I have two review scripts here. One is what I really think and this other one where I politely list out what I don’t like about the new Pixel Slate. I’m going to regret this.
Full disclosure: Google has sent me free hardware in the past because I’m on Youtube or something. They gave me this Pixel 3 XL I use as my primary phone. And I like it. I reallllly like it. With that said onto he review:
Google’s new Pixel Slate is a dumpster and the pixelbook pen is match.
TLDR: The pen is horrible and the device is laggy and palm rejection is hit or miss.
OK, that’s pretty harsh, I know There are people out there who love Chrome OS, I think I met them both in an elevator once in Milwaukee. They were lovely people.
But I review tech from the point of view of an illustrator. I don’t focus on the stuff you can learn by reading a press release so if I don’t mention how good the speakers sound or how it has two usb ports I’m sorry, that’s not what I do.
I want to know what it’s like to draw on. If you are looking for something to draw on this is not it. And to be fair to Google they aren’t marketing this to creatives. It looks like a Surface Pro or an iPad pro and is priced like them so it’s fair to look at it from that perspective.
Since a lot of folks flip their lid when I compare anything to an iPad I’m not going to do that today. Instead I’m going to compare this to the Galaxy Tab S4, An android tablet and a far better piece of tech.
OK now that that’s out of the way, as a person who cosplays as a professional reviewer in my spare time I should explain why I found this to be unusable.
The Pixel slate is a Chromebook… well not a chromeBOOK because those are shaped like books.. or laptops, whatever, it’s a Tablet that runs uses the chrome OS.
OH! Disclosure number two: I’ve never used Chrome OS before.
Chrome OS was created to be a lightweight OS that was fast because it was really only made to run a browser. The OS isn’t’ doing nearly as much as Windows so in theory you can have a snappy usable computer for around $200. This is the good and bad of Chrome OS. The good: it’s super cheap, the bad it’s limited.
Folks who just need a computer for email and web browsing or using google docs, perfect. Schools love these things, cheap, if a kid spills fanta on one they just hand em another one. Another chromebook, not another Fanta. and log into their Google account and they are back where they started, no fuss.
Recently Google added the ability to run android apps on Chrome OS, on paper this is a great idea. In practice it’s feels pretty clunky.
Apps blink in and out when you switch in between them, animations stutter, scrolling often feels lagging and takes a second to respond to touch.
When using just the browser in Chrome OS it feels like a really solid OS, it’s the android apps that feel duct taped together. The user experience just feels hacky.. My first impression of the device was really good. Things were smooth, I loved having a real browser on a tablet. But once I started installing anything that wasn’t already on the tablet I could see the seems.
Using a standard Android tablet feels much smoother and cohesive. Even though the hardware of the Pixelbook looks and feels good the lack of polish on the software side gives breaks that emersion.
It reminds me of my first Android phone from 7 years ago. Id did everything the iPhone did but the iPhone was so much smoother making the android feel like a knock off. Android has obviously come a long long way and Chrome OS has been around a while but the android app integration is fairly new and unfortunitly has a ways to go.
Once you get into an app the experience is hit or miss. Some drawing apps were unusable. Sorry Medibang fans.
Some were actually really good. You go Autodesk Sketchbook!
I should talk about this guy, this is the pixelbook pen. It does not come with the Slate, it’s a $100 add on. This is unfortunately becoming the standard for styluses. Although the galaxy Tab 4 pen is included at no extra cost.
If you are taking notes, using this for handwriting it’s fine. For drawing it’s really not.
You have to draw really fast to get a smooth line, if you slow down just a little it gets really jittery. I’m talking normal medium speed stroks are really bad. With really slow lines this can be annoying but I’m finding I’m drawing at a normal speed I’m still getting a ton of jitter. It makes detailed line work of any kind impossible across all drawing apps.
This happens with the Microsoft Surface Pen as well but you can use stroke straightening in Photoshop or Clip studio to clean a lot of that up. That’s not really an option here on these lightweight Android apps. Sketchbook’s stroke assist works differently here than on the desktop. It’s trying to hard to predict what you wanted, if you draw something that looks even remotely like a circle it turns it into a circle. Handy if that’s what you want but when all you need is a straighter line that’s not to helpful.
Ibis Paint X does have that feature however the Pixelbook pen is not one of the supported styluses so you don’t get any pressure sensitivity making that app pretty unuseful.
The pressure curve on the stylus feels off. For example I want to be able to hold a consistent level of pressure when I’m drawing, so if I draw a circle at medium pressure it looks even as I’m drawing. On the higher end of the pressure curve it works pretty well. When I’m applying less pressure I don’t feel like I have as much control over the amount of line I’m getting.
Lighter strokes are all over the place. Sometimes it makes a really light line, sometimes it registers no line at all and just adding a tiny bit of pressure feels like it could heavy to fast.
To add to the problems here palm rejection is spotty. Worst case scenario it will think you’re trying to pinch and zoom when your palm and the pen are on the canvas at the same time. Best case scenario you just have to clean up a lot of dots and dashes when you’re done.
This brings us to the art software that’s available. There are Android drawing apps, but there is nothing on Android I love. Sketchbook is good, Affinity painter is good, Art Flow is good a lot of folks love Ibes paint X… but that’s not useable here because of the lack of presure.
Even the apps that i like don’t work as well here as the do on the Galaxy tab S4. I get the feeling that Chrome OS, as far as the Android app integration isn’t there yet.
And some of you are thinking, hey, it’s brand new, give app makers time to fix this stuff for the pen. The Pixelbook pen has been out for a year and many of the problems it has can’t be fixed with software.
I expected more. I assumed that Google wanted to get into the hardware game for the same reasons Microsoft did. Microsoft could make all the touch interfaces they wanted if all their vendors were competing on price and cutting corners you would never experience what Windows could really do. The Surface Pro came out of that, they wanted to create the best hardware that shows off what Windows can be. And I think they have one that.
When software and hardware work together you get a great user experience and a great product. It feels to me like Google got this backwards.
I’ve read that the Pixel Slate signals that Google is moving away from Android tablets and is looking to focus on Chrome OS for tablets. I don’t think it’s there yet and to me, it seems like the wrong direction.
I would think it would be easier to put a fully functional chrome browser on android than the other way around. And it seems like the future is in arm chips and not the x86 architecture. Buying one of these has all the confusion of buying a laptop. How much ram do I need, what is the difference between a celeron processor and an i5. Tech heads know this, the rest of the world does not.
So many things about this product feel like it exists to fill a space on a shelf. Well we have a phone and a laptop, we need a Pixel tablet. Like it was invented by a marketing department, not by a product team.
I wanted to like this thing. I just couldn’t.