The 2-in-1 has been a hard case to crack. Apple has its iPad Pro and Microsoft has its Surface Pro 6. Both are fantastic devices, but neither provide an equally effective tablet and laptop experience. The iPad focuses more on the former, the Surface more on the latter.
Now, however, there’s a new option. The Google Pixel Slate. Harnessing the strengths of both Chrome OS and Android, Google has developed two platforms that (if brought together properly) could unite the mobile and desktop worlds in a new way. Are these two operating systems soulmates or an odd couple?
It’s no iPad
We like what Google’s current design language has to say. Whether it’s redesigned web apps or the Pixel 3 smartphone, the company’s approach to design is more cohesive than ever before. It’s light, colorful, and playful. The Pixelbook was one of the best examples of this new brand identity — a breath of fresh air in the sea of silver MacBook lookalikes.
The Pixel Slate takes the look in a slightly different direction. It’s darker, simpler, and a bit drab. The unique two-tone, material break on the Pixel 3 and Pixelbook is absent. We miss that small splash of interest. The backside of the Pixel Slate comes is just one color, a dark, navy shade called Midnight Blue. It’s understated, serious, and doesn’t fit into the current look of Google hardware.
Competitors like the Surface Pro and iPad Pro have a more refined and premium look in comparison. The new iPad Pro in particular, with its thin bezels, make the blocky chunks of black around the Slate’s display seem outdated. Meanwhile, the Surface Pro 6 has a bit more personality, thanks to its unique kickstand and angular lines.
Google has nailed the feel of the device in hand, however. The Slate is rigid and durable to hold. The rounded edges are easy to grab and the large bezels (while ugly) offer a better grip if you’re using it one-handed. Google says it worked hard to pack most of the heavier components into the center of the device, making for a more balanced feel. Thanks to that, the Slate feels lighter than it is.
Google has nailed the feel of the device.
How light is it? The Slate is 1.6 pounds (without the keyboard) and 0.28 inches thick, just a bit lighter and thinner than the Surface Pro 6 (1.7 pounds, 0.33 inches). In fact, it’s just about identical to the Surface Pro 6 in terms of footprint on the table. Neither device is as portable as the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which is just 0.23 inches thick and weighs 1.4 pounds. As a tablet, the iPad is still the preferred device to hold.
Running your finger along the edges of the device, you’ll find two USB-C ports, a power button that doubles as fingerprint scanner, and a volume rocker. The inclusion of a USB-C port on either side is a boon, especially since the device lacks a headphone jack. You can have it charging up while listening to music, as well as connect to wired accessories like a monitor, mouse, or keyboard. Unlike the iPad Pro, the Pixel Slate includes a 3.5mm headphone jack to USB-C dongle in the box.
An innovative folio keyboard
The Slate positions itself as a tablet, so it doesn’t come with the $99 Pixel Pen or the $149 folio keyboard. That’s too bad, because the keyboard is a smart blend of ideas we’ve seen before in the 2-in-1 space, and great to use.
On the front side, it looks like the Surface Pro Type Cover, leaving room for a full-sized keyboard and touchpad. On the back, it folds up on the back like the iPad Smart Keyboard Folio, but with an ingenious twist. The top fold magnetically attaches to the back of the device. Emulating the feel of using real kickstand on the Surface Pro 6, you can smoothly change the angle of the screen with one hand. Even better, when you lean the angle back, it doesn’t increase the overall footprint on the desk, an annoying aspect of the Surface Pro’s kickstand design. The keyboard can also be flipped below the screen to magnetically attach to the base for “media mode.”
All of this is held in place by pogo pins, snapping into place strongly enough to let the keyboard hang without disconnecting. It does feel wobbly on your lap, especially the keyboard, but that’s no less an issue than on the Surface Pro 6 or iPad Pro.
It’s the bare bones of what you could call a “tablet mode.”
The keyboard offers an excellent typing experience. We disliked the round keys at first but came to enjoy their snappy feedback. It took a few minutes to get acclimated, but once we did, we found typing to be fast and efficient. It’s a very quiet keyboard, too. The keys are backlit, though they are either on or off.
Another highlight is the touchpad. Google managed to squeeze a huge touchpad onto the keyboard deck, making the Surface Pro 6’s feel squat. Tracking is smooth, even for detailed movements like selecting text and dragging windows. The click action offers good tactile feel. We did notice the three-finger gesture didn’t always trigger the app switcher as it was supposed to, but from what we can tell, that’s a software issue.
The Pixel Slate is also open to third-party keyboard manufacturers. We tested out the Brydge G-Type Wireless Keyboard, which turns the Slate into more of a Surface Book-type device. While this turned the device into a genuine laptop, it also adds heft. Still, it’s worth a try if you want to use the Pixel Slate like a more conventional Chromebook.
Lastly, the Pixel Slate works with the Pixelbook Pen stylus. Outside of the color change, it’s the same stylus that was launched with the Pixelbook in 2017. There’s no discernable lag when drawing, writing, selecting, all thanks to the 2,000 levels of sensitivity. It’s not, however, as smooth as the 4,096 levels of sensitivity in the Surface Pen, which emulates real writing better than any stylus. The palm rejection on the Slate isn’t perfect, either. We often found our palms would accidentally mark the screen when writing, which made features like writing detection a miss.
Made for movie-watching
The Google Pixel Slate has a 3:2 display aspect ratio, which is perfect for a 2-in-1 device like this. It’s not as square as the 4:3 iPad Pro, but still offers increased vertical screen real estate compared to a 16:9 widescreen format. The screen resolution is an astounding 3,000 x 2,000, or 293 pixels per inch — Google calls it a “molecular display.” That’s a jump in sharpness from the Pixelbook or the Surface Pro 6. In fact, it’s the most pixel-dense you can buy on a tablet, even surpassing the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
We could easily pick out the bass lines and thump of the kick drum in the speakers.
Put simply, the Pixel Slate’s screen looks incredible. It’s more than bright enough to overpower its glossy finish, maxing out well beyond 400 nits. It has a cooler tint than the Surface Pro 6 but looks lifelike and isn’t oversaturated. It’s a delightful machine for watching movies, especially if you flip the keyboard below the screen in media mode. Even the dark scenes in a movie like Solo: A Story Wars Story will look clear and atmospheric.
To match that incredible display is one of the best set of speakers we’ve ever heard on a tablet. We aren’t sure what kind of magic Google used, but these set a new standard. We popped on the newly-remastered White Album by The Beatles and heard details we’d never picked up on before. Bass response, a spectrum of the audio experience usually left out in laptop, is surprisingly good. We could easily pick out the bass lines and even the thump of the kick drum. The only real competitor to the Slate is the iPad Pro with its four-speaker setup.
Welcome to Whiskey Lake
The Pixel Slate comes in a dizzying array of configurations. The $599 base model includes a slow Intel Celeron processor, which is what you might find in a budget-level Chromebook. We really recommend you boost it up to at least the 8th-gen Core m3 model ($799), which comes with 8GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD. Our review unit came was the Core i5-8200Y, part of the new series of 5-watt Whiskey Lake processors from Intel. These are dual-core, fanless processors designed for high efficiency and extended battery life. This configuration starts at $999 and includes a 128GB SSD alongside 8GB of RAM.
Chromebooks, even more premium options like the Pixel Slate, are not meant for heavy lifting.
Yet the Core i5 version of the Pixel Slate handles the tasks it was made for quite well. Web browsing with fifteen or twenty Chrome tabs is no problem, even while streaming music or video simultaneously. The only faster Chromebook we’ve tested is the Acer Chromebook 13, which used a faster Core i5-8250U and won in both single and multi-core performance.
The Pixel Slate uses an eMMC SSD, which means it won’t be as quick as the NVMe PCIe option on the Surface Pro 6. This slower choice to use a flash drive is where the Slate’s only performance stutters come from. Occasionally you’ll encounter some clunky animations (such as the app switcher) or slow application load times. Most alternatives don’t have these problems.
Lots of Android games, but not all play nice
In terms of games, your options are limited to the Google Play Store. Arcade-style games like Ping-Pong King or Pokemon Quest play great, and if these more casual games are your pace, you’ll find endless options to waste time with in tablet mode.
Thanks to the notoriously bad, integrated Intel graphics, 3D games are hit or miss. Some, like PUBG Mobile, haven’t been optimized for Chrome OS. The graphics were locked at a lower setting, and there isn’t support for mouse or keyboard.
One of the most demanding mobile games, Asphalt 9, played smooth with Default settings. But when turned up to Best Quality, framerates stuttered noticeably. Is it sad that our Pixel 2 XL has better gaming performance than an Intel-powered device? Yes. Yes it is.
Thrifty processor, long battery life
Batteries tend to get more juice running Chrome OS, and we had high hopes for the new ‘Whisky Lake’ Intel processor. The Slate didn’t disappoint.
The Slate is meant for web browsing, and that’s where its battery life excels. In light web browsing, the Slate ran for ten hours and 45 minutes, a bit longer than Google’s claims. On local video loop, it lasted just over twelve hours. In a heavier workload, it lasted around seven hours, and in our intensive Basemark benchmark, it’s just over four hours.
Those numbers are more impressive than they might sound. They beat out the Surface Pro 6 across the board, despite having an almost identical battery size (48 watt-hour versus the Surface’s 45 watt-hour). They also beat devices like the MacBook Air and the original Pixelbook. The iPad Pro claims a similar ten hours of battery, even with its smaller 37 watt-hour battery –but according to our tests, the Slate beats it.
Two operating systems, one device
At its core, the Pixel Slate is a tried-and-true Chrome OS device, meaning you’ll be limited to what you can do in a Chrome browser. Apps we use every day like Spotify, Google Docs, Trello, YouTube, Android Messages, Simplenote, Twitter, and YouTube all have corresponding web apps that are great to use in a web browser.
But as a true 2-in-1, especially one that sells without a bundled keyboard, the Pixel Slate has its eyes set on loftier things. It has high ambitions — to resurrect the Android tablet in and deliver a single device that replaces both a tablet and a laptop. By supporting the Google Play Store and making some changes to UI, the Pixel Slate feels more like an Android tablet than ever before.
Not everything works as it should, though. Most Android apps are still horribly unoptimized for Chrome OS. They don’t look quite right, and rarely do they make full use of the large screen. Do yourself a favor. Stick with the Chrome browser in laptop mode and Android apps in tablet mode.
More work is needed to help the Pixel Slate full embrace Android apps. Right now, it’s the bare bones of what you could call a “tablet mode,” but it still feels significant compared to what Microsoft has done in Windows 10 and gives us hope for the future. It’s also more refined than previous attempts to bring Android to Chrome OS, like Samsung’s Chromebook Pro.Our Take
The Pixel Slate is a better laptop than the iPad Pro, and a better tablet than the Surface Pro 6. However, the individual strengths of both of those devices outshine any one strength of the Pixel Slate. Google has bitten off more than it can chew with Android implementation, and it still has its work cut out on the software side of things. With its impeccable display, speakers, and folio keyboard, the Slate is in a good spot right now, even if it doesn’t soundly defeat its prime competitors.
Any better alternatives?
The Core i5 Pixel Slate with the keyboard sells for $1,200. That’s the exact same price as the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard Folio. That’s also fifty bucks more than the Core i5 Surface Pro 6 with its type cover keyboard. If your usage is more laptop-heavy, the Surface Pro 6 is a good alternative. If it’s more tablet-based, the iPad Pro is a better option.
The Pixel Slate isn’t the only 2-in-1 Chrome OS detachable, either. The HP Chromebook x2 was the first of its kind — and made quite a first impression. The Pixel Slate ups the ante in every imaginable way, but it’s also nearly twice the price. Meanwhile, the $1,000 Pixelbook is a more affordable way to get into the ecosystem, though its notebook form factor makes it less portable.
How long will it last?
Chrome OS has undergone a significant shift in the past year, and we have no doubt that will continue for the next. The premium hardware of the Pixel Slate, however, will remain up-to-date and relevant for many years.
The Slate comes with a standard one-year warranty, which is nothing out of the ordinary. You can, however, purchase additional protection using Google’s Extra Care service.
Should you buy it?
No. The average person would do better to buy an iPad and a laptop separately. Right now, it’s only the right purchase for someone deep in the Chrome OS ecosystem who’s looking for a device that can do it all.