Welcome to the new age of Android tablets. The Google Pixel C has designs on being the new touch-plus-type tablet sheriff in town, and Apple’s iPad Air 2 should watch its back. This thing’s coming for its tablet crown.
Having stepped up from the Nexus 7 and stepped down from the Chromebook Pixel laptop, Google’s tried something new, more premium, and, well, more Microsoft Surface Pro 4-inspired. The Pixel C tablet/laptop hybrid is Android’s answer to the high-end tablet space, and pairs a high-end array of innards with a strong battery life and stunning, industrial finish.
With prices starting at £399 – plus another £119 for the keyboard – this is anything but a budget tablet. It’s no more expensive than the industry leaders though, and gives the likes of the Air and the Surface a run for their money at every turn. With the Pixel C, Android tablets have finally come of age, even if the software at their core still isn’t overly tablet-friendly.
There are few tablets that can match the style of the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro. This thing, however, looks amazing. The unbranded body is a clean, unadulterated sheet of anodized aluminium. Just 7mm thick and 517g in weight, the Pixel C is a sleek, slim and seriously good-looking bit of kit. There are no garish logos or graphics, just a small camera lens and thin LED strip to break up the rear. This light bar shows the five Google colours during use and doubles as a handy battery barometer.
Even the sides of the Pixel C are clean and uncluttered. There’s no mass of buttons or proprietary charging ports, just a couple of controls, a pair of stereo speakers (solid sound but a little hollow) and the new USB Type-C connection. The tablet is a little too wide to hold through the middle in a single hand, but can comfortably be propped up in one hand while your second one works its way across the stunning, 10.2-inch display.
Its only major design drawback is its sizeable bezels. Apple’s tablets have suffered from the same issue since day one, but the oversized screen border does little to hide the magnitude of the slate. This thing looks and feels every bit its 10-inch form.
Overall, the iPad Air 2’s more rounded corners and slightly narrower bezels give the Apple machine a slight design edge. But the Pixel C is still one of the best-looking slates we’ve ever seen. Fortunately, this isn’t a case of style over substance, either; the industrial design is firmly backed up with a mass of high-end components.
Google Pixel C Screen: As easy on the eye as the slate itself
The tablet’s impressive specs sheet is kicked off by its screen. Visually, the Pixel C is hard to fault. The 10.2-inch panel features a 2560 x 1800 pixel QHD resolution. This offers a 308–pixels-per-inch image density, or, in traditional terms, a bloomin’ good viewing experience. Beyond bright, the screen is slightly sharper than the stunning, 264ppi panel on the iPad Air 2.
Text is sharp, pictures crisp and detailed, and video playback fluid and immersive. Colours are bright and accurate without being overblown, and there’s a pleasing subtlety to the black levels. The screen is as easy on the eye as the slate’s lustrous metallic body.
Content really pops on the screen and its unusual 1:1.41 aspect ratio means that while black bars might accompany widescreen movie and TV viewing, the screen is more attuned to a wide array of uses. From enjoying a bit of Netflix to typing out important work documents, the Pixel C screen is a comfortable and good-looking addition.
Google Pixel C Software: Android’s still not a tablet hit
This being an own-brand Google product, the Pixel C runs the latest version of the company’s mobile OS – Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Now, while the smartphone OS of choice for many, Android is still less refined in the tablet space. Not as clean or clutter-free as Apple’s iOS platform or business-centric as Microsoft’s Windows 10 OS, Android is something of a tablet halfway house.
Sure, Marshmallow is the most sophisticated Android OS yet, but it’s still not quite an unreserved tablet hit. The Pixel C’s software feels a little confused. There are no glaring issues, bugs or shortcomings, it’s just not particularly intuitive, or easy on the eye. Instead it feels slightly bitty and clunky.
Widgets feel less refined on the tablet. Rejigging your homepage is simple, but spacing always feels just a little off, and the apps and widgets don’t sit seamlessly together. Yes, the customisation options are higher than on iOS or Windows 10, but the implementation is behind the curve. Android on tablets just simply doesn’t look or feel as nice. As a result, navigation is less natural.
There are a few software-based features missing, too. The lack of split-screen multitasking and picture-in-picture options – both now available on rival slates – is a frustrating omission. It’s not going to hamper your experience of the Pixel C too much, but it would be nice to have these features which help blend the tablet and laptop experience.
Google Pixel C Features & Performance: Everything you’d expect and more
As you’d expect from a high-end slate, there’s plenty of power aboard the Pixel C. From web-browsing and word-doc creating, to power-intensive multitasking and some hardcore gaming, this is a true laptop replacement on all fronts. Well, when you pair it with the optional keyboard anyway. Powered by the 64-bit Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, the Pixel C runs a Maxwell GPU and 3GB of RAM.
For the most part, this power combination is more than enough to glide effortlessly through anything you can throw at it. During some more heavy-duty gaming sessions, however, the Pixel C did start to show its limits. The slate got a bit leggy and laggy, offering slightly stilted gameplay.
Pushing its processing limits also caused the slate to get pretty warm in the upper left corner – by the camera housing. Not uncomfortable to hold, the rise in temperature was still very much noticeable, with the metal body only further highlighting the strain its under. Not a problem that should trouble you hugely, it is still a little unnerving.
And it’s not just the tablet’s power that’s impressive. Battery life is extremely strong. Using the slate and accompanying keyboard as a laptop replacement, we breezed through a full day’s heavy use, making it well into a second day before the charger needed to be broken out. Gaming hit the battery hard, but with balanced usage, this thing will comfortably take you through a 24 hour period without trouble.
Unlike Apple’s slates, which come in three guises, and Microsoft’s plethora of Surface specs, there are just two Pixel C storage options to choose from. The £399 32GB edition is backed up by a £479 64GB option. This puts the Google slate on pricing parity with the iPad Air 2. Like its Apple-branded rival, the Pixel lacks microSD storage expansion, so have a long, hard think about how much space you’ll need before dropping the cash.
Google Pixel C Camera: There, but not impressive
As much as we deplore people standing outside tourist spots or inside sports stadiums holding their tablets aloft to capture a crap, grainy picture, the Pixel C, like any modern gadget worth its weight, has crammed in a couple of imaging options. Here you’ve got an 8-megapixel rear-mounted snapper and a 2-megapixel selfie shooter for all those video calls you never make.
The primary camera is exactly what you’d expect from a tablet – ample as a last resort when it’s the only camera to hand, but hardly ideal in most shooting situations. When the lights are up, you’ll get satisfactory shots. Snaps can lack depth and the balance between areas of light and shade are off, but there are far worse tablet cameras out there.
As soon as the lights drop, however, so too does the image quality. After-dark shots are painfully grainy and noisy, lacking clear definition and solid colour separation. This is nothing new though, this is a tablet standard and you’d be hard pressed to find a slate with better night-time skills.
Similarly, the front-facing snapper is pretty much par for the course. It will capture shots suitable for social sharing and let you enjoy video calling without the need for squinting, but if you’re after stellar shots, you’ll be disappointed.
Google Pixel C Keyboard: A tablet transformer for any angle
Like the Surface Pro 4, the Pixel C comes into its own when connected to the optional keyboard attachment. Finished in the same anodized aluminium as the slate, and with a spacious, well-balanced keypad, the peripheral turns this powerful, elegant tablet into a true laptop replacement.
Sure, the honour of owning one will set you back £119 – hardly pocket change, but it’s well worth the expense. The full QWERTY keyboard is well-sized and comfortable to use. Its individual keys offer a nicer typing experience than the Surface keyboards and, although significantly smaller in size, it’s as pleasing to use as the iPad Pro’s oversized keyboard case.
Unlike many hybrid devices, this isn’t a tablet and keyboard combination that’s going to keep you locked to a desk either. The weight in the magnet-heavy keyboard base means you can use it on your knee while riding the train or bus without the all-too-familiar top-heavy troubles of some rival devices. This hinged magnet poses another benefit – you can tilt the screen to any point of your liking across a 100-degree plane.
This is a strong magnet, too. Whipping the slate into place with its pull, you can hold the device by the screen or the keyboard and it keeps everything firmly locked together without worrying wobble or sliding.
Impressively, despite connecting via Bluetooth and featuring an integrated battery, you’ll never have to charge this accessory. Not manually, anyway. Connect and close the tablet over the keyboard and the type-friendly attachment will charge inductively from the slate’s power reserves. This is a major design boon that is sure to save many frustrating hours of battery-drain fears and cable-restricted typing.
Finally, a high-end Android tablet that feels ready to rival Apple and Microsoft’s efforts. Well, almost. Easily one of the best looking bits of kit we’ve seen this year, the slate backs up style with plenty of substance.
The trouble isn’t hardware-based though. Android still isn’t the most tablet-friendly of operating systems. The platform, for which this is a showpiece device, has undoubted benefits, but multiple shortcomings and design restrictions too. Having said that, as Google’s first real stab at the high-end tablet space, the Pixel C is a hugely impressive offering.