Google Pixel Slate hands-on: This is what the next gen­er­a­tion of An­droid tablets feels like

The An­droid tablet is dead. Long live the An­droid tablet.

PCWorld (USA) - - News Google Pixel 3 Xl Vs. Galaxy Note 9 Vs. Iphon - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

Three years af­ter Google re­leased its first Pixel-branded An­droid tablet ( go.pcworld.com/pxlc), it’s back with an­other one. This time it’s called the Pixel Slate ( go.pcworld. com/pxsl), but it doesn’t run An­droid 9 Pie ( go.pcworld.com/9pie). It runs Chrome OS.

You wouldn’t know it look­ing at it. Ly­ing on a ta­ble, the Pixel Slate looks just like the Pixel C or any other 4:3 An­droid tablet, with uni­form black bezels all around, four pogo pins, and a USB-C port in the cor­ner. It’s only upon closer in­spec­tion that you re­al­ize just how dif­fer­ent the Pixel Slate re­ally is.

It starts with the color. Google is of­fer­ing only one op­tion on the Pixel Slate and it’s a good one: mid­night blue. It’s very dark but not quite black, and has a shim­mery qual­ity to it that re­flects light nicely. It’s one of the nicest col­ors I’ve ever seen in a tablet. I can’t help but wish it were an op­tion on the Pixel 3, too, in­stead of the mid­dle-of-the-road Not Pink.

The Slate has a 12.3-inch dis­play, but its thin, uni­form chas­sis be­lies its size. I would’ve guessed it was a 10-inch tablet rather than a 12-inch one, due to its thin­ness and curved edges that rested nicely in my palm. I rolled my eyes when Google boasted about the “per­fectly bal­anced cen­ter of grav­ity,” but hold­ing the Pixel Slate was sur­pris­ingly com­fort­able. It ac­tu­ally does feel lighter than its 1.6-pound weight.

Like the Pixel 3, the Slate has front-fir­ing stereo speak­ers, a rar­ity on a tablet. It was im­pos­si­ble to test them in the loud demo room, but if they’re any­thing like the Pixel speak­ers, they’ll more than hold their own.

The dis­play takes up much of the front of the Pixel Slate, and it’s a good one. Re­ally good. With 293ppi, it’s one of the high­estres­o­lu­tion screens you’ll find in any tablet, and it’s higher than those in most lap­tops, too. Google calls it a Molec­u­lar Dis­play, which is lit­tle more than fancy mar­ket­ing lingo like Ap­ple’s Liq­uid Retina, but it’s none­the­less an ex­cel­lent screen.

A LIT­TLE AN­DROID MIXED IN

But all that awe­some hard­ware would have been ru­ined if it ran An­droid Pie in­stead of Chrome. Chrome OS means that the Slate gets In­tel pro­ces­sors (Celeron, or 8th-gen Core m3, i5, or i7) in­stead of un­der­pow­ered Snap­dragon ones, and a proper UI. The per­for­mance im­prove­ments over any An­droid-based tablet will be pal­pa­ble, es­pe­cially if you opt for the top-of-the-line model with 16GB of RAM.

Chrome OS on the Pixel Slate just makes a whole lot more sense than An­droid on the Pixel C ever did. The An­droid tablet ex­pe­ri­ence has al­ways been some­thing of a let­down, thanks to an in­ter­face that doesn’t take proper ad­van­tage of the big screen and apps that are op­ti­mized for smart­phones. The Pixel Slate doesn’t have that prob­lem. Chrome OS is built for both touch and big screens, and the Pixel Slate’s breezy, light­weight in­ter­face has been retooled to make the home screen ba­si­cally nonex­is­tent when us­ing it as a tablet.

For ex­am­ple, when you’re us­ing an app, there’s no real home screen like on an An­droid phone. In­stead, tap­ping the home but­ton takes you to the app drawer, and swip­ing down on the app drawer takes you to the most re­cently used app. You can switch apps via the dock or the mul­ti­tasker, but the OS al­ways ex­pects you to be us­ing your tablet for some­thing. It’s kind of like if Google took away the abil­ity to press the home but­ton when us­ing An­droid Pie’s ges­ture nav­i­ga­tion.

It sounds con­fus­ing and con­found­ing on pa­per, but in prac­tice it’s quite in­tu­itive. With no in­struc­tion, I stum­bled at first but quickly got the hang of it and in­stantly saw the ben­e­fit of bring­ing the app switcher to the forefront. I’ll need more time with it to learn all the ins and outs, but my first im­pres­sion is that Google is closer to merg­ing An­droid and Chrome than we think. For ex­am­ple, all the

apps I was us­ing were down­loaded from the Play Store.

Granted, that’s noth­ing new for Chrome OS, but Google is giv­ing them much more promi­nence on the Pixel Slate. I only had a few min­utes with it, but it felt like the be­gin­nings of the An­droid-chrome OS hy­brid we’ve been wait­ing for. There are lit­tle An­droid touches on dis­play all over the Pixel Slate: Do Not Dis­turb and Night Light, built-in virus pro­tec­tion, Google Play sup­port, back­ground up­dates, the Ti­tan se­cu­rity chip for “closed loop” pro­tec­tion—but it doesn’t feel like a big phone or even a flipped-around Chrome­book.

A PEEK AT THE FU­TURE

The Pixel Slate is an out-of-the-box tablet, but if you con­nect it to a Pixel Slate Key­board, it be­comes like its cousin, the Pix­el­book. The tablet UI gives way to a tra­di­tional desk­top, and the back­lit key­board en­cour­ages you to use the track­pad rather than poke at the screen. Typ­ing on the Pixel Slate Key­board is as com­fort­able as it is on the Pix­el­book, with good travel for the keys and a soft sound when pressed. You can also use the

Pix­el­book Pen, which comes in a new color to match the Slate. There’s still no place to at­tach it to the tablet, with or with­out the key­board.

The Pixel Slate starts at $599, but that’s ob­vi­ously for the low­est-end con­fig­u­ra­tion: an In­tel Celeron pro­ces­sor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of stor­age. Most peo­ple will want to spend a lit­tle more on the $799 model, which brings an 8th-gen Core m3 pro­ces­sor, 8GB of RAM, and 64GB of stor­age, a nice boost for $200. The top-of-the-line model with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and 256GB of stor­age costs an eye-pop­ping $1,599. Add the $199 key­board and $99 sty­lus and you’re up to $1,899. That’s a heck of a lot of money for a tablet.

Still, the Pixel Slate might be the start of a new era of com­put­ing. Sev­eral times dur­ing its pre­sen­ta­tion, Google took shots at an in­ter­face “that was built for a phone.” That’s a crack at Ap­ple’s IOS for sure, but it’s as much an ad­mis­sion that An­droid on tablets just doesn’t cut it. Chrome OS, with a lit­tle bit of An­droid mixed in, just might.

The Pixel Slate has a 12.3-inch screen but it’s sur­pris­ingly com­fort­able to hold.

If you cir­cle some­thing with the Pixel Pen, Google As­sis­tant will look it up.

The power but­ton dou­bles as a fin­ger­print sen­sor.

The Pixel Slate’s key­board wraps around to dou­ble as a case.

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