Sharper screen without sacrificing battery
The Slate has a pixel density of 293 ppi -- something Google touts as the highest in its category. Certainly it beats the 12-inch iPad Pro, the Surface Pro 6 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 on that front, as they all come in at between 260 and 283 ppi.
Google is calling this a "Molecular Display," because it's invested a lot into making this high-res screen -- you can see the details to the molecular level, get it? Google was able to squeeze a higher-resolution display into such a thin device because it uses a power-efficient LCD tech called low-temperature polysilicon (LTPS). This panel uses less energy per pixel, allowing for sharper displays without sacrificing battery life or size. The company is promising up to 12 hours on a charge, which is impressive for the Slate's waifish profile and 1.6-pound weight.
More important, it doesn't hurt image quality. Videos and pictures looked sharp, bright and vibrant. The 8K HDR YouTube clips I saw were gorgeous, and I could see every little detail and shade in the old buildings and leafy landscapes.
I can't vouch for the power efficiency claims yet, but "Molecular Display" is a funny name that rivals "Liquid Retina."
You can also draw on this screen with the Pixelbook Pen, which now comes in a blue color option to match the Slate. It was fluid and sufficiently sensitive during my testing, letting me scribble artfully across a canvas from the lock screen. Sadly, Google is just another company that doesn't see fit to include the stylus with the tablet, so be prepared to shell out another $99.
Flanking the display are two front-facing speakers that were, let's say, functional. Google says it's still working on the audio, so it's possible the sound quality might get better before launch.
A Google-engineered keyboard case
One of the most important components to get right for a productivity device is the keyboard, and so far, I think Google delivers. The Slate doesn't actually ship with its companion folio, but you might want to spend the extra $200 to get it. It's a magnetic keyboard cover that doubles as a kickstand that you can adjust to prop the tablet up at any angle you'd like (similar to the Pixel C and a ton of other detachables). It locks at the top and bottom for extra rigidity, but during my hands-on it was pretty sturdy even at angles in between. It was slightly annoying when the magnets kept latching on to other metallic surfaces, though.
The keys themselves are round, and apparently early users found that the lack of corners actually made for more accurate typing. "They were making fewer errors because they were less likely to hit corners of [the wrong] keys," Janofsky said. While I didn't type enough to get a sense of accuracy, I didn't find them to be that much different from the rectangular island-style buttons I'm used to.
While there isn't a lot of travel (just 1.2mm) in this keyboard, it was comfortable enough to type on, much like Microsoft's Type Cover. Like Apple and Microsoft, Google took special care to make these keys quiet -- going so far as to call them "Hush keys." I never found previous keyboard cases all that noisy, but the Pixel Slate's buttons seemed more muted than others I've tried. The space bar, though, still resonated noticeably when struck.
I'm glad that Google adopted a pogo pin connection for the Slate and its keyboard, as opposed to Bluetooth, like it did with the Pixel C, which caused infuriating connectivity problems. I was also impressed that the device switched from tablet to desktop mode basically the instant the case snapped on. It also helped that the Slate's screen is larger than the Pixel C's by two inches (diagonally), allowing Google to add a surprisingly decent trackpad and an escape key to the folio. There's also a dedicated Assistant button on the left of the space bar, making it easy to type out commands without making a sound.
Fingerprint sensor, Duo camera and premium hardware
To keep up with all the work you'll be doing, the Slate comes equipped with Intel's latest Celeron or Core m3, i5 or i7 processors. The Celeron and Core M3 should be good enough for basic web browsing. But if you need more power for multitasking (or absolutely need to have 27 tabs open), the Core i5 should get the job done, especially if you spring for a RAM upgrade. The base model has only 4GB, but you can get up to 16GB. (No matter what, though, that i7 is probably overkill.)
The Slate comes with a pair of 8-megapixel cameras -- one on the rear, if you simply must take photos with your tablet. The one in front is optimized for videoconferencing, and Google is calling it the Duo camera. It has a generous 190-degree field of view and 1.4-micron pixels for better use with groups and in low light.
This is also the first Chrome OS device to support fingerprint unlock, with the sensor built into the power button. Finally, like any respectable productivity machine, the Slate comes with multiple USB-C ports. It's only got two, which isn't exactly generous, but at least it beats the iPad Pro's single lightning port and Smart Connector (pogo pins).
The Pixel Slate will start at $599 when it's available later this year (Google hasn't shared an exact date yet). To really use it as a detachable, you'll probably have to buy the $200 keyboard folio, making this a total investment of at least $800. That's quite a lot to cough up, but still hundreds less than the 12-inch iPad Pro and the just-announced Surface Pro 6, which start with more powerful processors. And it's slightly cheaper than Samsung's Galaxy Tab S4.
I'm surprised at how much Google was able to cram into the Pixel Slate while keeping its costs much lower than the competition. "The thing I really want users and readers to take away is that Google is investing in tablets," Liu said. "For a long time, we haven't, but we're changing that." Of course, Google isn't alone in making Chrome OS tablets or detachables, with partners like HP and Acer already having made the first such products. Dell and Lenovo will no doubt push out their own offerings eventually, too.
What I'm most excited about is the potential for Chrome OS to be a powerful 2-in-1 OS. It looks like Google was able to take the lessons it learned from the mistakes of the Pixel C (a strangely beloved device in spite of its flaws) and parlay that into a promising contender for the growing 2-in-1 category.