Dear Pixelbook Pen, I Owe You an Apology

Back in February, I reviewed the Google Pixelbook and the Pixelbook Pen. My love of the Pixelbook that I expressed in that review remains the same today. It is the single best Chromebook I’ve ever used and probably one of the top three laptops I’ve ever used in general. But if you read that review, you know I was less than impressed with the Pixelbook Pen.

My general issues with the Pixelbook Pen came down to two key areas.  First, I did not like the AAAA battery that runs the Pen.  I thought at the time, and still do, that it creates unneeded battery waste.  Second was the price point.  At $99, I still think it is too expensive.  So if I still stand by my two primary issues with the Pen, why do I owe it an apology?  Simply put, I started using daily.  And I love it.

After completing my review, I didn’t pick up the Pen for several weeks, opting instead to use the trackpad and touching of the screen itself to get things done on my Pixelbook.  It worked great (still does) but I found that I needed a bit more precision for some things.  For example, I use Evernote for all of my personal and corporate note taking as well as my daily task list.  That task list I setup with checkboxes so I can check off things as I complete them throughout my day.  I found that, while the Evernote Android app works great on my Pixelbook, I had a hard time tapping those checkboxes without the Pen.  So, at first, that was primarily the only reason that I used it.  But then I started using my Pixelbook in tablet mode more for taking handwritten notes in Evernote and using the Pen to write.  It works brilliantly and the lack of delay or lag in my writing was a real winner for me.

The other big area for me was in Outlook online.  My company is a Microsoft shop (although we have a mix of G Suite too) and my main corporate email is on Exchange for Office 365.  I do not like the Outlook app for Android so I find myself using the web version of Outlook.  That works pretty well and from a touchpad perspective, works fine.  But using the Pen to move around the menus, especially in tablet mode, are far easier when I use my Pixelbook Pen.  It comes down to the precision of the touch I have with it versus my finger.

But there are other areas too that I’ve found that I end up with the Pen in my hand more often than not.  Photo editing for the site is a key area.  I use the Photo Editor Android app from IUDesk.  While the UI is certainly Chromebook friendly, when it comes to adding annotations to a photo or editing out a part of the image, I find I have far more control when I use the Pixelbook Pen than my finger or the trackpad.  This speeds things up for me and given I have only a few hours each day to update the site, time savings helps me.  Going back to Office 365, I have found that editing PowerPoint presentations online (and this is true for Slides too) easier with the Pen as I can more precisely move text boxes around or add handwritten annotations easier.

As you can tell by this point, I generally use my Pixelbook Pen for “business” related activities and I suspect I’m not alone.  Further, I’m probably not using the Pen nearly to the extent that Google intended but that’s okay.  For me, it is about these little things that I can do with it in my day-to-day that save me time and, probably as important, frustration.  But there are Pen power users out there, one of them being Virginia Poltrack.

If you don’t know Virginia or follow her on Twitter or Instagram, you should.  She does illustration and design on Google Developer Studio and has been working on a wide range of projects for Google for many years.  She is also one of the leading women in tech, having worked with Google’s Women Techmaker and has even created some of the swag that has been seen at previous Google I/O events.  She’s an amazing artist and illustrator.

Over the course of the past few months, Virginia has been using a Pixelbook and the Pen to create some fantastic work which you can see on her Instagram account.  She notes the ones she has made with the Pixelbook Pen via the hashtag #Pixelbook and, to be clear, these are creations she’s made on her own and not for work.  Recently I asked her about how she uses the Pen, what she likes and doesn’t like and so forth.

One of those key areas for her, as an artist, is the low latency of the Pen.  “I’ve found with other digital drawing tools that there can be a significant lag, and that’s not the case at all with this pen.” said Virginia.  She went on to say that the overall design and weight of the Pen is a big plus for her as she creates her illustrations.  “It’s easier for me to hold for extended periods of time. My hand does not strain or get tired from holding it, and I find the brushed aluminum provides for a better grip.”

Virginia went on to discuss other aspects of the pen she likes such as the replaceable battery and the fact that the nibs in the Pen can be replaced with ease – something as an artist would be critical for her given the heavy use it goes through in creating her work.  Obviously she uses other digital pens to create work so her perspectives provide a solid foundation for using the pen as an artist, not just as a business oriented tool like I use it.

As I have said in countless reviews and articles here on the site and other places, you have to find the tool that works best for you in your day-to-day motion.  Sometimes, however, those tools change.  For me, the Pixelbook Pen is a change and a new tool.  In my case, it has happened because I have found this Pen to be probably the best stylus device I’ve used.  Ever. has been going now for 14 years and I have no idea how many times I’ve tried to use a stylus in my own daily motion, going all the way back to my Handheld PC days in the late 90’s.  They just never worked right and I think, upon reflection, that I assumed that this device would work similarly and I would find it more frustrating to use than helpful.  I’m happy I’m wrong on it.  The Pixelbook Pen works fantastically well, especially when using Android apps or when you need do something with a bit more precision than your finger will allow like photo editing.  Obviously, in the case of Virginia Poltrack, she has shown through her personal work that the Pixelbook and the Pen are an impressive combination when it comes to creating digital art.

If you are a Google Pixelbook owner and are on the fence about the Pixelbook Pen, I’d encourage you to give it a try.  An honest try.  I think you will find that it is far more useful than you imagined.


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