Google Pixel Slate: first impressions

For the past week or so, I have been experimenting with the Pixel Slate, Google's new hybrid tablet/laptop. Here is me typing this blog post right now, on the train to NYC. 

For a longer,  more technical analysis, this review from The Verge is good.

The Pixel Slate is an odd machine, and I am still trying to figure out how to use it, and then, whether I like it or not.  The heart of the oddness is that it is really equal parts laptop and tablet -- when the keyboard is attached it feels and acts like any other Chromebook.  And with the keyboard detached, it feels like an Android tablet -- actually running mobile apps from the Google Play store.  (I didn't realize this until now, but apparently this is also true for other new Chromebooks)

It is the back and forth between tablet mode and laptop mode that is odd, and requires a fair amount of cognitive overhead.  Like, for reading email should I use Gmail in Chrome or use the Gmail app?  Same goes for all other apps -- you have to make about which experience you want, when, and then adjust accordingly.  Often times this means multiple apps doing the same thing simultaneously (or more specifically, a Chrome web version and a mobile app version).

But to take a step back: what got me interested in the slate was exactly this mix of form factors:

For example, for long-form reading, I like tablet-mode, where I can get full focus on the content, and page through with my finger (like reading a newspaper on my lap).  Same goes for short-form emailing.  Basically, I like the addition of this "lean back" mode that the tablet form factor gets you.

And then, in "laptop mode", you want the experience of, well, a laptop.  High fidelity interaction with emails, docs and websites.   The slate does all of that basically fine, though the major question is the keyboard.  I am currently using the Google Pixel Slate Keyboard, which is a floppy, folio-style magnet-attached model.  The key and trackpad action are surprisingly good, but the dynamics around folding and holding the keyboard take a little getting used to -- the attachment is floppy, and the magnetized folding holder on the back takes up additional space.   Another option is the Brydge keyboard, which intends to deliver more of a "laptop feel" when using it in laptop mode -- I am curious here about both the key action and the quality of the Bluetooth connectivity.

Another nice feature of the tablet+laptop is fingerprint unlock -- this is what you'd expect from a phone or tablet, but don't normally see on a laptop.  It's a nice convenience.

So, I would say the jury is still out.  The real questions are whether "tablet mode" and the fingerprint unlock are worth the overall cognitive load of a device that's neither entirely here nor there.

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