Google's new Pixel C tablet is a surprisingly great budget option - with one big drawback

Google Pixel CMatt Weinberger/Business Insider

Google's new Pixel C tablet, available today, represents an important step for the company.

In the past, Google has reserved the Pixel brand for the highest-end Chromebook devices.

But the Pixel C, selling for $499, is the first-ever Android tablet to bear the name - and the first Android tablet designed by Google itself, not a manufacturer partner, from concept to finished product.

This is against the backdrop of reports that Google is moving away from the Chrome operating system entirely to focus on Android.It means that the Pixel C is very likely our first glimpse at what Google sees as the future of computing.

Plus, a major part of the Google Pixel C's sales pitch is that it's been designed around an optional-but-not-really $149 keyboard accessory. That's just like the Apple iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablets, both of with which the Pixel C now competes.

That's a heavy burden for a little, 10.2-inch tablet. Fortunately, the Pixel C is up to the challenge, resulting in a very pleasant surprise.

Here's how the Pixel C stacks up.

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The Pixel C breaks from Pixel tradition by running a full-fledged version of Android, paired with an optional-but-not-really $149 keyboard that doubles as a case. But like other Pixel devices, it's a good-looking little machine with a fine attention to detail.

The Pixel C breaks from Pixel tradition by running a full-fledged version of Android, paired with an optional-but-not-really $149 keyboard that doubles as a case. But like other Pixel devices, it's a good-looking little machine with a fine attention to detail.

Closed up, the Google Pixel C looks like a teeny-tiny laptop. But the truth is a little stranger than that.

Closed up, the Google Pixel C looks like a teeny-tiny laptop. But the truth is a little stranger than that.

Also note the lightbar at the bottom edge here, which lights up to show the battery level when you tap it.

Unlike the competing Apple iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface Pro 4, there's no hinge on the keyboard to make it close neatly. Instead, whenever you want to open it, you actually have to slide the keyboard off entirely...

Unlike the competing Apple iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface Pro 4, there's no hinge on the keyboard to make it close neatly. Instead, whenever you want to open it, you actually have to slide the keyboard off entirely...

...place the tablet on the magnetized flat area of the keyboard...

...place the tablet on the magnetized flat area of the keyboard...

...and lift it up.

...and lift it up.

From there, you can adjust to your desired position.

From there, you can adjust to your desired position.

It's a weird enough process that the Pixel C actually comes with an illustrated guide to how to do it. I've seen Googlers who get ninja-fast with the sliding and flipping, but I still haven't really gotten the hang of it.

It's a weird enough process that the Pixel C actually comes with an illustrated guide to how to do it. I've seen Googlers who get ninja-fast with the sliding and flipping, but I still haven't really gotten the hang of it.

But fair is fair, and the magnets are crazy powerful. You can lift it by the keyboard...

But fair is fair, and the magnets are crazy powerful. You can lift it by the keyboard...

...or by the tablet portion, and it still won't budge. I wouldn't tempt fate by carrying it this way too often, though.

...or by the tablet portion, and it still won't budge. I wouldn't tempt fate by carrying it this way too often, though.

The Pixel C's keyboard was a pleasant surprise. Even though it's a little smaller than the keyboards you're probably used to, it was surprisingly conducive to typing away. And the keys have a pleasant click to them.

The Pixel C's keyboard was a pleasant surprise. Even though it's a little smaller than the keyboards you're probably used to, it was surprisingly conducive to typing away. And the keys have a pleasant click to them.

The Pixel C sports a 10.2-inch screen, which is smaller than competing laptop/tablet hybrids. But it makes it a really nice size for, say, using it on an airplane's tray table, as I did here. In terms of battery life, I used it for intermittent web browsing on a five-hour flight and only ran the battery down to around 80%.

The Pixel C sports a 10.2-inch screen, which is smaller than competing laptop/tablet hybrids. But it makes it a really nice size for, say, using it on an airplane's tray table, as I did here. In terms of battery life, I used it for intermittent web browsing on a five-hour flight and only ran the battery down to around 80%.

The screen is really nice, too. And while the keyboard has no mouse trackpad, and there's no home button on the keyboard, it didn't really bug me. Since it's so small, my hand never really had to travel too far to get to the "Home" button on the screen.

The screen is really nice, too. And while the keyboard has no mouse trackpad, and there's no home button on the keyboard, it didn't really bug me. Since it's so small, my hand never really had to travel too far to get to the "Home" button on the screen.

The Pixel C uses a Type-C USB port just like Apple's new MacBook, which means it functions as a charging port, HDMI port, VGA port, and DisplayPort all in one. It also means that your existing charging cables probably won't work.

The Pixel C uses a Type-C USB port just like Apple's new MacBook, which means it functions as a charging port, HDMI port, VGA port, and DisplayPort all in one. It also means that your existing charging cables probably won't work.

The biggest limitation of the Pixel C is the Android operating system. It means that if you can do what you need to do with Android apps — and only Android apps — you're in luck. But if you can't, it probably won't replace your laptop anytime soon. It was a great plane buddy, but I could never work on the Pixel C full time.

The biggest limitation of the Pixel C is the Android operating system. It means that if you can do what you need to do with Android apps — and only Android apps — you're in luck. But if you can't, it probably won't replace your laptop anytime soon. It was a great plane buddy, but I could never work on the Pixel C full time.

So how does the Pixel C (center) square off against its main competitors, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (left) and iPad Pro (right)? The biggest one, obviously, is screen size.

So how does the Pixel C (center) square off against its main competitors, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (left) and iPad Pro (right)? The biggest one, obviously, is screen size.

But that smaller size can be a boon, too. It means that the Pixel C is easier to hold for long periods than the iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4, and makes it a lot more portable. That's good if you mostly use your tablet for reading, like I do.

But that smaller size can be a boon, too. It means that the Pixel C is easier to hold for long periods than the iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4, and makes it a lot more portable. That's good if you mostly use your tablet for reading, like I do.

In terms of thickness, the Pixel C is about the same as a Surface Pro 4, which is to say just a smidgen thicker than the iPad Pro.

In terms of thickness, the Pixel C is about the same as a Surface Pro 4, which is to say just a smidgen thicker than the iPad Pro.

When it comes to the competition, the Pixel C's weird magnet hinge is actually a boon. Where the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard case folds up to prop up the tablet, and the Surface Pro 4 uses a kickstand, the Pixel C can actually stand up on its own.

When it comes to the competition, the Pixel C's weird magnet hinge is actually a boon. Where the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard case folds up to prop up the tablet, and the Surface Pro 4 uses a kickstand, the Pixel C can actually stand up on its own.

It means that you can actually comfortably use the Pixel C on your lap. Which is actually a novelty for these kind of two-in-one devices.

It means that you can actually comfortably use the Pixel C on your lap. Which is actually a novelty for these kind of two-in-one devices.

All of that said, the Pixel C is missing one absolutely vital feature: A split-screen view. Where the Surface Pro 4 runs a full version of the Windows 10 operating system, meaning full multitasking support, and the iPad Pro just got a split view (pictured), the Pixel C is limited to one window.

All of that said, the Pixel C is missing one absolutely vital feature: A split-screen view. Where the Surface Pro 4 runs a full version of the Windows 10 operating system, meaning full multitasking support, and the iPad Pro just got a split view (pictured), the Pixel C is limited to one window.

The newest version of Android, called Marshmallow, actually has "highly experimental" support for multi-window views. But the steps to enable it are very technical, and it might be a while before Android gets the feature officially.

The newest version of Android, called Marshmallow, actually has "highly experimental" support for multi-window views. But the steps to enable it are very technical, and it might be a while before Android gets the feature officially.

If you want to try enabling it on your supported Android device, the steps are here.

And unlike the Surface Pro 4 (pictured), the Pixel C has no additional USB ports, so it's hard to plug any additional devices in, unless you plug a USB hub into the first and only USB-C port.

And unlike the Surface Pro 4 (pictured), the Pixel C has no additional USB ports, so it's hard to plug any additional devices in, unless you plug a USB hub into the first and only USB-C port.

Finally, and this may not be a big deal for a lot of people, but the Google Pixel C doesn't have an official stylus along the lines of Apple's well-received Pencil stylus for the iPad Pro.

Finally, and this may not be a big deal for a lot of people, but the Google Pixel C doesn't have an official stylus along the lines of Apple's well-received Pencil stylus for the iPad Pro.

Overall, I was really impressed with the Google Pixel C, imperfections and all. At its starting price of $499, versus the iPad Pro's $799 and Surface Pro 4's $899, the Google Pixel C could make a great budget option.

Overall, I was really impressed with the Google Pixel C, imperfections and all. At its starting price of $499, versus the iPad Pro's $799 and Surface Pro 4's $899, the Google Pixel C could make a great budget option.
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