Google Pixel C

Update: The Google Pixel C has a new software update, and some new competition in the iPad Pro 9.7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. We've updated our Pixel C review to reflect these developments.

The Pixel C was launched a little half-heartedly by Google during its Nexus 5X and 6P event back in October 2015, and since then it's seen some serious rivals show up in the form of the iPad Pro 9.7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

It may be starting to show its age, but a recent software update to Android 7 Nougat has managed to keep it relevant.

The Pixel C was a new venture for Google, being the first tablet designed and built by the search giant. 

Previous 'Google' slates sporting the Nexus brand were been made by Asus and HTC; this time round, though, Google's had total control over every aspect, shaping the device specifically for Android.

The 10.2-inch, 2560 x 1800 display and premium metal build means the Pixel C sits comfortably at the top end of the tablet market, bridging the gap between the Nexus slates and Google's Chromebook Pixel laptop.

It attempts to bridge that gap with a clever keyboard dock which transforms the Pixel C from a standard Android tablet into a hybrid laptop.

Google Pixel C review

Google Pixel C price

  • 64GB model: £479 ($599, around AU$820)
  • Keyboard dock: £88 ($124, around AU$160)

At launch you could pick up the Google Pixel C in two storage sizes: 32GB and 64GB. 

The 32GB version set you back £399, (US$499, around AU$680), while the larger storage size is available for £479 (US$599, around AU$820).

Now though, only the pricier 64GB model remains, but it's still comfortably cheaper than the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (£700, $930, AU$1,499) and (admittedly newer) iPad Pro 9.7 (£549, $599, AU$849).

If you want to make the most of the Google Pixel C you'll want to pick up the Pixel C keyboard as well, which will set you back a further £88 ($124, around AU$160) – which is cheaper than the initial £119 ($149) launch price.

Google Pixel C review

Design

There's no mistaking that the Pixel C is a premium tablet. Finished in Anodized Aluminum, the Pixel C looks and feels like an expensive piece of tech as soon as you lay eyes and hands on it.

That style isn't light though, and at 517g it's considerably heavier than the similarly proportioned iPad Pro 9.7, which tips the scales at 437g – although the Pro 9.7 is shorter, narrower and thinner than the 242 x 179 x 7mm Google Pixel C.

There's a healthy amount of bezel surrounding the 10.2-inch display, and considering there's no physical home key it feels like wasted space. We'd have liked a larger screen, or tighter dimensions – but the tech has to fit somewhere, which probably explains the extra bulk.

Google Pixel C review

You don’t even get a fingerprint scanner, a feature that Google’s included in its latest duo of smartphones after providing dedicated support for the digit-reading tech with Android Marshmallow. It feels a little bit like a missed opportunity.

With the Pixel C held in landscape orientation, the power/lock key is located on the left of the top edge, while the volume rocker sits high up on the left, with a USB-C port at the bottom of the same side.

The USB-C port enables you to charge the Pixel C and transfer data to and from it, but it also has another use. Connect a phone or Pixel laptop to the Pixel C and the tablet can charge your other devices – handy if your phone is running low and there’s no power outlet in sight.

Google Pixel C review

There are also dual stereo speakers on either side of the tablet, and a 3.5mm headphone jack completes the array of features on the right side of the Pixel C.

On the rear, the 8MP camera is joined by the iconic Chromebook light bar shining in Google’s four trademark colours. It’s Google’s answer to the illuminated Apple logo on the MacBook range, ensuring that even in dark environments people know the brand of your machine. Thank God.

It is rather attractive, and it actually serves a purpose other than blowing Google’s trumpet. Double-tap the light bar and it can display the Pixel C’s battery level, even when the device is turned off – that’s really useful if you want to see if it needs a quick charge.

Google Pixel C review

The flat edges mean the Pixel C doesn't sit particularly comfortably in the hand, and this isn't a tablet you'll want to be clinging to for extended periods of time.

The location of the various buttons, and the orientation of the light bar, signals that Google intends for you to use the Pixel C in landscape mode most of the time. But portrait mode is readily available, and is arguably better for activities such as web browsing.

The design then, is pleasing to the eye, but the Pixel C still can't hold a candle to the iPads. Apple's flagship tablets just feel nicer, look slicker and weigh less. 

We really like the Pixel C's design, but put it next to the iPad and Apple still wins the beauty contest.

Dazzling display

The Google Pixel C packs a 10.2-inch display, which is larger than the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 and 8.9-inch Nexus 9 displays, but smaller than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and 12.3-inch Surface Pro 4 screens.

Meanwhile, with a resolution of 2560 x 1800 the Pixel C has a pixel density of 308ppi, comfortably outperforming the Air 2 (264ppi) and Nexus 9 (281ppi) and making for a crystal-clear display – it’s called the Pixel for a reason.

So far, so good then, but Google’s not finished there. The screen on the Pixel C is 25% brighter than leading tablets (according to tests by DisplayMate). It can go up to 500 nits, which makes outside viewing more viable – although it’s still not perfect.

Google Pixel C review

The screen has also been enhanced with Low Temperature PolySilicon technology. “What the hell does that mean?” I hear you cry. Well, it’s good news for the battery, as it helps to keep the display’s power consumption down.

Holding the Pixel C alongside the Air 2 it’s clear that Google’s tablet has the brighter screen. It’s fantastic.

It all means you get an excellent on-screen experience with the Pixel C, with pin-sharp clarity and bright colours. The iPad Air 2’s display seriously impressed, but the Pixel C’s is even better.

Clever keyboard

For an additional £119 (US$149, around AU$200) you can supplement your Pixel C with a full-size keyboard, which has also been designed and built by Google, alongside the tablet.

The best feature of the keyboard is automatic pairing. There’s no need to mess around with Bluetooth settings, or switching off the keyboard when it’s not in use – the Pixel C just knows when the keyboard is attached. Just make sure Bluetooth is on, and the slate will do the rest.

Then there’s the docking system. There are no annoying latches or pins to line up here; instead the keyboard sports a heavy-duty magnet which clings to the bottom third of the Pixel C. The connection is surprisingly strong, and you can pick up the assemblage by either the keyboard or tablet without any fear that the two will become disconnected.

Google Pixel C review

The magnet also doubles as a multi-angle hinge, enabling you to tilt the Pixel C to your preferred degree for optimum viewing, whether you’re tapping out text or sitting back to enjoy a Netflix binge.

When you’re not using the Pixel C the keyboard acts as a protective cover for the screen, sticking to the front of the tablet. If you want to use the Pixel C as a slate, rather than a laptop, you can stick the keyboard to the rear for safe keeping.

This does, however, increase the bulk of the tablet, and makes it more uncomfortable to hold, with an additional 399g added to the total weight. I’d advise slipping the keyboard into a bag, or sitting in on a table when you’re in tablet mode.

Google Pixel C review

Whenever the keyboard is attached to the tablet it wirelessly charges, which means your keyboard will never run out of juice while you’re using the Pixel C.

The chiclet keyboard has traditional clicky keys which feel natural under the fingers, although the 1.4mm travel is a little shallow. It’s a setup your fingers will become accustomed to quickly, although a few of the keys can be tricky to hit – the apostrophe/@ key is only half-width, while the enter key has also been slimmed down.

The keyboard is great for typing, but there’s still a strong reliance on the touchscreen, which does interrupt the experience somewhat. Hitting the three dots key to the right of the space bar brings up an on-screen menu of symbols, and you tap the one you want rather than using the keyboard.

Google Pixel C review

It’s this disconnect which reminds you that you’re using a tablet and not a laptop, and it slows down the typing experience. It would also be handy to have a home button on the keyboard, to enable you to quickly exit applications.

I wrote around half of this review using the Pixel C’s keyboard, and over extended periods of typing I did notice my speed was lacking compared to working on a traditional computer keyboard. I was able to type relatively comfortably with the Pixel C on my lap, though – something you can’t always easily do with tablet keyboard docks.

Another potential annoyance is that the keyboard dock doesn’t enable you to seat the Pixel C in portrait mode. For many this won’t be an issue, but it’s something the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet does allow with its (included in the box) keyboard dock.

Google Pixel C review

The Pixel C’s keyboard is cheaper than Apple’s £139 (US$169, AU$269) Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro, but it’s fair to say the Cupertino firm’s implementation is cleaner, and quicker to deploy. It does have its limitations compared to the C though, with just one display angle and keys which take a lot of getting used to.

Tasty Marshmallow

As Google says, the Pixel C has been made for Android 6.0 Marshmallow. What does that mean? Well the tablet is optimised for Google’s operating system, without the interference of an outside manufacturer – and that means there’s nothing to get in the way of the pure Android experience.

In fact, the Pixel C rocks up with version 6.0.1 of Google’s very latest software, ensuring it keeps pace with the firm’s Nexus phones and tablets.

It also means the Pixel C will be first in line for future Android updates, along with the Nexus lineup, ensuring you’re always up to date.

Google Pixel C review

One of the big features which arrived in the Marshmallow update is Doze, which keeps activity to a minimum when your device is on standby, and which helps to extend battery life up to a claimed 10 hours on the Pixel C – but more on that in the battery section.

With this being a tablet the Android Pay integration in Marshmallow is unlikely to provide any use, and as I mentioned in the design section the Pixel C doesn’t sport a fingerprint scanner to take advantage of the new support in Android.

You do benefit from improved voice support however, enabling you to be a little more casual when conversing with Google Now, plus there’s Now on Tap – this displays mini cards in-app to provide additional information relevant to what’s on screen.

Google Pixel C review

For example, if you’re viewing a web page about Star Wars, Now on Tap can detect that and offer up other relevant information about the franchise.

Now on Tap is triggered by sliding up from the home button on the Pixel C; it doesn’t always have something to add, however, and it can be a little hit and miss when it does return results.

What the Android interface fails to deliver, however, is the breath of functionality to rival the iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4. While both of those slates can potentially stand alone as laptop replacements, Android doesn’t do enough to make it a viable option as well.

Google has ensured that it’s put specs in all the right places on the Pixel C, with a focus on the screen, power and battery.

That does mean, though, that there are a few areas where the specs don’t quite match the flagship price tag – chiefly in the camera department, where an 8MP rear camera is joined by a 2MP front snapper.

It’s certainly not the end of the world, and while the lack of a microSD slot will irk some, at least there’s no poxy 16GB model – I’m looking at you Apple – with 32GB the entry-level storage size. I would have liked to have seen a 128GB model above the 64GB offering, although for most users 64GB will be enough.

Google Pixel C review

Stereo speakers help to improve the audio output of the Pixel C, while the four microphones enable the tablet to hear you more clearly when you’re barking orders at Google Now, and improve your voice clarity during video calls.

As I’ve mentioned, the Pixel C comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the latest iteration of Google’s mobile software platform.

This means you have access to the Play Store, well stocked as it is with apps, games, movies and music. The thing is, though, Android lacks the quantity and quality of tablet-optimised applications that you get in the rival App Store for Apple’s iOS.

Load up certain applications – Spotify is a good example – and you’ll notice it’s just the smartphone application. It hasn’t been optimised for the Pixel C’s expansive 10.2-inch display, nor any other tablet screen for that matter.

Google Pixel C review

While such apps are still perfectly usable, this lack of optimisation does hamper the user experience, and can make things look a little bit ugly on screen.

A handy touch, however, is found in the navigation bar, where Google has split the trio of buttons so they no longer reside in the middle of the screen.

Instead, the multitasking button sits against the right side of the screen, while back and home are on the left. This makes them a lot easier to hit when holding the tablet with both hands.

There’s plenty of Wi-Fi potential inside the Pixel C with the slate supporting 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO – if you’ve got a super-duper router this tablet can take full advantage of it.

Those looking for 4G connectivity will be disappointed, though, as Google offers the Pixel C as Wi-Fi only. Apple, Samsung and even the Nexus 9 offer up pricier Wi-Fi + LTE models for those who never want to be without an internet connection, but no dice here.

It’s not a big problem, though, as for many their core usage will occur at home or somewhere with a Wi-Fi connection.

Performance

The Pixel C sports Nvidia’s Tegra X1 processor, a 64-bit, quad-core chip which delivers a healthy blast of power into Google’s aluminium-clad slate.

That’s joined by 3GB of RAM, which means the Pixel C has more power under the hood than the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9, although the octa-core Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 and Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet technically have greater capacity for higher loads.

Google Pixel C review

Running the Pixel C through Geekbench 3 shows just how powerful it is. With an average multi-core score of 4449, it performs better than the Nexus 9, Sony and Samsung tablets, while pretty much matching the Air 2’s result.

On screen I found the Android interface to be fast and fluid. Apps generally loaded in good time, and the Pixel C was able to run the graphically-intensive Real Racing 3 and Asphalt 8 Airborne without any hint of slowdown.

It’s not the slickest experience I’ve ever had on a tablet though, and while everything runs well, the Pixel C just lacks that top level of polish for sublime performance and instant responses every time.

Music

The Pixel C is a Google tablet out-and-out, so it’s no surprise that the only music player that’s pre-installed is Play Music.

As music apps go it’s pretty standard, enabling you to view your tunes by artist, album, track or genre. You have the facility to create playlists on the fly too, but Play Music does have a trick up its sleeve.

That trick is Unlimited, Google’s own music streaming service, which requires a monthly subscription payment of £9.99 (US$9.99), in return for which it puts millions of songs at your fingertips.

Of course, if you already subscribe to a rival service (such as Spotify) you can just head to the Play Store and download the relevant app.

Google Pixel C review

Sound quality from the built-in stereo speakers is acceptable at a moderate level, but don’t expect resonating bass or crystal-clear lyrics.

At high volumes the Pixel C’s speakers are tinny, almost uncomfortably so – there’s more depth in the iPad Air 2, but that’s only got a single driver. If you’re looking for room-filling sound you’ll need to plug in an external speaker.

Things are improved when you plug in a set of headphones, however, with the Pixel C able to kick out decent audio.

Movies

With its 10.2-inch, 2560 x 1800 display, the Pixel C is a movie machine. Your HD movies and TV shows will look great on the tablet’s screen, and if you can afford to crank the brightness up to max your eyes will be in for a real treat.

For those willing to splash out on the keyboard, you’ll be glad you did if you watch a lot of videos on your mobile devices. The Pixel C is pretty heavy, so you won’t fancy holding it for the duration of a film; the keyboard proves a solid stand, and its multi-positional hinge means you’ll be able to find the perfect viewing angle.

Google Pixel C review

There’s sadly no option to minimise your video into a small floating window, which would enable you to use the tablet while still keeping an eye on the action. This is something the iPad Pro has, although its larger display means it makes more sense there than on the Pixel C.

Video playback is smooth, bright and highly detailed, enabling you to fully enjoy the on-screen action. The internal speakers do let the side down again though, so if you’re settling down to watch a blockbuster you’re best off connecting a speaker or headphones.

Gaming

With its crystal-clear display, Tegra X1 processor, Maxwell GPU and 3GB of RAM the Pixel C is well equipped for a solid gaming session.

Load times are quick and playback is smooth, even on demanding titles such as Real Racing 3. I did find my arms got a little tired if I played for an extended period of time, though, so you might want to divide your play time up into chunks – or just choose a game where you don’t need to hold and twist the tablet to steer a car!

I also found the Pixel C could get quite warm during an intensive gaming session – not hot enough to burn your hands, but it can get a little uncomfortable.

Google Pixel C review

If you opt for the keyboard as well, some games are already taking advantage of the keys on offer. I played Asphalt 8 Airborne on the Pixel C, which has already been updated to allow for keyboard input.

This gives you more of a PC-like experience, and given the power of the Pixel C and the graphical improvements in games, our mobile devices are getting closer and closer to console and PC gaming.

One thing to note though is that not all games are optimised for the resolution of the Pixel C’s display, which can mean they appear a little pixelated.

That’s a shortcoming on the developer side, rather than on the part of the tablet – and the hope is that devs will update their apps and games to support higher resolutions in the future.

Battery life

Google claims the Pixel C can go for over 10 hours on a single charge, although obviously that depends very much on your usage.

During my time with the Pixel C I found battery life to be generally strong, with the tablet coping well with a variety of tasks. Activities such as video playback and gaming, of course, drain the battery quicker than web browsing or social media activity.

I ran the techradar 90-minute HD video test with the screen on full brightness and various accounts syncing in the background over Wi-Fi, after which the Pixel C had lost 27% of its battery, dropping down from 100% to 73%.

That’s a disappointing result, putting the Pixel C behind the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (16%), Nexus 9 (18%), iPad Air 2 (21%) and Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet (21%).

Google Pixel C review

It’s not all bad news though. The Pixel C’s display is much brighter than its rivals, so reducing the brightness by half means you still get a decent experience while saving yourself a whole heap of battery life.

If you want to get 10 hours-plus from the Pixel C’s battery you’ll need to make sure you keep the display brightness reduced, and limit your amount of video playback.

If you primarily use your tablet for web browsing, emails and social media, then you’ll easily be able to get a good eight hours from the Pixel C, if not longer.

The Pixel C comes with a fast-charger plug in the box, so if you are running low you can quickly top the tablet up – you’ll know when it’s fast-charging, as ‘charging rapidly’ will be displayed on the lock screen.

Camera

The Google Pixel C does have cameras, one on the front and one on the back, but like many tablet snappers they’re not a patch on the offerings in your smartphone.

Round the back the 8MP sensor provides a relatively solid camera for basic, occasional shots, while the 2MP front camera should be reserved for video calls only – it’s not great for selfies.

The size and weight of the Pixel C also means it’s not exactly easy to wield, and you’ll want to find something to rest the tablet on so you can get a steady shot.

Google Pixel C review

There’s no flash either, so you’ll want to avoid snapping in low lighting, which does limit the Pixel C’s camera credentials further.

As the Pixel C comes with stock Android, you get Google’s standard camera app, which finds a happy place between the simplicity of Apple’s iOS app and the feature-packed offerings from other Android handset manufacturers.

Slide your finger in from the left side of the display and you’ll get five modes to choose from: Photo Sphere, Panorama, Lens Blur, Camera and Video. It’s all pretty stock Google, but it’s easy to use.

Google Pixel C review

There’s a settings icon too, which enables you to adjust the resolution of your images and switch on manual exposure if you wish.

The shutter is pretty quick, and the larger 10.2-inch display makes for a great viewfinder – but the results aren’t so good. Images tend to be grainy and lacking in detail, with moving subjects often blurring as the Pixel C struggles to keep up.

It’s certainly not the worst tablet camera I’ve used, but you’ll probably be better off using your phone, and reserving the Pixel C for snapping the odd photo.

Camera samples

Google Pixel C review

Up close the Pixel C struggles to focus properly, resulting in a lack of detail

Click here to view the high-res image

Google Pixel C review

The front camera is serviceable for video chats, but picture quality is grainy

Click here to view the high-res image

The Pixel C may be Google's first proper attempt at a tablet, but you wouldn't know it. It looks great, performs well and gives its high-end rivals a real run for their money.

Google needs to set the standard when it comes to Android products, and with the Pixel C it's managed to do just that.

Google Pixel C review

We liked

This is one of the best-looking Android tablets we've had the pleasure of using – and it's one of our favorite Android slates to date.

We were wary of the Nvidia processor Google had opted for, but thankfully it performs well – you can throw pretty much anything at the Pixel C and it'll run it without breaking a sweat.

Then there's the display. Seriously, this display is awesome. It's pin-sharp, colorful and insanely bright. You don't appreciate just how bright it is until you put it side by side with the iPads. It's pretty special.

Stock Android is another big plus point for the Pixel C, giving you a clean, fuss-free interface to customize to your liking without another manufacturer's apps and design tweaks getting in your way.

Plus, the Pixel C will be in line for future Android updates, so you can be safe in the knowledge that it won't fall behind the times for the next few years at least.

Google Pixel C review

We disliked

There's really not a great deal to dislike about the Pixel C, and the negative points it does have are relatively minor.

It is a bit on the heavy, bulky side, especially when compared to the svelte iPad Pro 9.7 and Galaxy Tab S3 – but it's not disastrous.

The keyboard dock is a clever accessory, but it's also a pricey one on top of an already expensive tablet. While if was fun to use, we're not convinced it's worth the asking price; if you're planning on doing a lot of typing on the Pixel C, however, it's a must.

Battery life also wasn't stellar. The Pixel C by no means suffers in the battery department, but given Google's big claim of over 10 hours use from a single charge we were hoping for better performance during video playback.

Google Pixel C review

Verdict

The Pixel C is still a great Android tablet. It's not cheap, but this is a top of the range tablet, and it justifies its iPad-matching price tag.

If you're fed up with Apple, or simply want the best Android tablet around, then the Pixel C is the slate for you. You can feel that Google has been involved at every stage, with its simple fluidity flowing throughout the Pixel C experience.

Android still has a shortcoming when it comes to tablet-optimized apps; add to that the general bulk of the Pixel C it's not quite as pick-up-and-play-friendly as the iPad range. It also doesn't have the breath of functionality to trouble the iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4, even with its keyboard dock, but the Pixel C is comfortably cheaper than both.

What the Pixel C does offer is genuine competition at the top of the tablet market, and if you decide to splash the extra cash on the keyboard dock as well you'll have a very powerful machine at your fingertips.

There are a few high-profile rivals for you to consider before splashing the cash on the Google Pixel C, and we've pulled them together below to help you make up your mind.

iPad Pro 9.7

iPad Air 2

There's no mistaking which tablet Google's going after with the Pixel C. The iPad Pro 9.7 (and the new iPad) still dominates the high end of the market, and manufacturers are trying their best to emulate Apple's slate success.

The iPad Pro 9.7 has a fantastically premium design, an excellent display and a whole heap of power under the hood, making for a slick and enjoyable experience. There's also the optional Apple Pencil and keyboard case to make it into a tablet.

The biggest bonus of picking up the iPad though is the wide selection of applications that are optimized for its larger screen. It's something the Play Store has yet to match, and it makes the Pro even easier to use.

Read our iPad Pro 9.7 review

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Samsung's iPad Pro and Pixel C rival is filled full of tech, and sports a fingerprint scanner, S Pen stylus in the box, a premium design and an optional keyboard as well.

It's thin and light, making it easy to hold, while Samsung has worked on improving its TouchWiz interface. Stock Android still has the beating of it, but it's a positive step forward, while it can also boast the world's first HDR display on a tablet – making it great for gaming and movies.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review

First reviewed: December 2015

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