Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
The 10.2-inch Pixel C is a device of many firsts. It is the first Google designed and built Android device, it is a bona fide Android-powered 2-in-1 tablet that professes to work as a notebook thanks to an accessory keyboard, and it is also the first device to carry the Pixel brand that isn’t a ChromeBook.
Pixel C is available in Canada and globally via the Google Play Store starting at $649 for the 32GB version, $799 for the 64GB version and the Pixel C Keyboard will set users back $199. These prices make the Pixel C one of the most expensive Android tablets ever sold, but you only need to spend some time with this device to realize its high end fit and finish.
The Pixel C is a remarkable device. It has a premium aluminum and glass design, a drop-dead gorgeous 10.2-inch display with a super bright 2560 x 1800 resolution and a pixel packed 308 ppi density.
Showcasing Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the Pixel C has a powerful NVDIA Tegra X1 processor with a Maxwell GPU as its wingman. This is effectively a powerful, yet efficient processor that’s designed for such high-spec tasks as mobile gaming and powering 4K video. The Pixel C has 3GB of RAM, internal storage capacity of either 32GB or 64GB and features a singular USB Type-C port for charging and I/O plus a 3.5mm audio jack.
Form and function
The Pixel C is a gorgeous device. It carries over a lot of the impressive design touches that were hinted at with the rare and expensive Chromebook Pixel line. Seamless construction, high-density display, as well as various intuitive touches. The tablet is 7mm thin and quite light at 0.517 kg.
Pixel C has four microphones, stereo speakers and features an 8-megapixel rear camera plus a 2 megapixel front-facing camera for Google Hangouts, Skype or other forms of video messaging.
There’s no logos or badges on the Pixel C save for a coloured light strip at the rear to signify when the Pixel C is on or when it is charging.
The Pixel C’s display is the best feature of this device, even at the absolute lowest brightness setting, I found it to be readable and clear. I compared the Pixel C to my 12-inch Retina MacBook's laminated display (my favourite display to use), and found the Pixel C to be brighter and crisper than the larger retina display.
The Pixel C seems to have been designed primarily for landscape mode. The volume rocker is on the left hand side while the power button is above. It seems to be an evolution of the idea put forward with the Nexus 9 earlier this year but further refined for a more unified keyboard experience. The thing is, if you want to take a video call in portrait mode, the camera will be on the right-hand side.
The Pixel C has personality. The strip of coloured lights at the back of the tablet give it character and also indicate charging status. They also light up whenever you pick up the device, which makes you feel that it is cognizant of your presence. Very cool.
In terms of performance, the Pixel C felt faster and more responsive than the Nexus 9 (still running Lollipop, that one, since Marshmallow updates never showed up). I don't place much importance in Geekbench scores, preferring real world use experiences, but they seemed impressive, specially the multi-core performance.
Using the Pixel C to work on Microsoft Office documents, update blogs and websites, do some image editing as well as play a few games showed that it is built for performance and the 3GB of RAM does make multitasking feel buttery smooth. It will be interesting to see how it performs with apps and games that are tweaked to take full advantage of its multi-core architecture.
Pixel C Keyboard
The Pixel C keyboard is a revelation and seems to have solved a problem that neither the Microsoft Surface and the iPad Pro have been able to tackle. Like those other tablet-first 2-in-1’s, the Pixel C’s keyboard is magnetic and is powered by the tablet when connected but Google's execution deserves notice.
The Pixel C’s keyboard also enables adjustable screen angles from 100 to 135 degrees. The keyboard makes the Pixel C eminently ‘lappable’ and enables it to be used in various places (in a couch, in bed) where few 2-in-1’s have gone before. The magnet holding everything together is very powerful and makes me feel confident that I can pick it up from any end without the other part falling off.
The magnetic solution, which also charges the keyboard inductively, is even more elegant than Microsoft’s Dynamic Fulcrum hinge for their grossly overpriced Surface Book.
Being magnetic, the Pixel C keyboard can be used in keyboard/stand mode, on top of the Pixel C like a laptop cover and even plugged behind the tablet.
They keyboard itself feels like a high-end and almost full-sized laptop keyboard found in Dell or Lenovo notebooks but without the function keys.
It usually takes me a long time to get used to non standard keyboards, specially the ones designed around smaller tablets. It only took me a few minutes to bond with my Pixel C keyboard and I could type accurately with my eyes closed in less than an hour. This is definitely a writer's tablet and keyboard combo worth considering if you ply your trade between Panera and Starbucks.
The Pixel C's keyboard is one of the best accessory keyboards I’ve tested and really brings the Pixel C full-circle as a complete ultra-portable Android computing solution.
I was an early proponent of the first few generations of Chromebooks but I realized that because of their limitations, they weren't a computing solution. I think the Pixel C is even more powerful and has more potential than the expensive Chromebook Pixel notebooks, given it is cheaper, more portable, and can run real apps.
Android tablets have historically been a mixed bag and mostly compromised devices that felt lacking. The Nexus 9 was the first device that felt like it could transcend these limitations even if its small size was far from ideal, it was designed to rock a keyboard. Pixel C takes Android’s functionality to another level and possibly to places where even Chromebooks may never get to go.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow
The Pixel C showcases Marshmallow version 6.0.1 which brings many refinements including new emojis. Pixel C and is the first tablet to ship with the newest version of Android. The history of Android on tablets has been fraught with a lot of issues including the lack of tablet-specific apps, poor scaling of smartphone-focused feature to larger screens and a generally lacklustre user experience.
There are notable changes in the UI in the Pixel C. The three navigation bars at the bottom (back, home and multitasking) are spaced at opposite ends of the display in a more intuitive and reachable position.
An old Android problem where tablets accessing websites tend to get the smartphone or mobile versions of those websites, persists with the Pixel C and Chrome on Marshmallow. Even Google’s own websites, like Google Plus and Google search, render pages oddly on the Pixel C, and you get small images and text plus weird formatting. If Google really wants to position this device against notebooks, and professional tablets, they need to make the user experience more tablet friendly.
Both Microsoft and Apple have realized that a multi-window option for true desktop-like multitasking is essential, but Android doesn't seem to acknowledge this, or hasn't yet found a way to enable a creative windowing solution for Android.
I don't see what is so hard about this, specially since Samsung and other OEM's have had this feature for years now. If Android for Work is a real objective for Google, the software has to reflect this by going way beyond its smartphone OS limitations. Android on tablets still feels like a blown up smartphone and until the software can scale to better run on larger screens, it makes little sense to force the issue.
Google's 2-in-1 play
The Pixel C is the latest device in the emerging 2-in-1 tablets for productivity and enterprise. It joins the Microsoft Surface and the iPad Pro as a flagship multi-touch device that’s trying to make its place in education, enterprise and content creation situations.
Android can now run various desktop-class applications like Microsoft Office, Adobe apps and with a full-featured keyboard (plus the ability to add a mouse via Bluetooth), the Pixel C has the potential of being a functional ultraportable notebook replacement for anyone that understands its limitations and is okay with spending $850 or more for a tablet with a keyboard accessory.
With the Pixel C, it seems clear that Google sees its computing future with Android rather than with ChromeOS, and why not? Android is far more capable, less reliant on a constant Internet connection, and will be an easier fit for enterprise, education and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) markets which may already be accustomed to Android handsets. The thing is, there needs to be as much focus on the software as there has been on the hardware if Google is to achieve a cohesive product category, specially at this price point.
As a device that’s geared towards content creation and more serious use cases, the Pixel C does have some shortcomings in the area of storage and expandability. 32GB may seem the absolute minimum for smartphones these days, so starting with this on a tablet and going up to 64GB may seem lacking, specially since there’s no microSD expansion option.
Google does offer a lot of free storage in Google Drive and if you’re an Office 365 subscriber, your OneDrive subscription should be able to cover your storage needs as well. I paired my Pixel C with a Sandisk USB streaming stick which has an additional 64GB of storage for music, movies and podcasts while travelling. Problem solved.
USB Type-C seems to be the de facto charging standard for Google devices moving forward, and it seems to work well with the Pixel C, enabling relatively fast charging as well as the ability to make use of existing dongles and adaptors.
A revelation that Google can develop and build stunning and attractive hardware, the Pixel C is a powerful, capable and eminently portable device that deftly manages the balance of being a stellar tablet as well as a useful and generally compromise-free notebook replacement.
While priced higher than what most Android tablets are going for, the Pixel C is very much a premium solution that may be worth considering, provided you can justify the expense.
Rating: 4 out of 5