Google Pixel Tablet review: The dock changes the game

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Last year, Google swung and mostly missed on its first smartwatch. It didn’t make the same mistake with its first tablet.

Starting at $500, the new Pixel Tablet makes a much better first impression than the Pixel Watch did a year ago. This is a reliable, businesslike Android tablet with adequate specs, a nice display, and a speaker dock included in the box that legitimately changes everything. I’m not even a tablet guy and the Pixel Tablet fit naturally into my daily routine.

Sure, it’s not the cheapest Android tablet out there and there are a couple of irritating hardware flaws to deal with. But for a first try, Google at least delivered a proof of concept, and that’s good enough for me.

Workmanlike looks

Google Pixel Tablet off dock

If you’ve ever seen a tablet before, you know what the deal is here.
Credit: Molly Flores/Mashable

The first thing you’ll probably notice about the Pixel Tablet’s hardware design is that there isn’t much to notice about it.

Google’s philosophy here is similar to the Pixel Watch and earlier Pixel phones, in that it kind of looks like a nondescript movie prop. It comes in three colors (Porcelain, Hazel, and Rose), but regardless of which choice you make, it…pretty much looks like a tablet. I wish I had something more clever or writerly to say about it, but seriously, it gets the job done and that’s about it in the looks department.

The only other standout hardware features are a volume rocker and a power button on top (when viewed horizontally), with the power button also acting as a fingerprint sensor. There’s also a USB-C port for charging that you may never use for reasons we’ll get to shortly. 

Here are how the rest of the most relevant specs shape up:

  • 10.95-inch display with 2560×1600 resolution and 60Hz refresh rate

  • Battery rated for 12 hours of video streaming

  • 8GB RAM

  • 128GB or 256GB storage

  • 8MP rear and front cameras

  • No 5G/LTE support, WiFi only

It’s not an unbelievable powerhouse, to be clear. The display is sharp, bright, and vibrant, but the 60Hz refresh rate will undoubtedly be a dealbreaker for some. I didn’t really notice it, but others will. The lack of wireless service also makes the Pixel Tablet much more likely to live exclusively in your house than other tablets that support that sort of thing. 

Google Pixel Tablet on dock from rear view

The speaker dock is the most important part of the package.
Credit: Molly Flores/Mashable

With those specs, the $500 price tag might seem a bit high, but Google does at least have the excuse of including a charging speaker dock with every Pixel Tablet. Normally, that’s the kind of thing you have to buy separately, but it’s a core part of the Pixel Tablet’s design philosophy. Sure, you can take the tablet on trips and such, but it’s much more suited to a desktop or countertop, where it will do its job and never run out of battery.

The speaker dock is pretty transformative in ways I’ll discuss in a bit, but on the hardware end, it does have one problem: The charging contacts don’t always work correctly. The Pixel Tablet attaches to the dock magnetically, which is very intuitive and slick in theory, but in practice can be sort of frustrating. I’ve had moments where I had to keep undocking and redocking the tablet over and over before it would start charging properly. 

Those moments are far from the norm, but they’re too frequent not to mention here. Additionally, the fingerprint sensor on the power button was pretty much useless for me. I don’t know if I just have unreadable fingerprints (I should get into cat burglary if that’s the case), but I’ve resigned myself to unlocking the device via a PIN every time because the fingerprint sensor works so infrequently. 

Google-flavored Android delivers again

Google Pixel Tablet on speaker dock

Performance is pretty good.
Credit: Molly Flores/Mashable

Things are much better on the software side. The Pixel Tablet runs Android using the same Tensor G2 chip as the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7a phones, and it runs about the same as those phones did. Everything is silky smooth, from loading apps to multitasking and streaming video. 

Speaking of multitasking, that’s one of the main differentiating features between the Pixel Tablet and a Pixel phone. Most of the time, the Pixel Tablet just feels like a big smartphone, but the screen is big enough that you can display two apps at once side-by-side. You can do this by long pressing an app icon or swiping up from the bottom of the screen to reveal a new taskbar, and then dragging an app icon from the taskbar to the side of the screen you want it to live on.

This is elegant enough, though I didn’t find myself using it much personally. Different strokes for different folks, after all. It is very nice to be able to drag and drop photos from Google Photos into an email on the other side of the screen, or to have one side of the screen displaying reference material for an email you’re composing on the other side. 

However, I never did those things with the Pixel Tablet. That’s because, for me, this thing’s entire existence is justified by the speaker dock, which turns it into a second monitor for those of us who don’t actually want to buy a second monitor.

Dock maximizes usefulness

Google Pixel Tablet speaker dock without tablet on it

The magnetic connectors on the dock don’t always work right away.
Credit: Molly Flores/Mashable

There’s nothing stopping you from using the Pixel Tablet as more of a work/productivity device, and I’m sure it’d be fine at that. But thanks to the speaker dock, the Pixel Tablet sacrifices portability in service of actually being very useful to me, specifically.

You see, I don’t go out much. I don’t travel at all, really. Tablets have never offered much that a phone couldn’t do in a way that actually spoke to me as a consumer. The Pixel Tablet is different, though. Thanks to the inclusion of a speaker dock with every device, the Pixel Tablet is less a tablet and more a small, unintrusive TV that I can put next to my laptop while I work.

I’m serious! I hardly ever ripped the tablet off the dock. The speaker part of the speaker dock delivers big enough audio with adequate bass and whatnot that I wound up using the device to listen to music and podcasts as much as I used it to watch YouTube videos and Mets games on YouTube TV

I used to connect my phone to a Bluetooth speaker to do that stuff, but not anymore. There are also plenty of other use cases that I didn’t even touch. For instance, you can connect all your Google Home-compatible devices to the Pixel Tablet, turning the latter into a mobile command center. Beyond that, you can obviously use the docked tablet for video calls and even cast videos from your phone to the tablet.

If the Pixel Tablet didn’t come with the speaker dock, this would be a totally different conversation. We’d be talking about how it’s a little too expensive, basic, and underpowered. But Google including one with every device instead makes it essential to the Pixel Tablet’s existence, and it’s going to live on my desk next to my laptop for the foreseeable future.

A respectable first attempt

I hope the Pixel Tablet is able to catch on, despite its flaws. Yes, it’s bothersome that the biometrics are wonky and the charging contacts are inconsistent. Of course I’d rather have a 120Hz display, too. These are things Google can fix in later revisions, provided there’s enough demand for those. 

But as it stands, the Pixel Tablet is largely a successful first swing for Google. Its software holds up its end of the bargain, while the speaker dock makes the tablet eminently useful in ways it wouldn’t be on its own. It just…works, especially if you’re like me and don’t want two or three big-ass monitors on your desk.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have like 19 different podcasts to listen to before the next Mets game starts.



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