I’m not really a tablet guy. If you’ve been around Chrome Unboxed for a little while, you likely know that already. I easily get confused with the best way to utilize a tablet in my daily workflow, and though I like the form factor just fine, tablets tend to get lost on me between my large-screen phone and my far-more-productive Chromebook. And while my time with the Pixel Tablet did little to change my mind on this point, it did at least help me at least appreciate the unique angle Google was attempting to take with their latest in-house tablet.
Though the Pixel Tablet – or any Android tablet for that matter – isn’t really for me right now, I have to applaud Google for at least trying to do something a bit different. Rather than slapping a keyboard case on this and letting it parade around like a real laptop, Google has steered clear of that lane, instead opting to let this be a solid mid-range Android tablet that feels great to use and has a very interesting trick up its sleeve.
As you’ve seen by now, the Pixel Tablet can be dropped on the included speaker dock to charge, become a casting target, and generally be a quick-glance screen akin to a smart display. And while it definitely isn’t the same experience you get with a dedicated Nest Hub, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We’ll get into that in a second.
Generally, as an accessory, the dock is fun. You can drop the Pixel Tablet on it with relative ease and get a much-improved sound experience immediately (there’s barely any delay in activating the speakers once you dock it) and have it charge up at the same time. As a picture frame, it is nice, and your smart home controls are a single press away at any given time. It’s also great for video calls while docked, too, giving most people the few things they actually do use from one of Google’s smart displays. It also supports multiple accounts, so regardless of who grabs it off of the dock, there are custom setups for everyone in the family.
And when you do snag it off of the dock – which is relatively easy to do – it is a perfectly-good tablet for reading, content consumption, and checking email or social media. I tried hooking up a Bluetooth keyboard and a mouse and while it technically worked, Android is just inferior to even the most basic Chromebook on the market when it comes down to actually getting productive.
The 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage pair up well with the Tensor G2 and moving around the tablet felt smooth and buttery at all times. Battery life was solid as well, getting me through days of minimal, off-and-on use. I generally tracked in the range of 8-9 hours of screen-on time, so I never really worried about battery life.
And while the screen is only 60Hz, that didn’t really bother me much. The colors are great, viewing angles are wide, and it’s 500 nits of brightness handled every environment I worked in just fine; though I’d imagine it would struggle outside in sunlight. The 8MP cameras on the front and back are great for video calls, but little else. That felt weird on a Pixel product if I’m being honest. While I don’t have any desire to use a tablet to take photos, it’s strange to hold a Google-made gadget with a camera on it and not feel confident in taking a photo.
It does come with a pretty unique feature with support for USI pens, however, and I’m beyond excited to finally see an Android device get the pen standard that we’ve had on ChromeOS for years. Just like we’ve used on tons of Chromebooks, you can use any USI 2.0 pen to jot notes, make sketches or navigate the UI on the Pixel Tablet.
Nest Hub and Google Assistant functions
But now we have to talk about that Nest Hub/Google Assistant thing. Look, this is a nice tablet if you like tablets, but Google’s aim here was clearly a play at a bit of differentiation, and the timing is simply off. Docking this tablet and having a fully-functional Nest Hub-type of device was supposed to be the key feature, and now that Google Assistant is failing at nearly everything it was supposed to, you know, assist us with; that docked use case feels more like a parlor trick.
In my time with the Pixel Tablet, the dock served only to prop up the device as a photo frame – a task that a simple stand could do just fine. The speaker in the dock isn’t on the Nest Audio’s level, so it isn’t a big, room-filling sound when you do want to play music with it, so I simply didn’t think about using it too often. For video calls – when you remember to dock it first – it is a nice hands-free option that enhances the audio quite nicely, but it sure feels like this whole setup was engineered for more.
For the time being, however, we’re in a smart home and digital assistant limbo. For better or worse, ChatGPT and Bard have come along during the Pixel Tablet’s far-too-long development cycle and we’re right in the middle of the upheaval of the way we talk to digital assistants, the way we expect AI to impact our experiences, and even how we’ll leverage general search moving forward.
And that abrupt change in the digital assistant space has left the Google Assistant in a precarious position. While not fully abandoned, the Google Assistant feels like a shell of its former self. So much so that I’ve found that I’m better off simply not relying on it for basically anything these days. While I’m hopeful that Google will eventually roll Bard’s AI smarts into the Assistant and bring back the glory days of smart displays and smart speakers, I’m just not sure that is in the cards at this point.
And with Matter becoming more prevalent as the go-to smart home standard, smart displays and smart home software in general are both in a state of readjustment to these new norms. And until all of that is sorted, the key, differentiating feature of this tablet remains in limbo, too.
I think as a smart home controller and content consumption device, the Pixel Tablet can find a seat at the table. As a smart display or a Nest Hub sort of device, though, a lot of that rides on what Google does with the Assistant in the coming months. If it all shakes out and the Google Assistant is helpful again and Google continues to integrate with the Matter standard, the Pixel Tablet could end up being quite useful doing what it was designed to do. But until then, it’s better to think of the Pixel Tablet simply as a solid Android tablet that many of you might enjoy…if you like tablets.