When it comes to tablets, the Google Pixel Slate packs plenty of power as a premium ChromeOS tablet, but it comes with a few caveats to consider.

On the face of it, there’s a lot to like about this device. While the Pixelbook that came before it was more laptop than tablet, the Pixel Slate is the reverse. You don’t have to use the keyboard because it’s sold separately from the tablet itself. And yet, it’s equally designed to be a productivity tool, with a desktop-calibre browser and the app support to get things done. How well does it succeed? Let’s find out.


Google Pixel Slate

Display: 12.3-inch 3000 x 2000 LCD display with 293 pixels per inch
OS: ChromeOS
Processor: Intel Core m3, Core i5 or Core i7 64-bit processor
Memory: 8GB or 16GB RAM, 64GB, 128GB or 256GB internal storage
Camera: 8-megapixel rear camera, 8-megapixel front-facing
Video: Up to 1080p video recording
Battery: 48 Wh
Connections: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, A-GPS, USB-C
Dimensions: 11.45 x 7.95 x 0.28 inches
Weight: 720 grams
Comes in midnight blue

Design

It’s been years since Google made a tablet, and it’s easy to appreciate the quality that went into this one. An aluminum body that’s fairly thin for its size, coupled with a vibrant display and high resolution make the Pixel Slate look and feel premium. It’s got some weight to it, particularly when adding the keyboard, but that’s probably to be expected when a device teeters between a laptop and tablet.

There’s a barebones quality to it that really comes into focus throughout. There are two USB-C ports (one on either side), a power button doubling as a fingerprint sensor and volume rockers. The magnetic connector at the bottom snaps into the Slate’s keyboard, Microsoft Surface-style. Notably missing is a headphone jack.

Under the hood is where things get a little confusing. There are four different configurations, total, though the upper three of those are the most common. For that reason, the price range is almost $1,000 apart. The biggest differences lie in the usual components: processor, storage and RAM. Bear in mind that the device doesn’t come with the keyboard or stylus Pixelbook Pen, so adding one or both of those adds to the cost of entry.

Despite all that, there are parts of the experience that will probably remain the same, regardless. Why? Because the software doesn’t always feel cooperative. The Pixel Slate is a ChromeOS device, not Android. It can feel like Android because of apps through the Google Play Store, but it is, in many ways, a different product.

Google pixel slate

Pixel Slate and ChromeOS

The Pixelbook gave me hope that ChromeOS was on the right track in spite of its weaknesses. I don’t know that the Pixel Slate has moved that needle forward at all. This is a different form factor, but that shouldn’t matter in the grander scheme.

When an app works on this device, it looks and feels nice. I just couldn’t ignore the strange hiccups and bugs marring the experience. If I left the device to sleep for too long, YouTube would open but not play anything. Netflix had this bizarre tendency to keep a recently watched list of content at the bottom while I was watching something—blocking me from trying to scrub forward or backward.

The odd time, it wouldn’t register a touch, forcing me to do it again. Bluetooth was okay, though it didn’t want to pass through audio to one particular speaker I tried for reasons I couldn’t figure out.

I should note that, even though ChromeOS will still probably do weird things under any configuration, it is a platform that’s sensitive to hardware specs. For example, the Intel Core i7 model will feel smoother and faster, with fewer bugs, than the Core m3 model. I never got to test both, mind you, but that’s how the OS has usually performed in the past.

I did install a couple of updates since I first started testing the Pixel Slate Core i5 version in December, and have noticed slight improvement in speed. Still, I’d like to see more tablet-ready apps come through, especially so they no longer look like blown-up phone apps. The consistent updates are welcome, however, and I’m personally cool with the minimalism within ChromeOS.

The keyboard and pen

Google’s official folio keyboard has a neat layout of circular keys, including shortcuts for Google Assistant, the app launcher and settings pane. It’s neat and nicely laid out. Typing on it was nice, too, with good key travel, though it does take some getting used to. The rounded keys make them smaller than on a typical keyboard, so I made more than a few typos early on when writing this review.

To make this a productivity tool, the keyboard is essential. I actually found the typing part to be fine, aside from wishing there was an incline to it. My problem was more with the lack of stiffness to the flap in the back. The magnetic strip pretty much opens up the Pixel Slate to any orientation. Tilt it back further, or prop it up higher. It’s all good on a table or desk, but it’s going to need some support on your lap. When it stays, it’s fine, but when it doesn’t, it gets annoying.

The Pixelbook Pen is far more subjective. You either feel you need it or you don’t. The trackpad on the keyboard works smoothly for that laptop feel. But if you prefer to have a tablet feel with a stylus in hand, the pen can do the job. I’m not sure the Google Assistant integration is as formidable as Google makes it out to be though.

Google pixel slate

Performance

I touched on this earlier when talking about ChromeOS, but I do want to elaborate. Using this as a solo tablet or laptop-style device can feel pretty different. Watching video on it was a pleasure, thanks to the wonderful display and even the superb front-firing speakers. As a toy to consume content, it was hard not to like it.

As a tool, I found the Pixelbook to be more up my alley, which makes sense because of how much writing I do. If I’m typing all the time, the Pixelbook feels more like something I can use for longer stretches. If I was in something more visually artistic, the Pixel Slate might make more sense.

Either way, both experiences aren’t mutually exclusive when it comes to the disjointed software. Google needs to make the best apps easier to find. It would also help if the company further prodded developers to support ChromeOS and code apps specifically for the platform.

The potential here is so high that, while I really enjoyed the openness and surprising level of integration with peripherals and services, I also felt constrained by the lack of dedicated support. I know there are people who will really enjoy the Pixel Slate for what it offers. I’m just of the mind that those of you out there will know exactly what you’re looking for in the device.

Google pixel slate

Battery life

Google rates the Pixel Slate at about 10 hours of battery life per charge. That does depend on screen brightness, volume level, and video playback, but the range was between 7-9 hours in my testing. Using USB-C, using a charger is fairly easy, and you can use the same cable for both your phone and this device.

Final thoughts

I usually recommend people get some hands-on time with a product before going all in, and the Pixel Slate is no exception. Given its weight, display and all that comes with ChromeOS, it’s a good idea if you’re not accustomed to the platform. Even if you are, you might still want to try it out first.

The Pixelbook may be using last year’s components and feel more like a laptop, but if that’s the experience you want, consider that when making a choice. The Pixel Slate is as much as Google device as that is, but they don’t feel the same.

The Google Pixel Slate is available now in three configurations: the Core m3, Core i5, and Core i7.

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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.