Last month I published my review of the Pixel C. While I thought it was a very interesting tablet, in the end I was unable to give it any sort of recommendation due to the severe software bugs that were present. To me, this was quite surprising, as Google has a relatively good track record when it comes to the software on the Nexus devices. During the review process I reached out to Google to voice my concerns about the issues. What both concerns me and gives me hope for the Pixel C is that Google was readily aware of most of the problems I brought up. It concerns me because I think the appropriate decision would have been to delay its release, but it gives me hope that these issues will be fixed. 

During my discussions with Google, I was offered the chance to test a new unit that would run a new unreleased build containing fixes that Google planned to release to the public in the future. Given the fact that the Pixel C has solid hardware that's only let down by buggy software, the chance to see Google's improvements before they are officially released presented a great opportunity to revisit the Pixel C and determine if Google's upcoming changes can change my original verdict about the device. It seems that instead of releasing a large patch, Google has instead included these fixes with their February security bundle for the Pixel C. With it, the build number has changed from MXB48J to MXB48T, and we're looking at a slightly newer version of the Linux kernel.

Before getting into my testing and experiences with this updated Pixel C, it's worth going over the major issues that I identified during my initial review. By far the most significant problem was the dysfunctional touch input. Taps wouldn't register, swipes wouldn't register or would register as taps, and in general the touch screen was just not usable. This is something that Google was aware of, and has claimed to address in this new firmware. The second big issue was the stability and performance of the software. I encounted so many app crashes and entire OS crashes that I ended up losing a page of the review that I was writing on the Pixel C, and I was forced to abandon any attempts to do so due to the high likelyhood of it occurring again. 

While the app and OS crashes seemed to happen at random, there were two very important applications that consistently had problems. The first was PCMark, and the second was our build of GFXBench with an infinite battery test. PCMark consistently crashed at some point during its battery test, leading me to abandon my attempts to get a final result after having the test crash several times. GFXBench presented an issue where the detection of charging would cause the test to stop. I suspected that this related to the inductive charging used for the keyboard, but I couldn't confirm it.

The purpose of this article is to take a look at the new Pixel C unit provided by Google, and compare it to the one sent for the original review with the launch firmware. The main area of focus will be Google's work to fix the performance, touch input, and connectivity problems, along with some comparions that we rarely get to do due to the nature of single device sourcing. After looking at the areas where Google has made improvements, along with the areas where work is still needed, I've be able to reevaluate my original verdict on the Pixel C, and hopefully the changes will be enough to make it a tablet that is worth recommending.

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  • Brandon Chester - Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - link

    That's good to know. I received contradictory information from Google, but that source looks legitimate. Thank you for that. Reply
  • andreoidb - Thursday, February 18, 2016 - link

    No problem. Though for me the wifi issue is terrible, I get no range and the speeds are consistently worse by a large number then my other devices. Makes using this to consume content almost impossible unless I'm near my router. That rep said the have yet to fix the wifi issue yet. I think they just updated some binary blobs in the February OTA because nothing much is in commit history besides the security fixes. Reply
  • R.M.P. - Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - link

    I've felt from the start that Pixel C was something rushed out the door to have a "2-in-1" answer to the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro. It's an unfortunate inevitability. To avoid all the unhelpful confusion it's caused, I just wished they'd called it something like "Nexus Pro" instead of Pixel C. While Android has earned its place by attracting developers in droves, its best place is on smartphones. Like iOS and W10, it's too bloated tied to the world of native apps. In an ideal world, Chrome OS would have an equal complement of Web app developers. Then Google would have a PC product that no one else could even come close to competing with. Reply
  • andychow - Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - link

    I would buy this device in two seconds if it came with Chrome OS. Give me chrome, native SSH client, a really good screen and a great battery, then shut up and take my money! Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - link

    Give me a phone with ChromeOS on it too! Reply
  • mystilleef - Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - link

    Brandon, can you do a YouTube video comparing the input latency and lag on the iPad vs the Pixel C. Cos, I just couldn't see much of any lag or latency in the videos you posted especially when you pinched and zoomed on the Pixel C. Or I'm I missing something? Reply
  • tuxRoller - Thursday, February 18, 2016 - link

    You really can't see that the objects under his fingers before he starts moving them are different than the objects under his fingers when his fingers are actually moving? All OSs have some input latency, but Android has the most of any of the major OSs....and its not something that has really ever gotten better.
    Unfortunately I'm not sure it's something that they'll fix because the OS is "good enough" for their purposes.
    BTW, and this really shouldn't matter, but I have only ever bought Android, specifically Nexus/pixel devices, and the input latency is just a travesty and has always been my biggest source of annoyance. IMHO, I think some of the problems are due to Android's absurd HAL, and, in general, their reluctance to use the much more mature GPL Linux userspace libraries. Audioflinger is just dreadful at latency, even today. A developer at collobora ported PulseAudio to Android a few years ago and demonstrated how much less latency it introduced to the stack relative to audioflinger (a bit less than 20ms total, which is high, but much, much less than audioflinger on the device, and could easily have been improved).
    Reply
  • dan82 - Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - link

    I've been using the new firmware for a 2 weeks as well and think the touch input has been only partially fixed. Things are still somewhat broken if the device is plugged in to charge. One finger is usually ok, but using two fingers (e.g. to pinch-to-zoom) and one of the fingers won't be tracked correctly. While not charging everything is ok and as the tablet luckily has really great battery life, this isn't too much of an issue.

    The keyboard also got much better. The new system version comes with an updated keyboard firmware which improves bluetooth connectivity a lot. The keyboard is no longer randomly disconnecting (and repeating keystrokes). I don't use the keyboard a lot to type, but it is pretty nice as a stand and cover. The magnetic mechanism is still fun to use.

    I also think the Pixel C is currently the best Android tablet. It does get some things wrong that other Android tablets have no issue with, but those are minor:
    - Wifi often disconnects while sleeping (this might of course explain the amazing battery life)
    - No GPS or NFC

    One more grip I have with it is long-term value. Ancient devices like the iPad 2 (2011, around of the time of the Motorola Xoom) and Surface Pro (2013) are still receiving system updates, so they remain current until today. Google promises updates for only 2 years. Of course, an Android system update is somewhat less important as a lot of apps get updated through the Play Store (e.g. Chrome), but you are missing out on some new features (like the new permissions of Android 6.0 that the Nexus 10 didn't get). In my view, that makes it difficult to recommend high priced Android devices, even when the hardware is totally worth it like in this case.
    Reply
  • Brandon Chester - Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - link

    This fix has not gone out to the public yet. The February security patch didn't include any fixes for touch input or performance. It was only 14MB. Reply
  • dan82 - Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - link

    I installed the factory image MXB48T. The touch accuracy is night and day compared to before. A touch firmware can easily be fixed in 14 MB :-)

    A good way to try this is using the Markers app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.... Try drawing with a bunch of fingers at the same time. With the old version, fingers would frequently get dropped (the line has gaps). The reason is that Android thinks a finger got temporarily lifted of the device. With MXB48T, things are fine, as long as you are not charging the tablet. I'm happy to record a video.
    Reply

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