The Pixel Tablet is comparable to a volatile romantic partner. On good days, it’s dependable and beneficial, constantly willing to hear me out and encourage me. But occasionally, I feel belittled and irritated by its contradictions and muddled signals.
This may be the case because Google’s newest tablet/smart display hybrid falls under both excellent and adequate product categories. The Pixel Tablet primarily excels as a smart display. It includes an efficient dashboard, a user-friendly design, and excellent audio quality.
It’s adequate as a tablet, but it’s not extraordinary. But if you include Google’s argument, it instantly becomes more adaptable. The Pixel Tablet, which costs $500 with a charging speaker base included, is a compelling union of two items at a competitive price.
Hardware and Design
Considering that additional speaker ports can be purchased for $120 each, the tablet effectively costs $380. But it doesn’t feel at all like a $400 or less gadget. Although the nano-ceramic coating isn’t particularly impressive, it gives the back a glass-like feel that makes it seem more costly.
The Pixel Tablet is impressively lighter than both the Galaxy Tab S8 and the OnePlus Pad at just 1.09 pounds (493 grams). Even yet, it still weighs more than the iPad Air. The Google review unit came in a lovely neutral Rose color choice. Although black and white are the other two, so it doesn’t really matter which is the most interesting, it complements (or blends) my living environment perfectly.
My colleague Nathan Ingraham, who just evaluated the $480 OnePlus Pad, believed Google’s tablet felt more quality when I handed him the Pixel Tablet, even if I like the OnePlus Pad’s green color. The Pixel Tablet stands out from other recent Android slates due to its ability to connect to a speaker base for charging while also functioning as a smart display.
However, let’s not forget that other devices also support Alexa, particularly the several Lenovo and Amazon tablets that include the Show mode. For the Google ecosystem, it’s a first, though. But first, a short word on how the Pixel Tablet looks before I get to how it functions as a smart display. You’ve essentially seen every Google Home product if you’ve seen one.
When docked on the speaker, the Pixel Tablet resembles the Nest Hub Max almost perfectly. Similar to the rest of the company’s smart home devices, it features a rounded rectangle design, a white bezel around the 11-inch screen, and a mesh fabric covering for the base. It’s neutral and pleasant once more, but it doesn’t make me feel the same way a West Elm or Article decoration does.
- Useful charging speaker dock
- Clever concept
- Good smart home features and controls
- Awkward camera angle for video calls
- Some software quirks
As a Smart Display
I could watch shows on the Pixel Tablet instead of needing to buy a second TV or watch them on my phone when I hung them on the chest of drawers in my bedroom. I should have unplugged the Nest Mini speaker I already had on my bedside after Google advised against having two Assistant-enabled gadgets in the same space.
But in the short days, I had them both in there, it didn’t cause too many issues since when I yelled “Hey Google” while moving closer to the little speaker, the volume of the video playing on the Pixel Tablet decreased so I could be heard more clearly.
After a week, I feel comfortable taking the Nest Mini out. The Pixel Tablet is not just good at understanding my commands, but it also has far better audio and is generally more useful. It goes without saying that a display would be more adaptable than a speaker alone. But considering that the speaker dock isn’t much larger than the Mini, I’m amazed by the boost in sound quality.
It delivered adequate bass while trebles and voices sounded clear as I endlessly binge-listened to The Weeknd and Jay Chou playlists. I don’t have guests over frequently enough to require a guest-friendly interface to turn on my lights, nor am I the type of person to linger in front of a smart display to toy with my linked home controls.
But for those that do, the Hub Mode on the Pixel Tablet is probably quite helpful. A dashboard showcasing all of your home’s gadgets appears when you tap on the house icon at the bottom left of the lock screen. From here, you can check your camera feeds, turn on lighting, and more.
If you’ve properly set the permissions, visitors will also be able to ask the Assistant to set timers, and alarms, play music, and more without having to unlock their tablets. Regardless of whether I have visitors or not, the Pixel Tablet’s screen is simple to read anytime I enter my room, regardless of how bright or dark it is.
The display enters a low-light mode at night, which displays the time in large print without being blindingly bright. It’s good to not have to strain my eyes to view information like the time, countdowns, or temperature because my dresser is in the corner that is furthest from the entrance.
Like a real narcissist, I also configured the Pixel Tablet to display a stream of continuously changing images of my favorite people, namely me. By the way, none of this is specific to the Pixel Tablet. The photo frame feature is essentially a standard of any smart display, and the Nest Hub Max features equally larger fonts for timers and other information.
But let’s get back to the main purpose I had in mind for this tablet: replacing the TV. The Pixel Tablet can be managed remotely with your phone while streaming content from apps like YouTube, Disney+, Hulu, and other services because it is the first tablet to be a Chromecast receiver.
Of course, other larger smart screens like the Nest Hub Max can also do this, so the Pixel Tablet isn’t truly a tablet you can cast to since this doesn’t operate on it when it’s not docked. This is getting extremely technical with definitions, but in practice, it means that you can’t cast to the Pixel Tablet while it’s, say, propped up or hung somewhere else in your house.
Although it’s not a problem, it restricts how versatile this feature can be used. Contrary to the other apps, Netflix does not support Chromecasting on the tablet. Given that it functions on Google’s other larger smart displays, it is even stranger. Additionally, I ran into a glitch where YouTube refused to cast videos from a particular channel, claiming that while I was in Restricted mode, they weren’t permitted.
However, that setting was disabled on all of the machines I was signed into. This might be a bug unique to my setup since other reviewers I spoke to did not experience this problem. It did irritate me, though, because I can Chromecast my favorite commentary videos without having to drag myself out of bed because I can skip adverts or add additional titles.
Sadly, I had to play them via the YouTube app local to my device, so I had to do just that. Each time I had to exit the app and click “Skip ads” on the screen, my disgust for this glitch grew. Chromecasting on the Pixel Tablet is a good addition even though it isn’t really original, leaving away one minor problem. In my apartment, I have several Google Home products, so some of my complaints about the Pixel Tablet as a smart display are ecosystem-wide rather than device-specific.
For instance, I wanted the pair of Nest Audios in my living room to start playing a playlist when I said “I’m home” when I set up an Automation through the Home app. However, at the moment, the only device that can play music is the one that picked up your voice. Which of your linked speakers performs the activity is not selectable.
This could be annoying depending on how your home is set up, such as if you have a Mini in your foyer but would prefer your more powerful living room system to be the output. Fortunately for me, the right tools heard me the majority of the time, and I nearly always received the desired result.
That is more of a criticism of Google’s smart home system than the Pixel Tablet, which, to be honest, I am rather pleased with. It works well as a linked monitor and, when placed next to my laptop, serves as a second screen. I can use apps like Solitaire or Slack while working on a review because it runs full Android.
Using the 8-megapixel webcam, you may make video calls through Meet, Zoom, Teams, and other services. However, the angle at which the tablet is supported by the speaker dock makes for a really unattractive photograph. Google included an auto-framing tool to help with that, and it activates whenever you accept a Meet call while connected to the base.
You must rely on third-party apps to provide their own solutions since it only functions with Meet. The finest view, in my opinion, came from taking the tablet out and using the kickstand on Google’s cover to support it. In fact, I adore this accessory almost completely.
As a Tablet
Look, a kickstand for a tablet is hardly a novel idea. Years ago, Lenovo produced tablets with built-in supports that doubled as hangers and Surface devices have long had comparable mechanics. However, neither the Yoga Tablet from Lenovo nor any of the Surfaces were also smart displays. The kickstand was thoughtfully designed by Google so that it wouldn’t obstruct the process of connecting the tablet to the speaker.
In fact, when folded inside the case, the ring-shaped kickstand encircles the dock almost precisely. The kickstand-hanger combo is one of my favorite accessories because it lets you set the tablet pretty much wherever. So I can watch Love Is Blind or follow along with a cookery video while hanging it off a kitchen cupboard, for instance.
Additionally, even though the OLED on Samsung’s Galaxy Tabs is more bright, the 2,560 x 1,600 LCD panel still produced clear details and vibrant visuals. Although I’ve waxed lyrical about the case, it has its problems. It’s challenging to get to the fingerprint sensor because of the way it wraps around the power button.
However, since the cases Google provided for our review were pre-production examples, it’s feasible that the corporation will enhance this before going live. Along with watching TV and eating dinner on the tablet set up on my table, I played endless games of Solitaire.
Sincerely, the majority of tablets are good for entertainment and not much else. Although Google does include certain multitasking options in Android, the Pixel Tablet doesn’t have a dedicated keyboard. Of course, you can attach your own Bluetooth keyboard, but Android L is still not the most productive operating system.
You may drag and drop images across apps like WhatsApp and Gmail or run two programs simultaneously. Additionally, a huge number of both first- and third-party apps support this function and have been upgraded for larger screens. But oddities continue.
You may occasionally need to reopen programs after resizing them by dragging the vertical divider. It frequently occurs when you reduce anything from occupying half the screen to just under a third. When you tap a button to open it again, the system switches to the smartphone version.
Fortunately, restarting an app doesn’t take long, and when I did so with the New York Times crossword, it opened back up precisely where I left off rather than making me start over from the home page. Though the action requires some getting used to, the new taskbar Google implemented on the Pixel Tablet makes it simpler to activate programs on a split screen.
Similar to the row of suggested apps in the Android app drawer, this taskbar will analyze your patterns and gradually start to display items it believes you’ll find useful. The Pixel Tablet was hardly ever used while it was not docked, though. Except when my phone was dead and I wanted to play more Solitaire, I rarely felt the need to pick it up.
The benefit of keeping the Tablet docked is that it is always charged and available for me when I need a larger screen for reading, more immersive gaming, or on-the-go movie watching. Because of this, it was difficult to obtain a true sense of the battery life on a daily basis.
I automatically put the device back on the dock after I had used it for the brief amount of time I had required it, where it would slowly recharge. But when you do need the tablet to last you more than a few minutes at home, it is more than capable. The Pixel Tablet’s battery life on our video rundown test was 21 and a half hours at 50% brightness, surpassing the duration of the longest international nonstop flights.
In the unlikely event that you do run out of power, using a cable to recharge the Pixel Tablet takes roughly three hours. Google optimizes charging on the speaker dock to prolong battery life by keeping it at roughly 90% rather than topping it off completely. Since I typically take my time picking up the tablet after docking it, I haven’t measured whether the charging process here is slower than with a wire.
Perhaps Android tablets are still alive and well. They might only need a dock to call home and a kickstand or hanger to make them more useful. Nevertheless, the Pixel Tablet is a smart display rather than a tablet, despite its name. With its $80 casing and charging speaker dock, Google makes a far stronger argument for its most recent offering.
And despite a few glitches, I’ve found that using the Pixel Tablet is fun, and most of its issues appear fixable. I can only hope that Google continues to work on it and does not obscenely bury the Pixel Tablet in its graveyard of abandoned goods. The Pixel Tablet could have a promising future with some software updates.