Google Pixel C review

Google announced the Pixel C along with the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. But rather than partnering with LG, Huawei or one of its previous tablet partners, the Pixel C is designed entirely by Google, and manufactured by an unknown company in China. It’s an Android tablet – not a Chromebook with Chrome OS – but you can buy an optional keyboard to turn it into a device that everyone from Apple to Lenovo is falling over themselves to produce: the 2-in-1 convertible. Also see: Best new tablets coming in 2016.

Google Pixel C review: Price

Many people will buy the Pixel C because they want a top-end Android tablet instead of an iPad. And they’ll pay the same price: the base model costs £399 ($500) but instead of the iPad Air 2’s paltry 16GB of storage, the Pixel C has 32GB.

If you want more, then the 64GB model costs £479 – the same as the 64GB iPad Air 2. There’s no cellular model, so you’ll be using Wi-Fi for an internet connection.

The keyboard is surprisingly expensive at £119 ($149), given that it doesn’t have backlit keys or any extras beyond a built-in battery and Bluetooth.

Google Pixel C review: Build and design

Apart from Samsung’s Tab S tablets (read our Tab S2 8 review), it’s hard to think of any other Android tablets which look and feel as well made as the Pixel C. In terms of build quality it’s very much a rival to the iPad, but its design is more first-generation iPad than Air 2. Its square edges make it look thicker than it really is (7mm) but it’s relatively heavy at 517g. The iPad weighs 437g.

Google Pixel C review

There are stereo speakers, one in each side of the tablet when held in landscape, which is the ‘default’ orientation, rather than an iPad’s portrait design.

The front camera is mounted centrally in the top bezel, and a USB C port resides at the bottom of the left-hand edge. The volume rocker sits at the top of the same edge and at the opposite side is a headphone jack.

The power button sits top left and the four dots in the middle are microphones which let you use “Ok Google” from the other side of the room.

At 10.2in the screen is half-an-inch bigger than the iPad’s, but it’s smaller than the Surface 3 (10.8in), and a couple of inches smaller than the iPad Pro and Surface Pro.

But the competition will depend on your primary reason for wanting a Pixel C. If you’re after a 10in Android tablet, then Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 and possibly Google Nexus 9 will be on your shortlist. If you just want a 10in tablet, you might also consider the iPad Air 2 and cheaper Amazon Fire HD 10. But if you want a 2-in-1, then it’s the Surface 3, Surface 3 Pro, Surface 4 Pro, iPad Pro and numerous other Windows convertibles from Dell, Lenovo, Asus and others. See also: iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 4 comparison

You can save money and buy a Windows 10 tablet that comes with a keyboard. For instance, Asus' Transformer T100HA costs just £269 and manages to bundle a keyboard in the deal.

Google Pixel C review: Keyboard

It’s no surprise that the keyboard is optional: not everyone wants or needs one. And Google has clearly thought long and hard about how to make the best possible typing experience.

Google Pixel C review

You attach the tablet by laying it flat on the magnetic hinge, then raise it up to your desired angle so it looks like a laptop. The magnets are amazingly strong and the keyboard will stay firmly attached if you grab the tablet’s top edge and pick it up.

Because of this attraction, it’s quite difficult to separate the two: you have to slide the tablet off sideways. You can then flip it over and place it face-down on the keyboard so it’s like a closed laptop. Cleverly, the keyboard’s battery will charge wirelessly in this position, so you never have to think about it.

When you want to use the Pixel C as a tablet, the keyboard attaches to the back, or you can detach it completely, of course.

There are four plastic feet but these – and the aluminium panel they protect - are slippery so it’s not particularly great to use on your lap. There’s no flex, but it will tend to slide off if your legs aren’t perfectly level.

It’s also worth pointing out that, like touchscreen laptops, the screen wobbles around a bit when typing and bounces when you tap the screen. This isn’t really an issue with the Microsoft and Apple tablets as the former have sturdy kickstands, and the iPad Pro has a fixed angle (which introduces its own problems and limitations).

Google hasn’t tried to make the world’s thinnest keyboard and has instead ensured that keys have decent travel and feedback. Despite the cramped space available and a few missing keys (the ones you never use) it’s pleasant to type on – at a desk – and unlike Apple’s keyboard it’s actually a UK layout with the £ and @ symbols in their ‘right’ places.

It’s heavy at 399g, and brings the total weight to almost a kilo.

Google Pixel C review: Android as a productivity OS

Google has stressed that having complete control over hardware and software means everything is tightly integrated but it’s clearly still early days for the Android 2-in-1 machine. Marshmallow is a brilliant mobile OS, but it’s not yet ready to replace your Windows laptop.

To be fair, Google doesn’t that it will, only that it’s a “whole new approach to the tablet experience”. It offers all the benefits of a keyboard along with the portability of a tablet. So if you need a keyboard for writing lots of emails or long documents, there’s certainly an advantage of opting for the Pixel C over other Android tablets.

Google has tweaked and optimised its productivity apps and they do work well with the keyboard attached.

Google Pixel C review

But if you’re a Chromebook user, you’ll miss some features such as a USB port and an SD (or microSD) card slot. The only way to transfer files is via the cloud – or by hooking the Pixel C up to a laptop. There’s also no support for Flash in Chrome (just like any other current Android tablet) so you’ll come unstuck if you need to use a website that relies on Flash.

In general, though, it is a blessing that Google didn’t opt for Chrome OS for the Pixel C. At least with Android you get the Play store and with it hundreds of thousands of apps and games to install. Whether it’s Skype or iPlayer, Asphalt 8 or Crossy Road, you won’t be stuck with just a web browser as you are on a Chromebook.

However, it’s a sad fact that there still aren’t all that many Android apps optimised to run on a big, high resolution screen. Using Google’s own apps is fine, but Android tablets still feel as if they’re a second-class citizen compared to the iPad which has a much wider range of optimised apps.

Marshmallow is for the moment a strictly one-app-at-a-time OS. Rumour has it that it will be updated to allow two apps to run on screen at once like an iPad Pro (or Samsung tablet which has allowed split screen for a while now). But today, you’ll have to live with Alt-tabbing between apps which all run full-screen. It’s nice to be able to do this, but it’s not enough of a consolation if you were hoping for a laptop-style experience.

There’s no trackpad because of the touchscreen but if you’re a stylus fan, know that the Pixel C doesn’t have one. There’s no official pen, pencil or any other stick that will let you draw, sketch or take notes.

Google Pixel C review: Screen

One of the best features of the Pixel C is its screen. Put simply, it’s fantastic. It has an unusual resolution of 2560x1800, which is an aspect ratio of 1:1.42 – the same as A4 paper (or any other A-series paper). That’s good in our book. Some people will moan that it’s not 16:9 but unless you’re going to mainly watch TV shows, it’s not going to be a disadvantage.

It uses the expensive LTPS type of IPS screen (Low Temperature PolySilicon for those that care). So as well as great brightness, contrast and colour accuracy, it’s also power efficient so you can go longer between charges.

That high brightness, which we measured at 468cd/m2 - just a little shy of the 500 that Google claims - means you can much more easily see what’s on the screen outdoors, although the glossy finish means it’s still very reflective and with lots of glare. The anti-glare coating helps a little, though.

Google Pixel C review: Performance and battery life

As with the Chromebook Pixel, the C is one of the most powerful Android tablets we’ve seen. It’s the first to use the Nvidia Tegra X1 chip, which runs at 1.9GHz and has 3GB of RAM.

In general use it’s fast, switching between apps with ease and generally performing at the level you’d expect from a brand new top-end tablet. It didn’t break records in Geekbench, though, managing 4048 in the multicore 3 test. For reference, the Air 2 scored 4643.

We expected it to outperform the Air 2 in GFXbench, but it was neck and neck: ahead for Manhattan at 28fps (vs 27.3fps), and behind in T-rex with 28fps against the iPad’s 52.4fps. The Pixel’s extra 200 rows of pixels mean it isn’t quite a fair comparison, but it’s similar enough.

Of course, the iPad Pro is a better comparison if you want to talk productivity. It scored 3086 in Geekbench 3, and that’s just the single-core result (the Pixel C can manage just 1806). When you add the iPad Pro’s other core (Apple has never confirmed it’s a dual-core, but it’s been shown to be dual-core in teardowns) the figure increases to 5406.

You probably wouldn’t buy an iPad Pro to play games, but it has decent power there, too: 33.3fps in Manhattan and 51.4fps in T-Rex.

Google has fitted the Pixel C with a 34.2Wh battery that lasts ages. This is partly thanks to that clever screen tech and in our tests, it happily lasted several days of use while we tested it out by running benchmarks, writing the review itself, playing games, watching videos and testing out the cameras.

A neat feature is that the lightbar on the back (which illuminates with the red, blue, yellow, green Google colours) shows the battery level when you double-tap it. It’s only a rough indication, but it’s handy nonetheless. It will light up red when the battery level is critical.

Iin Geekbench 3's battery rundown test, which we run after setting the brightness to 120cd/m2 (that's well below half on the Pixel C), it lasted a shade over 8.5 hours. That's a little disappointing as Google claims a 10 hours of use. In the box you get a 'quick' charger which charges the tablet from empty to almost 20 percent in 30 minutes. It takes three hours to reach 70 percent, and about four hours to full.

Google Pixel C review: Cameras

When the need arises, the Pixel C has an 8Mp camera tucked away in the corner on the rear. It will shoot sketchy 1080p video and reasonable photos. Quality isn’t bad for a tablet, but you’ll get better videos from an iPad Air. Neither offers optical stabilisation, but the iPad’s software stabilisation is more effective.

Here's our standard photo of St Pancras, resized to 1600 pixels wide (2Mp). Below it is a 100 percent crop so you can see the detail captured, without resizing.

Google Pixel C review

Google Pixel C review

At the front, the 2Mp camera is good enough for selfies and fine for Skype chats, or Hangouts as Google would prefer you to use its own video service.

Here's a sample video, shot with the default Marshmallow camera app. Oddly, video is stored in 3GP format, and there's no option to change this. The results speak for themselves:

Google Pixel C: Specs

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow tablet
  • 10.2in touchscreen display, 2560 x 1800 (308 PPI)
  • 1.9GHz NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor with Maxwell GPU
  • 3GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 32GB or 64GB storage
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac dual-band (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz) Wi-Fi with 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.1 + HS
  • USB Type-C, 3.5 mm audio output
  • Sensors: Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Ambient light sensor, Proximity Sensor, Compass, Hall Effect Sensor
  • Dimensions: 242 x 179 x 7mm
  • Weight: 517g (keyboard 399g)
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow tablet
  • 10.2in touchscreen display, 2560 x 1800 (308 PPI)
  • 1.9GHz NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor with Maxwell GPU
  • 3GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 32GB or 64GB storage
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac dual-band (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz) Wi-Fi with 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.1 + HS
  • USB Type-C, 3.5 mm audio output
  • Sensors: Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Ambient light sensor, Proximity Sensor, Compass, Hall Effect Sensor
  • Dimensions: 242 x 179 x 7mm
  • Weight: 517g (keyboard 399g)

OUR VERDICT

As a standalone tablet, the Pixel C is superb. It’s better than the HTC-made Nexus 9 which was great but not exceptional. Which the 'C' most certainly is. Storage is a bit limited, but if you can live with 32GB it’s good value at £399. Paying an extra £119 for the keyboard is something we can’t see many buyers doing. If typing is a priority, you’d be better off spending your £518 on a decent ultraportable laptop as Android Marshmallow – good as it is – isn’t nearly as versatile as Windows. And while the keyboard is well designed, you’ll still prefer a full-size laptop keyboard. If you need to run Windows apps, the consider the Surface 3 which is slightly cheaper - even with the optional keyboard - but remember that there are even cheaper options such as the Asus Transformer T100HA.

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Google £399 inc VAT ($500) for 32GB; £479 inc VAT ($600) for 64GB View

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