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.