(Pocket-lint) - The first Pixel was a Chromebook, launched with a flourish - a shining example of what a Chromebook could be, if you were going to pour everything into it. The arrival of the Pixel C tablet sees a new entrant to Google's Pixel programme, one that's very much following in the footsteps of the original Pixel's ethos.
Like the Chromebook Pixel, the Pixel C is high-end, and designed (in Google's own words) "to rethink an experience". In that sense, the Pixel C is the poster boy for Android tablets. Its existence is to inspire other tablets to be better.
It's probably worth clearing up that Pixel is about Google designing the hardware itself, unlike the Nexus programme, which is about working with a third-party partner to handle the design. So in the Pixel C you have the purest manifestation of what Google thinks an Android tablet should be.
So is the Pixel C the ultimate Android tablet?
Pixel C review: Design
The Pixel C is one of the best looking tablets we've seen and so it should be. It's a showcase device and it has showcase design and build to accompany that.
It measures 242 x 179 x 7mm and weighs 517g, so it's not the lightest tablet around - the similar-sized Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is some 128g lighter - but does have a 10.2-inch, 4:3 display, making it larger than most Android tablets. But it's more iPad Air 2 than it is iPad Pro in terms of scale.
It's easy to liken the Pixel C to the iPad, the best-known tablet that uses a metal body construction. The Pixel C's body is formed from anodised aluminium and it wraps around to meet the glass of the display on the front. There's some bezel around the display, giving enough space for fingers to sit when gripped, but it's a minimalist design.
There's a lovely silky finish to the Pixel C, curving into flattened edges with high quality metal buttons and nicely cut speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack and USB Type-C apertures. Unusually there's no branding to be seen, unlike the bolder stylings of a Nexus device.
That might leave it looking a little plain around the rear, where you'd expect to see something other than just the sparkly finish of the metal, but we're just fine with that. About the only detailing is in the colour Pixel status lights running in a fine strip across the rear-top of the tablet. These are green, yellow, red and blue, making it perfectly clear that you're using a Google flagship. When in standby, this light strip doubles as a battery status indicator - double tap and it will show the charge status.
We love the solid feeling of this tablet, and how well it pairs with the matching keyboard. The Pixel C launches with an optional paired keyboard (£119 extra), again suggesting that this is a device you'll be using for productivity.
Pixel C Keyboard review
One of the clever things about the Pixel C and the Pixel C Keyboard is the mating solution. We've seen all sorts of docks, from ugly options with clips and latches through to others that cleverly use magnets, but we particularly like that Google has gone a step further here.
Turning to magnets to make the secure attachment isn't new, but approximately the rear third of the Pixel C Keyboard is a hinged magnetic plate - so you to stick the keyboard to the tablet section and hinge it to an angle that's convenient for viewing. It means that the weight of the tablet isn't on the far edge - as it is with rear-mounted keyboard docks - so there's effectively an area of metal casing behind to act as a support. It's surprisingly effective and makes a strong enough partnership to not feel like it's going to fall off.
Using magnets also means the whole arrangement can be flipped and the keyboard becomes a screen cover when in transit. That makes for a tidy package when slipped in your bag or ported around tucked under your arm; it's a sleek metal sandwich filled with Android Marshmallow loveliness. However, it's worth noting that the keyboard weighs 399g, making for a combined package that's just under a kilogramme.
The keyboard has no connections (or status lights or anything else) and charges its small internal battery from the tablet when put away face-to-face. It's a tidy solution, but means you never really know what the charge status of the keyboard is and if won't connect then you'll just have to assume that it has run out of battery.
The keyboard uses nicely sized keys, about the same size as standard chiclet keys you'll find on a laptop, which aids typing. They are reasonably spaced and within 30 minutes of use we found ourselves able to type with some speed. There are some fairly small keys in some places though - like the apostrophe and @ symbol - and the smaller right-hand shift key posed us some problems, but that's something you'll adapt to over time.
There isn't a huge range of additional keys - there are no Android navigation keys, for example - but there is a single menu button alongside the cursor keys that will open additional characters and give you access to emoji.
In many cases, the cursor keys will let you move through menu options in Android apps, hitting return to select something, or on the home screen will let you cursor across app shortcuts. You'll still need to hit the recent apps button or home button on screen to navigate around.
So the Pixel C's keyboard is only really designed for typing. Android is still a touch-dominant system and you'll find yourself tapping the tablet's display frequently, with a little wobble in this instance as the hinge isn't as solid as it might be - but given the portability, we're not too concerned about that.
When you're typing away in something like Microsoft Word it's a great experience, but you'll not be using it to fully navigate as you might do a desktop equivalent Windows system, and there's no trackpad (just like the iPad Pro's official keyboard option, then), although you could use a Bluetooth mouse.
As for "lapability", we found it fairly stable on the lap. Again, the placement of the tablet in relation to the keyboard means the weight distribution is better, so it's less likely to topple backwards than something like the Xperia Z4 Tablet.
Pixel C review: Display
As the name might suggest, the Pixel C is very much about the display. There's a 10.2-inch LCD display with a cracking 2,560 x 1,800 pixel resolution (308ppi). That makes this one of the highest resolution tablets around and we love the colour vibrancy of this display.
That means that all content looks lovely and rich. It preserves a level of realism that something like the AMOLED display of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 loses and we think it looks just as punchy as the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet display that we also really liked.
There's a glossy finish to the Pixel C, though, so when it comes to working on the move you'll be battling reflections, but the 500-nits brightness aims to cut through that and we haven't had a problem working next to huge windows when on the move.
Viewing angles are great too and there's bags of resolution, if you can find the apps to make best use of it. That means that everything is nice and sharp, even if the majority of your content might not be using that resolution - especially when it comes to streaming video, for example. However, throw a 4K video at it and you'll be rewarded with plenty of detail to ogle at, or fire-up YouTube and crank the quality up to 1,440 for eye-popping detail.
Pixel C review: Hardware & performance
Those who like to keep track of tablets will know that there has been tendency to equip Android ones with hardware that's out-performed by smartphones, but the Pixel C bucks that trend. Actually, it doesn't just buck that trend, it drags it into the street and kicks it out of town.
The Pixel C has an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor with Maxwell GPU and 3GB of RAM. That's a lot of power to handle things, matching the Nvidia Shield TV, using the same GPU architecture as in Nvidia's GeForce cards.
Certainly, there's no complaints with the performance, only that it can get a little hot. We found a long session on Real Racing 3 saw the tablet warming up on the left-hand side, just where your fingers might sit when playing a racing game. Unless you use the keyboard, of course: the ubiquitous Asphalt 8 will let you use conventional WASD controls, which makes a nice change, and it plays very smoothly too.
The Pixel C has no problem playing 4K video, if you have any to source (and it won't be at pixel-for-pixel scale, obviously). Currently this will mostly be content you've captured yourself (although the tablet itself doesn't offer 4K UHD capture - it tops out at 1080/60p). If you're grabbing 4K video on your phone, it will sync through Google Photos with no problem for your viewing pleasure.
There's a 34.2WHr battery inside and Google says that this will give you over 10-hours of use. We've found that to be the case, happily getting through a day with little trouble in mixed online use. That's a bonus for those looking for a productivity device who want to step out the door and know the Pixel C is going to last. Of course, if it's all gaming the battery life will be shorter.
We've also seen the benefit of Doze (Marshmallow's deep sleep function for apps), which works well for tablets, because they're often sitting active for longer periods than a smartphone. Leave the Pixel C overnight and you'll see very little decline in battery life, which hasn't always been the case in the past.
Google hasn't revealed the mAh value of the battery, but as a comparison, the iPad Air 2 has a 27.3WHr battery, the iPad Pro is 38.5WHr. Those worried about Quick Charge support (a proprietary Qualcomm technology), needn't be, as Nvidia supports rapid charging too. We'll continue using the Pixel C and we'll update the battery performance details should anything alarming appear in longer-term use.
The Pixel C also joins the USB Type-C party, with a single Type-C connector. This will also let you charge your phone, if you have right cable to connect between your devices, and we've used it to top-up the Nexus 6P with no problem.
Pixel C review: Cameras
There are a pair of cameras front and back on the Pixel C, the front placed for you to be able to video conference through Hangouts (for example), when the tablet is in landscape. There's no portrait video happening here, thank you very much.
The rear camera is 8-megapixels and the front is 2-megapixels. We don't put a lot of stock in tablet cameras, generally because they are easily bettered by smartphones, and taking photos is rather awkward, both physically and socially.
As with many tablets, the Pixel C is adequate for ad hoc snapping, but is nothing to get excited about. Indoors the front camera results in plenty of image noise, giving a sort of sickly pallor to selfies as the colours leach out. The rear camera is better, still noisy in lower-light conditions and not doing justice to shots in better conditions. Seriously, use the phone in your pocket instead.
Pixel C review: Software
The Pixel C is a pure Android tablet, designed to show others what could be done. It arrives with Android 6.0.1, the latest version of Android and benefiting from the latest enhancements that Marshmallow brings with it.
We've given Marshmallow a thorough review previously, so we're not going to cover all the detail here, other to say that the Pixel C is lovely and smooth in operation most of the time. There's plenty of power on offer and that makes for an experience that's as slick as the Nexus 6P, most of the time.
We say "most of the time" because we've encountered some slowdown where the tablet hasn't been as responsive to touch as it should be. For example, we've been leafing through photos and found that the swipe practically stopped working. After a restart it was fine. We've seen a dab of unresponsiveness elsewhere too - a touch to update an app in the Play Store that doesn't respond, leading to a second touch to get things going. This has been an intermittent occurrence and always cleared by restarting the tablet, suggesting that something, somewhere, in the software isn't what it should be. However, we've faith in Marshmallow having used it extensively on the new Nexus devices, so hopefully this is an easy fix, or limited to this device.
Importantly, however, we haven't found any problems when we really wanted to get to work. We've opted for Office 365 over Google's own Docs offering, simply because we enjoy the rich apps more when working across platforms. We've been able to dive in and out of documents, creating content without a hitch.
But as this is a device that's partly pitched at productivity, there's a bigger question to be answered over the environment that Android is working in. Will this replace a laptop with a desktop OS? No, we don't believe it will. Android copes well with connectivity (of devices) and handling multiple tasks and files; being able to attach, share and manage things through Google Drive or other cloud repositories with ease, in many cases better than iOS will. Just look at the Storage Access Framework and the open sharing.
What the Pixel C lacks, when pitched against other Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 or the iPad Pro, is the ability to use a split screen mode. We find that makes productivity more of a chore than it might be – you can't have two documents to refer to easily without using the recent apps button. That's ok, but it's not great.
Additionally, when it comes to productivity, and like the iPad Pro, the Pixel C suffers for its mobile platform. This will depend on what you want to do, but as soon as you get to image handling, things pale in comparison to the experience you'd get from the Surface Pro 4 running a full image editing application. Sure, if it's emails on the move, updating spreadsheets or word processing, then the Pixel C will likely cope with all the tasks you throw at it.
Outside of productivity and we've found the aspect of the Pixel C to be lovely for reading. Fire-up a graphic novel or something on the Kindle app and in portrait orientation it's more adept than those 16:9 or 16:10 displays. Conversely, if you're watching movies then you have more wasted space top and bottom, especially if you've watching something in 21:9 or a wider format, but then the quality of the display makes it great for media consumption.
Of course, the Pixel C offers the full run of apps that you get in Google Play, but as a tablet that feels like it's designed to run in landscape - it again points out that not all apps are happy in landscape orientation. Some force you to login in portrait before running in landscape, and some won't switch at all, and this is a position that hasn't really changed much in the last few years.
Overall, the Pixel C offers the benefits of a pure Android software experience, but also takes a few hits along the way because of this. How well it matches the task at hand very much depends on what you're going to ask it to do and, for us, we'll still turn to a laptop as a primary work device.
We love the Pixel C's simple design and think the optional keyboard (£119 extra) has been considerately designed too. For those looking for a lightweight solution to working on the move, this is another contender that's great for productivity, whether crunching through emails or word processing.
That great design is paired with a wonderful display and great Android Marshmallow user experience, also making it ideal for browsing, shopping and gaming. It's got work and play down to a tee.
It's not quite perfect, mind, as productivity does see some barriers presented by the Android platform (no split screen, for example), but its suitability very much depends on what you're looking to do.
Then there's price: some may be deterred by the £399 (32GB) starting price, although the iPad Air 2 costs that much for half the storage. And while the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet bundles a keyboard in its box, the Pixel C - which we're more taken with in terms of design - is comparably priced.
Overall the Google Pixel C is a wonderful tablet. There's quality and power in abundance, setting it above the experience of Google's previous Android tablet, the Nexus 9. Some software tweaks and it would be just about as pixel perfect as a performance tablet could be.