From the very beginning, Chrome OS has always been about 3 things: Speed, Simplicity, and Security. Google’s heavily customized operating system built upon the Linux kernel runs exceptionally well on almost any hardware, but unlike many GNU/Linux distributions that need you to have some level of familiarity with a terminal, Chrome OS is designed to be used by any consumer. Chromebooks have stormed into the education sector, but Google now has their sights set on enterprises, developers, and finally the public. The 2017 Google Pixelbook was a major step forward for Chrome OS as it proved that premium, high-end Chromebooks could compete with the Microsoft Surface and Apple Macbook. Now, the 2018 Google Pixel Slate is here to show the world that Chrome OS is flexible enough to compete with tablets without alienating developers or enterprise consumers.
The Second Detachable Chromebook Tablet
The Google Pixel Slate is a detachable Chromebook – a “Chromeblet” – that can be used as a tablet or a laptop. Detachable laptops are far from a new concept – the Microsoft Surface line has done it for years – and even though HP and Acer beat Google to the market with the HP Chromebook X2 and Acer Chromebook Tab 10 respectively, Google has refined the concept of a detachable Chromebook. When the HP Chromebook X2 and Acer Chromebook Tab 10 were first released, they were running a version of Chrome OS that was hardly suitable for tablet use. As a result, the first reviews for both devices suffered. Google didn’t rush their device to the market, though, as they are releasing the Pixel Slate at the perfect time in Chrome OS’ development.
The Google Pixel Slate comes after Google has completed their major tablet-centric overhaul in Chrome OS 70. The latest version of Chrome OS that ships on the Pixel Slate (Chrome OS 71) has large buttons in the Google Chrome browser, a full screen launcher in tablet mode with smart shortcuts up top, a redesigned system tray with larger, rounder icons and contrasting colors (reminiscent of Android Pie), a centered app shelf, gesture support in the multitasking screen, support for Android IMEs like Gboard, lock screen notifications, and much, much more. Chrome OS is finally ready for tablets, and the Google Pixel Slate is here to prove it.
Google Pixel Slate Design
The Pixel Slate is a sleek, thin, detachable tablet with a metal build that supports a variety of keyboard docks via the POGO pin connection at the bottom. It offers USB Type-C ports like the HP Chromebook X2 rather than full-size USB Type-A ports. Unlike the Pixelbook and Pixel smartphones, the Pixel Slate does not have a dual-tone back but rather a deep blue chassis. On the front, it has a 12.3-inch display with large bezels, but nothing out of the ordinary for a device that’s meant to be gripped by the sides. It also has dual, front-facing stereo speakers.
The official keyboard accessory for the device has a large touchpad and rounded keys to match the latest Google Material Theme guidelines, though third-party keyboard accessories from makers like Brydge have traditional square keys. An advantage that the Pixel Slate has over the HP Chromebook X2 is that the Pixel Slate’s keyboard is backlit – making it easier to see what you’re typing under poor lighting conditions. Lastly, the Pixel Slate’s keyboard base also acts as a stand that can hold the device up.
Google Pixel Slate Specifications
There are four different CPU types available in the Google Pixel Slate.
- Intel Celeron 3965Y running at 1.5GHz
- Intel Core m3-8100Y running at 3.4GHz
- Intel Core i5-8200Y running at 3.9GHz
- Intel Core i7-8500Y running at 4.2GHz
Memory and Storage
As for memory, the Pixel Slate will be available with either 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB RAM. Regarding storage, the highest-end Google Pixel Slate uses NVMe storage which can easily reach speeds of 3GB/s. All the other models use eMMC. The storage size ranges from 32, 64, 128, to 256GB and there is no SD card slot.
The Pixel Slate will make for a great multimedia device with its 12.3-inch 3000×2000 3:2 display, a significant bump from the Google Pixelbook’s 2400×1600 display.
On the front, the Pixel Slate has a single 8MP Sony IMX319 camera sensor while on the back it has a single 8MP Sony IMX355 wide-angle camera sensor. These are new Sony sensors that haven’t been used in other devices before. It’s interesting to see Google put an emphasis on the camera quality of Chromebooks, but there’s no better time to do so than with their first Chrome OS tablet.
Speaking of the camera, the Pixel Slate has the Google Camera app pre-installed. We’ve actually seen a few Chromebooks start to get the Google Camera app in recent weeks, so it’s not too surprising to see a new camera app here. But, the Pixel Slate gets one of the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 3’s key camera features: Portrait Mode. Portrait Mode is Google’s widely-praised bokeh effect that produces excellent selfie portraits in the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 3. The Pixel Slate will mostly likely gain support for Google ARCore for augmented reality applications and Google Duo for video calls as Google really wants the Pixel Slate’s cameras to be at the forefront.
The Pixel Slate has dual front-firing speakers, which should make for much better audio quality than most laptops and tablets. Unfortunately, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack to be found. The trend for smartphones is starting to migrate to laptops and tablets.
A staple of Android smartphones is finally coming to Chromebooks: fingerprint scanners. The Pixel Slate has a fingerprint scanner built into the top left of the device. It’s recessed a bit to make it easy for your finger to find the right spot. With secure biometric authentication, you can continue using a secure password to unlock your device while in laptop mode without suffering from having to type in your password in tablet mode.
Last year’s Google Pixelbook brought some new, previously Android-only features to the table such as a built-in Google Assistant. To this day, the Google Pixelbook remains the only Chromebook with support for Google Assistant. Naturally, the Pixelbook’s successor will also support Google Assistant. The Google Pixel Slate has a dedicated Google Assistant key in its keyboard, but Assistant can also be activated by voice or by pressing the key in the refreshed Pixelbook Pen accessory. Activating Assistant via the Pixelbook Pen will let you select an area on the screen to analyze with Google Assistant, much like Google Lens on smartphones. The Pixelbook Pen is an Active Electrostatic stylus pen just like last year’s model, of course.
Better Together with your Android phone
If you own an Android phone and buy a Chromebook, Google wants to reward you with a few nifty integrations. Last year’s Google Pixelbook introduced an Instant Tethering feature to allow your Pixelbook to automatically tether to your Google Pixel if your Pixelbook disconnects from the network. Google also introduced a feature called Easy Unlock which uses a Bluetooth handshake to unlock your Chromebook. Google is adding a third integration to the mix, first hinted at with the release of the Google Pixel 2, which lets you use your Chromebook to send SMS to and from your phone’s contacts.
Earlier this year, Google introduced a web client for Android Messages, the default SMS app on Google devices, which let you scan a QR code on a PC running any desktop browser to send and view your received text messages. Android Messages integration on Chromebooks takes things a bit further: Android Messages is installed as a Progressive Web App and integrates notifications with the message center. Google has consolidated Instant Tethering, Easy Unlock, and Android Messages integration under a single banner, code-named “Better Together.”
The Best of Android and Linux in Chrome OS
Android Apps and Android Pie
The Google Pixel Slate will, unsurprisingly, support Android apps and come pre-installed with the Google Play Store out-of-the-box. That’s been the norm for every new Chromebook as Play Store access affords Chromebook users a variety of apps they otherwise would not be able to use. But the Pixel Slate, like the Google Pixel 3, will be running Android Pie. This makes the Pixel Slate the first Chromebook to have its Android Runtime be based on the latest version of Android. ARC++ on all other Chromebooks is currently Android Nougat-based, though some will eventually join the Pixel Slate by skipping Android Oreo and jumping straight to Android Pie.
The Pixel Slate will eventually support Android IMEs such as Gboard. Although Chrome OS has a built-in software keyboard (that even recently gained support for a floating keyboard mode), its keyboard offering lacks many of the features that keyboards like Gboard offer. Gboard support will certainly make typing in tablet mode a more enjoyable experience. A feature first introduced in Android TVs and later smartphones and tablets in Android 8.0 Oreo will be making its way to Chromebooks running Android Pie: picture-in-picture mode. The Pixel Slate naturally will be first in line to enjoy picture-in-picture mode in supported Android apps.
Lastly, the new Adobe Acrobat will be launching with the Pixel Slate.
Linux App Support
To entice developers, Google introduced Linux app support in Chrome OS during Google I/O 2018, and of course, the Google Pixel Slate will support Linux apps. Chrome OS runs Linux apps in a container without compromising on security. However, Linux app support is still a work-in-progress. Although initially launching in beta for the Google Pixelbook, Linux app support has since expanded to dozens more capable Chromebooks thanks to the feature reaching the stable branch in Chrome OS 69.
Linux app support is perfect for running specialized tools for development like Android Studio, but don’t expect to be gaming on your Chromebook via Steam just yet. Even though Steam Play for Linux has recently received major improvements in performance and compatibility, hardware GPU acceleration is not yet supported for Linux apps running in Chrome OS so expect the performance of games to be rather poor. Google’s Project Stream, however, aims to make it possible for you to run high-end games like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey on any hardware and software configuration – including Chromebooks running Chrome OS – so long as you have access to desktop-class Google Chrome.
Google Pixel Slate Pricing and Availability
The Google Pixel Slate is a premium detachable Chrome OS tablet, and its pricing reflects that. The device starts at $599 for the Pixel Slate, $199 for the Pixel Slate keyboard, and $99 for the Pixelbook Pen. As a bonus, buyers will get 3 free months of YouTube TV.
The Google Pixel Slate will be available in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom later this year.
This is a developing story. Additional details may be added over time.
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