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Laptops

Pixel Slate's $200 problem: Its 'must-have' keyboard is sold separately

Commentary: Google, Microsoft and Apple all pitch high-end tablets as multifunctional laptop replacements, then charge a hefty premium for the extra parts needed to match the hype.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I watched Google's reveal of the much-leaked Pixel Slate with great interest. This was a sharp-looking Chrome OS device, with a great screen and the promise of excellent front-firing speakers. Sure, $599 felt like a lot for a quasi-Chromebook (unless you're the even-more-expensive PixelBook), especially one that starts with an Intel Celeron processor -- but I firmly believe Chrome OS can be premium and doesn't have to be restricted to only budget PCs.

Almost every shot of the Pixel Slate showed it connected to its folio keyboard, itself a great example of high-end design with its round keys and big touchpad. It was not until the very end of Google's Pixel Slate announcement that the ugly truth was revealed. That $599-and-up price didn't include the keyboard, which runs an extra $199 (or a 33 percent premium).

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The new Pixel Slate and its keyboard.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And if you want a stylus, that's an extra hundred bucks on top of that. All-in, for just the lowest-end configuration, it's a minimum of $899. That's dangerously close to premium Windows laptop territory, where you could swing a MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13. Want to go to the top-end Core i7 model? That will take you to $1,599 before you add those accessories, per Google's extended price list:

  • $599 (4GB RAM, 32GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® Celeron processor)
  • $699 (8GB RAM, 64GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® Celeron processor)
  • $799 (8GB RAM, 64GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® CoreTM m3 processor)
  • $999 (8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® CoreTM i5 processor)
  • $1,599 (16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® CoreTM i7 processor) 

But Google isn't the only offender padding your bill with sold-separately keyboards. I've reviewed nearly every Surface tablet Microsoft has ever released, and like a broken record, I bemoan the $129-and-up clip-on keyboard, which is even more of a must-have. Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen a Surface Pro in the wild without a keyboard.

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Trust me, the Surface Pro works much better with its keyboard cover. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple is another habitual offender. If there's any doubt that the iPad Pro is primarily pitched as a screen-and-keyboard laptop replacement, just recall the company's own "What's a Computer?" TV spot.

The Smart Keyboard for the current iPad Pro is $159, plus $99 for the Pencil stylus, making the full package price just north of $900. Having used iPads of various types for productivity and content creation tasks many times previously, I can safely say a keyboard is a must-have for anything more involved than Tweeting.

I'll even give all these companies a break on the stylus issue. Not everyone needs or uses one, and even though they shouldn't be $100 a pop, it's one place where you can cut a corner and still feel like you've got an all-day, every-day machine.

The end result is an online or real-life shopping trip that can end up being a lot more expensive than you bargained for after falling in love with an advertisement for one of these two-in-one devices. Until these companies wise up and put their keyboard accessories (often the most impressively designed part of the ecosystem) in the box with the product itself, we should all look at these starting prices as having a huge asterisk next to them. 

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