The Pixel Slate is, in a word, flawed. It’s not a very good laptop; the official keyboard case is nigh-unusable on anything but a completely flat surface, far too bulky for most airline trays, and the folding fabric kickstand can make balancing it a precarious affair. Nor is it an especially good tablet, with Chrome OS’s full-touch experience making it feel more like an unfinished software science experiment than a real first generation product.
Buggy Bluetooth, strange screen tearing, and frustrating tablet web browsing take what has already been a disappointing experience and make it downright frustrating. How can a product so closely related to Google’s wonderful Pixelbook - and in many real ways, superior to it - be so much worse? That’s the story of the Pixel Slate, and it’s one that I explore in depth in my larger analysis of the product and Chrome OS platform you can read here.
This, though, is our review, and I won’t leave you hanging: this isn’t something you should buy.
|Display||12.3" 3000x2000 "Molecular LCD"|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0 Type C|
|Battery||10 hours claimed (48 watt hour)|
|Price||$599-1599 (does not include keyboard)|
|Design||Love or hate the blue color, the Pixel Slate looks and feels like a premium tablet - it's incredibly solid and is easily the most refined large display device Google has ever built.|
|Display||The 12.3" "molecular" display has a ridiculous name, but it's simply gorgeous. This is the best screen you can get on any Chrome OS device right now.|
|Fingerprint scanner||It's fast and works reliably, even if the placement feels pretty weird when you're using the Slate as a laptop.|
|Battery life||It's been very solid for me - the Pixel Slate easily meets its 10-hour in-use estimate that Google advertises, and with judicious brightness and tab management, I'm sure it could go longer.|
|Bad laptop||The Pixel Slate is a bit of a nightmare to use as a laptop. It's thick, heavy, and has to be used on a flat surface with its fabric keyboard cover - making it a laptop you can't use... in your lap. Or many other places.|
|Worse tablet||Android apps on Chrome OS still feel like janky augments to supplement Chrome's shortcomings, not a content value-add. The desktop Chrome browser is not a good tablet web browser experience as it stands now.|
|Expensive||I haven't used the $599 entry-level Celeron model with 4GB of RAM, but even that seems an insane amount of money to spend on a tablet that's bad at being a tablet.|
|Buggy||Reviewers have consistently complained of major Bluetooth bugs on the Slate, and I can confirm: paired devices drop connection for no reason and require rebooting the Slate to recover. This is really poor form in 2018 - Google should have Bluetooth figured out.|
Hardware, design, and features
The Pixel Slate is the first tablet designed by Google since the cult-hit Pixel C. That device was allegedly supposed to run Chrome OS from the get go, but was later given Android, likely because the team developing it felt the Chrome platform wasn’t ready for tablets (hindsight is 20/20, but that may have been a wise band-aid to rip off).
The all-new Pixel Slate is bigger, faster, and better in nearly every way than the old NVIDIA-powered Android tablet. The Slate’s ultra high-res display is absolutely gorgeous, its dual front-facing speakers are loud and full, and a bevy of Intel processor options - my pick would be the $799 64GB Core m3 model with 8GB of RAM - price it competitively with devices like the iPad Pro and Surface Pro. It has two USB-C ports, a battery that lasts for ages, and a slick and sturdy physical design that, despite a propensity for smudge accumulation, I find to be a nice take on the Pixel team’s understated aesthetic. Oh, and the fingerprint scanner is pretty good, even if it is weird to have it on the top of your screen when you’re using it as a laptop.
This is where things start to fall apart, though. The Pixel Slate is a very nice 12.3” tablet… until you realize that a 12.3” tablet is too large for tasks like reading or gaming for any extended period (though the Slate is great for watching video). A 12.3” tablet not being used as a laptop replacement is an utter waste for most people. It takes up just as much room as a laptop and weighs basically as much because you have to put a case on it (unless you’re some kind of crazy person). And when you want to use it as a laptop, it’s invariably worse than a real laptop because all the weight is in the screen component. That means using a third-party hinge keyboard like the Brydge (I still haven’t had a chance to try it, but Bluetooth is so broken on the Slate that I really don’t want to) or a first-party solution like Google’s fabric keyboard case.
The Slate's keyboard case is nicer to type on than I expected. That's the only good thing I have to say about it.
Google’s official keyboard case is, if I’m being kind, nicer to type on than I’d expected. Key presses are surprisingly tactile and the trackpad is pretty good. Everything else about it is basically awful. It slides all over the display when used as a case, ensuring you will eventually scratch your screen with dirt and debris (bizarrely, all the other magnets holding it together require hulk strength to budge). The kickstand is far too large, making it wholly unsuitable for small workspaces like airline trays. It’s useless on basically anything that isn’t a completely flat surface - it’s a laptop you can’t put in your lap. The magnets keeping the assembly together are unreasonably strong, and I sent the Slate backflipping onto the floor the first day I got it because of the crazy amount of force necessary to adjust the kickstand. Getting the tablet out of the case is an equally harrowing experience, with the feeling one of the two pieces is going be hurled across the room unless the most delicate and precise motions are used. Google assures me that in user testing most people eventually got a feel for it. I still have not and am actually afraid to take the Slate out of the case unless I know it has something soft to land on should I drop it.
Software, performance, and battery life
Where to start! Chrome OS is still my favorite laptop operating system, and the Pixel Slate is actually a pretty competent Chromebook when used with an external keyboard or monitor. It’s fast, responsive, and while I’m not a big fan of the widescreen aspect ratio for work (4:3 is much preferred), there’s enough room here to Get Stuff Done. I’m actually typing up my review on the Slate mid-air, and aside from the tightrope balancing act with the folio case, it’s just like using any other Chromebook.
I’ve not encountered any real performance issues (some have said the tablet gets weirdly slow when you undock it, but I don’t agree with that assessment), and my i5 review unit is essentially just a slightly-faster version of the Core m3 model. I’ve asked Google to send me the slowest Slate - the 32GB/4GB Celeron SKU that starts at $599 - because I want to see if there’s any real performance difference worth noting. Those Celeron models lack support for hyperthreading, and with half the RAM I do wonder if the Slate’s ultra high-resolution screen could see things get a bit sluggish with a good number of tabs open.
In-use battery life has also been very good for me. Google estimates 10 hours, and I'm easily getting that much. That's a long time to go on a charge (substantially longer than the Pixelbook), and I think battery life is one area where the Pixel Slate has left me feeling satisfied.
If none of this sounds too damning, don’t worry! We’re getting to the bad parts; namely, using this thing as a tablet. Chrome OS just isn’t ready for full-time tablet duty, and that’s largely because the desktop web isn’t ready, either. Most of the “full” web, as Google likes to call it, isn’t very well touch-optimized. Our point-and-click internet has persisted for decades, and while more and more websites are adopting responsive layouts, touch-optimized buttons and scrolling, and reducing their reliance on aging web plugins, we’re still not out of the woods yet. A lot of the web feels very unsuited to a Chrome tablet as a result: touch targets are too small, often don’t respond (or respond far too aggressively), scrolling is wonky, pages render at unpredictable scales, and Chrome itself just feels like a chore to interact with on a touchscreen, with all its UI hardpoints nestled at the very edge of the screen.
The desktop web wasn’t designed for tablets, and neither were desktop browsers. It shows. Google will be adding a toggle to request the tablet version of a webpage on the Pixel Slate (and other touch-enabled Chrome devices), but that feels backward considering Google’s marketing narrative. The "full” web is one of the Slate’s biggest advantages over the iPad Pro according to Google. And so they’re adding an option to get the “un-full” web. I’m not saying the feature won’t be useful, but that there’s obviously a reason tablets to date have used mobile web browsers.
Android apps are not the silver bullet to Chrome's tablet transition - they're janky and generally to be used as a last resort.
But what about Android apps? After all, most people seem convinced that’s the big sell with a Chrome tablet. You can use all your Android apps instead of those janky websites, right? Wrong. Most Android apps simply provide massively blown-up phone interfaces when you maximize them, and those are about as pleasant or efficient to use on a 12.3” screen as a stretched mobile site would be. And all those video services like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon work far better in the browser anyway (lack of download support aside) - the Netflix app doesn’t even support HD streaming on the Pixel Slate.
Android apps have always been a small part of the larger Chrome OS picture. They’re an augment, a "Plan B" in the event the web can’t give you what you want (and, I suppose, for games). Anyone expecting that Android apps on Chrome OS are suddenly a workable tablet solution in their own right probably hasn’t thought through the fact that most Android apps haven’t optimized their interfaces for tablets since Jelly Bean. Yes, it’s just as bad as you remember, and quite possibly worse - many apps launch at phone scale and resize poorly (or not at all). No, you don’t want to use the Gmail app on the Pixel Slate - the web view is way more functional. The same goes for Google Maps, YouTube, Drive, and basically all the others. No amount of wishful thinking is going to turn the Pixel Slate into Android’s iPad, because the tablet apps never came, and the Pixel Slate absolutely will not change that. Google isn’t secretly working on a tablet Gmail, guys.
Chrome OS as a tablet operating system just isn't there yet.
Finally, let’s talk bugs. I’ve had largely innocuous but still annoying graphical glitches like screen tearing, and much more substantive issues like Bluetooth, which is so broken on the Slate that it’s basically not worth using. Devices randomly disconnect and the Slate has to be rebooted to reacquire them - frequently. That’s completely ridiculous. I’ve not tested them, but I’ve heard from others that external monitor support is also currently wonky at best.
Should you buy it?
Nope. I understand why Google built the Pixel Slate, and I really believe it had to in order to get the ball rolling on this whole touch optimization thing for Chrome. Without a touch-first device, Chrome OS is never going to get good on touch devices. And I knew that the first such devices would likely be janky, underwhelming, and generally a disappointment to use. That’s how these things go: that first big step is the hardest, and with time and experience, the next ones come more easily. Chrome OS will get better on tablets, given time.
Not only did Google ship a product with an OS that clearly just isn’t quite ready for a tablet form factor, it did so in a way that feels unfinished and, at times, broken.
But that doesn’t mean the Slate gets a pass. Not only did Google ship a product with an OS that clearly just isn’t quite ready for a tablet form factor, it did so in a way that feels unfinished and, at times, broken. Unlike the Pixelbook, which was at least a very pleasant laptop despite some rough edges that have since largely been smoothed, the Pixel Slate doesn’t have strong core competencies to fall back on. It’s not a very good laptop that is also a much worse tablet (at least for anything but Netflix binging). This is not encouraging. Google’s had years to get Chrome OS ready for touch devices, and the changes they’ve made all seem to have appeared in the last six months as part of a loosely-coordinated effort to piece together a few features and interface changes, not some kind of larger overhaul.
This may be a weakness of the Chrome OS approach, which has been doggedly iterative from the beginning. Features drip out one or two at a time in monthly releases, which is great for users in some respects - new stuff comes often - but it’s quite possibly counterproductive when more fundamental, long-term changes of direction are necessary. It’s easy to see how the Chrome team could lose the forest for the trees, and that could squander an opportunity for Chrome OS to lead the next generation of personal computing.
Chromebooks have come a long way in the eight years since they were introduced, and so has the web that powers them. I don’t think Google can afford eight years to get it right this time. I have no doubt the Pixel Slate will get better with subsequent releases, and I plan to make an effort to use it regularly and see how Google evolves and updates the experience (I’m updating to the Beta channel as I write this). I just hope they move a little faster and more aggressively, because this product needs help.