Google's Pixel Slate problem: The Android apps are awful

The new Chrome OS-based tablet convertible seems like a good buy at $600. But the lack of good apps makes it a problematic purchase.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

This week, Google had its fall press event, following in the footsteps of both Apple and Microsoft, who had their own smartphone and tablet offerings to show in the past weeks.

Apple, which had its hands full with the Watch Series 4 and the iPhone XS, presumably, will be showing its updates to their iPad Pro in a number of weeks.

The Pixel 3 seems like a no-brainer, with its updated Qualcomm 845 SoC and improved camera. Just as I did last year with the first generation Pixel phone, I already went ahead and arranged the trade-in for my Pixel 2 and ordered the 5.5" version -- if you're up for an Android device and want a purist experience running the latest 9.0 Pie OS, I can't think of a better phone to use, especially if you are a software developer and need a good test device.

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Sure, I would like the thing to be a little less expensive when compared to other Qualcomm 845 devices, like the OnePlus 6 or LG G7, but that's splitting hairs.

I can't say that the Pixel Slate is a no-brainer, however.

On paper, $600 is not a bad price for the basic hardware specs alone. The display is certainly very nice with a 3000x2000 resolution, but with keyboard ($199) and pen ($99) that brings you right in line with the basic Surface Pro 6.

Obviously, it gets a lot more expensive when you bump up the CPU from a dual-core 8th-Gen Celeron 3965Y to an 8th-gen i7, and you go up from 4GB to 16GB of RAM and increase flash storage, but now you are in real laptop territory ($1600) just like a higher-end Surface Pro 6.

I haven't seen anything on the web at all at this point which details which GPU the Pixel Slate has -- I have to assume the one in the base model with the Celeron is not a discrete processor, that it's the one built-in to the 3965Y, the Intel HD Graphics 615, which is not exactly a gaming or content creation powerhouse.

At that point, I'd rather just run Windows 10 on the thing, and well, own an actual Surface Pro 6. And for good reason: Windows 10 has real business-class apps to run on it.

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To me, the main selling point of a Chrome OS device is its low cost of entry (typically around $300 or less depending on the manufacturer) and the fact that it is a stateless, unbreakable system.

I bought one of the inexpensive Samsung ones for my mother-in-law and she absolutely loves the thing.

Heck, I love the thing, because I almost never get support calls from her anymore unless it's related to her losing her password or something like that. Then I just hand the phone over to my wife.

Of course, she only uses the web and Google Apps. And if you are someone like that, or a student which gets you access to GSuite for free, that's not a bad thing to have.

Now, Chrome OS can also run Android apps from the Google Play store which gives you access to a lot more stuff. There's just one issue with that: virtually all Android applications (other than Google's own) are not tablet optimized, and they aren't even optimized for Material Design which Google introduced in Android Nougat 7, let alone Oreo 8 or Pie 9.

This has been a significant problem for a long time and it is one of the reasons why Android tablets have been nowhere near as successful as iPad or even Windows devices like Surface.

Arguably, this is a newer version of Chrome OS with Android app compatibility and I haven't actually played with it yet, and I hope to shortly.

Also: Google Pixel Slate tablet: Cheat sheet TechRepublic

But unless there has been a sudden mass effort in the background where Google has been courting thousands of Android developers to improve their apps for this new tablet, I don't see how the Android app experience on the Pixel Slate is going to be any better than previous Chromebooks.

The Android app experience is not even likely to be better than on a current generation Galaxy Tab S -- which as Android tablets go, is a very nice one, and it's cheaper than the Pixel Slate because it includes a pen -- although the keyboard is extra. But it's also ARM-processor based with a Qualcomm 835, and an integrated Adreno 540 GPU.

I don't know how well the integrated GPU on the Celeron-based Slate performs as it relates to Android games -- but I can't imagine it does as good as a job as even a base-level iPad from last year on the A10 Fusion, or even the Adreno 540 on the Qualcomm 835.

We know that Android games are not as good as iOS games, simply because the hardware is not as exploitative and the majority of iOS titles on the iPad aren't as impressive on the Android platform. So what about tablet business apps?

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Well, I hate to say it, although Microsoft is doing great things with Android on phones for business users (and on iOS with iPhone and iPad) their Office 365 stuff isn't anywhere near as good when used on Android tablets. And this is important to note because as Android developers go they are doing a hell of a job.

Since October of 2015, Microsoft has gone whole-hog on Material Design with its Android software -- such as with Outlook, which is probably the best enterprise email application on the platform. The company is leading in Android development, unlike many other developers that are just struggling to maintain compatibility and overall stability between OS releases.

Unfortunately, Microsoft is doing "best effort" on Android tablets or Chromebooks because it isn't a big enough market for them to throw a ton of resources into. I don't blame them because Google hasn't exactly done a nice job porting its apps and services natively to Windows 10 either.

But if a giant company like Microsoft with lots of Android developer resources cannot build exploitative tablet apps for Android and the Pixel Slate, because the market share isn't there when compared to iPad, who else is really going to?

Yeah, I'm going to pass on the Pixel Slate. What about you? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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