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Pixel C deep-dive review: A terrific tablet that tries to be more

JR Raphael | Dec. 9, 2015
Google's new device sets a new bar for high-end Android tablets -- but as a convertible, it's a bit of a mixed bag.

03 pixel c android buttons
The main system buttons are now justified to the sides instead of being centered, with the Back and Home keys at the far left of the screen and the Overview icon at the right.

It's an interesting step back toward the tablet-optimized approach we saw years ago in Android 3.0 Honeycomb (especially with the notification panel also now appearing wherever you swipe down from the top instead of being stuck in a central position). Google tells me it felt the revised button placement would be more convenient on a tablet of this size and that it's currently evaluating whether it'll roll that same setup out more broadly to other devices.

Last but not least, the Pixel C enjoys the same upgrade guarantee as Google's Nexus devices, which means you'll receive future Android OS upgrades quickly and reliably along with ongoing monthly security updates, all directly from Google. Given the sad state of upgrades across much of the Android ecosystem, the value of that assurance can't be overstated.

The physical keyboard factor

All right -- so that's the Pixel C on the tablet front. Now let's talk about that optional keyboard attachment.

In a word, it's okay -- passable but not great. There are some clever things about the keyboard's design and implementation, but trying to use the system as a laptop for real productivity-oriented work just isn't a wonderful experience.

Much of that is related to the software: A mobile-first operating system like Android still isn't designed for the type of more intensive work flow that's normal on a laptop. Simple things like snapping back and forth between different apps, while certainly possible, are far less instant and effortless on Android compared to a desktop-centric setup. Time-saving hotkeys you may be accustomed to using on keyboard-based systems don't work consistently, as I was reminded when trying to press Ctrl-F to find text while editing this story on the device. And a lot of websites still don't play nicely with mobile browsers, which can make basic tasks like filling out forms or inputting text into a content management system frustrating and arduous.

That being said, Google has been making progress on improving Android's productivity potential -- little by little. The company's Google Docs word processing app, for instance, now allows you to split the screen in half and search the Web for information while actively working on a document, which is a useful (if limited) feature. But all in all, trying to do intensive input-oriented work on the Pixel C always feels a little awkward -- like you're working extra hard to force a square peg into a round hole. And software isn't the only reason.

 

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