|Google’s latest Chrome OS convertible sings all the right notes that swoon on-the-go users, but its glitchy operating system ruins the melody after just hours of use. The Chrome OS in the Pixel Slate feels unrefined and unpolished. Its spendthrift price leaves me wanting, too, especially considering that the expensive Pixel Slate Keyboard cover is almost necessary for productivity. I’d recommend staying away from this one for now, or at least until Google patches the OS or drops the price.|
Google Pixel Slate at a glance
|Device||Google Pixel Slate|
|Processor||Up to an Intel Core i7-8500Y|
|Graphics||Intel UHD Graphics 615|
|RAM||Up to 16GB|
|Storage||Up to 256GB SSD|
|Display||12.3″ 3,000 x 2,000 IPS touchscreen|
1x 3.5mm microphone/headphone jack
|Weight||Tablet: 1.6 lbs
Pixel Slate Keyboard: 1.1 lbs
|Price||Starts at $849 for the tablet, $259 for the keyboard|
Chromebooks are well-known in budget-end computing. Nimble, inexpensive, and powered by the lightweight Chrome OS, they are immensely popular in the education and businesses sectors.
With that said, Google is keen on tugging Chromebooks out of the budget category and into the hands of premium users. It started by introducing the Pixelbook, a premium convertible Chromebook with high-end specs. Now, in 2018, it’s releasing the Pixel Slate to contend in the tablet PC market.
Gilded in a shimmering, navy coat, the Pixel Slate is bland no matter how you spin it. And while its silky texture is pleasant in the hand, it’s awful at avoiding fingerprints. Since it’s a tablet PC that will undoubtedly be passed from one hand to another, keep a piece of microfiber cloth handy to keep the Pixel Slate presentable.
The aluminum rear panel curves around the back and joins with the gorilla glass front display, creating a smooth, rounded contour that’s both easy and comfortable to hold.
Glance too fast (like I did), and you’ll miss the camera subtly tucked-away at the top left corner. The lens sits flush against the case and does not cause wobble when the device is sitting flat.
Two phenomenal front-facing speakers flank the Pixel Slate on either side. They feature booming volume and sharp highs, clear mids, and relatively impactful bass. Of course, it can’t compare to a dedicated high-end stereo system, but it can definitely serve as a decent little boombox.
A white power button sits at the top left, undoubtedly to offset the otherwise plain color scheme. It doubles as a fingerprint reader, and is recessed to be easier to locate.
At 1.6 lbs, the Pixel Slate is by no means heavy, but one-handed use is still clunky. When you hold it by one edge, the uneven distribution of weight is straining to hold. Either work on your lap, or build up your arm strength at the gym.
The Pixel slate touts a new 12.3″ “molecular” display. And while it isn’t fine enough to dissect objects at an atomic level, it’s still plenty sharp for everyday viewing.
After being spoiled by displays on phones like the Google Pixel 3 XL and the Apple iPhone XS, not having an HDR-certified display on the Pixel Slate is disappointing.
What’s more troubling, however, is the laggy touch responsiveness in docked mode. If you swipe too quickly, then the Pixel Slate will simply register it as a click. There are significant delays between the start of a long swipe and when the content actually starts to move. This makes the whole system feel extremely sluggish and unresponsive. But since the touchscreen is perfectly responsive in tablet mode, this issue could most likely be fixed with a software update.
Adding to the problems list is the ambient light sensor’s insistence for the dimmest backlight setting possible. It would constantly over dim the backlights. In an office with overhead lights, it dimmed the display to a point where content became hard to see. Dimming the backlights excessively also increase glare visibility.
While exceedingly annoying, most of these issues could be addressed a software update. I just wished that Google had the courtesy to fix them before I had to review it.
Ever since Google strong-armed with Intel to support Chrome OS, Chromebooks now almost exclusively use Intel processors.
The processor stack being offered with the Pixel Slate is no different. Our review unit is outfitted with an Intel Core i5-8200Y processor, 8GB RAM, and 128GB SSD. Note that the “Y” suffix not only indicates that it consumes less power than processors with the “U” suffix, but that it’s also a dual-core chip as opposed to quad-core.
Dual-core processors have lower multi-threaded performance, but they also use much less power. It also makes sense for Chrome OS, a low-power processor makes the best sense.
Because Chromebooks run their own operating system, we can’t directly compare their scores to Macs and Windows PCs. Nonetheless, the Pixel Slate received 4,133 and 8,020 in GeekBench 4’s single and multi-threaded test respectively.
Software and features
Chrome OS on the Pixel Slate is…interesting. I will dive into my experience with the Pixel Slate with great detail. Got your scuba gear? Good. Let’s do this.
Chrome OS is a Linux-based operating system that uses the Google Chrome browser as its main interface. It tagetes users who primarily live online and perform general productivity. While most professional work is out of the question, it’s still able to edit photos using Lightroom and Photoshop.
That brings us to Chrome OS’ greatest strength: Android app support. If you’ve ever dreamed of using your favorite apps on a large 12” display, then you’re in luck. Chrome OS supports nearly every popular Android app on the market – albeit not perfectly. We’ll get to that later.
For now, let’s focus on what Chrome OS does really well. For one, it’s extremely lightweight, which means it meshes well with lower-end hardware. Case in point: It can easily run on an Intel Celeron processor. This is important, as it enables ultra-affordable devices.
The Chrome browser is already familiar to many uses, so although there’s a learning curve, it’s not as steep as relearning an entirely new operating system. The Chrome browser in Chrome OS supports the same functionalities and extensions from the Chrome Web Store, which is where you get a majority of apps from. Its primary interface is also very similar to a desktop many are accustomed to.
It also enables you to do anything you can do via a browser. If you frequently access a mainframe, then the Pixel Slate can easily double as a thin client. The browser also fully supports VPN and proxy configurations for accessing enterprise networks.
There’s also – get this – a Linux Mode that can be activated through the Settings pane. It basically creates a virtual machine that lets you use Linux apps. I tested it out with some basic Linux commands and found it to be usable. Still, I can’t test its stability so I would advise against relying on it for mission-critical work.
The Pixel Slate can support up to a 256GB SSD, which isn’t a whole lot by today’s standards. With Google Drive built directly into the file explorer, it’s clear that the idea is to store most of the data in the cloud.
If you have a connected Pixel phone, a Chromebook can automatically pair with it and use its LTE data. The automatic pairing feature is restricted to Pixel phones, however.
Chrome OS supplies many features of a modern operating system. Features like split-screen, a full file explorer, extensive keyboard shortcuts, and a fleshed out taskbar makes for a comfortable navigation experience. It also supports multiple user accounts and guest mode.
Now, let’s move onto the darker side of Chrome OS.
Because Android support is relatively new, some apps haven’t come to terms with its support yet. Apps like Hangouts, Instagram, and a few others don’t expand to full screen in landscape mode. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some apps can only function in fullscreen mode.
Chrome OS has many new features, but it’s still trailing behind Windows, macOS, and even most Linux distributions. Features like virtual workspaces have been hotly requested for years, but Google is still holding out on them.
Finally, no support for Windows apps and virtualization can cause headaches in enterprise environments. It still fits in great at a basic service level, but move one or two steps higher and it just won’t suffice.
This one may be specific to the Pixel Slate, but I was taken aback by its bugginess. A few times, it would freeze up when I switched from portrait to landscape mode. Split screen would occasionally cause the system to spasm as well.
Thermals, noise, and throttling
Since the Pixel Slate is passively cooled, its operation is completely silent.
Due to its passive heatsink, the Pixel Slate gets warm quite easily. It gets hot when it’s charging and updating apps from the Google Play store at the same time. It got even hotter when I messed around in Lightroom mobile.
But that’s to be expected. If the surface doesn’t get hot, then it means it’s not doing a good job at transferring heat.
With a massive 48Wh battery, the Pixel Slate can last forever on a single charge. It easily carried through my work day consisting of writing, emailing, streaming, and social media. After practically using it non-stop from nine to five, it still had 25 per cent of life left.
Included in the box is a 60W USB-C charger. The charger can be connected using the USB-C ports on either side of the tablet. Charging from zero to 100 per cent took just a little more than an hour – an impressive feat considering the size of the battery.
Connectivity and I/O
There are two USB-C ports flanking the sides of the tablet, both of which support charging and can drive up to an external 4K display.
Google, just like Apple, now hates the headphone jack and is removing it from all its devices. The Pixel Slate is the latest victim to lose the ancient yet useful connector. For a machine that Google claims that is “built for work and play”, there sure isn’t a lot of flexibility.
The Pixel Slate’s rear camera is a poor choice for practicing photography. Whip out this beast at a concert and you’re sure to draw some laughs. Nevertheless, it’s still useful for occasionally scanning a document or QR codes.
The front camera will see more action in various VoIP clients, though, and it finally re-orients to keep you upright regardless of the tablet’s orientation. This is absolutely crucial for when switching between docked and tablet mode during video calls.
Image quality, however, is less than stellar. Its detail level is actually quite good, and the wide field of view helps for group conferences. But the white balance and shoddy exposure really mess with visibility and colors.
Keyboard, trackpad, and pen
“Expensive” doesn’t even begin to describe the Pixel Slate Keyboard. The arguably essential keyboard cover costs $259 (Yep, that’s not a typo). This exorbitantly priced accessory has circular keys instead of square ones, ostensibly shaped after the remaining dollar figure in your wallet after Google’s done gouging it.
Pricing aside, the keyboard itself is excellent. It’s tactile, yet still soft and cushioned when bottomed out. In place of the function keys is a row of shortcut buttons that provide quick access to actions like refresh, zoom, and task view. They can be switched back to the old function row if you desire a more traditional experience.
The keyboard cover’s interior is lined with soft fabric to protect the Pixel Slate’s aluminum finish. It uses two large magnets – one at the connector and one at the rear – to tightly grip on to the Pixel Slate. The magnets are extremely sturdy and should not break even when dangled by the cover alone.
One thing I dislike about the keyboard is how it shifts around when closed. There are spacers to keep the keys from rubbing against the screen, but I would’ve liked to see as little movement as possible.
Want to draw on the Pixel Slate? Be prepared to fork over another $99 for the Pixel Pen. Google ported the smooth, round design of its keyboard directly onto the pen’s metal barrel. It feels well-made and has good weight, which goes a long way in making long-term use comfortable. With that said, it doesn’t attach magnetically onto the tablet, and its cylindrical design is likely to roll off your desk.
The pen itself also needs some work. Its circular button is too prone to accidental presses since it sits flush against the barrel. Intriguingly, the side button can’t activate when the pen tip is against the screen. The real issue, however, is that it constantly misses strokes, and resting your palm on the display can throw registration into disarray. What a disaster.
Price and competition
Compared to most other Chromebooks equipped with paltry Intel Celeron processors, our Pixel Slate review unit stands in a league of its own. Its competitors, then, are the more powerful devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro, Surface Go, iPad Pro, and ultra high-end Android tablets.
The only similarity between the Pixel Slate and the Microsoft Surface Pro is their form factor. Otherwise, the Surface Pro 6 completely trounces the Pixel Slate with its overwhelming advantages in hardware and productivity. The Surface Type Cover keyboard is $100 cheaper, and the Surface Pen is leagues above the Pixel Pen. The Pixel does have a small edge in battery life, though, but even then it’s not by much. When a similarly-configured Surface Pro 6 is $130 cheaper and uses a far superior processor, there’s simply no compelling reason to pick the Google Pixel Slate if you’re a power user.
The Pixel slate is superior out the iPad Pro in that it supports external devices and mice. In addition, its keyboard sports a trackpad, something the iPad sorely lacks. With that said, the Apple pencil is infinitely better than the Pixel pen, and iOS just feels more stable and more refined than Chrome OS. The iPad is also lighter, has thinner bezels, and uses an HDR display. It is, however, more expensive than the Google Pixel Slate if you opt for the 12.9” model. The smaller 11″ model is less expensive, but it also has less screen area.
The Google Pixel Slate faces even more resistance when compared to the Pixelbook, which is currently on sale. At the cost of a marginal processor downgrade, you get double the storage and a keyboard and for $300 less (i5 model).
Relative to other Chromebook hardware, the Google Pixel Slate is fantastic. Though its uninspiring design isn’t exactly runway worthy, its solid specs keep its competitiveness against laptop and ultrabooks.
As far as I can tell, the Chromebook targets general end-users who perform lightweight productivity tasks. Its excellent compatibility with low-end hardware strengthens its main appeal – cost efficiency.
This makes it difficult to answer who exactly the Pixel Slate is designed for. As fantastic as its hardware is, most users would gain more functionality out of a Windows PC at a similar price point.
With that said, the Pixel Slate may have a compelling effect on introducing Chrome OS to a whole new form factor. With mobile chipsets becoming more powerful, Chrome OS could provide functions similar to a laptop in more portable devices.
If that’s indeed the case, then Google needs to do a lot more work on Chrome OS before it can be considered stable enough for higher-level productivity. With a myriad of bugs and glitches, there are heaps of room for improvement. At its current stage, Chrome OS feels like a barely furnished house without a door.
Therefore, in the meantime, the Google Pixel Slate is firmly seated as a novelty item. It’s great to see Google making a push forward, but unless you’re dead-set on a premium Chrome OS experience and can overlook the buggy software, pick up something else.