a beautiful space that captures the essence of what More Banana is all about: A podcast network with women-led production. Books with female authors scattered about, an RBG candle, art from women comic book artists and designers and a signed Prince poster. The studio is designed to be bright and comfortable, against other recording studios that tend to be dark and dungeonesque. 

In terms of what kind of equipment, we use Rode Microphones and a Rodecaster Pro. We record mainly in Audition with an SD backup, because you always need a backup! Our setup allows for a simple plug and play for up to three microphones and is really simple to master. The studio also teaches women to engineer and edit podcasts, so it’s important that we have a setup that isn’t a barrier to learning as we introduce people to podcasting. 

We have guests that come in to the studio, but a lot of them are in different states. In those cases, we use Google Hangouts or a phone number to speak with guests. We record the Skype feeds often, although when we can we prefer if guests calling in remotely record themselves with a studio, or close to it, microphone setup. For I’m Listening, the guests who call in on Skype often make the episode feel like an actual radio show. It’s an homage to the format of Frasier Crane’s radio show “The Dr. Frasier Crane Show.”  So the sound of a Skype recording fits for that podcast, but not for all of them. We always prefer in-the-room sound instead of over digital.  

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Most importantly, we have a studio pet: Caitlyn’s French bulldog, Ella. She welcomes all of our guests at the door, and it absolutely sets the mood pre-recording. I usually don’t tell my guests there’s a dog (unless I know they’re allergic), so it’s always a fun surprise to see their reaction. Nothing like having a cute dog to fill a lull in conversation! It should be a law that all recording studios come with some kind of cuddly pet.

I recently recorded a special episode of “I’m Listening” in my apartment, I can’t reveal too much, but let’s say it involved eating tossed salads and scrambled eggs. The studio equipment that we use out of studio is the same Rode Mics and sound board (the Rode Procaster), which is really portable and works in non-studio spaces for the most part. We always use dynamic microphones because they help in spaces that you can’t always control for background noise, echo, etc. Caitlyn runs the sound board during these recordings to make sure all the audio sounds great. 

Wearable spending forecasted to increase 27% in 2020

New numbers from Gartner mark another major increase for global wearable spending in 2020. The analyst firm forecasts a 27% jump in end-user spending over this year, from $40.5 billion to $51.5 billion. Once again, the pack is lead by smartwatches, which continue to burn the hottest among in the space.

Interestingly, the increase on smartwatch spending from $17 billion to $22.8 billion will be lead by decreasing prices (a 4.5% decrease in average selling prices in 2021). Those are, in turn, the result of a combination of increased competition from Samsung and some external pressure from Fitbit, which has found a sweet spot at around $200 a unit. Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi have also gone a ways toward decreasing the price on the low end of the market. 

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Apple, in turn, has responded by keeping the two-year-old Series 3 on the market at the $200 price point. It’s a sign of a maturing category that no longer commands as much of a premium pricing in past generations. Google, meanwhile, recently bought a fair chunk of IP from Fossil and has reportedly been eyeing a Fitbit acquisition after years of struggling to crack the category.

Headphones have continued steady growth, as well, thanks to an explosion in fully wireless earbuds, lead by Apple and Samsung, with the recent lower cost addition of Amazon. Google, too, has been eying a reentry into the category next year with the return of its much panned Pixel Buds. Even Microsoft plans to enter the category with its unique Surface Buds.

Gartner predicts continued spending growth in wearables for 2021, with spending hitting $62.9 billion.

Apple’s AirPods Pro set a pricey new standard for earbuds

“These $250 earbuds are nice.” That’s the first thing I wrote to a co-worker after unboxing and trying on the new AirPods. After wearing them around the New York City streets, the subway and into a couple of cafes, that pithy review stands.

Here are a few more words: They’re super comfortable. I’ve used a lot of different Bluetooth earbuds. It’s a weird perk of my job. The AirPods Pro (baffling pluralization aside) are probably the most comfortable, with the possible exception of the Powerbeats Pro, another Apple-manufactured joint venture. That one, however, relies on a lot more plastic to get the job done, with a full over-the-ear hook system.

The new AirPods, on the other hand, just hang comfortably. This is a big win for those who’ve experienced ear discomfort from all sort of different designs. [Sheepishly raises hand.] Granted, every ear is like a beautiful, unique snowflake, and not everyone will have the same experience. That said, the company’s clearly done a lot to correct for the complaints about the original AirPods, using both a more ergonomic design and finally giving in to the sway of silicone tips.

Airpods Pro

Why Apple waited this long on the latter bit is beyond me, but the company has finally done so on its own terms. Each Pro box ships with a total of six tips (a right and left in small, medium and large), with the medium on by default. These, however, are not your standard, run of the mill silicone tips. A firm yank will pull them off to reveal a hard outer edge that snaps into the bud [picture above].

The company says this is part of ensuring a better fit. Another benefit is that the attachment is much more secure. This is a definite plus, speaking as someone who has accidentally littered the streets of New York with earbud tips. These are far less likely to fall off while getting them out of your pocket. If you do lose one, Apple will be selling replacements for probably a buck or so.

Along with an enlarged body, you’ve no doubt noticed that the stems are notably shorter. That’s because the company has been able to consolidate more of the electronics into the top. The stem remains as a way of handling the earbuds. It also now houses a haptic button that replaces the standard AirPod tap interaction. Instead, you give the stem a squeeze, triggering a subtle clicking sound in the process.

Airpods Pro

By default, a single squeeze pauses and plays a track, whereas a squeeze and hold cycles between noise cancellation and transparent modes. All of this can be adjusted in iOS, once you’ve downloaded version 13.2. Setup on iOS is as easy as ever, requiring you to simply open the case near an iPhone or iPad. Android and desktop pairing, meanwhile, involves the more standard Bluetooth setup.

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From there, click into Settings > Bluetooth > and then tap the “i” next to AirPods Pro. From here you switch between noise control modes, assign different functions to the button on the individual AirPods and fire up the Ear Tip Fit Test. Hit “play” and it will start a quick snippet of a song used to test the fit. If you have the right tip on, it will display “good seal.” If something is wrong, it recommends trying a different tip or adjusting the bud in ear.

Not only is every ear different, but some folks have a deal of differentiation between right and left. The mediums worked well for me, right out of the box. That’s me, Mr. Average Ears. Results may very.

The Pros sound great. They’re among the best-sounding earbuds I’ve tried, up there with the similarly priced Sony WF-1000XM3. As such, they’re in pretty rare air. Unlike the Echo Buds, you can’t adjust the levels in settings, but Apple’s buds are tuned well out of the box for a wide range of genres. So far, I’ve listened to Ryuichi Sakamoto, Danny Brown, The Hold Steady, Electric Youth and Sunn 0))), for a pretty diverse sampling. It all comes across rich and full — much as one would expect/hope from a $250 pair of earbuds.

Airpods Pro

The noise canceling, too, is up there with Sony’s. Apple’s works adaptively, similar to what it offers on its over-ear Beats headphones. That means the microphones are constantly listening to your surroundings and adjusting accordingly. It’s not quite a full immersion, like you would get from over-ear headphones, but with a tight seal, it does a pretty terrific job drowning out your surroundings when needed.

For those times you need to be more alert, there’s transparency mode, which uses the on-board mics to beam in ambience. Once again, it’s a good mix, letting in sound without completely overwhelming the music. That was one of my issues with the Echo Buds, which tended to overamplify things like an air conditioning unit. Though again, unlike the Echo Buds, you can turn transparency on an off, versus adjusting levels.

Bit of a side note here, but like their predecessors, these new models will probably go a ways toward shifting societal norms in terms of keeping your headphones in while engaging with others. These are the sorts of things that make me want to go all Andy Rooney on kids today, etc., etc.

Airpods Pro

Noise canceling and transparency have similar impacts on battery, knocking about half an hour off of the Pods’ built-in five hours. With the charging case factored in, total listening time should be about 24 hours in standard mode, per Apple’s estimates. I’m excited to push that to the limit as I board a plane to Asia early next week. Ditto for the comfort level — but after several hours today, all is still well.

The case is a little larger than the original AirPods, but is still carried comfortably in a pocket, unlike, say, the Beats or Sony models. The orientation has shifted, as well. It’s not wider than it is long, owing to the shortening of the AirPods’ stems. The new design means they’re slightly more difficult to maneuver into the case, but you’ll get the hang of that after a couple of tries.

Airpods Pro

Like the AirPods 2, the case can be charged both through the Lightning port or wirelessly. Tapping the case while charging will light up the LED, which will display as either yellow or green to let you know how far along your are.

So, yeah, thumbs up after half a day. No surprise there, of course. The $250 price tag will almost certainly make these cost-prohibitive for many, but after a few hours, it’s going to be hard to go back.

Look for a longer write up soon.

Samsung teases a clamshell foldable form factor

Last year at its developer conference, Samsung showed off an early glimpse of its upcoming foldable. In hindsight, the Galaxy Fold’s rollout could have gone more smoothly, but sometimes first-gen products go that way, I suppose. At the very least, it’s clear that the company won’t let a rocky start stand between it and broader foldable phone ambitions.

Onstage at this year’s event, the company showed off another take on the foldable display. A video shows the Galaxy Fold form factor morphing into a clamshell more akin to traditional dumb phones.

Unlike last year’s event, this one shouldn’t be taken as a pre-product announcement. Rather, the company says it’s “explor[ing] a range of new form factors in the foldable category.” It’s something that’s been pretty clear from the outset: these earliest days of foldables are very much about seeing which form factors click. Samsung is currently working with developers to explore these concepts.

This latest is more in line with leaks we’ve seen of the rumored Motorola Razr reboot, with an elongated screen that can easily be folded up and stashed away in a pocket. Perhaps we’ll get more insight into the company’s plans as CES or MWC.

Perhaps.

Samsung’s new laptops charge phones with their touchpad

Some features are the result of consumer demand. Others simply make sense. And then there are features like the Galaxy Book Flex and Ion’s Wireless PowerShare that appear to be more a product of a “because we can” approach to product design.

Wireless charging is, in and of itself, kind of a no-brainer in an era when many or most flagship smartphones support the technology. Samsung’s implementation, however, leaves a lot to be desired here. It’s true, of course, that Wireless PowerShare’s implementation is less than ideal, requiring one of two phones to be face-down, but I can certainly see applications for the tech.

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On the new laptops, however, charging the phone requires that it occupy all of the trackpad. In the case of the Flex, I suppose you can still use the touchscreen (there isn’t one on the Ion), but even so, there’s no scenario in which having a phone sitting on the trackpad doesn’t seriously dampen one’s ability to get some serious work done.

Between the issues and the fact that you can charge your phone the old-fashioned way with the laptops, it’s hard to find a scenario in which the feature is anything but a gimmick. Samsung says the trackpad offered the easiest implementation of the tech — versus, I suppose the palm rest or the top of the device. I’m not sure there’s a great implementation for a feature that might have better been left on the drawing board.

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It’s a silly feature on what are otherwise very solid additions to Samsung’s laptop line. The Flex is the more premium of the two, featuring a touchscreen and the 360-degree hinge that gives the device its name. The laptop has an aluminum body with a “royal blue” finish and a built-in slot for the included S Pen. It comes in both 13 and 15-inch varieties, with a 10th-gen Intel processor, 16GB of RAM and up to a TB of storage.

Also available in 13 and 15-inch versions, the Ion ditches the touchscreen and 360 hinge, but maintains an ultra-thin, lightweight design.

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Samsung’s jumping the gun a little early on the announcement here. Both models will be available in the U.S. early next year, priced similarly to their predecessors. Asked why the company didn’t just wait for CES for the announcement, it noted models arrive at different times in different markets.

Based on past systems, it seems like a pretty safe bet that they’ll be hitting Korean shores earlier. Perhaps in time for the holidays.

Razer targets gamers with low latency wireless earbuds

Everyone’s in the wireless earbuds these days. Razer, never one to be left out of a trend, is entering the category this week with Hammerhead True Wireless, a pair of fully wireless earbuds targeting its core demographic of gamers.

Where the headphones set to distinguish themselves from the chattering masses of competitors is a focus on low latency. Anyone who’s ever attempted to use earbuds for gaming purposes knows that lag is an issue with a majority of the products on the market. Understandably so, as most are far more focused on music playback and therefore prioritize other features instead.

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To achieve this, the company has tweaked Bluetooth 5.0 to offer a Gaming Mode with 60ms, according to the company’s numbers. What’s more, the Razer’s offering them up at an extremely reasonable $100, less than even Amazon’s new Echo Buds — not to mention Apple’s pricey AirPods Pro, which were announced earlier this week.

On paper, at least, the specs are solid for the price point, including a decent (but far from exceptional) three hours of battery life on the buds, for 15 total hours with the charging case factored in. The headphones also feature the standard array of touch controls for playing and pausing music. Honestly, aside from gaming mode, they’re an otherwise pretty standard pair of earbuds from the looks of it. 

The Hammerheads are available now through Razer’s site.

Pixelbook Go review: A Chromebook in search of meaning

Few, if any, saw coming the Chromebook’s utter dominance of the K-8 category. In hindsight, it’s easy to see why the systems have been such a success story, of course: low prices, coupled with ease of wide-scale deployment and lockdown make them a perfect fit for the classroom. Fifteen million Chromebooks were sold in 2018 alone, with schools serving as the major catalyst.

But manufacturers are looking beyond the classroom for the future of the category. Google’s facing increased competition from super-cheap PCs supported by Microsoft, and those schools that have purchased systems aren’t due for refreshes. It’s no surprise, then, that average Chromebook prices are expected to rise across the board as more companies target mainstream use.

Selling Chromebooks outside of the classroom, on the other hand, has been a bit of a tougher life. After all, finding a powerful, reasonably priced PC isn’t hard in 2019. That’s part of what made the original Pixelbook such an oddity. The $999 price point qualified the device as a premium laptop. And while ChromeOS has certainly made some major leaps in the last several years, it has never been entirely clear who the product is for.

Google Pixelbook Go

The same goes for the Pixel Slate. Both were nice enough pieces of hardware designed to communicate that there is a place for ChromeOS in the premium category. I don’t know that Google ever anticipated selling a lot of the things, so much as drawing a line in the sand — a kind of reference design mentality that gave birth to the Pixel line.

Google’s recent hardware event was, perhaps, something of a referendum on the play. The original Pixelbook, while not discontinued, has yet to get a refresh two years after launch. Heck, even the troubled Pixel Buds got a reprieve as the company previewed their successor. The Pixelbook, on the other hand, got the Go.

The new device isn’t a Pixelbook replacement — at the very least, Google’s looking to sell through its back stock, with some deep discounts earlier this year. Rather, the device seems to be more a tacit admission that the company was shooting a bit too high the first two times around.

With a $649 starting price, the Go is certainly more in line with what people are expecting from the category. Of course, I’ll admit that I got some pushback when I used the word “budget” to refer to the contrast between the Go and its predecessor. Certainly the standards for what qualifies as budget differ a great deal between the Chromebook category and the rest of the industry. As much as Google wants to push back against the notion, price has always been a key factor in adoption.

Google Pixelbook Go

With devices routinely priced less than $200, the Pixelbook Go is actually toward the high end of the spectrum. Click through the listing and you’ll discover that prices go up quite a bit from there. In fact, you can currently spec the device up to $1,399 on Google’s site, which crosses over well into the premium category for most users. It’s honestly a pretty far cry from the company’s mobile strategy, where pricing continues to be a key distinguisher from competing flagship manufacturers like Samsung and Apple.

All told, the Pixelbook Go is a more compelling proposition than the original Pixelbook, based on price alone. But there’s nothing about the device that signals a company that is confident of what it wants to do in the category. At most, the Go is Google’s way of demonstrating confidence that there exists a future for such mid-tier devices, as companies like Acer attempt to look toward a life beyond the classroom.

Google Pixelbook Go

The places where Google cut corners are almost immediately apparent. The device lacks the premium feel of the original product. Say what you will about the original Pixelbook, but it was a nice-looking device. At first glance, at least, the Go doesn’t distinguish itself much from other Chromebooks. The lovely glass and aluminum is gone, and in its place is a matte magnesium alloy that lends it a more plasticky finish.

The laptop comes in two Googley-named colors: Just Black and Not Pink. Google sent me the former, which is, well, just black. Honestly, it could have benefited from a touch of color beyond the small, white “G” on the tip of the lid. The salmony Not Pink pops a bit more. Honestly, Google should have gone full old-school iBook and offered up a bunch of different colors.

The device is portable, certainly. It’s a bit lighter than the original at 2.3 pounds to its 2.4 pounds. It’s a hair or two thicker, however, at 13.4mm to its 10.3. Carrying it around in my backpack for a few days certainly didn’t make my back miss my 15-inch MacBook Pro. The ridged bottom is a nice touch, too. It’s really easy to carry it with one hand.

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Beyond aesthetics, the lower price means cutting some other corners. The biggest difference is the lack of a 360 hinge. Turns out those are pretty expensive — and one of the primary things that drove up the price in the original Pixelbook. For my own uses, it’s honestly not a huge loss. Testing the original Pixelbook, I didn’t find too many instances that required something other than a standard laptop setup.

Those looking to purchase the device for creative applications may miss it, however, along with the loss of pen input. A smaller loss is the lack of the edge to edge track pad — turns out those are relatively expensive to manufacturer, as well. The keyboard has grown on me. It’s certainly quiet, as advertised. The keys are on the soft side, especially coming from over on the MacBook side of things, but they offer a nice bit of travel for a laptop.

The screen is actually larger than on the original Pixelbook, jumping a full inch up to 13.3. That said, total resolution is down by default, at 1920×1080 (166 ppi) versus 2400×1600 (235 ppi). You can still upgrade to a 4K screen, for a price — $1,399, specifically. Again, one wonders precisely who that specific price point is for.

The Go retains the two USB-C port setup. That was one of the bigger critiques with the original system, but Google’s not standing down on this one. Perhaps I’m not the target demographic here, but four ports seems like a pretty good compromise, especially for those who like to dock their systems at work for external monitors and the like.

Google Pixelbook Go

The processor has been upgraded from a 7th-gen to 8th-gen Intel (as you’d hope after two years), though the  base level system starts at an m3, rather than i5. There are, however i5 and i7 options. As in everything, an upgrade. RAM is the same, at either 8 or 16GB, while storage has been shrunk down at the base level, starting at a paltry 64GB instead of 128. Given how much you rely on cloud storage, that may be moot.

ChromeOS is still limited. I’m looking forward to a day when I don’t have to stipulate that with every review, but this ain’t it, chief. It makes sense in an educational setting, but the transition from Windows or MacOS will continue to be rocky for many. The addition of Google Play opens up the app considerably, but a fraction of apps are built with a non-mobile form factor in mind.

Some apps, meanwhile, just aren’t here. I’ve been considering bringing the device with me on an upcoming trip to China. The security and stated 12-hour battery life are big wins for that trip, but I’m not sure how to replace Audacity for the podcast editing I usually do on the plane. I am, however, open to any suggestions you might have.

Google Pixelbook Go

Like the original Pixelbook, the Go seems to be a device in search of meaning. The $300 price drop is a step in the right direction, but Google’s competing with far cheaper offerings from third parties. I’m still struggling with reasons to recommend a Chromebook outside of the classroom, when there are so many affordable Windows options out there. Perhaps as a secondary, travel device. But even so, how many people need that specific use case?

The Go is clearly Google’s attempt to lead the way for manufacturers looking to explore Chromebook life outside the classroom. It has some nice hardware perks, but it’s not the revolution or revelation ChromeOS needs.