When the Google Pixel Tablet was announced, I was intrigued by the tablet but excited by the dock. From a smart home perspective, this combination appeared to be nirvana. It’s two products in one: A tablet and a smart display/speaker, right? Sort of. Yes, the tablet itself is quite good, but I still feel let-down by the dock.
This is a speaker dock, not a smart speaker
This dock is dumb, meaning it’s not a smart device in the traditional sense. If the tablet isn’t attached to the dock via magnets, the dock is literally a dust collector. It does nothing without the tablet. The dock costs $129 separately although Google includes it with the tablet for a bundled price of $499. And since we care most about the smart home on this site, the dock had the most potential to transform this tablet into a smart home friendly display.
Yes, the dock has speakers inside it, which definitely boost the audio quality and loudness over the Pixel Tablet’s internal speakers. And yes, it does wirelessly charge the tablet, albeit at a fairly slow rate. In my testing, the Pixel Tablet charges much faster through its USB Type-C port. So that’s the dock: a charger and speakers that are only usable when the tablet is attached.
That’s where I struggle with the cost of the dock. Given its very limited functionality, it’s not worth $129 to me, so I’m glad it’s included. I certainly wouldn’t buy one, or more, of the docks to put around the house. I’d feel completely different if the dock could also double as a Google Assistant smart speaker that was useful without the tablet attached. But there are no microphones on the dock and none of the compute or wireless chips inside to make that happen.
A better smart home interface
Aside from the charging and speaker benefits you get from docking the Pixel Tablet there is another small benefit. When you dock the tablet it goes into “Hub Mode” with a dedicated Google Home button on the tablet screen. You can always speak to the tablet to control your home by saying “OK, Google….” as well.
Hub Mode presents an updated smart home interface, and it’s welcome. So too is the updated Google Home app on my Pixel 7 Pro; you can see the same design language used here. In Hub Mode, I find it more intuitive and less cluttered to manage my home devices. Not to harp on my dock disappointment but opening Google Home on the tablet away from the dock opens the same user interface as when it is docked.
Google also touts the Pixel Tablet as the first slate to act as a Chromecast receiver. I tested this by casting some YouTube videos from my Pixel phone to the tablet and it worked as expected. Just keep in mind that this feature only works when the Pixel Tablet is docked, not when it’s in a standalone mode. I can understand that though. You don’t need to stream video from a phone to the tablet when you have the tablet in your hands: You can just natively watch that content by using whatever streaming app you have on the tablet.
I should note that unlike my Nest Hub and other Google smart displays, the Pixel Tablet microphones are on the top side of the tablet. My other devices have forward-facing microphones. I mention this only because those other devices seem to pick up my voice commands a little better. The tablet microphones aren’t bad by any means, but they don’t work as consistently as on my other voice-activated Google speakers.
Aside from that, there’s not much else to say about the Pixel Tablet from a smart home standpoint. Google Home and Google Assistant work the same way as they do on almost every other Android tablet or phone. The speaker dock is exactly what its name implies: speakers in a charging dock. It’s not a smart speaker on its own, nor is it a Matter hub.
But, the tablet itself is very good!
If you’ve read this far and feel disappointed like I do, don’t despair. When I’m not on a traditional computer, I’m using a tablet. Like all the time, from the time I wake until the time I go to bed. (No, that’s not good and I’m working on changing that behavior). And from this standpoint, the Google Pixel Tablet is impressive.
The same Tensor G2 chip in my Pixel 7 Pro is inside the tablet, and it’s more than capable for everyday activities. If you’re a heavy duty Android gamer then there might be better options out there. The Tensor G2 platform is a little weak in the graphics department compared to competing chips from Qualcomm. And although the 11-inch touch display with 2560 x 1600 resolution is a looker, there are tablets with faster refresh rates. The Pixel Slate has a 60 Hz panel so it’s not as smooth as tablets with 90 or 120 Hz displays. For me, it’s more than adequate.
Improved split-screen multitasking is present here as well, which I welcome on any device larger than a phone. There’s a useful new software dock that hides or appears with a swipe. And Google revamped all of its own Android apps to take advantage of the better split-screen mode. Not all third-party apps have done the same, so your mileage may vary based on the apps you use. You’ll know if a developer hasn’t updated their app for a better experience if you see wasted space or black bars on both sides of the app.
Some other things I like include the fingerprint sensor integrated into the power button and the overall battery life of the tablet. As much as I use my tablets at home, I really like to see a good eight or more hours of use on a charge. That’s no problem for the Pixel Tablet in my mixed usage scenario. This includes a fair bit of web browsing, email, streaming music and watching videos or movies. I suspect I use a tablet more than most people in a day, so you’ll likely see two, or even three, days on a charge. I also like the camera’s auto-framing feature when in a video call. I can move around and the camera “follows” me thanks to some image cropping and panning, combined with some software smarts.
Probably the most compelling feature to me is that the Pixel Tablet is a multi-user device. This isn’t new to Android tablets, but since I mainly only use an iPad Pro, I appreciate it. My iPad is tied to my iCloud address and can’t be connected to more than one of those. So it’s “my” iPad. My wife can use it but she’s using my apps with my data.
The Pixel Tablet supports multiple accounts and therefore multiple users. Each user’s apps and data are kept separately. That means when I use the tablet, I see my wallpaper and my apps. When my wife uses it, she gets an experience customized to her usage. And you don’t have to reboot the Pixel Tablet to switch users. Simply tap the user icon and select a different person. Done.
Should you buy the Pixel Tablet?
I’m comfortable recommending the Pixel Tablet because it’s a really good Android tablet. If you want or need a multi-user slate for your home, you’ll likely be happy. I almost wish Google offered it without the dock bundle and dropped the price by $129. That would be a steal of a deal for this hardware.
Having said that, the dock does add some minimal functionality and will keep your Pixel Tablet charged. Provided you return it to the dock, that is. And I think you’ll want to because if you don’t, that dock is doing anything at all.