The Pixel C: Should You Buy Google’s First Android Tablet?

Google recently started selling its first Android tablet, the Pixel C, two months after it first offered a preview of the device. The company says that the tablet “brings together the benefits of a full-size keyboard with the portability of a tablet so it can go wherever you go.” But what’s the verdict on the device from the reviewers who have gotten their hands on the device so far? Opinions range, but for the most part, reviewers seem disappointed by at least a few aspects of the tablet.

Jordan Novet reports for VentureBeat that the Pixel C is “not perfect, but the best Android tablet yet,” noting that while he expected that the device wouldn’t be very useful, several days with a review unit proved that the device is “the most evolved form of Android tablet yet.” He acknowledges that the chip could be more powerful, the keyboard could be larger, and a trackpad is conspicuously absent, but reports that the Pixel C “is still quite likable.”

The tablet costs $500, plus $150 for the optional keyboard, which features noticeably smaller keys to fit the footprint of the 10.2-inch display. Novet reports that the stand mechanism on the device is a “major improvement” over what’s offered by other Android tablets, and the display “delivers great-looking games and sharp high-resolution video and images.” However, the Nvidia Tegra X1 chip is easily bogged down, the 8MP camera takes grainy images in less-than-ideal lighting conditions, and in an ideal world, the device would integrate more storage.

Engadget’s Devindra Hardawar is more direct about his disappointment with the Pixel C, writing that the tablet “makes rookie mistakes.” He reports that while the Pixel C “certainly feels like an obsessively designed device, it’s a bit too clunky to recommend, especially compared to the Surface 3 or other Android tablets.” While the device is well-built, its downfall, in Hardawar’s assessment, is the array of usability mistakes that Google made, resulting in a device that can’t stand up to the productivity functionality of Windows or even Chrome OS.

The Pixel C was built with Android Marshmallow, but Google hasn’t added any kind of split-screen functionality to the software, so you’re stuck using one app at a time, which prevents any kind of multitasking. “Using one app at a time is fine if I’m focusing on long writing projects,” Hardawar explains, “but it’s no way to get through a day’s worth of computing.” He adds, “The Pixel C is built expressly to prove that Android can be a serviceable platform for productivity. But to truly love it, you’ll have to live with the lack of multitasking and a limited amount of tablet apps.”

Walt Mossberg reports for The Verge that his biggest problem with the Pixel C is that “Google has made no discernible effort to create software to match the screen real estate afforded by the first tablet it has designed and built itself.” In doing so, it forfeits “the big advantage its rival Apple has traded on for decades: the ability to blend your own hardware and software to provide a superior user experience.” That neglect, combined with some issues with the tablet’s hardware, make the Pixel C a “sub-optimal tablet” that Mossberg refuses to recommend to consumers.

Mossberg writes that the battery life of the Pixel C, while “very decent,” lags behind that of competitors. The screen, though high resolution, is reflective and exhibited irritating latency, and the camera yields underwhelming images. Even worse, the Pixel C “lacks the software to make it great,” suffering from Google’s long-standing choice to ignore the idea of tablet-optimized apps.

The result is that most of the apps available for the tablet look like “blown-up phone apps,” resulting in content that’s awkwardly spaced or oddly stretched. “Without a decent selection of true tablet software, especially for productivity, it’s just an oversized phone,” Mossberg concludes. “The software problem makes it a very different animal from an iPad or a Surface.”

Ron Amadeo reports for Ars Technica while he experienced disappointing quality control issues with the Pixel C’s hardware, he finds that “hardware was never really an Android tablet’s big problem.” Instead, the problem “has always been software,” he writes, pointing to the lack of tablet apps and the absence of an operating system that’s equipped to take advantage of a bigger screen.

“While we’ve seen hints of a split screen mode that would greatly help things, it’s not present here,” Amadeo reports. “That makes the Pixel C tough to recommend when iOS and Windows are both much more capable on large screens.” Later on in his review, he adds, “This tablet’s entire reason for existing — to run Android — is also the worst thing about it.”

So is the Pixel C worth the investment? Perhaps it is, if you’re an avid fan of Android, and think that you won’t be bothered by the device’s limitations. But most people will be more productive on a device with better support for multitasking and an ecosystem that’s set up to nurture the development of tablet-optimized apps. For now, users who want either of those benefits would be better off looking at tablets other than the Pixel C.

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