A year after launch, but the latest Android updates keep the Pixel C relevant.
Ever since the first Asus Transformer, companies have been trying to make a tablet that could actually be used for work. Microsoft's Surface has gradually been building momentum, Apple has followed with the iPad Pro, and now Google has joined the fray with the Pixel C, a 10-inch tablet with a keyboard.
But what does the C stand for: capable or culpable? Commendable or condemnable? Crafty or crud?
Maybe it just stands for 'computer'. Anyway: to the review!
GOOGLE PIXEL C DESIGN: COMPACT
Basically, what you're looking at is a small Chromebook Pixel, only with a detachable keyobard.
The Pixel C is very light and thin, to the extent that I briefly carried it tucked inside the dust jacket of a large hardback book. The two halves are held together by magnets, and to put it into laptop mode you pull the tablet and keyboard apart, flip the tablet over and let the magnets click it into position. The hinge can then be rotated to hold the screen upright.
The hinge is pretty firm and the magnet on the back is strong, so despite its small size, it feels quite solid. It rests comfortably on your knees for typing, and because the footprint is small, it fits easily onto one of the tiny little tables on the backs of plane and train seats, spaces that a laptop or a Surface would be too large to fill.
GOOGLE PIXEL C KEYBOARD: CWERTYTASTIC
Probably the most important feature for a device like this is its keyboard, and the Pixel C's is surprisingly good. 'Surprisingly', because it looks so small, but actually the typing area is normal - the keys are full-size, and they have decent travel (a full 1.4mm, key travel fans). It feels like a smaller version of the superb keyboard on its big brother, the Chromebook Pixel.
It’s a lot quicker and easier to type on than the Transformer tablets, or the Surface Pro 4. Some sensible choices have been made in the design, too: classic shortcuts like Alt-Tab do just what you expect them to do. An ellipsis key next to the space bar brings up symbols (as on a phone keyboard), which is really handy. To counteract the usefulness of this key, tapping the Alt key in Google Docs brings up a menu of stupidly grinning emoji.
There are even some nice Pixel-specific tweaks to Google Docs waiting within Android, including the ability to easily drag pictures and references into your document.
Your hands are very close to the screen, much closer than they are when using a Surface. This can be a good thing in that it makes the transition between the keys and the touchscreen very simple and intuitive. The touchscreen on the Chromebook Pixel isn’t really necessary because there’s a mousepad, but here you’ll use it a lot.
The connection to the keyboard is wireless (Bluetooth) but there’s no lag whatsoever and it never asks you to pair it. The keyboard also charges wirelessly from the tablet, so you just plug the whole thing into a USB charger and never really have to consider them as separate elements.
GOOGLE PIXEL C DISPLAY: CRISPY
The 2560x1800 display is sharper and brighter than that of the iPad Air 2, cramming in over 300 pixels per inch (the MacBook Pro Retina has 227 ppi).
It's a really, really nice screen, and again it's reminiscent of the expensive componentry you get on Chromebook Pixels. You'll be horrified the first time you go to delete some emails and leave a fingersmear of biscuit chocolate across the middle of it.
The IPS panel doesn't have the deepest blacks or the highest contrast (you'll need an AMOLED-equipped Galaxy Tab S3 for those), but colours look natural and it's plenty bright enough.
It makes the most of its display, too, with some powerful Android hardware. The Pixel C shares the same internals as Nvidia’s Shield Console, pairing a Tegra X1 chip with 3GB of RAM.
As a result, Goat Simulator loads in seconds, and runs without the slightest lag. Apps open quickly, multi-tasking is smooth as butter, and the fancy card effects of Blizzard's Hearthstone all appear with no stutter or dips to the frame rate.
Even a year on from launch, the Pixel C still holds its own with anything available in the Google Play Store.
GOOGLE PIXEL C SOFTWARE: CONTROLLED BY ANDROID
Having Android running the show gives the Pixel C its major advantage over Chromebooks. There are reasons to like ChromeOS - namely its speed and simplicity - but Android’s choice of apps is years ahead.
You can use other browsers, such as Firefox or Ghostery, and apps like Spotify, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Instant Video run natively and allow you to store music, movies and TV on the device, so you can play them offline. In fact you can run everything that ChromeOS has to offer on Android, plus hundreds of other things, including thousands of games and powerful photo editors like Adobe's Lightroom.
Even now that a handful of Chromebooks have access to the App store, the Pixel C still handles it better.
It also helps that Android updates are still forthcoming. Google added version 7.0 Nougat to the Pixel C in 2016, giving it some much-needed multi-window abilities for working on two apps at once. The latest string of tweaks even added the new-look launcher from Google's Pixel smartphones, letting you open the app drawer with a swipe.
Tapping the Recents key shows all your open apps as preview windows now, too - it's a whole lot easier to switch between multiple apps now. A Google Pill widget lets you jump straight into a search window from the home screen, and all the icons have been swapped for sleeker, rounded ones. It's a minor visual overhaul, but one that shows Google still has plans for its tablets.
GOOGLE PIXEL C BATTERY LIFE: CHARGED BY USB-C
In our video rundown, test the Pixel averaged around 10% battery loss per hour, so it’ll match the iPad Air and iPad Pro with 10 hours of watching movies or web browsing.
You could comfortably expect to get at least one working day (a long working day, including commutes) of use out of the Pixel C, without needing to charge it. And if you do need to charge it, the charger is a small and light phone-type one, or you can just plug its USB-C cable into any port.
Using the supplied charger will cause the Pixel C to smugly declare that it's charging 'rapidly'. With a larger battery to fill it doesn't hoover up electrojuice quite as quickly as a OnePlus 3T, but it's still pretty speedy.
Another nice Pixel design point is that you can tap the closed Pixel C (or the table near it) and the lightbar on the back will tell you how much battery it has left.
GOOGLE PIXEL C CAMERA: CAMERA-EQUIPPED
There's an 8MP camera on the back of the tablet, but if the Pixel C was a phone, we'd be deeply unimpressed by the quality of its photos. Images look grainy, even in good light, and with no HDR mode, have a tendency to blow out the highlights in brighter scenes.
Google's camera app is basic at best, with hardly any manual controls, so if looking like a pillock while trying to take photos with a tablet wasn't enough, the Pixel's performance here might be enough to put you off doing so altogether.
The important thing here is that its 2MP front-facing camera performs very well in Hangouts and Skype calls. As you'd expect from a Google device, Hangouts are particularly well supported.
GOOGLE PIXEL C FEATURES: CURRENTLY MISSING A FEW SMALL POINTS
The Pixel C gets a lot of things right, but if you're keen to use a stylus then you're better off looking at the Surface or the iPad Pro and its Magical Pencil.
The speakers aren’t amazing, either - they’re better than most phones, and they’re positioned at either end for proper stereo sound, but they’re a little raspier than the sound from the latest iPad Air. They’re plenty good enough for watching a few episodes of Bojack Horseman while ironing, though.
GOOGLE PIXEL C VERDICT
At $US599 with keyboard, the Pixel C is cheaper than a keyboard-equipped iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4. Only the Surface 3 can compete on price.
That said, the machines that may have more to learn from this tasty little workhorse aren't necessarily other convertibles, but Chromebooks. They now outsell Windows laptops, but Chromebooks are still growing in popularity because they're simple and affordable.
The Pixel C hasn't seen hordes of Android faithful turning in their laptops for tablets, admittedly - but it's still a great tabtop, and continued software updates have kept those early adopters happy.
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