Hands on with the Pixel C: Google's flagship Android 6.0 tablet

After spending a few days with Google's Pixel C, the keyboard attachment may be the early star, although Android 6.0 is the highlight of this high resolution tablet, which is available today.
Written by Kevin Tofel, Contributor

Earlier this year, Google decided to take a different approach when it comes to hardware. Instead of a new Nexus-branded tablet, the company announced the Pixel C: A showcase slate for Android 6.0 built with the same attention to detail as the company's Pixel Chromebooks.

I've been using a $499 Pixel C and optional $149 keyboard loaned to me by Google for the past few days. I try not to offer full device reviews until I've actually used them for a week, so consider this some first impressions for now.

Google said the "C" stands for convertible, meaning to get the full experience, you'll have to pay $648 for both the 10.2-inch tablet and Bluetooth keyboard. I'm already finding the keyboard to be worth that additional investment even though it's a bit small; it really has to be given the tablet's size.

I love the sturdy magnetic hinge and charging method that Google used for the Pixel C's keyboard. The typing experience isn't bad with 1.4 millimeters of travel and a key pitch of nearly 19 millimeters.

You don't really see the hinge's mechanics when it's not it use: It looks like a padded wrist rest above the keys.

Pixel C keyboard.jpg

To use it, you just attach the bottom quarter of the tablet to the hinge: There's a strong magnet to connect the two very firmly. Then hold down the keyboard and raise the display to whatever angle you want: It ranges from 100- to 180-degrees and is easy to adjust.

Pixel C angled.jpg

I do wish Google included shortcut keys but there really isn't room for them. You can press Alt + Tab to cycle through the carousel of open apps, which is handy.

When you're done using the Pixel C and keyboard, you just push the display back from the keyboard and cover the keys with the screen; again, magnets hold the two parts in place. By doing so, you're protecting the tablet screen and wirelessly charging the keyboard at the same time. There's no other way to charge the keyboard in fact. By the way, there's no pairing involved between the tablet and keyboard: It connects automatically.

And like the Chromebook Pixel, there's a light-bar on the back of the display to show the tablet's battery level. You can double tap the bar and the charge indicator will light up.

Pixel C light bar.jpg

Indeed, the whole Pixel C design is reminiscent of the Chromebook Pixel. The outer case is all metal with slightly rounded corners, thin, and has a similar color to the Chromebook.

This looks and feels like a high-end tablet; especially when compared to Google's Nexus 10, which is rubberized and has overly large screen bezels.

The 10.2-inch screen is great for viewing all types of content. It's not an OLED display - Google used a Low Temperature PolySilicon LCD - but colors are sharp and contrast levels look good.

Google's Pixel C actually has a higher screen resolution than the Chromebook Pixel at 2560 X 1800 or 308 pixels per inch. It's stellar to my eyes and Google claims a brightness level of 500 nits. Video content looks great while sound from the pair of side speakers is acceptable.

Pixel C screen angle.jpg

There are four microphones on the top of the tablet screen which I expected to be good. Oddly, when training the Pixel C to recognize me for Google Now, I had to repeat myself a number of times. Even though I was in a quiet room and about 18-inches from the tablet, it didn't seem to hear me consistently.

Of course, Android 6.0 is the software story here and it brings many improvements that we've covered before: More granular app permissions and Google Now on Tap to name a few. Now on Tap may be my favorite feature because it improves on the already solid Google Now contextual cards.

I'm not yet used to a user interface change that Google made though.

Instead of software controls centered at the bottom of the display, two are on the left and one is on the right. Having the Home button on the left seems off-putting to me when in keyboard mode. It's a better experience in tablet mode because my hands are near the side of the screen as I hold it.

Pixel C display.jpg

Google chose to put Nvidia's Tegra X1 with Maxwell GPU and 3 GB of memory in the Pixel C.

After a few days of running several apps, I wish Google had just put 4 GB of memory inside as overall performance has slowed over time. And while the chip is great for video intensive applications - games I've played are lightning fast - overall general performance isn't blowing me away.

Pitting Apple's best - the iPad Pro - against the Pixel C in Geekbench performance tests shows a big disparity, for example. The Pixel C scores a 1395 in the single core test while the iPad Pro earns a 3233: Higher scores indicate better chip performance. The story is similar in the multi core test: 4345 for the Pixel C and 5498 for the iPad Pro.

Software wise, there are still (sadly!) third party apps that don't scale well enough to take advantage of larger, higher resolution screens on Android devices. While that's not Google's fault, it still reflects poorly on the overall user experience.

Even with a 10.2-inch display and √2 aspect ratio I often only see 3 to 6 tweets in the native Twitter app, for example. Other apps showed similar wasted space, which is disappointing.

Pixel C Twitter.jpg

I've only cycled the battery a few times, but I'm comfortable with Google's claim of 10 hours on a charge. You'll use the single USB-C port to charge the tablet, which in turn charges the keyboard.

After a few more days of use, I'll share more thoughts on the Pixel C. I haven't, for example, tested the 8 megapixel rear and 2 megapixel front camera.

In the meantime, don't hesitate to leave any particular questions in the comments and I'll try to address them. Google is now selling the Pixel C so if you can't wait, you can order one today.

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