Pixel Slate review: Google tablet vs iPad or Surface? It's beyond compare

  • Editors' rating
    8.4 Excellent
  • $1,599.00

Pros

  • Sleek, modern fit and finish
  • Excellent display resolution and 3:2 form factor
  • Full desktop browser
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Expensive, no keyboard or pen included
  • No 3.5mm headset jack
  • Android apps need work for tablet usage

Google announced the Pixel Slate Chrome OS tablet on Oct. 9. For the past week, I have been using it as my primary computing device, including to write and publish this review, and it is clearly one of the best pieces of hardware Google has ever released.

While the first inclination is to spend much of this review comparing the Pixel Slate package with the Apple iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro, there's a brief discussion of this below, I agree with ZDNet's Larry Dignan who wrote that we need to look at the Google Pixel Slate "as a platform -- that could be disruptive."

The hardware is fantastic, but the power of the Pixel Slate is the full Chrome desktop web browser, support for Android apps, and even support for Linux. Kids are using Chromebooks in schools while adults are using them as their main computer since so much time is now spent browsing the internet. Launching a capable and elegant Chrome OS device in a tablet form factor is expected and warranted.

Also: Pixel Slate: Do Google's specs, prices, or platform threaten the iPad and Surface?

Last year I purchased a Pixelbook, it replaced my Surface Pro 4 for home/office use, and much of my time over the past week was spent evaluating the Pixel Slate in comparison to the Pixelbook. They are very similar devices, but one is clearly better for use with a keyboard than the other.

Specifications (as reviewed)

  • Processor: 8th Gen Intel Core i5
  • Display: 12.3 inch 3000x2000 pixels resolution (293 ppi) LCD touchscreen
  • Operating system: Chrome OS, launch version 71
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB internal storage
  • Cameras: 8 megapixel f/1.9 front facing camera and 8 megapixel f/1.8 rear camera
  • Wireless technology: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2
  • Audio: Dual front-facing stereo speakers
  • Sensors: Fingerprint, 3-axis gyroscope/accelerometer, ambient light, and hall effect
  • Ports: Two USB-C (one on each side) and an accessory connector for the Pixel Slate Keyboard
  • Battery: 48Wh battery, up to 12 hours battery life, with fast charging to provide up to two hours of life in 15 minutes
  • Dimensions: 290.85 x 202.04 x 7.0 mm and 731 grams (1.6 pounds)
  • Color: Midnight Blue

Compared to the Pixelbook, we see a newer generation Intel Core i5 processor, increased resolution display of the same size, a fingerprint scanner on the power button, a rear-facing camera, a higher resolution front-facing camera, and a larger capacity battery with two hours more advertised battery life. The 3.5mm headset jack, the keyboard too of course, is the only thing taken away on the Pixel Slate.

Hardware

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The first thing I noticed when I took the Google Pixel Slate out of the retail package was the perfect fit and finish of the tablet, which was also something I noticed on the Pixelbook. This is clearly not a cheap Chromebook and Google backs that up with a very high quality product.

The 2.5D Gorilla Glass has slightly curved edges that meld into the Midnight Blue edges, similar to what we see on phones today. The side bezels are just a hair narrower than the side bezels we see on the Pixelbook, but the top and bottom bezels on the Pixel Slate match the sides while the Pixelbook has much larger top and bottom bezels. This design element gives the Pixel Slate a more modern look and feel than the Pixelbook while also making the overall height (in landscape) of the Pixel Slate less than the Pixelbook, by 18 mm.

Given that the Pixel Slate contains all of the internals of the device, it is thicker than the display of the Pixelbook. With the Pixelbook closed, it is an impressive 10.3 mm in thickness. However, the Pixel Slate is only 7 mm thick, which is the same as a few phones I have been testing.

The speakers are now positioned to the left and right of the display and they sound fantastic. I enjoyed watching TV shows and playing games with the Pixel Slate speakers pounding out some decent bass and solid volume.

Also: Pixel Slate hands-on: The keyboard's my favorite part CNET

The front facing camera is centered above the display and is advertised as the Duo Cam because it supports 1080p with Google Duo. Hangouts is limited to 720p, but is likely on the way out anyway. It is an 8 megapixel camera with ƒ/1.9 aperture, 1.4μm pixel size, and wide field of view. Both cameras also support Portrait mode with capture the same as the Google Pixel phones so you get both the shot with bokeh effect and the standard shot when you press the capture button.

The power button is found on the upper left side and incorporates a fingerprint sensor for security purposes. Just around the corner to the left is the volume button with a USB-C port down on the bottom left. On the right side we find another USB-C port down near the bottom. The four contacts for the keyboard accessory are positioned on the bottom.

Note that there is no standard 3.5 mm headset jack on the Pixel Slate, but Google does include a USB-C to 3.5 mm jack dongle in the retail package. Given that there are two USB-C ports and nearly every new phone has done away with the headphone jack, I understand and accept this decision. It helps that I picked up a new Bose QuietComfort 35 Version II in Triple Midnight color for $50 off on Cyber Monday.

The back of the Pixel Slate is a field of Midnight Blue with a matte finish. It is quite the fingerprint magnet though and fingerprints don't seem to be particularly easy to remove.

The rear camera is hidden way up in the top right corner and is also an 8 megapixel model with ƒ/1.8 aperture, 1.12μm pixel size, and autofocus. 1080p video recording and portrait effects are also supported on this rear camera.

The Pixel Slate weighs in at 1.6 pounds while the Pixelbook is 2.4 pounds. The Pixelbook includes the integrated keyboard though so it is no surprise it weighs more. If you want to use the Pixel Slate in tablet mode without a keyboard though, this is quite a weight savings and definitely makes the Pixel Slate more attractive for tablet use.

Pixel Slate Keyboard and Pen

Google sent along the Pixel Slate Keyboard to evaluate. This is a $199 accessory and for serious productivity is an essential add-on. I wrote this review on the Pixel Slate with the Pixel Slate Keyboard, as well as all of my other articles over the past week.

The Pixel Slate Keyboard is also Midnight Blue in color so matches the Pixel Slate perfectly. The keyboard is backlit with the same Alt-brightness control capability seen on the Pixelbook necessary to adjust the backlight brightness so you can change it for different lighting conditions.

The overall height between the top and bottom rows of keys is the same as the Pixelbook, but the keys on this keyboard are round and oval to match the OS look and feel. The keys are quieter than the Pixelbook with the trademarked name of Hush Keys. Travel is fantastic and I personally love the action and performance of the keyboard.

The trackpad is the same width on this keyboard as we see on the Pixelbook, but it is also slightly taller. All of the material on the keyboard is soft touch so it is comfortable for use and resting your palms when you type.

Also: Pixel Slate and Pixel 3: Are Google's new devices priced right?

There is no battery in the keyboard as the backlight is powered through the bottom Quick Snap Connector found on the Pixel Slate. Simply set the Pixel Slate into the groove and you are ready to go.

One of the greatest features of this keyboard is the design of the rear cover/kickstand. The angled end of the rear cover attaches to the back of the Pixel Slate magnetically and can be slid up and down the back at any point so is adjustable to any angle you desire. It is also a very strong magnet so you can pick up the Pixel Slate with the keyboard attached and trust the two will stay connected.

You will notice at the top and bottom of the range where you can slide the back cover that stronger magnets give you a bit more feedback or "lock in" when passed over. You will be able to find a good angle for your usages and the back is not going to let go and have your Slate fall down on a table.

In order to switch into media viewing mode, you rotate the keyboard down and under the rear cover. Sensors in the two will detect when you switch into this mode and change the Pixel Slate interface from desktop into tablet mode while disabling the keys on the keyboard. Sometimes you may notice this doesn't get recognized immediately so you may have to slightly adjust the keyboard for the sensors to recognize the switch.

While I love typing on the Pixel Slate Keyboard with it resting on a table, I am not pleased with the lap usage scenario. Unlike the Surface Pro keyboard that moves up and connects to the front of the Surface Pro magnetically, the fabric material connecting the keyboard to the connecting/mounting bar is flexible. This means that the Pixel Slate wobbles back and forth on a lap at times. In addition, when you close the keyboard on the Pixel Slate you will notice some movements so that the keyboard slides around and exposes the Pixel Slate corners.

If I decide to move from the Pixelbook to the Pixel Slate, I think the more rigid Brydge G-Type keyboard may be a better option for me. This keyboard connects via Bluetooth so you have to weigh the connection versus the use on a surface other than a table.

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

The Pixelbook Pen is the same as we saw with the Pixelbook except for the addition of the Midnight Blue color. It is a $99 accessory and if you plan to use the Pixel Slate as a tablet it is an essential purchase. I would love to have seen the Pen included with the device, but it seems Apple and Microsoft have this same approach to pens for their tablets too.

The Pixelbook Pen works well for taking notes, annotating PDFs, selecting items to search with Google, drawing, and more. It is a Wacom AES 2.a device powerd by a AAAA battery.

Software

The Pixel Slate runs Chrome OS and is currently running version 71 on the unit I am testing. After using Chrome OS full time for a year on the Pixelbook, I am convinced it is the best OS for most of my needs. It's fast, gets updated easily in the background, doesn't limit me at all with the full desktop browser, and lets me focus on work.

It was interesting to discover how simple split-screen mode worked, even though it has been around on Chrome OS for a few months. Split-screen is similar to Windows 10 where you simply drag an app or Chrome tab over to the left or right side to have it pop into mid-screen orientation. You can then drag it to realign it if you want. With my Pixelbook being used most of the time connected to a docking station and shared onto a second large monitor, I used two displays for multi-window use. As I tried using the Pixel Slate more in tablet mode, I found some of these cool features and am pleased with the ability for multitasking on the Slate.

In addition to using the browser with multiple tabs and web apps, I also use several Android apps on my Pixelbook. After signing in on the Pixel Slate, all of these apps showed up on the launcher within a few minutes and I was ready to roll. I enjoy Todoist, Netflix, Spotify, Google Keep, Google Play Movies, Excel, NBC Sports Gold, and more from the Google Play Store.

USAA won't let me use the fingerprint scanner for easy login. Deltek Time & Vision won't work at all since it prompts for a PIN and then crashes every time. You would expect Google News to be optimized for this device since it is Google's own app, but it looks rather terrible with content just appearing down the middle of the display in both portrait and landscape orientation. Google needs to put a team aside and focus on getting at least Google's own apps optimized for tablet usage in order for anyone to be convinced this is the better form factor to use.

A month ago I installed the Linux Beta on my Pixelbook, but haven't yet explored this option on the Pixel Slate. The beta appeared on the Slate when I logged in, but this is one area to further evaluate.

Also: Meet Pixel Slate: Google's Chromebook resembles a Surface knock-off, starts at $599

Another major benefit of a Chromebook is the integration of Google Assistant. Simply state "OK Google" or "Hey Google" to launch Google Assistant and then let the Assistant go to work. You can also press and hold on the Pen's single button, then circle images or text on the Slate to then have Google Assistant help you find related content.

Price, availability, and competition

You can order the Pixel Slate in five different configurations, as listed below.

  • $599 for Intel Celeron with 4GB RAM and 32GB internal storage
  • $699 for Intel Celeron with 8GB RAM and 64GB internal storage
  • $799 for Intel Core m3 with 8GB RAM and 64GB internal storage
  • $999 for Intel Core i5 with 8GB RAM and 128GB internal storage
  • $1599 for Intel Core i7 with 16GB RAM and 256GB internal storage

I tested out the $999 Intel Core i5 model with 8GB RAM and 128GB internal storage, which is the same as my Google Pixelbook. I would like to test the $799 model since I think that would meet my needs and save me a couple hundred dollars.

The Google Pixel Slate Keyboard is priced at $199. The Pixelbook Pen is available for $99. Thus, to get a full kit with these two accessories you need to add $298 to your selected Pixel Slate model. The range for full kits starts at $897 and extends up to $1,897.

As I wrote earlier, it's natural to compare the other tablet computers in the market. The iPad Pro is superb at functioning with iOS apps that are much better than Android tablet apps, but you are also limited with a mobile web browser and very basic keyboard support. Apple also does not include the Pencil or a keyboard so with these accessories iPad Pro 11 and 12.3 inch WiFi prices range from $1,107 up to $2,057. Cellular connectivity adds another $150.

Also: The Google Pixel Slate will ship in time for the holidays CNET

The Surface Pro 6 provides a full desktop browser and complete support for all desktop apps. With such power also comes a bit more complication and when family and friends run Windows I end up providing more tech support than I do with Chrome OS devices. Prices of the Surface Pro 6 with keyboard range from $1,159 to $2,359.

Daily experiences and conclusions

Last year I replaced my Surface Pro 4 with a Pixelbook and I am tempted by the Google Pixel Slate. The display side and the external keyboard are each nicer than my Pixelbook, but together it is a less stable setup. The Brydge G-Type Keyboard looks like a better fit for my usage and I will consider it when it is released. For now, I'm sticking with my Pixelbook.

As a tablet the Pixel Slate is a very nice piece of hardware. As we see with an iPad, you need some kind of cover to serve as the kickstand to consume media. Like Apple, Google will soon offer the Incipio Esquare Series Folio that provides a means to prop up the Pixel Slate in landscape or portrait while also incorporating a Pen holder. This looks like a nice option for $69.99 if you don't want the floppy Pixel Slate keyboard or the Brydge option.

MoTR podcast co-host Kevin Tofel also mentioned one could use any kind of Bluetooth keyboard with the Pixel Slate (something like the Logitech K780 would work) and with this you could setup one next to an external monitor and have it serve as the desktop station while the Slate is used around the home and office in tablet mode. Given the current design of the Pixel Slate keyboard, this is a good setup to consider instead.

For those who used a Pixelbook in tablet mode more than in laptop mode, the Pixel Slate should be exactly what they have been looking for. Also, those who prefer Android tablets over iPads should seriously consider the Pixel Slate as it provides all of the typical Android tablet functionality with a full desktop browser so you can get work done with few limitations.

I used the Pixel Slate with an AUKEY hub to project to a second Dell 21.5 inch display with a Microsoft Arc Touch mouse connected via Bluetooth and various headsets connected via Bluetooth. I only experienced one issue with Bluetooth not turning back on after I left the Slate for several hours, I've seen this occasionally on my Pixelbook too, and never had any issues with WiFi or tethering to various Android phones.

Chrome OS devices specialize in ease-of-use, desktop browsing and web apps, security, a simple upgrade/update process, and instant-on performance. However, if you are a heavy video editor or use specialized Windows apps then it is obviously not for you. As more capability is provided through the web browser and web apps though, it's tough to match the performance of a Chrome OS device.

For those who want more, you can also install Linux on the Pixel Slate and enjoy much of the capability currently present in Linux. There are still a few limitations as Linux support is in a beta phase on Chrome OS.

Also: The new Pixel Slate starts at $599 CNET

The Google Pixel Slate is an outstanding piece of hardware running a very capable selection of operating systems. There are five models available to purchase and for my use cases I may be able to save $200 and go with the Core m3 model. Then again, since I use my Pixelbook daily for work, the price isn't really much of a deterrent for me since it allows me to get work done without compromise.

I would love to have seen an option for integrated LTE, but Google's Instant Tethering functionality does make it easy to use your phone for connectivity away from a WiFi connection. I'll be using this more on my daily train commute.

It's been a few years since we have seen Google release its own tablet device and the Pixel Slate has the potential to be a winner. It has a more premium fit and finish than any previous Google tablet and even bests the Pixelbook in terms of design. Google just needs to spend a bit more time optimizing Android apps to make it a killer tablet.

Previous and related coverage:

Pixel Slate: Do Google's specs, prices, or platform threaten the iPad and Surface?

Google's Pixel Slate is the latest entry into a tablet market already dominated by the likes of the iPad and the Surface. Does the Pixel Slate have what it takes to stand its ground?

Meet Pixel Slate: Google's Chromebook resembles a Surface knock-off, starts at $599

The Pixel Slate lands as expected. It's a Chromebook that could be mistaken for a Microsoft Surface.

Google Pixel Slate: What to expect for this Chrome OS tablet

Forget the Pixelbook successor, we may see four variations of a Chrome OS tablet for the first time from Google.

Google Pixel 3 review: Excellent camera, pocketable form factor, and Google software are compelling

In a world of massive smartphones, there are still a few that comfortably fit in your hand and pocket. The Google Pixel 3 is the best small Android smartphone, but it's not quite perfect.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i7
Memory
RAM 16 GB
RAM
Installed Size 16 GB
Display
Widescreen Display No
Image Aspect Ratio 3:2
Monitor Features 72% NTSC color gamut, Corning Gorilla glass 5
Type LCD
Touchscreen yes
Diagonal Size (metric) 32.6 cm
Audio & Video
Sound Stereo speakers, 2 microphones
Hard Drive
Type SSD
Capacity 256 GB
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Processor
CPU Type Core i7
Manufacturer Intel
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Battery
Capacity 48 Wh
Run Time (Up To) 10 hour(s)
AC Adapter
Output 45 Watt
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces 2 x USB-C
Header
Brand Google
Country Kits United States
Packaged Quantity 1
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
System
Notebook Type Chromebook, thin and light
Mechanical Design no keyboard
Platform Chrome OS
Hard Drive Capacity 256 GB
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Miscellaneous
Color midnight blue
Case Material aluminum
Integrated Options Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, three-axis gyro sensor, hall sensor
Security Fingerprint reader
Included Accessories power adapter
Monitor
Diagonal Size 12.3 in
Image Brightness 400 cd/m2
Dimensions & Weight
Width 11.5 in
Depth 8 in
Height 0.3 in
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Physical Characteristics
Weight 25.43 oz
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Google Chrome OS
Video Output
Graphics Processor Series Intel HD Graphics
Interfaces
USB-C Ports Qty 2
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Full Contract Period 1 year

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Where To Buy

Google Pixel Slate - 12.3" - Core i7 - 16 GB RAM - 256 GB SSD

Part Number: GA00348-US