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Google Pixel C review: An Android tablet worthy of replacing your iPad

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MSRP: $499.00
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The Good The Google Pixel C has a slim, compact aluminum build that feels sturdy. Its optional Bluetooth keyboard is equally solid and doubles as the tablet's cover and it has a powerful, long-running battery. The tablet runs the latest version of Android and its performance is lightning fast. The screen is sharp, bright and colorful, and gaming graphics look stellar.

The Bad It's a bit heavy when attached to the keyboard (which is sold separately). Big-name apps and games still tend to hit iOS before Android.

The Bottom Line The Google Pixel C is the best Android tablet money can buy.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9

Review Sections

Google's latest tablet is its greatest yet. In fact, the Pixel C hands down is the most powerful Android tablet I've ever used. The real question here isn't if the Pixel C is the best tablet, it's "who cares"?

The Pixel C starts at $500 and has a high-end design, spectacular screen, fast performance and long-lasting battery. (UK and Australian pricing has yet to be announced, but the US price converts to around £335 or AU$695.) But with interest in tablets decreasing more and more every year, Google's best effort at a high-end tablet may fall upon deaf ears.

As a standalone tablet, its aluminum design is both elegant and solid. When combined with its optional magnetic Bluetooth keyboard ($150), which is made of the same material, the tablet turns into a productivity-geared hybrid. Its duality -- and $500 starting price -- makes it ripe to compete against the Microsoft Surface 3 and the iPad Air 2. The problem is, that's like comparing apples and oranges. The Surface is powerful enough to replace a laptop, whereas the iPad works best for leisure activities, like gaming and streaming video. The Pixel C exists somewhere between the two.

The Pixel C is hands down the best Android tablet today. It earns a place near the top of the charts and rivals the iPad Air 2 for the title of overall best tablet. If you're interested in a tablet for work, the strength of its performance will depend on your needs. But if I had to pick between the two, I'd go with the Google Pixel C due to its exceptionally designed keyboard, gorgeous screen and speedy performance.

Where can I buy this and what's the price?

The Pixel C is available now at Google's Store starting at $500 with 32GB of onboard storage. There's also a 64GB version priced at $600, which converts to £400 or AU$835.

The optional keyboard is also available at Google and costs $149, which converts to about £100 or AU$205.

Specs versus the competition

Google Pixel C Apple iPad Air 2 Microsoft Surface 3 Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (9.7 inch)
Display 10.2 inches, 2,560x1,800-pixel resolution 9.7 inches, 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution 10.8 inch, 1,920x1,280-pixel resolution 9.7 inches, 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution
Pixel density 308 ppi 264 ppi 214 ppi 264 ppi
Dimensions (imperial) 9.5x7.04x0.2 inches 9.4x6.6x0.24 inches 10.52x7.36x0.34 inches 9.34x6.6x0.22 inches
Dimensions (metric) 242x179x7 millimeters 240x169.5x6.1 millimeters 267x187x8.7 millimeters 237.3x169x5.6 millimeters
Weight 1.14 pounds (517 grams) 0.96 pounds (437 grams) 1.27 pounds (622 grams) 0.58 pounds (265grams)
Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow iOS 9 Windows 10 Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, with Samsung's TouchWiz
Processors Nvidia X1 quad-core, Maxwell GPU 64-bit A8X, M8 motion coprocessor 1.6GHz Intel Atom x7-Z8700 CPU, Intel Exynos Octa 5433 (1.3GHz quad-core Cortex A53; 1.9GHz quad-core Cortex A57)
Storage 32GB, 64GB up to 128GB up to 128GB 32GB, 64GB
RAM 3GB 2GB up to 4GB 3GB
Battery 12 hours 42 minutes of video playback TBD, estimated at over 10 hours mixed use 7 hours 41 minutes of video playback 12 hours 42 minutes of video playback
Starting Price $500 $499 $499 $500

That's one good-looking tablet

Google has consistently released great Android tablets in partnership with the likes of Asus and HTC, but this is the first time the company has built its own model from the ground up. From the looks of it, Google should've been designing its own tablets all along.

The Pixel C has an anodized aluminum frame that looks as luxe as any Apple tablet. It's fashionably matte, smooth and solid. In order to allow space for a large battery, the Pixel C is thicker and heavier than the iPad Air 2, though the difference isn't dramatic to the naked eye. I found both similarly comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

Josh Miller/CNET

One of the best things about the Pixel C is its optional Bluetooth keyboard. It's magnetic and charges inductively. For such a skinny little thing, it's surprisingly comfortable. The main keys are almost full-sized, and the tab and enter keys are sized down. Typing on it doesn't feel as cramped as other Bluetooth keyboards -- it's small yet spacious, and compact enough to use even in the most confined spaces.

Once you magnetically attach the keyboard onto the tablet, it automatically connects over Bluetooth and hides the on-screen keyboard. This worked without a hitch most of the time. In a handful of instances, it took 10-20 seconds for it to work. It still automatically connected without me having to go into the Bluetooth settings, it just sometimes took a little longer than usual.

Josh Miller

The keyboard doubles as a removable cover, which makes it look more like a laptop, or a tablet with armor. It's probably the most protective keyboard cover around -- built from the same aluminum as the tablet, which makes it both stylish and sturdy. The magnetic connection between the keyboard and tablet is freakishly strong. I never had to worry about them disconnecting, even if I shook it or held it upside down. Once attached, it's almost like they're superglued together.

Despite its excellent construction, I have a few gripes about the Pixel C's design. There's no trackpad, the keyboard makes it a bit heavy, separating the keyboard from the tablet can be awkward when it's being used as a cover and it's hard to tell which ends of the tablet to magnetically attach. You can solve the latter problem by flipping one of them around until they click into place since there are only two ways the tablet and keyboard can fit together -- open like a laptop or closed.

Josh Miller/CNET

Personally, I didn't miss the trackpad that much. Maybe that's because I never lost sight of the fact that I was using a tablet, not a laptop-like device. In fact, aside from the keyboard, the tablet isn't an attempt to replace your laptop. It does, however, carefully consider how an Android tablet with a keyboard should work.

Unfortunately, the keyboard suffereddd from frequently stuck keys. They weren't physically stuck, but letters and key functions dragged out on the screen as if they were. IIt was slightly comical how it elongated letters to create an unintentionally dramatic typing of a word, but it was less funny when the stuck key was the backspace button and I unintentionally deleted an entire sentence instead of a few words. The bugginess was inconsistent, and didn't seem to be affected by the number of apps that were open in the background. Sometimes letters also lagged and took a while to appear on screen. This might just have been a problem with the keyboard that came with my review unit. Regardless, it made an otherwise pleaaaasant experience into a needlessly frustrating one. On the other hand, our CNET Espanol reviewer didn't have this issue.

(Editor's note: These are real typos caused by the Pixel C's sometimes-misbehaving keyboard.)

Josh Miller/CNET

Heck yeah, Google

The Pixel C runs the latest version of Android Marshmallow 6.0. The interface revolves around Google apps and, as a heavy user of those services, I found it very convenient.

Unsurprisingly, the tablet works seamlessly with the OK Google voice search. The top of the tablet's edge houses four microphones -- that's three more than most tablets. This makes it easy for the Pixel C to hear you say "OK Google" even if it isn't in your hands at the time.

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