Google released its first self-branded Android phone in 2010, and has been releasing steady new models at least once a year since then. Its history with tablets is more tumultuous: After getting early hits with the affordable Nexus series, Google tablets have lost out to Samsung and Apple at every turn, and it’s been almost five full years since the ill-fated Pixel Slate. The $499 Pixel Tablet, fully revealed at Google I/O 2023 after a year of waiting, is taking a new approach by playing on Google’s smart home prowess.
What’s different about the Pixel Tablet?
The Pixel Tablet is both a conventional, media consumption-focused slate, comparable to the iPad Air, and a smart home management station, a la Google’s own Nest Hub or Amazon’s more premium Echo devices. Pull the thing out of your bag and it’s a regular tablet, ideal for surfing or streaming video. But place it on the magnetic speaker dock with POGO pin charging (included in the box, no less!) and it becomes a sort of super-powered Nest screen in what Google calls “Hub Mode.” From there it’s ready to manage all your home’s lights, music, and other gadgets, or function as a Google Cast screen for the media on your other devices — a first for an Android tablet.
What are the specs of the Pixel Tablet?
If this seems a bit familiar, it should: Amazon tried something similar a few years ago, selling charging docks that would turn its Fire-branded tablets into de facto Echo devices. The difference is the scope. Google is aiming the Pixel Tablet as a more premium device competing directly with mid-range iPads, as opposed to Amazon’s always-budget Fire line. The Pixel Tablet uses an 11-inch, 2560×1600 LCD screen, Google’s Tensor G2 processor (the same one found in the Pixel 7 phone), 8GB of RAM, and a fingerprint unlock built into the power button.
The tablet’s looks are a little on the plain side, more like the unassuming Pixel 5 than newer Google phones, with a single 8MP camera on the rear and a matching one on the front. The case uses aluminum with a nano-ceramic coating for a matte finish, available in “Porcelain” (white, with matching white bezel on the front) or “Hazel” (grey). An off-pink “Rose” color is available in some markets, and all are matched to the speaker dock included in the box.
Speaking of that dock, it includes an impressive 15-watt speaker with a 43.5mm driver for “four times the bass than the Pixel Tablet alone.” When you dock the tablet audio will seamlessly transition to the dock, and the tablet’s unique triple far-field microphones will start listening for your “Okay Google” commands, just like any of Google’s Nest devices. Oddly the Pixel Tablet lacks the face-scanning powers of the Nest Hub Max, but otherwise it’ll essentially turn itself into a happy (and cute) little smart screen. You can buy extra docks to rest and charge the tablet around the house or your office, and accessories like the kickstand-packing first-party case work with the dock. Off of that 15-watt charger, Google says the tablet will last for 12 hours of video streaming.
What software does the Pixel Tablet run?
The Pixel Tablet comes with Android 13, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system, with five years of guaranteed updates. And it is definitely mobile — unlike the more professionally-targeted Pixel Slate which ran ChromeOS and was heavily marketed with keyboard add-ons. No, Google’s backing off the idea of a productivity device and not intending to compete with cheaper laptops or Microsoft Surface-style gadgets, leaving that space to Chrome-powered tablets like the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet. This thing is all-tablet, all the time…when it’s not a smart home hub. The tablet also includes some first-to-Android support for multiple user profiles, ideal for sharing the device around the people in your home.
How much will the Pixel Tablet cost?
Which brings us to the price. Google is asking $499 for the Pixel Tablet (£599 in the UK). It’s up for pre-order now, shipping in June. That puts it between the price of the standard iPad and the upgraded iPad Air, with better storage (128GB on the base model versus 64GB) and the included dock in the box, but sans the option for a 5G upgrade. On paper it’s a great deal, even if Google’s tablet is thicker and heavier than the svelte Air.
But Google has spent the last five years more or less ignoring the Android tablet market, ceding the hardware space almost entirely to Samsung, Amazon, and Lenovo, and giving app developers little to no reason to focus on software experiences for bigger screens. Perhaps the announcement of the Pixel Fold, Google’s first foray into folding phones, will give Android a long-overdue reason to focus on more than five-to-six inches of screen space. And perhaps pairing the Pixel Tablet to Google’s more solid position in the smart home space will give it a necessary boost on the competition.
But speaking as someone who’s been with Google hardware since that very first phone, various Nexus tablets, the Pixel C and the Pixel Slate, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Positioning this as a premium tablet in the same space as the iPad, and thus competing with Apple’s best-in-the-industry tablet interface and app support, is an aggressive move from a company that hasn’t earned the trust of tablet users after a decade of attempts.