Android tablets don't get much love these days. Team them with a good keyboard and they're useful for basic productivity tasks, as proven by our time with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 and Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet. And beyond that they're still great for playing games, reading books, watching TV shows and listening to music like any other Android device. But hey're just a little less cool than iPads. And a little less useful than laptops.
The Google Pixel C turns all that on its head. Or tries to, at least, and has a very good try indeed.
What Is It?
- Display: 10.2in, 2880x1650 pixels
- CPU: Nvidia Tegra X1, 2.3GHz octa-core
- RAM: 3GB
- GPU: Nvidia Maxwell
- Storage: 32GB or 64GB
- Dimensions: 242x179x7mm, 517g
The Google Pixel C is a 10.2-inch Android tablet, the best-built and most impressively constructed of its kind that I've ever seen. With a 2560x1800pixel, 308ppi IPS LCD panel — that's an aspect ratio of 1 to the square root of two, if you were interested — it's built around a large, high-resolution screen that is also very bright and has excellent colour reproduction. Like any other flagship Android tablet on the market today, that screen dominates the Pixel C's front, and there's a half-inch-thick piano black bezel that surrounds it on all sides. A front-facing camera above the centre of the top landscape bezel uses a small 2-megapixel sensor — adequate for video chat, but not much more than that.
The sides and back of the Pixel C, to be fair, are far more exciting than the front. Not because of their variety, but because of their conformity — every surface is hewn from beautifully anodised aluminium that feels amazing to the touch; the physical power and volume keys, on the tablet's top left corner when held in a landscape orientation, press with a satisfying click. There's a solitary USB Type-C charging and data port on the lower left, a headphone jack on the opposing upper right, side-firing stereo speakers hidden behind matching five-segment mesh grilles, and four noise-cancelling microphones on the upper bezel above the Pixel C's 2-megapixel front-facing camera.
The rear aluminium panel, where a 8-megapixel rear-facing camera sits in the top left corner, is only joined by Google's multi-coloured light bar, a useful and interactive design element of the Pixel device family. The light bar serves as a battery status marker — tap on it, and you'll quickly find out whether your tablet has a full charge, is in the middle of its life span, or is running on empty. Apart from that, the Google Pixel C's chassis is clean — minimalist is a word that Google would use to descibe it, although some people might call it boring. It's surprisingly similar to Apple's iPad Air 2 in utility, really; there's nothing on the Pixel C's body that doesn't have a purpose or a reason to be there that isn't already clear.
Part of the Pixel C's design is the design of its optional $199 keyboard accessory. This isn't something you get if you just buy the Google Pixel C tablet on its own, but it's valuable enough and special enough that it's an integral part of the Pixel C experience. Like the rest of the tablet, the base of the keyboard is anodised aluminium, with four rubberised feet that stop it from sliding. Two thirds of the other side is devoted to a 57-key chiclet keyboard, with no numpad but with directional keys and Android-specific home and multi-tasking buttons, and the final third houses a magnetic, smoothly adjustable hinge mechanism that lets the Pixel C magnetically attach to the keyboard and move around as users' needs dictate. It's utterly functional; no unnecessary fripperies or useless added features here. It's great.
What's It Good At?
The Google Pixel C hasn't had anywhere near as much limelight as the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P smartphones that were announced and launched alongside it, but the value of it lies mostly in the fact that it's very similar. It runs a clean, no-bloat version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with all the latest features like per-app permissions control and Now On Tap contextual search. You can customise all this as you wish — such is the main selling point of Android — but even straight of the box it's excellently straightforward. With a small amount of handholding, this is a tablet that I'd give to my mum and be confident that she could work her way around Chrome, Google Drive, the Play Store and all of Google's first-party software, as well as any other Android app on offer.
Part of that is because it's a powerful and future-proof device. The Pixel C is a monster when it comes to what's under the hood. It's the most powerful Android tablet yet, with Nvidia's absolutely excellent Tegra X1 system-on-chip processor and complementary Maxwell-based graphics coprocessor, and 3GB of RAM to back that up. All that shows as the tablet doesn't miss a beat when loading and playing demanding gaming titles like Lara Croft GO, or when jumping into Google Maps or running a quick contextual search through Now On Tap (not that you'd do that often, but more on that later). If you're the kind of tablet user that wants to focus on one application at a time — whether that's writing (like this review, which I wrote on the Pixel C plus keyboard), or watching hi-def video, or playing a game — the Pixel C is just about as simple and straightforward and uncluttered as any Android tablet has ever been.
It's oh, so well built, too. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and the Apple iPad Air 2, despite being very different devices, are extremely well constructed and stand up to the punishment of daily use for both business and pleasure — I know this because I've used them both for this. Google's Pixel C fits perfectly into this mould. It's not going to scratch when you sling it carelessly into a satchel or backpack, it's not going to snap in half if you accidentally drop that bag on the train. It's heavy, but that heaviness contributes a lot to the feeling of solidarity and of long-term utility that define every moment you experience when you pick up the Pixel C and put it to use with whichever Android app or service that you want it to run at that given time. And the keyboard, too, is so equal in construction and design and simplicity that sometimes it seems baffling that Google isn't selling the two as a bundle.
Despite having a bright and pixel-dense display, the Google Pixel C's battery life — a gigantic 9000mAh cell inside, three times most smartphones', certainly helps matters — is excellent. USB Type C's 15 Watt (five volts, three amps, the new de facto Android charging standard) fills the massive battery rapidly, but you'll still have to wait three hours for a complete charge. When you do have a full charge, though, expect to get more than 12 hours of video playback from the Pixel C at moderate screen brightness, and an equal amount of productivity or general time-wasting around the Web with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth switched on. This is on par with what you'd get from Apple's most energy-efficient iPads Air and Mini, or an equally battery-conscious Android tablet like the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet or the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2. Anything Windows based of a similar form factor doesn't come close.
What's It Not Good At?
All the aluminium and glass — and there's a lot of it, spread across tablet and keyboard alike — doesn't come cheap in terms of the extra weight that the Pixel C is carrying around with it. Like a muscled prize-fighter, not fat but with a lot of mass behind its reason for existence, it's a solid 517 grams for the tablet portion alone, double what Samsung has managed with the svelte and slim Galaxy Tab S2 (at 265 grams and 5.6 millimetres). Add on the keyboard and you've magnetically docked another 5 millimetres and another few hundred grams of heft; hold the two together and you won't be able to read a book on the Pixel C with one hand for any extended period of time — trust me, I've tried. The combo feels excellent, but it's approaching the weight of seriously versatile and massively more powerful Windows 10 tablets and laptops. It's a heavy tablet, and it feels like one that'll last long enough to justify that weight, but you'll just grow some extra forearm muscle along the way to help you lug it around. Any external case — not that you need it, but it'd be a shame to mar that beautiful clean aluminium body — would add more weight, but more than that it'd make the Pixel C ad keyboard just too big to reasonably fit in with the rest of the Android tablet clique.
It's expensive, too. It's a top of the line Android device, so you'd expect its pricing to be on par with the iPads and Samsung and Sony tablets and entry-level Windows devices of this world, and it is — you'll pay $699 for the entry-level 32GB storage model, and $100 more for double the internal flash capacity. The keyboard is $199. These prices are reasonable in light of the Pixel C's international pricing, which is much the same or higher, but as a device considered on its own it's a premium. You're not going to be buying the Pixel C on a whim; you're going to be buying it with a purpose in mind, and a hope that it'll justify its cost with the ease of use and extra utlity that it brings to whatever you want it to do.
And, at the moment, that's a problem for Android. Not a huge problem, but a problem nonetheless. The lack of split-screen multi-tasking in Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box — Samsung has an implementation, although it's not perfect — really kills off the Pixel C's utility for the businessperson that wants to read a document and draft an email in simultaneous reply to it, or for a host of other specific uses that would only make themselves known if the Pixel C did have multitasking. With a mediocre front facing camera, it's not the perfect holidaymaker's Skype or Google Hangouts video-calling station that the company's other Nexus handsets are. It's not great for uni student research while essay writing. Don't get me wrong, it does all of these things just fine, with the second-long pause of tapping between apps, but it's not seamless. This, more than anything else, is my chief disappointment with the vision of the Pixel C that I had when I took it out of its box.
Google is racing to fix some small but irritating bugs that have popped up in the first Pixel C devices that have made it to early adopters' hands. Sticky virtual letters on the Bluetooth keyboard, for example, point to an implementation of Android that isn't exactly trouble-free. I've only noticed a few small aberrances in my time with the Pixel C, and they're the kind of aberrances that I've seen regularly on other competitiors' Android devices — strange in-menu pauses that can't be tapped away, the odd Google app crash — but given the relative polish of the Google Nexus 5X and 6P, the nine-tenths-baked nature of the Pixel C is interesting. Again, Google has made significant strides with the devices' small bugs in recent weeks, so this is a high priority and shouldn't materially change your choice to buy — it's just an interesting aside.
Should You Buy It?
Google's Pixel C is a beautifully designed and constructed Android tablet. It runs clean, no-nonsense Google software, and has excellent hardware under the hood. Nvidia's Tegra X1 is an excellent processor, the graphics component is equally as good as you'd expect from a company with Nvidia's long experience in GPUs. The massive battery makes it genuinely useful as a workday tool that could replace the non-multitasking features of a Windows or OS X laptop. And then there's that keyboard. Oh, that keyboard. It's not the layout or the design — both of which are quite nice — but how it contributes a massive part of the Pixel C's purpose.
Price: from $699
- Amazing construction.
- Incredible keyboard design.
- Excellent battery life.
- Android needs some tablet love.
- Keyboard extra is $199
The keyboard is the Pixel C's secret weapon; it significantly drives up the tablet's price, and also adds a not-inconsiderable amount of weight and bulk, but at the same time is an absolutely indispensible tool if you're intending on using Google's home-brand tablet for any kind of productivity work, and it works equally well as a convenient stand for movie-watching while travelling. It's the best Android keyboard that I've used, and is easily in the league of the Apple iPad Pro's and Microsoft Surface Pro's respective tactile typing covers. It charges wirelessly and connects seamlessly, and the infinitely adjustable stand makes it even better as an accessory that you can add on, forget about, and make good use of whenever you need it. You don't have to set it up, you don't even have to connect it — you just have to use it, if and when you need it.
Like the other Nexus devices that Google introduced last year, the Pixel C is one of the best Android devices that you can buy. I feel like we're seeing a maturation of the hardware platform that makes up our smartphones and our tablets — we've finally decided that metal is good, that on-screen buttons are fine, that big batteries make for good battery life no matter how many software tweaks you apply beyond that. The software is still a late-teenager; it's getting rid of its pimples and is taking a cultural studies course at university, learning what it means to work effectively and to add materially to the existing framework around it. But Android 6.0 in itself was a big step forward in this; only small tweaks — like a good multi-tasking method — are needed to make Android an operating system that a tablet would be flattered by.
But. To love an Android tablet, you need to love Android. If you don't, then no amount of excellent hardware is going to make the Pixel C work for you. You need to not be wedded to the multitasking style of Windows, or the inter-app connectivity of Apple's iOS. If you live in Google Docs and Google Drive, if you spend your time watching Netflix or Stan or downloaded video in VLC or MX Player, if you read your Google Play Books or Kindle library on a tablet rather than an e-reader, then the Pixel C is a fantastic device. It's one that lacks a purpose, but if you're the kind of user that doesn't mind that, or that has their own needs clearly in mind when shelling out eight hundred-plus dollars for a small but weighty slab of silicon and glass and aluminium, then the Pixel C is great.