Alongside the Pixel 3 and new Home Hub, Google launched the much-rumoured Pixel Slate. It’s a 12.3in tablet that seems a lot like an evolution of the Pixelbook concept, aimed at those who want a detachable keyboard. It’s also a model which gives Google something to compete against the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro.
But it runs ChromeOS, Google’s own operating system which can also run Android apps, another Google OS. It seems that Android has failed as a tablet OS, and the Slate is Google’s first tablet since the Pixel C.
We spent some time with the Pixel Slate and came away somewhat confused about who would want one and why you’d choose Chrome OS over Windows or iOS.
So there are our initial thoughts, which we’ll turn into a full review when the finished device becomes available.
Pixel Slate: Price & Availability
The entry-level Slate costs US$599. No official UK price has been announced, but it could be £549. And there’s no set release date just yet. It’s “coming later this year”. For the latest, check out the latest news on the Pixel Slate’s release date.
This comes with an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.
But you’ll be able to spec it up to a Core i5, 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. There’s no word on other prices or what the top-end model will cost, but it’s going to be a lot more.
And the official keyboard isn’t cheap: its US$199. That’s a heck of a lot for what is going to be an essential, rather than optional, accessory for most buyers. Add another US$99 for the Pen: this is the same as the one you could buy for the Pixelbook but it’s colour-matched to the Midnight Blue hue in which the Slate comes.
Pixel Slate: Features & Design
At 7mm thick, the Slate feels impossibly thin. As Google says, it’s perfectly balanced thanks to even weight distribution, so it isn’t top-heavy, bottom-heavy or side-heavy. It weighs 721g, or 1.6lb, which is a little lighter than the 12.3in Surface Pro.
Under the artificial light at the London launch it was hard to get a sense of its real colour and just looked black: it’s very dark.
The matt aluminium finish feels great but is instantly covered by fingerprints the moment you pick it up.
You’ll find two USB-C ports, one on either side, a volume rocker on the left, a power button on top with a built-in fingerprint scanner and a pair of 8Mp cameras, one front, one rear.
Conspicuous by its absence is a headphone socket, and there’s no microSD slot. That’s frustrating as you’ll need a USB-C card reader if you want to transfer files – from a GoPro, say – and you can’t expand the internal storage.
The screen is impressive. It uses a similar- if not the same – low-temperature polymer technology (LTPS) as some current smartphones. This allows for the high 3000×2000 pixel resolution, giving a density of 293ppi – higher than the 12.9in iPad Pro.
Colours are vibrant, viewing angles good and detail excellent. There’s no support for HDR which is a shame, but not a deal-breaker.
Flanking the screen are stereo speakers. Because they face you, they sound better than most tablets, but they’re still pretty tinny.
Hardware is all well and good, but the operating system can’t be ignored. Unfortunately, despite the fact that ChromeOS had been breathed upon so it works exclusively on a touchscreen, it still feels unfinished.
Pick up the Slate without a keyboard and you’ll initially find it unintuitive. There’s no obvious home button, and you have to try gestures to see what will happen. Swiping down doesn’t bring up an Android-style control centre – that’s found bottom right because this is ChromeOS.
The home button is found in the bottom-left corner, but during our brief test didn’t always work as expected, bringing up one of the other running apps instead of displaying the home screen on more than one occasion.
Swiping down from the top actually brings up the multitasking screen, and you can drag an app left or right to run two side by side. It depends upon the app as to whether you can resize the divider or not to give one app more space than the other.
In desktop mode, which is automatically enabled when you pop the Slate onto the keyboard, windows can be resized at will, just as with any desktop OS.
Dragging apps and using the multitasking screen resulted in a fair amount of jitter and jerkiness, which we were told should be ironed out by the time the Slate launches.
The specs of the Slate we tried weren’t disclosed, but if it was the Celeron, it does make us wonder if the entry-level model will have enough grunt to get real work done.
Another confusing aspect is that apps can be from the Google Play Store (Android) or the Chrome Web Store. Plus, you’ll spot a tiny grey Chrome icon on some apps, indicating that it’s a web app or website.
The fact Android apps are supported makes a big difference, but many are still not optimised for tablets and treat it like a giant phone.
Compare this to the iOS App Store and the vast amount of software available for Windows and it makes it all the tougher to recommend a ChromeOS-based machine.
Google has added a few features to keep up with other Oses including a Night Light to reduce blue light before bedtime and a Do Not Disturb option. There’s also Family Link, the new parental controls that allow you to keep track of how your kids are using their devices and put limits on how long they use them for.
The keyboard cover has the novelty of circular keys. It looks good, but most importantly is easy to type on and responsive. The layout is similar to a Chromebook, with the top row of keys primarily for controlling navigation on web and media playback. At the bottom you’ll find a Google Assistant Key.
We noticed that the Play/Pause button works if an app (such as Spotify) is in focus, but it doesn’t work if you switch to another app such as Google Docs. Another niggle that will hopefully be ironed out before launch.
There’s a touchpad, something you won’t find on an iPad Pro, which controls the on-screen cursor. Behind the tablet, there’s a flap which acts like a kick-stand and allows you to adjust the tilt to the perfect angle. When closed, though, the cover feels a bit loose and moves around a bit: not really what you’d expect given the high price.
The Pixel Slate is an impressive piece of hardware, and we wouldn’t expect anything less from Google these days. However, software isn’t nearly as polished as its rivals and with some worries over performance, we’ll have to wait for the finished article before we can make a final judgement.