Google Pixel C tablet lightning review

Pixel C

Alongside the announcements of the Nexus 5X and 6P back in September, Google showed off something completely unexpected: a homegrown tablet, built in-house as part of its Pixel line.

The Chromebook Pixel has been one of Google’s strangest products: a US-only $1000 Chromebook, now in its second generation the touchscreen-enabled computer is known for being bulky, boxy and beautiful.

Now those adjectives have trickled down to a consumer-friendly demographic with the Pixel C, an Android tablet that boasts a number of advantages over even the Nexus 9, but at a price that may take aback potential buyers.

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Specs

  • Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow (at launch)
  • 10.2-inch 2560×1800 pixel resolution (308 ppi density, √2 aspect ratio, 500 nit brightness, sRGB colour gamut, 1500:1 contrast ratio, LTPS LCD, in-cell touch)
  • Quad-core Nvidia Tegra X1 processor (4x Cortex-A57 cores @ 2.0Ghz)
  • 3GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 32/64GB internal storage
  • 8MP rear camera w/ 1080p video capture
  • 2MP front camera
  • Stereo speakers
  • 34.2 Whr battery, USB Type-C charging
  • 242 x 179 x 7mm
  • 517 grams
  • $649 (32GB) / $799 (64GB)
  • Optional wireless charging full-sized keyboard cover ($199)
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Do we need yet another Android tablet? And how does this fit next to the Nexus 9, which is still very much in play for Google?

The Pixel C makes its case for the Surface of Android, a tablet designed to be used with a $199 CAD keyboard accessory that is, as most are these days, sold separately. Indeed, Google went to the trouble of designing the cover in tandem with the core, utilizing a keenly-placed array of embedded magnets to latch and affix in all the right places. Together, the 400 gram keyboard cover and the 517 gram Pixel C make for a compact laptop replacement, and despite the lack of a mouse (though Android does feature nominal mouse cursor support) one manages to do a fair bit with the two complementary input methods.

Even without the keyboard cover, though, the Pixel C is a robust, powerful tablet in a compact form factor. The 10.2-inch screen is one of the brightest I’ve tested on a tablet; even on its lowest setting, the tablet was too bright to use in a dimly-lit room. A good problem to have.

With a higher pixel density than both the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro, and at 308ppi just under the iPad mini 4’s 326ppi, the Pixel C’s 2560 x 1800 resolution display is well-equipped to handle the most demanding reading, watching or gaming sessions. Indeed, like much of Android’s tablet ecosystem, the Pixel C’s hardware appears to outclass its software, though in this case the Pixel C is running the latest version of Google’s mobile OS.

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Android 6.0.1, which ships with the Pixel C, has a number of small optimizations for the landscape-biased hardware, the most notable of which is the return to a separation of the virtual navigation buttons. The back and home buttons are flush with the left side, while the lone multitasking button sits on the right, presumably to make them easier to tap with one’s thumbs while holding the tablet with two hands. While the change makes sense from a utility perspective, it encumbers the UI with a constant visual distraction, at least from this reviewer’s symmetry-addled brain.

Thankfully, the Pixel C is fast: utilizing Nvidia’s new Tegra X1 SoC, it takes four standard Cortex-A57 cores at 2Ghz, eschewing the four low-power Cortex-A53 cores we’re used to seeing in similar configurations from Samsung and Qualcomm, and pairs them with a Maxwell-class GPU clocked at 1Ghz.

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In our synthetic CPU benchmark suite, the X1 was comparable to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810, though the larger metal body ensured that throttling was no issue at all (if it was, Nvidia would have included the other four cores). For example, the Pixel C’s Geekbench score of 1445 single-core and 4513 multi-core was almost identical to that of the Nexus 6P.

Graphics performance, on the other hand, was comparable to the iPad Pro’s beefy 12-core PowerVR GPU inside the new A9X chip, which is impressive, though it fell short in the graphics-intensive 3DMark Slingshot Unlimited benchmark, which compares chipsets across platforms by testing at a standard 1080p resolution.

iPad Pro: 3DMark Slingshot Unlimited ES3.0 (1080p offscreen)

  • Overall 4169
  • Graphics 8223
  • Physics 1529

Pixel C: 3DMark Slingshot Unlimited ES3.0 (1080p offscreen)

  • Overall 3364
  • Graphics 5631
  • Physics 1396

iPad Pro: 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited (720p offscreen)

  • Overall 32835
  • Graphics 50523
  • Physics 14755

Pixel C: 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited (720p offscreen)

  • Overall 37070
  • Graphics 48048
  • Physics 20598

So the Pixel C is certainly sharp enough for reading and watching movies, powerful enough to play even the most demanding of games, and, with its 34.2 Whr battery, well-equipped to deal with the most prolific users.

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But is it a PC replacement the way Google is intending? With my short time with the tablet and keyboard, which latches using strong magnets and charges wirelessly through the same mechanism, I found Android to still lack some of the fundamental elements, like true developer-endorsed split screen multitasking, that are essential to many laptop users. Users that tend to live inside Google’s apps like Chrome, Google Docs, Sheets and Calendar will enjoy the large screen, but there are so many apps, like Slack, in which on a daily basis I spend up to 10 hours, that look awful on Android tablets. Even Google’s own Hangouts app isn’t optimized for slates.

The keyboard itself, and the magnetic hinge, is quite good for its size. The keys are well-sized and nicely-spaced, with adequate travel. There are only two dedicated Android buttons onboard: a Search key, which activates a Google search prompt from any screen; and a Symbols key, which brings up the secondary numbers and symbols keyboard to augment the physical one.

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Unfortunately, unlike the Surface Type Cover or iPad Pro Smart Keyboard, stowing the keyboard requires flattening the tablet against a hard surface, sliding it off the magnetic hinge, rotating it 180 degrees and positioning it against the space bar face down. It’s neither elegant nor particularly easy; I lost a grip on the tablet more than once trying to pry it from the stubborn magnetic’s grip.

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At $649 CAD for the least expensive 32GB model, plus an additional $199 for the keyboard, it’s unclear for whom the Pixel C is created.

At least with something like the iPad Pro, one can say that its 12.9-inch display caters to an audience looking for additional screen real estate, but the Pixel C’s 10.2-inch screen, stunning as it is, is only marginally larger than the Nexus 9, which is over $200 cheaper (and has its own quite-good keyboard case).

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We’ll have a full review of the Google Pixel C in the coming days, but in the meantime, you can purchase it from the Google Store.

Update: Google had posted incorrect pricing of the Pixel C on the Google Store. We have updated the article to reflect the correct pricing, which is $649 for the 32GB model and $799 for the 64GB.

Comments

  • 7-down

    Video or it didn’t happen 😛

    • Longtin

      It’s true he could be making video reviews as well as the written one, and have multiple sources of income. (Ad revenue from youtube reviews for example).

  • Dalex

    I’m not seeing it in the Google store. Are you sure we can purchase it already?

    • Ben

      Yep, now live as of approximately 1h25 eastern time.

    • Ben

      Annnnnnd Out of stock less than an hour later. #yourusualgoogleproductlaunch

    • Dalex

      Of course I saw your post at 2:54 and it’s sold out Hahaha. How many did they stock? 10? :p

    • Ken Wiebe

      Two

    • blzd

      There is more stock.

    • theTS

      back in stock. Now listed at $650 instead of the original $550 :O

    • Vito R.

      Might as well get a Surface for that price.

  • Easy-G

    I feel as though Google should be getting out ahead of Apple in the ‘standard size’ tablet space and ship the Nexus Pixel with an active stylus. It’s a pretty safe bet that the next iPad will be compatible with the Apple Pencil. The Nexus 9 was a nice iPad/mini competitor, but did not really add value. This is the same, except it’s encroaching on iPad/Pro.

  • Ben

    Just pulled the trigger! Nice to see the 549 CAD price point for 32 GB … Makes me question even more why the heck the Huawei Nexus 6P that is also 499 USD is priced @ 699 CAD?
    I had JUST bought a Nexus 9 … Will compare both and decide if this is worth 200$ more, I’m sure it will though.

    • Blair Davis

      Did you actually get it for $549? I see it on store now for $649

  • mola2alex

    $110 more for 32GB, sounds like an Apple move

  • Ken Wiebe

    Unfortunately this is just another Android tablet that does tablet-type tasks. With a small screen (compared to others in the category it is targeting) and a mobile OS, I can’t see this as something of value. If you want to be productive…get a Surface…if you want a good Android tablet, pickup a Nexus 9.

    • jellmoo

      Um… Other than possibly wanting a smaller form factor, why would you pickup a Nexus 9 over this?

    • Ken Wiebe

      This device is targeted for productivity, which is why other devices in the same category have larger screens. Anyone that truly wants to be productive will want some extra real estate to work with. A Nexus 9 is less money and does the same thing. I’m sure this is a great Android tablet…but that’s where the song ends.

    • jellmoo

      Where are you finding it for less money? It’s not available on the Play Store, and the Nexus 9 at Best Buy seems to be $20 less. Considering the difference in specs, the Pixel C seems like the much better choice.

    • Ken Wiebe

      Just reading the blog post above “is only marginally larger than the Nexus 9, which is over $200 cheaper”

    • jellmoo

      I think it may have been a mistake in the article then. When it was available (seems to be out of stock now) the Pixel C was listed at $549 (unless the pricing was incorrect on the Play Store).

    • Ben

      I think it is supposed to be 649/799 for 32/64 GB but Google had the first batch in the Google Store at 549/659 (by mistake or willingly?)
      As for the Nexus 9 being 200$ less, this was the Black Friday/Cyber Monday price (tablet has been OoS on Google Store since then). Now, Best Buy has it in “Final Clearance” at 379/479

    • Ken Wiebe

      Just doing a little searching, it appears like the price for the 32GB “C” will be:

      649+199 (Keyboard Folio) = 848

      Compared to the 32GB Nexus 9 at:

      479+129 (Keyboard Folio) = 608

      Difference of $240.

    • jellmoo

      Yeah, it looks like the initial price was a mistake. Not surprising, but unfortunate. At a $650 price point, it is definitely a tougher sell. The specs are considerably better though. Oddly enough, it looks like the investment makes for a better gaming tablet rather than a better productivity one. Weird.

    • Vito R.

      The Nexus 9 was a dud. I hope this is better. As for productivity, it’s fine, but for the same price if not cheaper, the Surface 3 is a much better option.

    • hebdo27

      I love my nexus 9! use it everyday around the house…..granted I paid $220 for a used one on Kijiji. At retail prices it is way overpriced for what you get.

  • TomsDisqusted

    I much prefer the software of a Nexus device, but Samsung could really teach Google (and everyone else) about how to keep device’s light-weight.

    The thin-ness thing is overdone, but weight really does matter for something you’ll usually be holding up when you use. This thing – at 517g – could use a diet.

  • Nexus 9 32GB was $529, Pixel C 32GB is $549, not sure where your getting the price is bad or somehow substantially more than the Nexus 9. Also given its $499 US, $549 is a steal, with current exchange it should have been $649.

    • Ben

      I’m starting to think the price is an error on Google’s end … All Canadian newspaper seem to have it priced at 649/799 for 32/64 GB.

  • The keyboard mount mechanism seems amazing, much better than the Surfaces’ and iPad Pro’s keyboard.
    The display size is really nice too, slightly larger than the iPad Air 2.
    It’d be real nice to see a comparison video between this, Nexus 9, and iPad Air 2.

    • Andrew_notPorC

      Agreed. This would be much better on the train than Surface (I see them awkwardly perched on people’s laps, hinge just on the edge of their knees. Centre of gravity is much closer to the centre of the keyboard, so less likely to tip backwards.

      I think you would probably get good at separating the keyboard and tablet with a bit of practice. I would rather a really firm connection that takes a bit of effort to separate than one that disengages accidentally.

    • yea the magnet seems to be pretty strong on the videos. I’m a little worried about the the hinge though, the hinge will need to be pretty strong in order to keep the whole thing steady when the tablet is mounted. I guess we’ll find out soon.

    • Vito R.

      The Surface and iPad Pro keyboard mounting are both very good and well thought out.

  • CanadianGuy37

    Did anybody get the tablet for $549? Google just raised the price to $649!!!!??? Damn it, so disappointing.

    • theTS

      I know! I literally had it in my Shopping Cart at around 130pm today, stopped to watch a couple reviews before I went to the checkout, then when I went to do it it said out of stock. God damn! haha

    • CanadianGuy37

      Ha-ha Crap, so close! It won’t go on sale for at least a year either.

    • blzd

      If ever. Chromebook Pixel never did, actually it costs even more than $1000 to buy one now. It’s something of a collectors piece I guess.

    • Ben

      I did, it checked out at 549$ + GST/PST … My card was charged for that amount (pending charges) as well and confirmation email says 549$ so I’m safe but this is really weird on Google’s end. Wonder how many people had time to pull the trigger.

    • theTS

      aww nice, that’s lucky. I hope they honour the price. That’s a sweet deal.

    • CanadianGuy37

      Good stuff! I’m sure they will honor it. At the very least you can argue your point. Would you mind replying with what you think of the tablet after you get it?

    • Ben

      Sure thing. It’s already “Processing” in the Google store with an ETA of December 11-18th (hoping I’ll get it this week, worst case early next week). Will post first impressions here.

    • CanadianGuy37

      Great! That’s fast delivery considering how new the device is. Thanks. Ben!

    • Ben

      Annnd, got it today. This is love at first sight for me and is exactly what I was looking for in terms of Android tablet. Screen is gorgeous, no lightbleed whatsoever, tablet is super speedy, a tadbit heavier than iPad air but nothing drastic (8-9% heavier I think?), I still think it’s very decent for a 10 inch tablet. Build quality is waaaayyyy better than N9. Way, way better. Tablet does seem to easily get hot on left (camera) side but nothing drastic. Speaker quality is just OK though, only disappointment I have so far but I might be biased as my current phone is a one M8 gpe with awesome front facing speakers (side facing on pixel C is not ideal). Ill have to test the battery in the coming days but am definitely keeping it and might consider getting that keyboard now!

    • CanadianGuy37

      That’s good to hear, that sounds like a great report! Thank you for the update.the keyboard attachment seems like a good idea. Hopefully one day I will pick one up!

  • theTS

    It’s now back in stock on the google store, but starting at $650 for the 32GB now. When I tried to buy it at 130pm today it was listed at $550. It appears they messed up the price, realized, pulled it from the store after 30 minutes, now its back up 4 hours later at $100 more expensive. And here I thought we were getting a steal of a deal in Canada!

  • TP

    I still have a hard time understanding the points of this and ipad pro. What advantages do they offer against all other tablets, and surface (or Windows tablet/laptop combo) at or below the same price range?

  • Balls O’Steele

    Too expensive. Toshiba Chromebook 2 (2015) is a better deal. Also the screen should be the Golden Ratio, not 1/√2. Screen is too awkward.

  • Me Ted

    Gotta say that at that price and in the face of what the Surface Pro 4 can do, this isn’t even an option anymore, IMHO.

  • Longtin

    Good review Daniel, I also agree the price tag just isn’t justifiable when you can buy laptops with Windows 10 for around $500 (Running a i3 minimum) which will outperform the Chromebook / Tablet. The fact that everything is cloud operated and there’s no hard drive would make it tough for anyone to do really do business with unless you had a usb hard drive but still that’s annoying nothing saved the the computer itself. Personally I own a ipad but I barely use it when my laptop is right there. Also I get to play around with Android Tablets on a daily basis, I still think they have a long way to go before they replace laptops themselves.

  • nonenone22

    Hot garbage.

  • gommer strike

    I know this isn’t a review, but Ars Technica already has theirs up. And it’s not looking good for this device.

  • Jim Thibault

    I will be using it as tablet and the keyboard would be in the way, comparing to a laptop to me is like Apples and Oranges. As a tablet so far it has excellent battery life. Videos, streaming, reading and an occasional game it works extremely well. As per split screen display for me keeping to apps open at once was and visible was never a big deal (Could do this Galaxy Note II but never did) rumour say Android N may have this “feature”. I can not stand comparing to a iPad ….. I own Android not iPad do not care how the iPad hardware compares.

  • Tee Cupp

    Just received my Pixel C the other day! Overall very happy with it so far.
    Beautiful display, great tablet which I use it 90% of the time but the keyboard works fantastically if you need to type somehting up quick.
    I was not in need of a full on productivity tablet such as the Surface so this is real nice.
    I do look forward to multi-tasking feature soon.