Today Google released its new 10” tablet, the Pixel C, and a number of reviews have shown up in my news feed. (Ars Technica, TechCrunch, Re/Code (Walt Mossberg), Wired, Engadget.) There are one or two good reviews, but most of the others seem to be mediocre at best. (We’ve written about the Pixel C a time or two after Google previewed it.)
Earlier today, I wrote about a version of Android that retrofits the OS with the ability to have multiple windows on the same screen. Oddly enough, one complaint that a number of the reviews of the Pixel C have in common is that the it should feature the ability to split the window for multiple applications, but it doesn’t. Adding insult to injury, most Android apps are optimized for phones, not tablets this large. As a result, the huge, high-resolution screen is largely underutilized. Applications use the entire ten-inch screen for just a single window, as if they were on a giant cell phone. That’s bad enough on a Nexus 7, but on a 10” tablet it starts to get a little ridiculous. Walt Mossberg writes in his review:
For instance, in Slack, the wildly popular business chat app, the Pixel C shows only the main messaging panel, like on a phone. To see the side menu of chat rooms and individual chats, you have to tap a button and it will slide over, just like on a phone. But, on the iPad, the two panels coexist. On Windows tablets, iPads, and some Samsung devices, apps can be used alongside other apps in side-by-side windows. But not on the Pixel C.
I imagine this is probably because the Pixel C was designed at a time when Marshmallow was going to allow screen-splitting—the fact that the tablet’s aspect ratio is one to the square-root of 2, so that whenever it’s sliced in half it divides into two smaller screens, and those in turn divide, and so on. They must have figured they wouldn’t have to worry about applications working at different sizes of screen if they could just split the screen into multiple windows. But for whatever reason, that feature got dropped before Marshmallow was released, leaving them with a single ten-inch window that ended up being underutilized.
Hence, the Pixel with its single-phone-app-per-window is at a disadvantage compared to the Surface, which has Microsoft’s Windows with its multi-tasking, multi-window ability, and the iPad, which got split screen with iOS9 and has more apps that are optimized to take advantage of the bigger screen. It does seem likely Marshmallow will get multi-window mode somewhere down the line, but until then, it still has that disadvantage. Another disadvantage is that the Pixel C has a shorter battery life than the current iPad or Surface models.
It’s not all bad news in the reviews—most reviewers are impressed with the heft and build quality of the metal tablet, the ease-of-use of the optional add-on keyboard, and the strength of the magnets that hold the keyboard to the tablet, even if it does tend to wobble a little when typed on. The processor and memory specs are pretty good, too—the lowest-end $499 model has 32 GB of storage, compared to the 16 GB in the iPad of the same price.
Still, it seems to me that there’s not a whole lot of reason to buy a $500 tablet with a $150 keyboard that can’t even run more than one app at a time. Perhaps if the window-splitting mode comes in, that might change, but for now, it doesn’t seem to offer a whole lot more than a smaller, cheaper tablet—at least, from my own limited perspective. But then, I like 7” tablets and small-screened smartphones.