tThe Pixel Tablet is like an emotionally unstable partner. On good days it is reliable and helpful, always ready to listen to me and support me. Every now and then, I get annoyed and annoyed by her inconsistencies and mixed messages. This may be because Google’s latest tablet/smart display straddle two product categories: one where it excels and one where it fits in just fine. As a smart display, the Pixel Tablet mostly shines. It has a useful control panel, an easy-to-read interface, and great sound quality. As a tablet, it’s decent, but it doesn’t wow me. Ditch the Google-made status, and you’ll instantly become more versatile. At $500 with a charging speaker dock included, the Pixel Tablet is a compelling marriage of two affordable products.
Hardware and design
If we do the math, since you can buy additional speaker docks for $120 each, that means the tablet costs $380. But it certainly isn’t Feel Like a device under $400. While the nano-ceramic coating isn’t that great in looks, it brings a glass-like feel to the back that makes it more affordable. Impressively, the Pixel Tablet manages to weigh just 1.09 pounds (493 grams), making it lighter than the Galaxy Tab S8 and OnePlus Pad. Even so, it’s still heavier than the iPad Air.
Google Google Pixel Tablet
- Useful charging base for speakers
- Clever concept
- Good smart home features and controls
- The camera angle is awkward for video calls
- Some software quirks
The review unit sent by Google was the pink color option, which is fun and inoffensive. It’s the most exciting of the three colors (black and white are the other two, so it doesn’t mean much), and it blends (or nicely) really well with my living space. I prefer the OnePlus Pad’s green color, but it’s worth noting that when I handed the Pixel Tablet to my colleague Nathan Ingraham, who recently reviewed the $480 OnePlus Pad, he thought the Google device felt more premium.
What sets the Pixel Tablet apart from other recent Android slate is the fact that it’s designed to plug into a charging speaker dock and double as a smart display. Now, let’s not forget that there are other devices that do this, primarily several devices and tablets with a display mode that turns them into Alexa-enabled screens. But it is the first of its kind in the Google ecosystem.
Before I get into how the Pixel Tablet works as a smart display, a quick word about its looks. If you’ve seen a Google Home product, you’ve basically seen them all. The Pixel Tablet, when mounted on the speakerphone, sounds just like the Nest Hub Max. It has the same rounded rectangular shape, white frame surrounding the 11-inch display and the base has a similar mesh texture that covers the rest of the company’s smart home products. Again, it’s harmless and fun, but it doesn’t stir my heart the way a West Elm ornament or article does. (I know, I’m basic.)
as a smart screen
I was excited to put the Pixel Tablet on the chest of drawers (from the article) in my bedroom so I could watch shows on it instead of having to buy a second TV or play it on my phone. Google warned that there were too many Assistant-enabled devices in one room, and I should have unplugged the Nest Mini speaker I was already using on my nightstand. But it didn’t create too many problems over the few days I had them both — when I said “Hey Google” while standing near the tiny speaker, the volume of the video playing on the Pixel Tablet dropped so I could be heard more clearly.
After a week, I can now confidently remove the Nest Mini. Not only is the Pixel Tablet adept at hearing my commands, but it also offers much better sound quality and is simply more useful. This is kind of an obvious statement – of course the screen will be more versatile than the speaker alone. But I’m surprised at the improvement in sound from the speaker base, since it’s not much bigger than the Mini. It delivered ample bass in the endless immersion of The Weeknd and Jay Chou playlists, while the treble and vocals sounded crisp.
I’m not the type to hover in front of a smart screen to play with connected home controls, and I don’t have people around often enough that I need some kind of guest-friendly interface to turn on my lights. For those who do, the Pixel Tablet’s Hub Mode will probably come in very handy. Tapping the home icon in the bottom left of the lock screen will bring up a dashboard showing all the devices in your home, and you’ll be able to monitor camera feeds, turn on lights, and more. Guests will also be able to ask the Assistant to set timers and alarms, play music, and more without having to unlock your tablet, as long as you set the permissions correctly.
No matter how few visitors it is, it’s easy to see things on the Pixel Tablet’s screen when I set foot in my room, no matter how dark or bright it is. At night, the screen goes into a dim mode that displays the time in large font but isn’t so bright that it burns the retina. Since my dresser is in the farthest corner away from the door, it’s nice not to have to squint to see information like the time, countdown, or temperature. And like a true narcissist, I also set my Pixel Tablet to show a rotating stream of photos of my favorite people (mostly me).
Not that any of this is unique to the Pixel Tablet, by the way. The Nest Hub Max has similarly larger fonts for timers and other information, and the picture frame feature is basically a staple of any smart display.
Back to the main thing I wanted to use this tablet for, though: as a TV replacement. As the first tablet to be a Chromecast receiver, the Pixel tablet can be controlled remotely using your phone as it streams from apps like YouTube, Disney+, Hulu, and more. Of course, other large smart displays like the Nest Hub Max can do this too, and since this doesn’t work on the Pixel Tablet when it’s not docked, it’s not really Waved You can cast it. We’re getting really technical definitions here, but in practical use that means you can’t cast to your Pixel Tablet when it’s hanging or propped up somewhere else in your house, for example. It’s not a problem, but it does limit the versatility of this feature.
Interestingly, Netflix does not support Chromecasting on a tablet, unlike other apps. It’s even more strange considering it works on Google’s other large smart displays. I also ran into an error where YouTube refused to send videos from a certain channel, saying it wasn’t allowed when I was in restricted mode. But this setting is not enabled on any of the devices you are signed in to. Other reviewers I’ve spoken to haven’t had this problem, so this may be a bug specific to my settings.
It pissed me off though, because it’s easier on Chromecast to stream my favorite explainer videos since I can skip ads or add more titles without having to drag myself out of bed. Sadly, I had to do just that because I ended up playing them via the native YouTube app. My hate for Google and this bug grew exponentially every time I had to go out and hit “skip ads” on the screen. (No, you wouldn’t convince me to get YouTube Premium.) That little flaw aside, Chromecasting is a nice touch on the Pixel Tablet, even if it’s not unique.
I have several Google Home products in my apartment, and some of my issues with the Pixel Tablet as a smart display are ecosystem-wide rather than device-specific. For example, when I set up Automation through the Home app, I’ve wanted it so that saying “I’m home” will start a playlist on a pair of Nest Audios in my living room. However, for now, only the device that heard you can play the music. You cannot select which of the connected speakers performs this action.
Depending on how your home is set up, like if you have a Mini in the entryway and prefer your living room system to be the output, this can be frustrating. Fortunately for me, the right devices heard me most of the time, and I always got my desired result.
This is more of a complaint about Google’s smart home system rather than just the Pixel Tablet, which I’m honestly very happy with. Not only is it a good connected monitor, but it’s also useful as a second screen when sitting next to my laptop.
Since it’s completely Android, I can open apps like Solitaire or Slack on it while I work on reviewing. You can also make video calls through Meet, Zoom, Teams, or more with the 8MP webcam on top. However, the angle at which the speaker dock supports the tablet makes for a very unflattering shot. To mitigate this, Google has included an auto-framing feature that kicks in when you receive a Meet call while connected to the base. It only works with Meet so you will have to rely on third party apps to offer their own solutions.
I found that removing the tablet and propping it up with the kickstand in the Google case made for best viewing. In fact, I am very fond of this supplement.