Google Pixel: A Preview

Not for the first time in the past few years, Google has managed to come out with a line of products that has left both consumers and critics scratching their heads. Going by the reaction the soon-to-be-launched Pixel C has managed to garner, it might soon join the list.

Announced last week along with a whole lot of new products including the Chromecast, Google Pixel C redefines a tablet with a design that is conveniently suited for both work and play. Built by the team that designed the ultra-definitive Chromebook Pixel, the new Pixel C is a tab that converts into a laptop with ease. And it completely lives up to its name —look wise, it is just like you have taken the keyboard off from the Chromebook Pixel. With a smooth uniform aluminium frame and an uber cool light bar on the back, it looks extremely sleek. To check the battery level of the device, you need to tap the bar. During its launch, Google stressed that this is designed to be a premium device and that there are no weird seams or exposed screws in the casing. Pixel C, however, does not run on Chrome OS, unlike what its name suggests. It is a 10.2-inch tablet that has the latest Android 6.0 Marshmallow and pairs off with an extremely cool Bluetooth keyboard, thereby making it essentially a strong rival of the newly launched Microsoft Surface.

First impressions

Pixel-C-Keyboard

Selling Android Tablet is not a new arena for Google. The Nexus brand has been doing quite well since its launch in 2012. But this time, they have come up with something radically different. The Pixel is not like most android tablets available in the market today. The concept behind its design is somewhat like is kind of like the concept behind Apple’s new iPad Pro or Microsoft’s Surface Tabs: It is a single hybrid device meeting all your mobile computing needs.  When there is work on hand and the focus is on productivity, snap on the keyboard to get a laptop-like device. And when you want to check out some content online and on the device,  all you need to do is to you pull off the keyboard and have a high-end tablet in your hands.

Google’s new offering has a 10.2-inch LCD with an impressive resolution of 2560×1800 and can give an output of over 500 nits of brightness. This is a substantially higher resolution than either the HTC made Nexus 9 or the iPad offer. The iPad Pro has a slightly higher density at 2732×2048, but then, it is also two inches larger.

Under the hood

Pixel-C-Header

Under its hood, the Pixel C has the top of the line hardware including a 3GB RAM and a 32-64GB of storage memory. Powered by an NVIDIA Tegra X1 system-on-a-chip (SoC), the tablet has an octa-core processing unit made up of 4 (64-bit ARM Cortex-A57 cores) and 4 (high-efficiency Cortex-A53 cores). The Graphics Processor Unit is based on the desktop version of Maxwell Architecture. And that is undoubtedly a good feature as there are more than enough pixels in the Pixel C.

The magnetically coupled Bluetooth keyboard normally sits on the back of the device and is one fluid piece of hardware. You can adjust the keyboard hinge from 100 degrees to 135 degrees while you type and unlike the Surface, there is no need for a kickstand as the hinge stays put exactly where you leave it. There is seamless communication between the keyboard and the device so, while you have the keyboard docked to your device, the on-screen virtual one would not pop up. It is powered by a long-lasting battery that trickle charges automatically while connected to the tablet. So you do not need to worry about connecting another device to your charger. The device itself promises to be fun, but at the moment, is it practical enough to be recommended?

The problem that most critics have been saying about Pixel C is that its OS is not really built for the type of functionality that you normally associate with the kind of productivity that Google is talking of. Android (no matter what version it is) traditionally does not have the ability to run multiple on-screen apps simultaneously, unlike the Windows (and to some extent iOS). Additionally, you cannot switch between the applications with the same fluidity as you would on a more desktop-oriented system. Plus, it does not have a slot for external MicroSD card. So, at the end of the day, the tablet seems to be something that you are more likely to use as a supplementary device – for light work or to carry with you when it is impossible to take your laptop. It can hardly be considered as a full-fledged replacement to your faithful laptop.

And its price might just be another downside.  It does have exciting features, but for that you have to shell out about $650, if you want the complete package, including the keyboard (priced at $500 for the 32GB model and $600 for the 64GB one and the keyboard comes for $149). That is a couple of hundred dollars more than the average budget of a typical shopper!

So there is a predominant question in every critic’s mind: why would Google invest its time and resources to build a niche-targeted product — an expensive tablet that almost works as a laptop but is not quite as easy to handle? After all, the company already has a fairly successful Chrome OS to answer the more demanding, heavy-duty, keyboard-centric productivity requirements. Trying to rope in Android to this domain seems kind of strange. But then, keep in mind that the Pixel C is not just another piece of consumer offering; it is a Pixel product after all and this branding has always come with an underlying futuristic overtone.

With a motto of “pushing the experience forward and encouraging the entire ecosystem to move towards a whole new generation of devices”, from the very beginning, Google’s Pixel line of products have been about developing products keeping the future in mind.  So it is not the least bit surprising that its newly launched devices come with hardware that the accompanying software may not seem to justify.

Remember the time when the first Chromebook Pixel was released? It’s unprecedented touchscreen and astounding processing power seemed to be a bit over the top and quite unnecessary at the beginning, especially with the kind of Chrome OS it came with. But today, the OS is capable of doing so much more: running a number of packaged applications and even a handful of touch-centric Android apps that was unimaginable a few years back. Now even the affordable mid-segment Chromebook has the capability that was restricted to the top of the line Pixels. So just as the Pixel tagline suggests, the hardware came first and then the software and gradually, the entire ecosystem caught up with it.

pixel-c-full - Copy

So coming back to the Pixel C, why would Google try to develop and market a device that is effectively an Android laptop when the operating system itself is not quite ready for that? The answer lies solely in the future. There is, however, one possible explanation.

The tech gizmos among us have long been aware that in the early build versions of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Google has been testing the multi-window mode: a feature that would allow the user to open a number of apps on screen side by side (the feature is somewhat similar to what third party manufacturers like Samsung have incorporated, though the implementation seems to be more dynamic and smooth). The developers at Google had tagged this feature to be highly experimental and it was finally chopped off from the 6.0 release.

Now, it seems like the Pixel C’s highly unusual aspect ratio (1:√2) seems to be selected keeping that very feature in mind. Its screen is comparable to a standard sheet of A4 paper — which basically lets you, split it in half and maintain the exact aspect ratio on either side. No matter how many times you repeat it, the aspect ratio would remain the same. And that is where all the interest lies. Can the future version of Android actually support a multi-app environment? If that is the case, it might make us look at Pixel C in a different light altogether.

Now Google is not usually the one to talk about the features on the developer’s table and so there is a lot of buzz to connect the visible dots to showcase the complete picture. And you never know what Google can come up with – this multi-window application support might as well be a miniscule portion of a much bigger picture. But from what is out in the public and keeping in mind the fact that there is still some time before you actually manage to get your hand on Pixel C (it is slated to release later in the year, during the holiday season); you can very well assume that you might just be getting a lot more than what you are seeing on the sneak-peak and the spec sheet today.

Only time can tell what the future of Pixel C can be and what specs Google would unfold. But going by how the Pixel has always supported Google’s core vision of a futuristic platform, it might just take some time for the present to catch up and unveil its full potential. Now, that is bound to be one hell of an exciting ride.

Design

Device type: Tablet

Form Factor: Candybar

OS: Android (6.0) Marshmallow

Materials

Main body: Aluminium

Display

Physical size: 10.2 inches

Resolution: 2560 x 1800 pixels

Pixel density: 308 ppi

Peak brightness: 500 cd/m2 (nit)

Touchscreen: Multi-touch

Features: Light sensor

Camera

Camera: Yes

Features: Geo-tagging

Camcorder: Yes

Hardware

System chip: NVIDIA Tegra X1

Processor: Octa-core, ARM Cortex-A57 and ARM Cortex-A53, 64-bit

Graphics processor: NVIDIA Maxwell

System memory: 3072 MB RAM

Built-in storage: 64 GB

Multimedia

Music player:

Filter by Album, Artist, Genre, Playlists

Features: Album art cover, Background playback

Supported formats: MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, M4A (Apple lossless), AMR, OGG, MIDI

Video playback:

Supported formats: MPEG4, H.263, H.264

Speakers: Stereo speakers

YouTube player: Yes

Internet browsing

Supports: HTML, HTML 5

Built-in online services support: YouTube (upload), Picasa/Google+

Technology

Positioning: GPS, A-GPS

Navigation: Yes

Phone Features

Organizer: Calendar, Alarm, Calculator

E-mail: IMAP, POP3, SMTP, Microsoft Exchange

Instant Messaging: Hangouts / Google Talk

 

Connectivity

Bluetooth: Yes

Wi-Fi: Yes

USB: Yes

Connector: USB Type-C (reversible)

Features: Mass storage device, USB charging

Headphones connector: 3.5mm

Charging connector: USB Type-C (reversible)

Other: Tethering, Computer sync, OTA sync

 

Other features

Notifications: Flight mode, Silent mode

Additional microphone(s): Yes

Sensors: Accelerometer, Compass

Voice commands, Voice recording

Availability

Officially announced: 29 Sep 2015

 

Shopping information

MSRP price: $ 599

Alternative variants (Only the specs that are different than the main variant are listed here)

Google Pixel C 32GB

Differences:

Built-in storage: 32 GB

MSRP price: $ 499

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