Announced today, the Google Pixel Tablet arrives in select markets with a $499 price tag. Pre-orders begin today with availability expected in June. The 11-inch Android slate is bundled with a Charging Speaker Dock. ($129 separately), turning the device into a smart home hub. Google has also improved the Google Home experience with an updated user interface. All in all, this sounds great. And for some, this might be a better home hub than the prior Google Nest Hub products.
Digging into the details, however, I feel a little let down. Google took a half-step forward here when it could have taken a full one when it comes to the smart home.
Right off the bat, I struggle with the device itself. Or rather, I feel as though the device is struggling because it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Yes, it’s a tablet. Yes, there’s a charging dock with larger speakers for improved sound quality. Google says to expect four times the bass when using the tablet on the dock. So it’s a smart home display at times and it’s a family shared tablet at others. Ok.
Is the Pixel Tablet a better tablet than other Android slates though? Given the 2560 x 1600 high-resolution display and Tensor G2 processor inside I’d say, maybe.
There are other high-end Android tablets on the market that are more than adequate for everyday tasks on Android. The 11-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 costs more at $629.99 but uses a fast 120 Hz panel and supports digital writing with a Samsung S-Pen. The Google Pixel Tablet has a traditional LCD screen that works with an optional USI stylus. Samsung’s tablet is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, which is certainly capable silicon.
Regardless of hardware and capabilities, I’d have to test the Pixel Tablet to see how it compares to other Android tablets. For now, I’d say it appears at least comparable to other available Android tablet options.
But wait, you say: This is a smart home display and hub! Well, yes… and no, in my opinion. I say that for a few reasons.
On a briefing call with Google last week, the company said that based on its research, people leave tablets around the home, away from their charging cables. The idea of the Charging Speaker Dock is essentially to solve the problem of home-based tablets not having a charge when someone wants to use them.
Yes the dock will fix that problem provided the Pixel Tablet is returned to the dock for charging after usage. In my house, that’s how we charge our devices, only we don’t dock them, we plug them in. A dock would be nice for us, but it’s not necessary. However, I know some people will appreciate the simplicity of a docking charger.
The Charging Speaker Dock also, as the name implies, has louder speakers than the tablet itself. So you’ll get better sound from content or the Google Assistant when the tablet is docked. You’ll also get the new Google Home interface which is redesigned for what looks to be an improved experience.
Here is where I feel that Google didn’t push this product far enough though because I see several missing opportunities.
The smart home Hub Mode is only available when the Pixel Tablet is in the Charging Speaker Dock, for starters. That’s a shame because it sounds quite useful from Google’s description:
“When it’s in Hub Mode, tap the Google Home icon to access all of your compatible smart home devices so you can view your video doorbell feed, adjust your thermostat or turn on the living room lights. You’ll see the same devices in your “Favorites” tab in the Google Home app that’s available for anyone to use starting today.”
Note the first phrase: “When it’s in Hub Mode.” Why does the Pixel Tablet need a second piece of hardware to be in Hub Mode? Why have one smart home experience when away from the dock and another when charging in the dock?
Keep in mind as well that the Google Home app improvements won’t be exclusive to the Pixel Tablet. Google says, “Alongside the new Pixel Tablet, we will be rolling out a more optimized version of the Google Home app for tablets. With improvements across all five tabs, other highly used screens across the app and support for landscape and portrait orientations, users will be able to seamlessly navigate their smart home while on their tablet.”
Next is more of a semantics issue although it again points to the confusion of what the devices are.for. The Pixel Tablet is “the first tablet with Chromecast built-in, so you can cast videos or music from your phone to the tablet when it’s in Hub Mode” according to Google.
Technically, that sounds correct. I don’t know of another Android tablet that works as a Chromecast receiver. Does it really matter though if the tablet is must be docked to start receiving casted content?
While it makes sense that you might want to stream content from a phone to docked tablet with larger display, it seems a little disingenuous to call this “the first tablet with Chromecast built in” if docking of the tablet is required for startup. And, every Google Home smart display is also a Chromecast receiver. So there’s nothing really new here from the user experience perspective.
Finally, let’s talk about smart home specific radios and features in both the Pixel Tablet and Charging Speaker Dock. The Pixel Tablet doesn’t use Project Soli or but the specs show an ultra wideband radio “for ranging.” So the gesture-based UI I’d like to see isn’t coming to the smart home today.
I can live with that. However, the Charging Speaker Dock only does the two things that its name implied: charges the tablet and offers better sound. It’s not a “smart” dock by any means. Without the tablet it just sits there; it’s not even a Google Assistant speaker.
So there isn’t a Thread radio inside, which I think is a missed opportunity. More so when you consider that the dock will likely always be plugged into an outlet. It’s the perfect type of device to be a full-fledged Thread Border Router for the Matter standard. The dock could have also been a mesh networking access point for the Google Nest Wi-Fi Pro system. It’s not.
Essentially, the dock does one thing for the smart home and that’s to show the Hub Mode interface when the Pixel Tablet is attached. Again, others might be OK with that.
For me, it’s a disappointment because it really doesn’t make for a compelling argument to replace any older Google Home smart displays. Had the dock been “smarter” with either Thread support or being an additional Wi-Fi mesh access point, I’d feel differently.
Unfortunately, the Pixel Tablet is little more than Google’s new tablet with its own silicon inside. And while the Charging Speaker Dock doesn’t over advertise its capabilities in its name, it doesn’t wow me with what it does.
Instead, it makes me question what Google is trying to achieve here other than slick marketing to push hardware upgrades. Unless you want a family-based tablet and a place to dock it, I don’t see much that’s compelling for the smart home.
All in all, it appears to me that Google is playing it a little too safe and conservative, particularly from a smart home perspective. And given that the Matter standard needs more device support to really shine, that’s a shame. Now isn’t the time to play it safe with hardware in the home. Now is the time to push the new standards and experiences forward. That’s not really what I see from these new Google products. Hopefully, taking them for a review will show me something to change my mind.