Google’s Pixel C tablet is the first Android tablet built in-house by Google and
the only consumer product to date to feature Nvidia’s latest Maxwell-based Tegra SoC,
the Tegra X1. With performance chops like that, you’d expect the device to ship with
glowing recommendations, but if early reviews are any indication, the Pixel C needed
more time to bake.
The Pixel C starts at $499 for the 32GB flavor and $599 for the 64GB variant.
The Bluetooth keyboard is available separately for $149, bringing the cost of the top-end
model to ~$750. That’s not quite Surface 4 Pro territory (Microsoft’s tablet
starts at $899), but it’s not far off, either.
Google’s first in-house tablet takes a number of design cues from Microsoft’s Surface,
including its premium construction and attachable keyboard. Everyone loves the hardware
design — the all-aluminum body and screen quality are praised by The Verge,
Wired, Ars Technica, Engadget, and CNET, though Engadget thought the device was a
“tad hefty,” at 1.13 lbs, compared with the iPad Air 2 at less than a pound.
It might not sound like much, but even ounces matter when you hold a device in one hand.
Display quality is high, without necessarily being a stand-out feature.
Ars Technica notes that the 2560×1800 resolution on a 10.2-inch panel has a 308 PPI,
well above the roughly 265 PPI you find on a Surface or iPad. Color and sharpness
were reported as appropriate for a device in this price range, but Ars had major
problems with their device’s touch screen, noting that it often failed to register both
single and multi-touch gestures. Scrolling was unreliable and the device sometimes
forgot that its keyboard was attached.
One thing that stuck out when reading the various reviews is that each site ran into
some unique problems in addition to general issues. Engadget lavished praise on the
Pixel-C’s performance in both benchmarks and everyday tasks and had no issues with
the touchscreen. The Verge, however, said the keyboard’s Bluetooth connection was
prone to dropping out, as did Ars. The Verge also saw odd performance overall, writing:
Something is amiss with performance on the Pixel C. There are inexcusable pauses
and latency, especially when launching and switching apps. My hunch is that the Android
team still hasn’t figured out how to take real advantage of all that power out of
Nvidia’s silicon (the Nexus 9 seemed to similarly underutilize its processor).
Whatever the reason, it’s a miss. A bad one.
CNET, like Engadget, explicitly praises the Pixel C’s performance and appears
to be the only publication that had no performance issues or other errata.
The fact that four different publications found three different problems suggests
some significant quality control issues with the hardware. Battery life, however,
is uniformly excellent.
No one seems particularly happy with the Pixel C’s software. Google built a 10.2-inch
panel that can only display one application at a time. Pixel C runs Marshmallow,
but as Ars points out, it makes no attempt to field applications that are actually
designed for a large-screen tablet. As a result, most apps waste huge amounts of
screen space displaying stretched phone apps rather than native Pixel C apps.
Wired writes that Android “is terrific smartphone software, but not at all
well-suited to tablets.” The Verge agrees, noting that the Pixel C’s 1:√2 aspect
ratio is identical to a standard sheet of A4 paper and begs for a split-screen view
option that’s entirely missing from the device.
Ars doesn’t think Google’s poor treatment of Android tablets is an accident.
The company has shown it can adapt applications to smartphones, cars, and televisions,
yet most Android apps on tablets are poorly optimized. The complete lack of multi-tasking
on a tablet with a top-end price of $750 only underscores the point.
Worth your time and money?
Ars said Android’s tablet app ecosystem is so bad, “no Android tablet is worth
your time,” but notes the specific issues they encountered with the Pixel C make
it impossible to recommend no matter what. Wired thinks the Pixel C actually makes
the case for Chrome OS as opposed to Android, and hopes Google makes every Android
engineer use one, so they’ll stop ignoring tablets.
The Verge doesn’t recommend the device either, mostly due to Android’s failure to
take advantage of the Pixel C’s capabilities. Engadget was a bit kinder, simply calling
the new tablet “tough to recommend.” Only CNET floated the phrase “iPad killer.”
Based on the early coverage, we’d say give this one a pass. There are better
Android tablets at cheaper prices without the troubling quality control issues.