Front-facing speakers play nice and loud • Hardware is well-built • Has two USB-C ports
Buggy software • Pricey for the Core i5 and i7 models • Official keyboard is expensive and sucks
Google’s Pixel Slate is a wannabe Surface Pro that doesn’t impress in hardware or software.
As a reviewer, I can tell which configuration of a new gadget a company expects to do well based on the model they send me to test out.
Spoiler alert: If there are multiple models with different specs, it’s almost never the cheapest version with the weakest performance.
For the Pixel Slate tablet, Google sent me the $999 model — the one with an 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. That’s understandable; if I were Google, I wouldn’t want reviewers testing the $599 version either. Its puny Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and paltry 32GB of storage sounds insufficient on every level.
The $699 and $799 versions, with Intel Celeron and 8th-gen Intel Core m3 chips and double the RAM and storage, are better, but having tried other Chromebooks and laptops with those specs, I doubt it’s much better on the Pixel Slate.
Which leaves the two upper-tier versions: the $999 model I tested and the top-of-the-line $1,599 model with an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 chip, 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
Running Chrome OS and Android apps gives the Pixel Slate quite an edge over even Apple’s latest iPad Pros for laptop-type tasks. But it’s nowhere near as versatile as a Surface Pro 6 and Windows 10, which starts at $899 for the same specs. The Surface Pro’s Touch Keyboard also starts at $129 compared to the Slate’s $199 keyboard, and Microsoft’s keyboard is better in every possible way.
After using Google’s 2-in-1 for about a week, I’m sticking to my initial impressions: Last year’s Pixelbook is the still the better computer and gets you more for your money. For $999, you get a clamshell laptop with a built-in keyboard and a touchscreen that folds 360-degrees backwards into a tablet when you want one.
And at the time of this publishing, Google’s offering a $300 discount off all Pixelbook configurations, making the laptop an ever sweeter deal starting at $699.
Not quite an iPad Pro or Surface Pro
Forgive me for me not being wowed by the Pixel Slate. I mean, it’s a tablet with a 12.3-inch “Molecular Display” wrapped in a thin and sturdy aluminum chassis.
Google’s made a very nice tablet, but that doesn’t surprise me because the company has been building its own hardware for several years now.
The Pixel Slate is still no iPad Pro, though. Apple’s latest iPad Pros are thinner (0.23 inches versus 0.27 inches) and have narrower bezels all around the display.
That’s not to say the Pixel Slate doesn’t have a leg up on the iPad Pros in some departments. The Slate has a responsive fingerprint reader embedded in the recessed power button. The stereo speakers are loud and front-facing. And there are two USB-C ports as opposed to the iPad Pro’s one.
These are great features that the iPad Pro doesn’t have, but none of them are features I can’t live without. I prefer Face ID over the fingerprint reader and it’s unfortunate the Pixel Slate has no face unlocking feature of any kind. The iPad Pro’s quad speakers fire out of the side and sound louder and clearer in my opinion. And while having two USB-C ports is nice, especially for charging and connecting an accessory like a memory card reader at the same time, I could live without the extra port on a tablet.
RIP headphone jack, though. Both the new iPad Pros and Pixel Slate ditch the connector — another blow for the formerly universal audio port after Apple’s now legendary “act of courage” to remove it from the iPhone back in 2016.
No doubt, the Pixel Slate is Google’s most beautiful and polished tablet hardware to date, but it doesn’t break any new ground. Both the iPad Pro and Surface Pro do the tablet form factor better. And the Surface Pro kicks everyone’s butt with its excellent built-in kickstand.
Average at every turn
Where the Pixel Slate stumbles the most is software polish. It doesn’t seem finished and I experienced quite a few bugs and crashes that brought Chrome OS and Android apps to their knees.
My review unit’s kitted out with a very capable Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. But even so, little things like seeing jitters when scrolling on some of Mashable’s media-heavy reviews (like the iPhone XS and Pixel 3), or the slight lag when opening the recent apps window, or the inconsistencies of the colors of videos displayed in the Netflix Android app versus the Netflix website (colors looked way more faded in the app) were frustrating.
The Pixel Slate is also caught between trying to be an Android tablet and a Chromebook. Without a keyboard, Chrome OS resembles an Android tablet. The home screen is filled with a grid of your app icons, and you even get a dock at the bottom to pin apps to.
However, if you connect the Slate to Google’s keyboard case, the grid-based home screen disappears, replaced with a clean desktop like on a Chromebook.
This dynamic adjustment is clever, no doubt, but it confused me at first and similarly baffled a few of my friends when I showed the tablet to them over Thanksgiving.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like having the full capabilities of Chrome with all of my browser extensions because it lets me do all of my work. Android apps running in their own windows are fine and complementary to the browser. Both platforms work together better today than they did a year ago when I reviewed the Pixelbook. But Google still needs to add polish to the experience.
Google’s official Slate keyboard is also flimsy. I tried my hardest to give the round keys a chance, but they remained difficult to adjust to. I wasn’t able to type as quickly or accurately on them compared to the Surface Pro’s Touch Keyboard. The trackpad, however, is good.
Similarly, the keyboard doesn’t do a good job propping the device up. I dig the ability to adjust the tablet to almost any angle you want, but unless the set is placed on a table or sizable flat surface, there’s some notable wobble. In other words: the Slate is terrible on your lap. Google should have copied the Surface Pro and made it so the keyboard can snap to Slate’s bottom bezel, which would better connect the two.
Battery life is decent, but not as outstanding as Google says it is. Google rates the Pixel Slate’s battery life for up to 12 hours of “mixed use.” I never got near that figure.
With Chrome being such a battery hog and my dozen extensions likely contributing to much of that power drain, I got between 7-8 hours of battery life per charge doing all of the things I typically do on my MacBook Air. My workload’s nothing out of the ordinary for a working professional: a dozen or so open Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming in the background via the Android app, Slack constantly going off all day, lots of Gmail, tons of Twitter, and some Netflix and YouTube.
Just get a Surface Pro
It must feel great to be Microsoft. Everyone’s bending over backwards trying to copy its Surface Pro, while it’s practically perfected the device.
The Surface Pro is the gold standard for a tablet that’s capable of replacing a laptop. The hardware and software have been honed over the years to work better together. Apple and Google are copying the tablet-keyboard combo and making the form factor their own, but neither of their devices, the iPad Pro or the Pixel Slate, is a proper laptop replacement the way the Surface Pro is.
For Apple, the iPad Pro is stunning and has monstrous power that smokes the competition, but iOS is its biggest crutch. The Pixel Slate seemed like the best chance to offer the best of both a mobile OS and a desktop-like browser experience, but poor optimization and expensive pricing make it a dud in my book.
Maybe Google will improve the Slate’s performance and fix the bugs in a software update, but at launch, the Surface Pro 6 is the better value on every level: hardware, software, and keyboard. Or just get a Pixelbook — it does everything the Pixel Slate does but better, and it’s cheaper.