My Pixel Slate finally arrived weeks after it was ordered due to the Canada Postal strike on Sunday December 9th. The total package of tablet, keyboard and pen cost me a whopping CAD $2700 in total. After using it for two weeks, my perspective of the Pixel Slate is that it is a great idea that isn’t quite ready for the market yet. The tablet itself is brilliant, the pen does what you need it to do but the keyboard certainly needs more work. The software has its brilliant side but you can tell that it’s trying to find its mark.
I opted for the top of the line i7 processor with 16 GB of RAM as well as 256 GB of storage space as my primary goal was to replace the combination of my MacBook Pro as well as my Samsung Tab S3 tablet. My MacBook Pro is used as my heavy work device where I would either spend some time developing or doing more heavy administrative work.
The tablet itself feels nice. It’s performant and feels like a high end computer. However, it feels heavy when I compare it to carrying my Samsung Tab S3 which is the device that I carry everywhere with me. It is, however, lighter than either the MacBook Pro and the Microsoft Surface Pro which is a fairer comparison in terms of functionality.
The device comes with 2 USB-C ports which is awesome as I’m a big fan of the USB-C ecosystem. It was easy to re-use the USB-C hub that I use for my MacBook Pro for the Pixel C and it worked well! While the Pixel Slate does come with a fingerprint scanner, it didn’t work with my Google Apps account which is my primary account. In general though, I like the idea of having a fingerprint scanner associated with the power button. It works well on my MacBook Pro as well as my LG G5/6 when I got the device.
There were a few odd issues though. The first one I noticed had to do with power. I wasn’t able to charge the Pixel Slate with my iMuto Z2. The iMuto Z2 was able to charge my MacBook Pro. Similarly, while I was able to easily replicate my ports with my USB-C cable, I wasn’t able to charge with it.
The keyboard is where I massively struggle with as a device with it’s myriad of issues. There are a few nice things with the keyboard. In particular, I like the round keys and how they feel when I type. It feels very similar to the Logitech K780 which is one of my favourite keyboards today. I also like the felt finish of the outside of the keyboard.
However, there are many issues with the keyboard. The most glaring one is the floating cursor issue. While I was typing out this blog entry, my productivity was interrupted many times as my cursor kept moving from where I was typing. I’ve seen this issue many times with lower end laptops and it’s completely unexpected for a device at this price range.
The other issue with the keyboard is that it lies completely flat on the table when you type which isn’t great for your hands and exacerbates my carpel tunnel syndrome. The Microsoft Surface Pro has a bit of a lift that attaches to the tablet. While it makes it a bit flimsy to type, it is more comfortable to type overall. The keyboard is designed to allow you to adjust the angle of your screen by moving the flap up and down the back of the tablet. The idea is great! However, the byproduct of that design decision is that the cover easily slips out from the tablet itself which makes me really nervous.
The Pixel Slate is really the amalgamation of 3 software ecosystems. You’re able to run ChromeOS, Android as well as a customized version of Debian. All 3 of them are also at various states of maturity as well so I will talk about them separately.
I’ve been a very longtime fan of ChromeOS. I’ve been using it since the very first few devices and appreciated what it was meant to solve from the very start. ChromeOS is a fabulous desktop OS that covers the majority of my day-to-day activities which mostly stems from browsing the web or working on the various web tools. I love that it’s a lightweight OS that is persistently being updated and making it safe to use. It’s also very quick to reboot as it’s primarily running Chrome plus a lightweight terminal. I have also seen my parents move over from Windows to ChromeOS and have significantly more enjoyment of using a computer as they are no longer fussing with software and application updates
While ChromeOS is brilliant as a desktop, it is severely lacking as a tablet OS. This is where Android comes in and is a brilliant addition to ChromeOS in the context of the Pixel Slate; it gives Pixel Slate access to a library of existing applicatiions that work. The interesting thing about Android on ChromeOS is that it works like a Virtual Machine that is sitting on a separate sandbox of sorts.
For the testing of the device, I installed Instagram, Microsoft OneNote, Telegram and Microsoft Outlook to take Android out on a spin. Android as an idea works so well here as it fills in a number of gaps that ChromeOS natively has. Microsoft Outlook is a perfect example of that. While ChromeOS does not have a native mail app for Office 365 or a native calendar app at all, Microsoft Outlook does this so well. Just as it does in the Samsung Tab S3, it allows me to download all of my email and calendar items and access them offline. The same idea goes for Microsoft OneNote as well as Telegram.
In some ways the access to Android app actually provides some really interesting alternatives to either WIndows or MacOS. One example is an app called Jira In Motion. As we use Jira at work, there are actually no great native apps for JIra in Windows or Mac and so we end up relying on our tablet to do so. Jira In Motion allows me offline access to Jira on what would be my primary device. This is a massive win for this device as many developers focus their developing applications for Android or iOS and this gives the Pixel Slate a massive boost on usefulness.
There were a few odd things that I discovered though which were interesting. The first is that when I plugged in an external keyboard through USB, I couldn’t type on Microsoft OneNote although I had no problems typing on the Chrome browser. The other odd thing was that after I installed Outlook, I could easily access my Office 365 accounts but it couldn’t find a browser when I tried attaching a Google account. I installed Firefox to add my Google account but it magically recognized the Chrome browser after
Similarly, the ability to run LInux apps on ChromeOS offers a similar promise but solving a different problem. ChromeOS gives you the ability to spin up a Debian VM. I used the VM to install VIsual Studio Code as well as install ruby to run a very quick prototype and it worked well enough. However, not all apps work. I was testing Rambox Pro and it struggled to render the app properly or smoothly. One current shortcoming though is that it doesn’t run Docker without some hoopla. I haven’t quite figured out how to resolve the Docker situation yet. The inability to run Docker easily, though, is a bit of a shortfall for anyone who is developing server side software. The other big knock is that these 3 features (ChromeOS, Android and Linux) are designed to actually run in isolation of one another. There’s a potential workaround for it.
I love the idea of the Pixel Slate and it holds a lot of promise. In many ways, the Pixel Slate chooses the right technology for the right problem – ChromeOS is brilliant as a desktop for surfacing the web, Android is a better OS for apps than a web app especially for offline use and Linux for a developer is the right choice for develoepers who aren’t developing in Windows. The challenge however is that the ecosystem for tablet apps in Android is still severely lacking as the market share of tablet users is extremely small. The current Linux implementation doesn’t quite address what I need without a whole lot of additional work so that makes it a bit challenging still.
The end result though is that while it’s a great idea and concept, it’s not yet ready and hard to justify at CAD $2700. It needs to be polished and usable from the get go for it to be a keeper of a product