Two people in my office mistook the Google Pixel Slate tablet I had lying on a desk for one of Apple’s newest iPad Pros. At home, my 11-year-old son made the same mistake.
If you are Google, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the company will presumably have to persuade a would-be iPad Pro buyer to choose its pricey new tablet instead.
I’m not quite ready to do that myself, though Google’s new 1.6-pound anodized aluminum Chrome OS tablet is a capable alternative with a 12.3-inch high resolution touch display that is lovely to look at, notwithstanding bezels that are a little thicker than those on the iPad Pro.
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Google says its color is midnight blue. To my eye, it looks black.
The bottom line is, while the hardware is very nice, I’m not sold on the software.
As with the display on Apple’s tablet, Pixel Slate supports the use of an optional pen for those of you who like to draw. And Google uses artificial intelligence to transform your handwritten scribblings into text.
Google claims a couple of advantages against its rival right off the bat, a cheaper (though not cheap) starting price of $599 compared to the latest iPad Pros, which fetch $799 on up. And Google’s accessory $199 keyboard is superior to Apple’s optional $179 or $199 optional keyboard, mainly because it has the trackpad that Apple’s keyboard lacks. That said, it isn’t great either because, though you can prop up the tablet at multiple angles, it is awkward to do so, and sometimes if the surface wasn’t flat enough, the whole thing came tumbling down.
The rounded backlit keys on Google’s keyboard do take some getting used to, but otherwise the “travel” and feel of the keys are fine.
The truth, though, is that as a person who writes for a living, I’d take a laptop keyboard every time, whether we’re talking a Mac, Chromebook or Windows PC.
Which raises a question any tablet buyer in this class should think long and hard about: Do you really want a tablet, or are you better off with a laptop?
The Pixel Slate price advantage over Apple is also a bit misleading because Google’s entry level is built around a relatively wimpy Intel Celeron processor, 4 gigabytes of RAM and a modest 32GB of storage, half the capacity of Apple’s new iPad Pro starting configuration. Such a configuration is perfectly adequate for the basics: browsing, watching Netflix, jotting a few notes.
If you have heartier requirements, be prepared to give Apple or Google a lot more loot for more robust specs and generous storage. My test Google model with an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is priced at $999. The price of a Pixel Slate climbs to $1,599, if you want an even more powerful Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB, and 256GB.
That sum doesn’t factor in the keyboard most of you will want and the $99 pen some of you will want.
For comparison, Apple’s maxed out iPad Pro can cost well over $2,000, especially if you pile on the accessories. Keep in mind also that, while the Pixel Slate is available with that 12.3-inch display, Apple buyers wanting the latest iPad Pro can choose either 11- or 12.9-inch display models.
In case you’re wondering, the Pixel Slate is a tad taller and slightly less wide than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
Of course, a major buying decision comes down to your choice of operating system: Apple’s iOS or Google’s Chrome. If Google is your preference, you have another decision to ponder – go with a tablet like Pixel Slate or select a regular Chromebook laptop instead. Pixel Slate does support the Google Play Store, which means you can download various Android apps, including Netflix.
But somehow iOS felt more natural on an iPad than the Chrome/Android combination did here.
And yes, I hear you Windows fans: Microsoft’s Surface Pro is certainly an option in this space, too, as are a host of other Windows alternatives.
As with Chromebooks, Google regularly supplies free security Chrome OS updates, and the Pixel Slate also includes a security chip called the Titan C, which Google will tell you is tamper-resistant.
You can also summon the Google Assistant on Pixel Slate, via the familiar “Ok, Google” voice command or by pressing a dedicated key on the Slate keyboard. The generally inferior Siri handles the assistant chores on the iPad.
Pixel Slate has cameras on both sides – I didn’t take a ton of pictures and, given the overall size of the slate, probably wouldn’t want to. Those I did take were nothing to brag about.
Apple’s latest iPad Pros and Pixel Slate both rely on USB-C – Google gives you the benefit of two such ports, compared to only one for Apple. Neither tablet has a standard-sized headphone jacks, always something to gripe about nowadays.
The power button doubles as fingerprint sensor.
I didn’t do any formal battery testing. Google claims up to 12 hours of juice on Pixel Slate, with fast charging capabilities that let you get up to about 2 hours in 15 minutes.
Like the new iPad Pros, Pixel Slate is a good product for those of you looking for a solid premium tablet. But the emphasis here is on premium, because Google’s tablet, like Apple’s newest, doesn’t come cheap. And for many of you, a standard laptop or Chromebook will be the smarter choice.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter