On September 29, 2015 Google surprised everyone with a Steve Jobsian “one more thing” at the Android 6.0 Marshmallow and Nexus launch event. Instead of a new Nexus tablet, Google revealed the Pixel C. It's not a Nexus tablet and it's not a Chromebook, but rather a hybrid of the two.
Following that early announcement, the official Google Pixel C release date in select markets is December 8. The Google Pixel C price is set at US$499 for the 32 GB version and US$599 for the 64 GB version. The optional keyboard costs an additional US$149.
design and build quality
Google has clearly decided to steer the Pixel C away from being viewed as an affordable entertainment platform like previous Nexus tablets. The Pixel C takes more from the Chromebook Pixel than Nexus tablets in its construction and material choices. It also clearly satisfies the requirements to be considered a “premium” tablet for the design-conscious businessman on the move.
Like the Nexus 9 before it, the Pixel C does without a wide-screen aspect ratio for its display (as the Nexus 7 (2013) did). The dimensions of the 10.2-inch screen on the Pixel C are not 4:3 either, but are rounded out to 1:1.41 or roughly the proportions of an A4 sheet of paper.
Similar in size and shape to the iPad Air 2, the Pixel C has a half-inch larger screen and ups the display resolution as well. To give you a better idea of the size, the iPad Air 2 is 240 x 169.5 x 6.1 mm and the Pixel C measures 242 x 179 x 7 mm. Of course, the iPad goes to great lengths to disguise its thickness, whereas the Pixel C is unashamedly boxy by comparison.
The Pixel C is constructed from a single sheet of aluminum and is more than a little reminiscent of the original iPad from 2010, with square flat sides and a back that is slightly curved at the edges. Despite its apparent bulkiness, the Pixel C doesn't feel clunky or heavy (but at 517 grams, or 916 grams with the keyboard, it actually is).
On the back there is an 8 MP primary camera which is flush with the housing and doesn't protrude. The main design detail on the back of the Pixel C is the multi-colored Chromebook Pixel LED. A series of mysterious pin holes on the upper edge of the tablet turn out to be four microphones.
The Pixel C has pretty heavy-duty looking stereo speaker grills mounted on either side of the device, with a volume rocker, power button and USB Type-C port for faster charging and data transfer.
The feature most likely to be considered as special in the Pixel C is actually not part of the tablet at all, but is rather an optional extra. The Pixel C pairs with a dockable keyboard but the use of the term dock isn't exactly accurate as the whole thing is held together by really strong magnets. So strong there is literally no chance the two pieces will come apart by accident.
On a flap above the keyboard is a folding mechanism that houses these magnets. In tandem with magnets housed in the lower half of the Pixel C, the whole keyboard assembly snaps into place and is held firm. The angle is adjustable too, so you can manipulate the Pixel C through viewing angles covering 100-180 degrees.
The keyboard pairs with the tablet via Bluetooth and, once paired initially, the tablet will automatically recognize the keyboard when it is attached so there's no cumbersome pairing required every time through the Bluetooth menu. You simply have to select the keyboard from the notifications shade to switch over to it.
As you may have guessed, in the absence of a USB connection the keyboard is equipped with a small battery. But you'd be forgiven if you couldn't find a microUSB charging port – because there isn't one. The keyboard charges wirelessly when the Pixel C is being charged via USB Type-C. According to Google, the keyboard charge will last up to two months.
After the first few hours with the Pixel C, it is clear that the keyboard is similar to that on the original Chromebook Pixel, just a little smaller. The key configuration is a little different to accommodate its diminutive proportions, but the typing experience is comfortable and doesn't feel cheap like some Android keyboards.
While it's comfortable to type in a variety of different positions on the Pixel C, the layout shrinkage does come at a cost. The tiny Enter key is problematic if you type quickly because you'll likely find yourself accidentally hit adjacent keys. This may subside over time as you get used to its dimensions, but it's noticeable at the start. It's also a shame to miss out on the convenience of dedicated media control keys.
As mentioned above, the Pixel C has a slightly iPad-esque aspect ratio but it ups the screen diagonal as well as the pixel density with a 10.2-inch LTPS-LCD. In case you're wondering LTPS stands for Low Temperature Poly-Silicon. The advantage of this display tech compared to IPS panels is that LTPS-LCD screens consume less power at higher brightness levels and higher resolutions.
The Pixel C pumps out an impressive 500 nits of brightness and its display resolution of 2,560 x 1,800 pixels sits awkwardly between WQXGA (2,560 x 1,600) and QSXGA (2,560 x 2,048). All those pixels spread out over ten inches produce a pixel density of 308 ppi.
As we spend more time with the Pixel C we'll let you know how much of an impact on battery life the LTPS-LCD really has. In terms of pixels, the Pixel C squeezes in 308 pixels per inch, improving on the pixel density of both the Surface Pro 3 (216 ppi) and iPad Air 2 (264 ppi) by a long shot.
First impressions of the display are also good, with solid sharpness, crisp colors, high brightness and solid viewing angles.
The Pixel C runs on stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow which is currently being rolled out to Nexus devices. There's not much we can tell you about Marshmallow on the Pixel C as it has only just arrived in the office, but we'll bring you further details in our full Pixel C review in the coming days.
Just as the Nexus 9 made use of Nvidia's Tegra K1, the Pixel C steps things up a notch by implementing the Tegra X1, which features double the performance of the K1. We haven't had much of a chance to put it through its paces yet, but we ran some standard benchmarks on it and can report that it posts very impressive results.
In the Basemark GPU test, it ranked extraordinarily well with over 41,000 points in the High Quality test. If you need some comparisons, this is more than double the score posted by the Meizu Pro 5 (our current all-round fastest phone right now) and 65 percent higher than even the Galaxy S6 Edge.
In AnTuTu, the Pixel C scored consistently in the 65,000 points range (compared to the Galaxy S6's 70,000) and in Geekbench 3 it ranked above 1,400 in single core tests and above 4,300 in multi-core tests, roughly equivalent to the S6 Edge.
If you're thinking the Pixel C is just a Nvidia Shield in different clothing, there's actually a very critical difference: the Pixel C's Tegra X1 “only” has four ARM Cortex A57 cores clocked at 1.9 GHz. Where the Shield's Tegra X1 has an additional four A53 cores for less demanding tasks, the Pixel C has none.
The Tegra X1 is based on Nvidia's Maxwell architecture and is perfectly suited for games, even if Google seems to be pushing the Pixel C as more of a productivity tool than a gaming tablet. In our brief gaming tests we've found the Pixel C to have no problems with hi-res games and the graphics performance.
In the real-world we'll have to wait to bring you more performance results outside the synthetic standards of benchmark apps but things are looking good so far. We haven't seen any stuttering or lag yet and even 4K video is no match for the Pixel C.
Heat generation when shooting in 4K is noticeable though, but this is generally the case for a metallic device. The good side of metal is that it dissipates heat well.
The Pixel C battery comes in at 9,000 mAh and in a first run with AnTuTu's battery benchmark it scored 6,368 points. Once we've run the battery in a bit we'll report back on how much battery life you can expect from the Pixel C in real-world usage.
We can't yet tell you how fast the battery will take to charge with the USB Type-C cable but we're very thankful it has fast charging: on a battery this size fast charging is a necessity. Nexus 9 owners would be familiar with the painfully long time it takes to charge that battery and it is only 6,700 mAh by comparison.
One thing we must point out though is that, like the Nexus 5X, the Pixel C does not come with a USB Type-C to Type-A cable (or, new to old connection for the laymen out there). The Nexus 6P does and it makes a big difference because owners of the Nexus 5X or Pixel C are definitely going to have to go out and buy one separately. It's a small thing but it's important.
The first impressions of the Pixel C are very promising. But only if you splash out on the additional keyboard. Without it, the Pixel C is just a nice high-end, but heavy, tablet. Sure, even without the keyboard the Pixel C is a graphics monster with incredible gaming performance and low power consumption thanks to the Tegra X1 chipset. But adding the optional keyboard to the Pixel C makes a big difference.
You can buy a cheaper tablet with excellent performance already, but you can't find one as good with a keyboard attachment. The keyboard has its quirks, like the slightly cramped key layout, but we expect to grow accustomed to it during the course of our full Pixel C review. On that note, we'd like you to tell us what you want to see in the full review, so hit the comments and tell us what you want to know.