Just when the 2-in-1 hybrid laptop looked like it could have just been a passing fad, all three of the biggest tech companies in the world announced their own versions of the form factor. Apple has its iPad Pro, Microsoft has it’s Surface 3 and Surface Pro 4, and Google now has its Pixel-C.
The first question you might have about this comparison is why not compare the Pixel-C to Microsoft’s newest Surface Pro 4? Well it’s pretty simple: the Surface Pro 4 is much more expensive and has a very different use-case as a high-powered Ultrabook, kind of like the iPad Pro. The Surface 3 is a portable tablet-first, experience that just happens to work for productivity as well—just like the Pixel-C.
Today we are taking a look at the Pixel-C and the Surface 3, two devices which seem to be going head-to-head for the attention of consumers in the market for tablet that also could pass as a laptop.
The Pixel-C and the Surface 3 are both products that fall in the category of a 2-in-1 hybrid device—in other words, depending on how you use it, they can function as productivity-focused laptops or tablets for media consumption. The Pixel-C does this through a pretty unique magnetic attachment to its keyboard that allows it to stand up in a way that makes it seem as if it were almost defying gravity. The magnet also works when you detach the Pixel-C and flip it around to use in tablet mode. Unlike the Surface 3, which includes USB ports, the Pixel-C has only a single USB-Type C port.
The design of the Pixel-C is really where it shines though. Made in the same line as the fantastic Chromebook Pixel, the Pixel-C looks and feels like a premium device with an elegance that no Android tablet has ever been able to pull off.
The Surface 3, released this past May, has a very familiar look if you’ve seen any of the previous Surface devices. It’s always been a beautifully designed product, and Microsoft has only improved it over the years. It’s thinner and lighter than previous versions, making it an even more portable device to take with you everywhere. In terms of industrial design and hardware, we’re going to have to call this one a tie, perhaps with a slight nod to Google for creating the best-looking Android tablet ever made.
The key component of both the Pixel-C and Surface 3 is the detachable keyboard. It’s the thing that allows the devices to be more than just tablets. Let’s cut to the chase: I prefer the Pixel-C keyboard in almost every way. It feels more sturdy, more tactile, more portable, and better spaced.
The one thing it lacks, though, is a trackpad, which both the Type Cover and Touch Cover for the Surface have. Android support for mouses and trackpads isn’t all that great anyway, so it’s an area where the Surface 3 has a clear advantage. Because the Surface 3 runs the full version of Windows 10, a trackpad is a necessity and allows for all sorts of multitasking and productivity that isn’t possible in a mobile OS.
So if you’re going to be doing the sort of thing that requires intense multitasking and pointer maneuvering, you’re probably going to want to go with Surface 3. If all you want is a place to type, the Pixel-C does it best.
Let me make something really clear: Both the Pixel-C and the Surface 3 have really nice displays. The Surface 3 has a 10.8-inch screen with 1920 × 1280 resolution, equaling a pixel density of around 214 pixels per inch.
In terms of pure specifications, the Pixel-C edges it out with its slightly smaller 10.2-inch display that comes in at a whopping 308 pixels per inch. It’s bright, accurate, and the clear winner here. When Microsoft undoubtedly releases the Surface 4 next spring there might be a closer debate here, but for now the Pixel-C has the better display.
In terms of software, the Pixel-C and Surface 3 couldn’t be more different. The Pixel-C runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow and the Surface 3 runs Windows 10 Pro, a full desktop version of Windows. Microsoft wants Windows 10 to be something that works as effortlessly on tablets and hybrids as well as it does on desktops and laptops, but if you’re primarily looking for a tablet here, Android is a far more fleshed out and consistent mobile platform. It’s also going to be significantly more straightforward to use for people who are more comfortable with smartphones than they are with complicated desktop operating systems.
What Android cannot do though, is run all the applications and games that only work on a full version of Windows. You can do literally anything on a Surface 3, which makes it a true 2-in-1 that can handle pretty much any computing situation you throw at it. Until Google increases Android’s multitasking ability (which it looks like it’s working on), and puts a little more support behind Android tablet apps, the Surface 3 is probably a better choice here.
The Pixel-C starts at $499 for its 32GB version, while the keyboard is going to cost you an extra $149. The Surface 3 also starts at $499, but the difference is that your storage option starts at 64GB, which is really nice. Furthermore, the Surface 3 keyboard is a bit cheaper at $129. They’re both more expensive than your average tablet, but Surface 3 is the better deal overall.
The Pixel-C and the Surface 3 are both fantastic hybrids—some of the best that have ever been made, in fact. If you are in the market for a premium Android tablet, I can’t imagine recommending anything over the Pixel-C. At $499 it’s expensive, but it’s in the same ballpark as iPad Air 2 and it’s every bit as nice (except when it comes to apps, of course).
I’ll admit that I’m more excited to be using the Pixel-C right now because it’s new and shiny, but when I put the two products up next to each other, it’s hard not to look at the Surface 3 as the more well-rounded product. As the hybrid, 2-in-1 market gets more and more competitive, I have no doubt that both products will only get better and cheaper from here on out—and both leave me excited for the future of this form factor.