Google's new convertible tablet was built for productivity, with a slick snap-on keyboard that transforms it into a compact laptop. The 10.2-inch Google Pixel C — the "C" stands for "convertible" — looks ready to go head to head with Microsoft's 10.1-inch Surface 3 as a superportable work tablet, but the fact that it runs on the Android operating system might limit its appeal for workers.
The most striking feature of this $499 tablet is its physical keyboard accessory, which will be sold separately for $149. To use the device in Laptop mode, just snap the tablet onto the hinged magnetic plate, which folds up from the back of the keyboard.
The design is decidedly more lap-friendly than Microsoft's kickstand-based Surface devices, since a portion of the Pixel C's keyboard dock sticks out behind the tablet, providing a sturdy base. The magnetic attachment is also really, really strong, so you won't have to worry about the pieces becoming detached while you're moving it around. In addition to Laptop mode, you can snap the keyboard onto the front of the slate so it serves as a screen cover, or snap it onto the back of the tablet to stow it while you use the touch screen alone.
While most 10-inch keyboards feature severely undersized keys that are ultimately uncomfortable for extended typing sessions, Google managed to squeeze in a larger QWERTY layout by shrinking down some function keys and removing some symbol keys from the keyboard entirely. The bracket keys are gone, and the enter and shift keys have been downsized to occupy less space at the edges of the layout. You can still access the missing keys by tapping the symbols key, located to the right of the spacebar, which calls up an extended keyboard on the touch screen.
And you'd better get used to tapping that touch screen if you want to use the Pixel C for work, since it lacks a touchpad. Like the iPad Pro, Google's hybrid will require users to reach across the keyboard for precise taps while editing a document or browsing their email inbox. It's a serviceable solution for a travel-friendly device like the Pixel C, but I wonder how many people will be satisfied working without a mouse. Of course, like all Android devices, this one can always be paired with a Bluetooth mouse.
The tablet itself features a nice 10.1-inch IPS display with a sharp resolution of 2,560 x 1,800 pixels, and a quad-core Tegra X1 processor that should provide really zippy performance for everyday work tasks.
But while the hardware looks nice, the Pixel C's software might be the deal breaker for some workers. The slate runs on Google's Android operating system — the same OS that powers Android smartphones. To be sure, Android has an excellent selection of business and productivity apps, including full-featured versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. But if you rely on a particular piece of PC or Mac software to do your job, Android might not cut it. It also lacks basic multitasking features like the ability to run two windows side by side — at least for now. Rumors suggest this feature could be added for the upcoming release of Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
The Pixel C is set to launch before the end of the year, starting at $499, with the keyboard accessory sold separately for $149. That will put it in direct competition with Microsoft's $499 Surface 3 and $129 Type Cover keyboard.