I've long been an advocate for the usefulness of Android tablets, but even I've been questioning my own words over the past year or so. After switching to a Chromebook Flip as my main laptop and tablet, I rarely even use my Android tablets for anything more than reading in bed or playing a quick game.
But deep down I guess I'm a dreamer—I keep hoping Google will step up and make Android tablets not only relevant for more than the "I want a cheap tablet" market, but for power users. People who want to get things done and don't always want to break out a laptop to do it. Users who, like me, dream of the day when they can work a full day from nothing but a mobile device. That would be so rad.
I think the Pixel C might be a push towards that. Mind you, it's a small push—a very small push—but at least it's something. The Pixel C is beautiful from a design standpoint, and it's incredible as an Android tablet. But that's the thing here: it's still just an Android tablet. Google kind of marketed this as a "get things done" device, but even they have to understand that's not what's going on here.
Basically, if you think about what it was supposed to be, then you'll be disappointed. But if you think about what it actually is, then you're going to love it.
10.2-inch 2560x1800 500nit LCD
NVIDIA Tegra X1
8MP rear, 2MP front
USB C, headphone
242 x 179 x 7 mm, 499g (without keyboard)
$499 (32GB), $599 (64GB)
It's the fastest tablet I've ever used. Maybe even the fastest Android device, really. While it lacks any sort of split-screen app functionality, transitioning between multiple running apps is insanely fast.
It's a Pixel, so the display is clearly going to be one of the high points. It's beautiful.
The keyboard attachment is well thought-out and highly convenient. It's also a pleasure to type on. Two thumbs up.
The Not So Good
Yeah, Android. This tablet was clearly meant to run Chrome OS, but something happened and it didn't work out that way. Google would've been much better off just holding off on releasing this till Chrome OS was more touch-friendly. Android just isn't very good as a productivity platform; at least not right now.
When the keyboard is attached, it's pretty damn heavy. You can basically kiss one-handed use goodbye if you plan on slapping the keyboard on the back when using it as a tablet. It's just too heavy for that.
It's expensive. Android tablets don't typically offer the best value out of the box, and the steep price tag makes the Pixel C an even tougher pill to swallow.
Design and Build Quality
With two Chromebook Pixels under its sleeve, Google has already set the precedent for what the Pixel line should mean from a design standpoint: a beautiful, elegant, sleek, modern-looking device. The Pixel C is exactly that, just in the form of an Android tablet instead of a Chromebook. It's easily the best-looking Android tablet on the market today—nothing else really compares.
While the keyboard is probably the most interesting part of the tablet's design, we're not going to talk about that just yet—skip down to the next section if you're curious about it. For now, I'd like to focus on the tablet itself, especially since not all users who buy the tablet are going to get the keyboard (though they probably should).
The front of the device is very understated—it's black. And there's a camera. That's literally it. The top houses the tiny power button, with the volume rocker just below it on the left side. The speakers flank either side of the tablet, the USB Type-C charging port is on the bottom left corner, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top right. All simple stuff.
The back is equally as simplistic, but there's the standout Pixel feature here: the light bar. While it looks like one solid light, it's actually segmented into four sections. Docking the tablet on the keyboard will result in the bar going full Google: it shows blue, red, yellow, and green. Otherwise, it's a nice little battery indicator, with a double-tap on the back of the tablet activating one segment of the bar for each 25% increment of remaining battery.
Really, it's just there to look pretty. And look pretty it does.
And then there's the tablet's build quality. This is the type of build that makes you go "ooohhhh" as soon as you pick it up. The kind of thing that makes you think "damn, I wish everything was made this well." It feels like a solid slab in my hands, with essentially no flex whatsoever anywhere. It's absolutely unmatched in the Android tablet space—the only other device that even comes close to matching this kind of build is the iPad, and I'd even argue that the Pixel C is a better example of "premium" than what we've been seeing from Apple in the past several years. Yeah, it's solid.
This is easily one of the more interesting accessories I've ever seen, because it integrates so beautifully with the tablet. It's clear that Google really thought this hardware through—from the way it magnetizes to the tablet to the way it instantly pairs, connects, and disconnects. And of course the way it's inductively charged by the tablet. It's all pretty genius.
Right out of the box, the keyboard is simple and easy to use. It comes with a little cardboard insert that shows how to position it on the tablet (and what not to do), and once you connect it the first time, it pairs automatically. This feature is great, but it's also sort of weird. Let me explain.
My first Pixel C review unit died (bad NAND storage, I think), so Google had to send a replacement. When I got it, I tried to use the first keyboard with the new tablet; the tablet could see the keyboard, and it would show it as paired, but it never actually connected. There's no way that I could find to manually put the keyboard into pairing mode, so I had no choice but to rely on the automated system to see if I could get it to work. After several failed attempts, I finally just gave up and broke out the new keyboard. It paired instantly and worked perfectly. I didn't see anything on the Pixel C's support page about how to re-pair they keyboard manually—all the instructions just show how to do it automatically. I'm not sure if this means that once a keyboard has been paired it will only work properly with the same tablet or if I just had a fluke incident. Maybe a touch of #ArtemsLuck going around my house.
That little mishap aside, the keyboard is one of my favorite things about the Pixel C. The way it physically attaches to the tablet is a thing of beauty—it allows the device to be easily used like a laptop (including actually in the lap). It's also an absolute pleasure to type on, which is probably the most important feature of any keyboard.
Really, if you're going to buy a Pixel C, you should go ahead and get the keyboard too. It's neat.
Google has historically made the display one of the more standout features of devices carrying the Pixel name, and the C is no exception. Its 10.2-inch 2560x1800 LCD is among the best tablet displays I've had the pleasure of using. That said, this it's not as impressive as it would've been a little over a year ago, because displays have just gotten so good lately.
But that shouldn't discredit the C's display, either. By all standards, it's a damn nice display—it get very bright, has an excellent pixel density, and provides accurate color reproduction. It's not overly saturated so colors are vibrant but not overbearing, whites are generally bright and clean, and blacks are surprisingly dark for a display that's not AMOLED.
Overall, there's really nothing bad to say about the Pixel C's display. It's basically everything you'd want in a high-end tablet.
Storage and Wireless
There are two versions of the Pixel C available: one with 32GB of storage, and one with 64GB. Which one you pick should clearly be defined by your needs, but keep in mind once you buy that’s what you’re stuck with for the duration—there’s no option for expansion on this badboy, despite the fact that Google started actually embracing SD cards and treating them as local storage in Marshmallow.
As far as wireless is concerned, everything you’d want is along for the ride here: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz and 5GHz support, and Bluetooth 4.1. There have been reports of the tablet having poor Wi-Fi performance, but I haven’t personally experienced anything like that. It has been on par with basically every other device on my network consistently, but you should probably be aware that there many users are experiencing these issues. Google is apparently looking into it though, so hopefully a bug fix patch will be released shortly for users who have been dealing with poor wireless performance.
Yep, they're there.
The Pixel C is currently running Android 6.0.1, and it’s basically stock, save for one change. The navigation buttons on the C are different than any other tablet I’ve ever used; instead of having all three buttons (back, home, recent apps) running centered in the navigation bar, they’re offset to either side of the display—back and home are found on the far left, with recent apps on the far right. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you’re acclimated to this layout, it’s abundantly clear that it’s superior.
I figure the reason for the change is two-fold. One, it’s just easier to navigate a larger tablet like this with the buttons near the sides, as most users will easily be able to hit them with their thumbs while holding the device. Two, it makes a lot more sense with the keyboard, as well. When typing, it’s far more intuitive to just reach up and tap the buttons on the outsides instead of in the center since the reach is much shorter. Oftentimes I was able to hit the nav buttons without moving my hands far from the home row of keys, and after a few days I was able to incorporate that motion into the way I work, so it was almost as if the lower section of the display became part of the keyboard. Very cool stuff.
Otherwise, this is a bone-stock Android system you’re looking at. If you like stock, you’ll love the Pixel C.
I do wish the keyboard had a split-layout mode though.
Or Chrome OS. *cough*
This is the big one here, and probably the best feature of the Pixel C: it’s insanely fast. Like, when I want something done on the tablet, it’s finished before I even start. Apps almost launch before I even touch the display. The Pixel C gives benchmark apps a score. It will literally set things on fire with how fast it is. I watched it beat Usain Bolt in a footrace. If the Pixel C were a Nascar, it would probably come in first by at least three laps. It’s the only tablet that can basically keep up with The Flash. It creates a sonic boom every time it boots up. Light literally trained with the Pixel C in order to get faster than itself.
The Tegra X1 fucking screams. I’ve never used a device this fast before. Well, maybe SHIELD Android TV (SHIELD does benchmark better, but it also has a fan). But nothing I have ever held in my hands.
The only thing worth noting here is that you can easily tell where the processor is—it gets pretty warm when running games or other processor-heavy applications. It’s not “omg this is going to burn me” hot, and it probably won’t set your house on fire, but I’m sure there are some people out there who might find this bit of extra heat more uncomfortable than they’d like. I personally don’t mind it, but I’d be remiss not to mention it at least.
Otherwise, if you’re concerned about the Pixel C’s performance for some crazy reason, don’t be. It’s nuts. Here are some benchmarks to prove it (you know, in case you’re into that sort of justification).
Battery life is the section of every review that I hate the most. Why? Because there's no good way to gauge what's happening here—there are those "standardized" methods of letting a video loop till the battery dies, but those provide no real-world use. Then there's the "well, I did this and this and this for this many hours and this is what happened," which is a little bit better, but still not great because everyone does things differently.
All that said, the Pixel C's battery life is pretty good. Since it's running 6.0.1, Doze Mode does its thing and keeps the battery usage to a minimum when you're not actually using the device, but it's also just a pretty efficient device either way. I've been able to get about 7 hours of screen-on time with "normal" use (whatever that means), which pretty much consisted of me watching a few YouTube videos, browsing the web with Chrome, playing The Walking Dead: No Man's Land (seriously you guys, I'm addicted), and maybe checking social networks. This was generally with the keyboard attached (except for when playing games), so it was connected over Bluetooth…which really shouldn't affect battery life at all, honestly.
Really, you can expect pretty solid battery life out of the Pixel C, depending on how much you use it (like you don't already know that). If you're not using it to play any games, it should actually last a bit longer—I'd say you could almost squeeze a full work or school day out of it before needing to hit the charger.
As far as Android tablets are concerned, NVIDIA's SHIELD Tablet has been pretty much my pick for the best of the bunch for the past year or so, and with the re-release of it as SHIELD Tablet K1 and a crazy-low price ($200), it pretty much still is. That said, if you're looking for a premium Android tablet, the Pixel C is it—there's not really any competition out there.
Still, its existence is a question mark to me. It more than likely started out life as a Chrome OS project (the Chrome team even provided the review unit), but presumably they couldn't get Chrome OS as touch-friendly as they wanted in a timely manner, so they slapped Android on it and pushed it out.
But as a tablet, it's great. It's the best Android tablet I've ever used. It's fast as hell, incredibly well made, and absolutely beautiful to look at. It's a beast.
As a productivity device, however—which is basically what Google announced it as—it falls short. Very short. Android just isn't made for getting things done like a traditional laptop or Chrome OS device is, and it really shows when you try to "work" from the Pixel C. One app at a time is an absolutely painful way to try to be productive, because you'll spend about as much time switching between things as you do actually working. As great as they keyboard is, it clearly takes more than a single accessory to make a device work as a get-things-done piece of hardware. It's all about the software.
So, like I said in the beginning: if you think of what this device is, you'll love it. But if you hold on to what it was supposed to be, you're going to disappointed. That may change once split screen mode comes to Android, but even then, considering it a "productivity" device will be questionable.
But if you've been waiting for the next great Android tablet, this is it—just keep your expectations in check.