Google has historically been known for using other manufacturers for their Nexus tablets and phones. That all changes with the Pixel line-up, with the Pixel C designed and entirely built in-house. It borrows its name from the company’s premium Chromebook Pixel, an elegant 12.9in laptop.
It’s clear that Google hasn’t compromised on quality or performance with the Pixel C, but is Android really the best operating system to use for power-users?
Design and keyboard
With an all-metal frame, unusual 1:√2 aspect ratio (roughly the same as an A4 piece of paper) and no eye-grabbing logos, the Pixel C is sleek yet understated. The slim row of LED’s on the rear is the only thing that could be considered branding, lighting up in Google’s colors when the screen is active. They also indicate battery life when you give them a double-tap. At 7mm thick and weighing 520g, it’s not the slimmest or lightest device around, but the squared edges leave plenty of room for the beautifully machined speaker grilles on either side, power and volume buttons on the top edges and USB C port on the bottom edge.
It’s an attractive tablet, yes, but it’s only when paired with the optional Bluetooth keyboard that the Pixel C truly stands out from the competition. Finished in the same metal as the tablet itself, the keyboard has a stunningly simple magnetic docking hinge that locks the Pixel in place with enough force that you won’t have to worry about it coming loose accidentally. It can be adjusted to any angle up to 90 degrees, and is firm enough that you won’t knock it back when tapping the touchscreen.
It docks to the back of the tablet when you don’t need to type, and inductive charging means you never need to charge it separately, either; it draws power from the tablet when the pair are closed together. Google has slimmed down a few keys, but it’s otherwise comfortable to type on, with a surprising amount of travel in each one. A backlight would have been the icing on the cake, but unfortunately it doesn’t make the cut here.
The Pixel C is a joy to use as a tablet or as a laptop, thanks to its gorgeous 10.2in, 2,560×1,800 resolution display. The aspect ratio gives you more room when using it in portrait mode, and it ensures there’s no mistaking the Pixel for an iPad. The pixel density of 308ppi ensures you can’t see individual pixels (without a microscope, anyway), leaving images and text looking impressively sharp.
The glossy screen finish and lack of an air gap between panel and glass helps give colours real punch and vibrancy. Colour accuracy is also exceptionally high; according to our calibrator, the Pixel C displays 97.3% of the sRGB colour gamut. That’s second only to Samsung’s AMOLED Galaxy Tab S2 and Apple’s iPads, and it shows when watching video or looking at photos. Red coverage is lacking according to the results, but it’s still among the best Android tablets for image quality. The exceptionally high 450.6cd/m2 maximum brightness and a 1,550:1 contrast ratio are more notable figures, as is a very low 0.289cd/m2 black point.
It’s a shame, then, that the touchscreen felt rather buggy on our review unit, at times failing to respond to quick swipes and taps. It didn’t happen all the time, but it was frustrating when it wouldn’t let you swipe away a YouTube video or quickly navigate through Google Photos.
As much as the Pixel C looks beautiful, Android just isn’t particularly well suited to being used in a landscape orientation. Apps like Instagram and Vine force the tablet into portrait mode, even when docked with the keyboard, and others like Twitter don’t expand to fill the screen in landscape orientation. Despite Google’s original plans to introduce a multi window mode with Android 6 Marshmallow, it was deemed unstable and won’t be available any time soon. That means you’re stuck running a single app at once, which is a long way behind Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and even the iPad Pro’s Split View.
If you don’t mind the lack of multitasking, however, Marshmallow runs beautifully on the Pixel C. Google has moved the Back and Home onscreen buttons to the bottom left edge of the screen, and the Recents button to the bottom right; it makes them easier to reach when holding the tablet in either orientation.
Performance and Battery life
The Pixel C is the first tablet to use Nvidia’s Tegra X, an octa-core, 1.9GHz processor that was previously seen in the Shield Android TV set-top box. It uses a big.LITTLE design, with four low-power cores that keep the Pixel ticking over, and four high performance cores that kick in when you’re doing anything more demanding. Needless to say, the Pixel C flew through our usual selection of synthetic benchmarks, scoring 1,347 and 3,976 in the GeekBench 3 single- and multi-core tests respectively. That makes it one of the fastest 10in tablets around, only falling behind Sony’s Xperia Z4 Tablet in the multi-tasking test and Apple’s iPad range. A Peacekeeper browser benchmark score of 1572 was slightly more average, but the Pixel could still browse through media-heavy web pages without any sign of stutter.
It’s graphics performance where the Pixel C really shines, however. The Tegra X1 uses a similar architecture to Nvidia’s desktop graphics cards, with a 256-core Maxwell GPU able to pump out frames at an incredible pace. 1,744 in the GFX Bench GL Manhattan onscreen test is faster than almost every Android tablet we’ve tested, and an offscreen score of 3,318 is even faster than Apple’s gigantic iPad Pro. 3D titles run perfectly, with the fancier animations looking smoother than ever in Blizzard’s Hearthstone.
Despite having all this power on tap, the Pixel C has impeccable battery life, playing a looping video for 14 hours 33 minutes with the screen set to 170cd/m2. That’s easily one of the longest lasting Android tablets available today, and a good four hours more than most iPads too.
The introduction of Doze in Android Marshmallow also helps extend the time between recharges; with the tablet stationary, screen off and running on battery power, it will enter a deep sleep, periodically waking up to let apps update and accept push notifications. After taking the tablet off charge and leaving it on standby overnight, it was still at 100% by the morning. That’s seriously impressive, as Android tablets typically have quite a high standby power drain. When you do eventually run out of juice, it takes around five hours to charge using the bundled USB Type-C power adaptor.
Unsurprisingly for a Google-produced tablet, there’s no microSD card storage available here – the company wants you to think the future is in the Cloud, after all. That means choosing between either 32GB or 64GB of built-in storage at the point of purchase, depending on how much content you want to carry around with you when there’s no internet connection.
Google’s default camera app has a few more features from when it first appeared on the Play store, but it’s irritating that the shutter button appears at the top of the screen when holding the tablet in portrait mode. You could flip it 180 degrees, of course, but then your hand will be covering the camera. The live view isn’t all that great either, often showing scenes as overexposed when you press the shutter.
^ Outside, the Pixel C struggled to expose the scene correctly – it’s too dark near the bottom, but overexposed in the sky
^ Indoors, with lots of light, the Pixel C manages to capture a reasonable amount of detail – although colours are washed out
The actual images captured by the 8-megapixel sensor look more true to life, at least, although there’s still quite a lot of noise, even in well-lit conditions, and it struggled to capture both light and dark areas. An HDR mode would have helped here, but there’s no option for that here. Detail is reasonable, even indoors when there’s not a lot of natural light, but it struggles to focus in really low-lit scenes. It’s by no means a bad camera, but the combination of basic features and mediocre live view mean you’ll be better off with your smartphone camera for anything other than video calls.
The Pixel C is a powerful, long-lasting and beautifully built tablet, with a keyboard dock to match. For occasional typing, single task working and multimedia playback, it’s an excellent device. At £399 (plus £119 for the keyboard) it’s only slightly more expensive than the Xperia Z4 Tablet, but is a much nicer device overall. If you’re looking for something less expensive, but still very capable, then the Nexus 9 can still be found through various online retailers.
Whether Android is ready for laptop use is questionable, however, and the lack of multitasking definitely hurts it in comparison to Apple’s iPad Pro. Stock Android and stellar performance will be enough for many, and the possibility of official multi-window support in a later update might make this a more functional productivity device further down the line, but right now it’s an expensive, albeit stunning, device that’s no better value than the competition.
Processor octa-core 1.9GHz Tegra X1
Screen size 10.2in
Screen resolution 2,560×1,800
Screen type IPS LCD
Front camera 2-megapixel
Rear camera 8-megapixel
Storage (free) 32GB/64GB (52.9GB)
Memory card slot (supplied) No
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0
Wireless data No
Operating system Android 6.0.1
Battery size Not stated