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Chromebooks for developers — As Indiana Jones found out, you have to choose wisely.

Chromebooks have recently become first class computers. Initially they were pretty awful for workloads more than the lightest of note taking duty, but since most new Chromebooks support Google Play and can run Android apps, there is a sweet spot for people who to be able to develop and test Android apps. You can use a Chromebook to build your Android app and run it on the Chromebook to test it. No slow emulator. Proper Android. If you need to be able to do that then you need to find a Chromebook that can supports Google Play apps plus Linux. Not all do. All Chromebooks launched in 2019 and beyond are supposed to support Linux.

Not all Chromebooks are created equal — Specifications matter.

My first Chromebook was an Asus Flip (technically a C302C/M3-6Y30/4GB Ram/64GB HDD/13"). This was a pretty decent device and supports Google Play for Android apps. However, it is incapable of having the Linux subsystem enabled. So I traded it in, reluctantly really. If you definitely don't need Linux these are really excellent laptops with lovely keyboards, ideal for all Chrome OS tasks including running Android apps from Google Play and all the Google tools like Gmail and Google Docs. But they are not good enough for development needs and are getting outdated. I needed the Linux supprt required for a Chromebook to be able to handle Android Studio. I also wanted high performance and plenty of storage - 64GB is nowhere near enough, and 4GB RAM while plenty for G-Suite is nowhere near enough for software development of mobile apps for Android

The best Chromebook for software development — The current or previous model Pixelbook i7 from Google

It came down to a brand new Google Pixelbook Go Laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, 256GB, 13.3” in 'Just Black' for a princely £1,329  or a refurbished or second hand Google Pixelbook with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, 512GB, and a 12.3" in display for £665. (Jan 2020) Can you guess where this is going? Yep, I bought the refurbished Pixelbook.

Google Pixelbook — 16GB, Intel i7, 512GB storage

This was Googles first Pixelbook. You have to ignore the pixel C which was a tablet project that got out into production despite itself. The Pixelbook is delicious. It is an aluminum unibody with a touch of Apple about it. (These tech behemoths share all the same manufacturers in China). The build quality is superb. It is modern, USB-C equipped and the screen folds all the way back to mimic a large tablet.

Pixelbook capabilities revealed by 'Cog' extension, mixture of Linux (e.g. Slack, Android Studio), Android (e.g. Authy) and Chrome OS apps in the doc

Pros - (Core i7 3.1GHz model)

  • 12.3” 2400x1600 Quad HD LCD display. The display is sharp. It is made of Corning Gorilla Glass. It has a touchscreen display and supports the optional Pixelbook Pen.
  • Intel Core i7 i7-7Y75 ("Kaby Lake-Y") 1.3 GHz. This is a seventh generation Intel processor with 2 cores.
  • Touchscreen. Its worth calling out as it is quite a revelation if you are, like me, in the main a MacBook Pro user.
  • 16 GB memory. Choose a 16GB model from the outset.
  • 512GB storage. This is NVMe storage so it is fast! Stay away from the smaller 126GB and 256GB models they will fill up quickly and are slower.
  • Non removable battery. The battery lasts and lasts. Google say up to 10 hours and I have never had a problem.
  • USB-C. Two ports. Supports fast charging - Up to 2 Hrs in 15 minutes and 7.5 Hrs in 60 minutes.It comes with a USB-C power adaptor that can also work with Pixel phones. Supports 4K display output.
  • Audio. 3.5 mm headphone jack. Dual speakers; 4 mics.
  • Backlit Keyboard. A proper full size keyboard with 19 mm pitch and 0.8 mm travel.
  • Trackpad. Edge-to-edge trackpad with an etched glass surface.
  • Wireless. Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac,3 2x2 (MIMO), dual-band (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz) Bluetooth® 4.2
  • Front facing Camera. 720p @ 30FPS. Perfect for video conferencing.
  • Security. TPM Chip for better on device security.

Cons

  • No warranty. Buy it from Computer Exchange for a two year warranty or from Amazon Renewed with a one year warranty.
  • Not the current model. If you really need the shiniest then this is not it.
  • No Ethernet port. USB-C Ethernet adapter would be required. 
  • No SD card slot. USB-C SD card adapter would be required.
  • No HDMI port. USB-C HDMI adapter would be required.
  • Graphics bug — I have an intermittent bug with mouse pointer. It doesnt affect anything and isnt always present but sometimes it leaves a garbled spot on the screen. wiping over it clear it. It looks like a display driver or graphics adapter issue. I would have expected it to be fixed but its not a current device anymore so it may never get fixed.

Ports

This particular model of Chromebook is the kind of computer you would have ordered if you were a Google employee. It made no sense at the time because it was so expensive. But now. because ChromsOS can support Google Play, it can run pretty much all Android applications, and sync all your content from your Android phone. Thats pretty useful. It is sought after by developers and power users because you can install Android Studio and make it into a developer workstation but it is realistically priced these days and a bargain compared to the newer version. Interestingly it has a 4:3 screen size too which is good for editing and authoring, compared to the new model which is 16:9 widescreen which is better from consuming content like movies.

Google Pixelbook — Recommended still, in July 2021

I love it. I've been using it for a year and a half and its still truly a great laptop. I use 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.


See also There is a list of Linux supporting Chromebooks from Google so at the very least start there Official list of Chrome OS Systems Supporting Linux.