Google makes lots of Chromebooks. The Pixel Slate is an attempt to make a tablet that's also a Chromebook, something like Microsoft's Surface. Google wants you to think about the Pixel Slate in terms of its beautiful display, its full Chrome browser, its more tablet-like Chrome OS.
I just think about its keyboard.
I got to spend some time with the 12-inch tablet at Google's New York event, where new Pixel 3 phones and the Google Home Hub also debuted. The Slate is clearly designed to go up against the Microsoft Surface and its workplace-meets-tablet design, but the Slate also seems to come within striking distance of the iPad Pro, especially in terms of price.
Last year's Pixelbook was an excellent but seriously expensive Chromebook. The Pixel Slate follows that familiar pattern, aiming for premium in a tablet-meets-Chromebook design.
The Pixel Slate starts at $599, but that's only for the tablet, no keyboard or pen stylus included. The keyboard's an extra $199; the pen, an extra $99. And, the Slate starts with an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage (non-upgradable). You can pay more for extra storage and faster processors, all the way up to a crazy $1,599 for a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and 256GB storage.
The Slate seems to shine most when Chrome is open. The Chrome browser, as with any Chromebook, is like a PC, and extremely versatile. New split-screen options open up multiple panes or apps at once, like the iPad or Surface.
The Slate looks pretty, but it's big for a tablet; with a 12.3-inch screen, this is more like a laptop. The display does look crisp, but the general UI, which aims for a Pixel Android feel, didn't move all that smoothly at the event's demo devices. The interface flow just wasn't as fluid as I expected. Or, just, not iPad-level buttery-smooth. That's a bit concerning, especially for this price. At a polished product demo event experience, I'd expect the Pixel Slate to be on its best footing.
Yes, as mentioned above, the Chrome can now do split screen, showing two panes at once. Sometimes it seems helpful. The new Slate pen is pressure sensitive and feels like the Surface Pen, but it sometimes seemed to make digital ink spots on the display when the pen hadn't even made contact yet.
The keyboard -- a separate $200 purchase -- feels great, though. The snap-on accessory has solid circular backlit keys with generous spacing, a large clickable trackpad and a rear magnetic stand that can be angled to almost any necessary tilt. The case can fold up while staying attached and double as a folio case. This is pretty ingenious.
It's basically the iPad keyboard I've wanted for years: one with a touchpad, one that feels like a laptop, and one that adds front and back protection to the tablet when traveling.
It's not a perfect solution compared to a laptop -- the keyboard and its rear support add up to a wide table footprint, much like the Microsoft Surface Pro. It's also not good for laps. But on a table, it felt great to type on.
The Pixel Slate needs it to complete the Chromebook equation, but its extra price means spending at least $800, or even more for the storage and processor you might want. The Slate seems like a luxury most won't pay for, and not quite the perfect Chromebook, because it's not as lap friendly. But that keyboard is a perfect model for where Apple should take its iPad next.
Just be prepared: the 3.5mm headphone jack isn't here. Instead, the Pixel Slate has two USB-C ports. That might be where all devices are heading, but it'll also mean a really annoying need for dongles.
There's also no SD card slot, which means no easily expandable storage. This also means you'd better pick the storage tier carefully. Google leans on unlimited cloud storage, naturally, but there are some things that are helpful to store locally.
The Pixel Slate arrives later this year. We'll have a full review when we get a model to use for longer than a quick demo session. But at this price, the Pixel Slate has a big question mark hanging over it: who would buy this over a Microsoft Surface or an iPad?