For just a moment, allow me to give credit where credit is due. If I were in the market for a tablet and I wanted something that was powerful, productive, and offered a great gaming experience, I wouldn’t consider anything other than an iPad. iPadOS owns 55% of the global tablet operating system market and rightfully so. Despite any shortcomings, Apple knows tablets and the newest iPads are a culmination of two decades worth of refinement and evolution of a very polished tablet OS. On top of that, the hardware is second to none. Samsung’s Galaxy tablets may be on the same level but Apple’s new SoCs are absolute monsters. My pick would have to be the iPad.
Unfortunately for Chromebook users, ChromeOS has lagged well behind in the tablet space and even though the tablet experience has made giant leaps forward, it has yet to parallel a premium Android tablet let alone rival an iPad. Thankfully for me, I don’t really have a use case in which I need a dedicated tablet. Even with the numerous convertible devices I rarely see tablet mode because I’m normally at my desk, docked to an external monitor. The one tablet at our house is the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5 and it is used, almost exclusively, for content consumption. For that purpose, it does an amazing job. However, I wouldn’t reach for it if I were looking to do any heavy lifting or wanting to fire up one of my go-to battle royale games. It’s just not built for it.
All that to say, when rumors first began to fly that Google would be making a new Android tablet, I immediately started having grandiose visions of a Pixel-branded iPad killer. Then, Google I/O happened. Google SVP Rick Osterloh took the stage at what is generally a developer event to show off some new and upcoming #MadeByGoogle hardware that included the highly-anticipated Pixel Watch that was released this week. In a bit of a twist, Rick rolled right into a spiel about Android and larger screens. This led directly to a tease of a new Pixel Tablet that wouldn’t be launching until 2023. Take a peak in case you missed it.
A new direction
Now, it’s no secret that Google has dashed our hopes for a new Pixelbook but after some thoughtful reflection, we are all of the mindset that this isn’t a bad thing. However, the idea of a premium Pixel Tablet taking the throne as the halo device for Android tablets had me giddy. Then, I saw the somewhat chunky, Nest-inspired tablet on the screen at I/O. This device has pogo pins placed squarely in the center of the back of the tablet and the chassis looks more like an e-reader or perhaps… a smart display.
I’ll admit, it knocked the wind out of my sails when that Pixel Tablet popped up on the screen behind Rick Osterloh. Between the rumors and some software teardowns, it didn’t take long to realize that Google wasn’t bringing the Pixel Tablet to market with the intention of molding or dominating the Android tablet space. No. Google took the Pixel Tablet in a completely different direction. The direction was somewhat unexpected. I have decided that, intentional or not, this was a genius move on the part of Google.
Reinventing the wheel
The Pixel Tablet certainly won’t be the first Android tablet that’s designed to double as a smart home device. In fact, Lenovo has produced dockable tablets for some time now that, when docked, convert to a sort of hybrid smart display with Assistant capabilities that aren’t standard to an Android tablet. Right now, you can find a variety of these Tab M10 devices on Lenovo’s website that come with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.
The concept is solid. Unfortunately, our time with the original Tab M8 was less than stellar. The tablet felt underpowered which made it relatively useless for anything outside of light web surfing and streaming video. Then, there was the docked interface. Lenovo’s Tab M family uses a weird hybrid of Android’s lock screen and elements of a Google smart display but neither one worked very well. Home controls were janky and the entire experience just felt pieced together. Perhaps the newer Tab M10 has improved on this but I don’t see a lot of reviews out there and I certainly don’t hear anyone talking about how great it is.
Seeing that Lenovo is about the only company that makes a smart display/Android tablet hybrid of this type, I think that Google has the potential to crack open an entirely new market with the Pixel Tablet. The beautiful thing is that Google doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel here. The team from Mountain View has a strong foothold in the smart home space and the company’s expanding family of Nest products is proof positive that Google knows how to make great IoT hardware.
The other half of the equation is the Android tablet. Obviously, Google knows AndroidOS. It belongs to Alphabet. Google also knows how to make great hardware in the tablet/laptop space. The original Pixel C, while ahead of its time, is still one of the most beautiful and premium pieces of hardware to ever house the Android operating system. Then, you have Google Chromebooks. This new Pixel Tablet certainly has some Pixelbook Go vibes and as the Go proved, you don’t have to be the most powerful or feature-rich to still be one of the best around. If you’ve ever worked on a Pixelbook Go, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t even get me started on the new Pixel 7 and the Pixel Watch. It seems obvious to me that Google has learned some things along the way and the fledgling hardware maker has a grasp on making great hardware.
My point? The more I think about it, Google has no business trying to create an iPad rival. Not right now, at least. Google is making beautiful, useful hardware and doing a great job of integrating the company’s greatest assets – Search and Google Assistant. I don’t think that anyone is looking to Google to create the greatest Android tablet ever made. For now, Google’s hardware game is strong. The company’s Pixel phone family is finally(and deservedly) getting some attention from the masses. With any luck, the Pixel Watch will open the door for a new generation of WearOS devices. When it comes to smart home devices, Google isn’t dominating the world but they are making a dent. Between premium in-house hardware and the thousands and thousands of Assistant-enabled third-party devices, Google is becoming a “smart” household name and that’s key to the success of the Pixel Tablet.
Here’s the real clincher. This new tablet from Google shouldn’t feel like you’re using a smart display. Rumors were swirling that the Pixel Tablet was going to use last year’s Tensor Gen 1 from the Pixel 6. While that chip has ample power, it was a bit of a letdown to think that an all-new form factor from Google would use last year’s hardware. When Google took the stage at last week’s Pixel Launch Event, we were pleased to learn that this is not the case. The Pixel Tablet will, in fact, come bearing the latest Tensor Gen 2 SoC. We don’t have solid benchmarks for the new Tensor chip yet but the first-gen Tenor SoC fell somewhere between a Snapdragon 865 and 888. If you know your chips, you know that this thing is no slouch. The Pixel Tablet, powered by Tensor 2, should have no problem going toe-to-toe with most premium Android tablets available on today’s market, few as they may be.
So, it appears that Google will bring us a formidable Android tablet that will lean heavily into the company’s ever-expanding smart home ecosystem. The expansion of Google Assistant into our everyday lives has been so consistent and fluid, that many of us have fully embraced Google’s helper to control our homes, answer our questions, and a ton of other stuff and we’ve done so with ease. If you look at how Google has infiltrated the smart home market, an Android tablet that doubles as a true Assistant smart display is the perfect play. I really believe that Google is using what it knows about organizing data and has combined it with the progressive ingenuity of the company’s growing hardware résumé to create a device that could, eventually, create an entirely new hardware niche. That’s just my take but I really believe that Google could be onto something here. Guess we’ll have to wait until 2023 to find out.