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The Google Pixel C was the best Android tablet ever made

Google Pixel C
Google Pixel C (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

Android tablets, no matter what company makes them, have continuously struggled to be relevant alongside the iPad's dominance. And Google's history with tablets, Android and Chrome OS alike, is even rougher — it's often argued that everything went downhill after the second Nexus 7. But I'll forever remember a different tablet, the Google Pixel C, as the best Android tablet ever made.

But the funniest thing about the Pixel C is that I only have these positive feelings about it when it's paired with its metal keyboard accessory — which, at the time, ran you $150 on top of the $500 tablet. Without it, the Pixel C is rather forgettable and even boring. That's because the keyboard — and that's only the metal keyboard — is an exceptional piece of hardware design, and the way it all came together was pure perfection. And it deserves more praise.

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Google Pixel C

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Google Pixel C

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Google Pixel C

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Google Pixel C

The stark "slab of metal" isn't particularly unique, but was a huge upgrade from the Nexus 9 and other Android tablets of the time, and perhaps unsurprisingly makes this design continue to feel modern in 2020. The flat edges, smooth back, perfectly-drilled stereo speaker slots and simple buttons are still great. And the multi-color LED light bar on the back is just a fantastic touch. And it gives you one of the best features ever put in a tablet: double-tap the back while it's sleeping, and the light bar shows you the battery level. It's the little things.

The tablet's design still feels modern, and even some of the specs hold up today.

That design was filled with solid specs and features, too. Sure the Tegra X1 processor is old, and 3GB of RAM isn't enough nowadays. But the 34.2 Wh (about 9200 mAh) battery with 15W USB-C charging is still good, there's a headphone jack and stereo speakers, and a usable pair of cameras. The screen bezels are hilariously large by today's standards, but the 10.2-inch 2560x1800 panel actually looks great (though it's a bit dim) and was early in the game of moving to a very "tall" landscape aspect ratio instead of the old-school 16:10 look.

But using the Pixel C as a tablet didn't live up to the potential of all that hardware. Even the exquisite hardware design can't remove you from the fact that you're trying to use a 10-inch tablet running Android, and that means huge issues with app compatibility and an interface that just doesn't feel like it utilizes the screen size. Yes things have improved a bit in the latter category with tablets running Android 10, but the former is still a problem today — Android apps are mostly still bad on large tablets.

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Google Pixel C

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Google Pixel C

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Google Pixel C

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Google Pixel C

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Google Pixel C

But that's what made the keyboard accessory so amazing. It took a so-so Android tablet and made it an incredible little Android laptop. The keyboard, made in the same great minimalist metal aesthetic, attaches to the tablet with incredibly strong magnets that immediately suck it into place with what feels like three times the force necessary. The hinge mechanism for adjusting the angle of the screen is contained in the keyboard, not the tablet, and is tight and infinitely adjustable. This design only works because the keyboard is Bluetooth, not using a pogo pin connector, and immediately pairs and connects every time you click the magnets together.

The metal keyboard accessory turned a so-so tablet into an amazing mini-laptop with tons of capability.

That large screen with big bezels and a tall aspect ratio ended up having a knock-on benefit of making the keyboard accessory much larger. So even with the complicated hinge and magnet area, there's still plenty of room to have full-sized keys with good spacing, as well as a nearly complete set of keys. There's enough weight in the keyboard base that the tablet doesn't feel top-heavy, even when typing in your lap. And there's even a little pad at the bottom for the screen to rest on that doubles as a pseudo palm rest.

In typical reviewer trope fashion, I wrote a majority of this piece on the Pixel C. And damnit, it still feels great today. It's a little mushy and arguably could have even less key travel and still be usable, but that's coming from someone who types on a MacBook Pro every day. Other than missing dedicated keys for brackets, I don't have a single issue typing thousands of words on this keyboard case — and I have written countless AC articles on this thing while traveling over the years. Very few tablet keyboards offer that level of comfort and usability.

This tablet and keyboard are so amazingly over-designed, I wish Google would re-release it.

And when you're done working on the Pixel C, the keyboard immediately becomes a protective cover, again utilizing very strong magnets to suck the screen face-down onto the keyboard. No need to have a portion of the keyboard that wraps around the tablet, or attaches in any other way — just plop it down, and it's fully contained just like a laptop. The tablet even wirelessly charges the keyboard while it's closed, so you'll never think about power — it just works. And when you're ready to use it again, the Google-sanctioned method of removing the face-down tablet with a twist of the top is ever-so-clever, if a bit unnerving at first.

A lot of these great design elements and features would later be replicated in plenty of other tablets, and you can of course find a much better overall experience today in the Galaxy Tab S6 and iPad Pro. But there's something about the look and feel of the Pixel C that still seems more desirable than those. And there are certainly still some aspects of the way the keyboard and tablet interact that haven't been replicated since — I'm dying to use it again today if only some of the Pixel C's specs were modernized.

Google Pixel C

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

It's so incredible that even now, nearly five years after it was released, I still want to pick up and use the Pixel C. The keyboard is still just as great to type on, the software is surprisingly quick, and though Android 8.1 feels old at this point, there are still plenty of things I love doing on it. It's a great little "weekend computer" for browsing, checking social networks, triaging a pile of email and doing the occasional bit of typing.

Sadly, the Pixel C's life came to an end rather fast for a device that was so beloved by those who had one. After receiving two major software updates, the Pixel C was outright discontinued just two years after it was released. And now, nearly five years after it launched, nothing better summarizes the Pixel C than what our own Phil Nickinson wrote in our original review of it back in 2015:

It's easy when reviewing a device to get distracted by what the product could have been, or what it maybe was supposed to have been, rather than what it actually is. And that distraction is even more apparent when it comes to the Google Pixel C, a beautiful but heavy 10-inch Android tablet that almost certainly isn't yet living up to its full potential.

The Pixel C's design was just overflowing with potential. Yet, it was never realized — not in the two years it was available, or in the years since. And like so many Google hardware products, few people ever had an opportunity to use a Pixel C. It never received a model refresh, and its spiritual successor, the Pixel Slate, was a total disaster. I felt at the time, as I still do today, that the Pixel C deserved a simple update with new components to give this hardware design more time to shine.

I would absolutely re-buy this exact tablet if it was only updated in a few small areas, with zero design changes. It'd easily live on if it simply had a 2020 spec sheet, and obviously would benefit from a touch of modernizing with a brighter display, fingerprint sensor and maybe some chassis lightening. But I wouldn't be picky — the Pixel C wasn't perfect before, and yet it was still my favorite tablet. And it'd be my favorite tablet all over again if it were re-released today.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I still have my Pixel C. It doesn't get any use unfortunately but I loved it for pinball games on Android. Too bad Google didn't bother with any proper successors (the Pixel Slate doesn't count because it runs Chrome OS instead of Android).
  • I didn't like mine. It was snappy at first but after 2 or 3 months it got really slow and laggy and would crash apps.
  • Same here. The first few months it was snappy but then it went sh*t.
  • Still using my Pixel C daily and love it. The keyboard is a great accessory. Can't see anything replacing it. Wish Google kept the pixel tablet line going.
  • Pixel c is by far my favorite. Would still be using it if the pattern to sign into Android was not messed up. I could log on to the tablet with my pattern but the next step of loging into Android with the same pattern shows error that the pattern is not recognized. It is the same pattern I've been using since I originally set up the pixel c. Irksome!
  • Still using mine. I use my pixel book for most things but the pixel C is perfect for filling in all the gaps where the pixel book is not ideal.
  • Would be great with ChromeOS. For me ChromeOS is a better tablet OS than Android.
  • I used the second Nexus 7 for years until the lack of memory started to be a problem. By then I realized all I really wanted it for was media consumption, so I got a low end Samsung Tab.
  • I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 5Se android tablet with a Logitech K480 keyboard. I did use it a lot, until I purchased a Microsoft Surface Pro 7. I only use my tablet once in awhile now for a couple of games, like Real Racing 3. I can't remember the brand name, but there are other decent leather case with keyboard options for android tablets. No, I was never impressed with the Pixel C. I stayed away from android tablets for a long, long time. The tab A was my first tablet.... Now, I'll never buy another one.... I don't used my 5Se enough.
  • Further proof that this is an iOS site masquerading as an Android one because it promotes the sterile bland design ethos of Apple - which Google fails at trying to emulate - instead of the third party OEMs who actually drive innovation and creativity including the many of their ideas that have been adopted into mainline AOSP. In fact, there have been plenty of great ideas proposed by OEMs for AOSP that Google initially rejects for years only to add it a day late and a dollar short. If it weren't for the Android OEMs the iPhone would have the same look and feel as the iPhone 4, and for that matter Windows Phone likely would have not only succeeded but possibly be #2 to iOS in market share, if not a close #3 behind. The ACTUAL best Android tablet ever? The original Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro, released back in 2014. Why? Because even though it didn't succeed in the marketplace it contained a lot of the ideas that Apple, Microsoft and yes Google later put in their productivity tablets and 2-in-1 devices, especially the iPad Pro (the original iteration was a practical clone of the Tab Pro). Its main drawbacks were software, not hardware. Google never did squat with tablet UX/UI after Honeycomb until they FINALLY got around to it the last couple of years for the sake of ChromeOS. Samsung tried to make up for what Google Android lacked in larger screen devices with TouchWiz but it came at the cost of performance, as Android was not a 64 bit OS yet meaning there wasn't enough RAM to accommodate both Android and TouchWiz. Lots of people hated TouchWiz - including the authors on this siite - but they forget that A) it was only necessary because Google Android was lacking in the first place and B) Samsung was only able to replace it because Google incorporated most of it - either Samsung's code or TouchWiz features that their own software engineers implemented - into Android. But even had it run crisp and perfectly, it still would have been held back by the lack of productivity apps. Why? Because Google never developed them (still haven't to this day even though it would be as simple as porting the top Linux productivity apps to Android in some cases) and never came out with a subscription plan to incentivize third party developers like Google Play Pass until Apple did it first. Even now, Chromebooks are the only "good" large form devices in the Google ecosystem because you can take advantage of Linux apps.
  • Apple's design isn't "blond and sterile" I'm not saying Android OEMs are either, but other than Samsung, most Android OEMs don't have the style and brand recognition of Apple or anything on the Android side to match the mighty iPad and I would never consider an Android tablet, they're hot garbage.
  • I would agree with you if the Pixel C didn't become so incredibly slow and laggy over the years, each update made it worse. I still have one and it's some nice hardware and it still works but for every day usage it's abysmally slow. Even showing its age, it should never have become this slow and laggy, clearly some major software clusterfuck by Google....
  • I had it for two years. Loved it while it worked. Got two updates and the last one wrecked it. Half of the screen would not work. I sent it for repairs but Google could not fix it. I got a refund instead. Google has had issues with quality control since I remember with the nexus and the pixels. I prefer Samsung and the tab s4 and s6 are the best. The screens are gorgeous
  • I never used a Pixel C, so I can't vouche for it being "the best Android tablet ever made". But I am completely satisfied with my Galaxy Tab S6, which does everything a Pixel C could do, plus a lot more. I wouldn't recommend a Pixel C to anyone now. The keyboard may be fantastic, but that is probably the only feature that aged well.
  • No need to look for a new Pixel C. The Pixel Slate with Brydge keyboard is already here. Welcome to the future. It's bright here, with 3000x2000 pixels, an Intel Y chip and 8GB of RAM. Dazzling.
  • Sadly, the Pixel C was incredibly flawed from my experience. I bought one, it lasted a few months before a hardware failure caused it to no longer run. I got a replacement, which also lasted just a few months. My father in law got one too, and again within three months the same thing. It was great while it worked at least.
  • Tab s6 while not perfect is really good . If the keyboard was on level with the pixel c it wouldn't even be close.
  • I still daily a Pixel C for news, media consumption, and various forms of communication, and most often without the physical keyboard. It still stands in for my laptop when I travel. For business, it'll do in a pinch, but a full fledged laptop runs circles around it when productivity matters. I'd kill for an update, though. Modern specs, Chrome, and an SSD. Take my money, please. I love my Pixelbook, but this form factor deserves more development. And in case you missed it, I'm on my C now.
  • LOVE IT! Bought both my first Android devices - the Pixel and the Pixel C at (I think) the end of 2016. They have been my constant companions and the tablet still works beautifully well albeit on 8.1.0 (2018!) while the phone died last year and was replaced with the Pixel 5 (which I run on 4G for the moment). I would be very upset if my C died as it is the perfect size and weight to complement my morning coffee in bed through to babysitting, cafe soirees, to post-prandial browsing. I purchased a 3rd-party case with a slim keyboard in the protective flap and am very happy with this too, although I rarely use the keyboard these days. Very versatile device I use for all my browsing, email and socials, the near-A4-sized screen is perfect (in Portrait orientation) for reading the occasional document. In fact the only activity I reserve for the old legacy Windows PC is image processing with full Photoshop suite. Damn Google and their horrific track record of killing their hardware! Long live my Pixel C!