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Google Pixel Tablet First Impressions

Posted June 20, 2023 | Android | Google Pixel | Pixel Tablet | Windows

With its bundled dock, Google makes it clear that the Pixel Tablet is both a tablet and a portable smart display, something that will be used around the home more than on the go.

And that’s fine. Indeed, it’s how I currently use my iPad Air for the most part, though I do of course take it on flights to read and occasionally watch a downloaded video. But it occurs that Google’s dual-use strategy is in many ways more focused than what Apple is doing with the iPad: there’s only one model, there’s no keyboard dock or smartpen, there’s no cellular data connectivity, no high-end OLED display with a high refresh rate, and no headphone jack. It’s just a tablet. That can be docked and used as a smart display.

Perhaps I should rephrase that. The Pixel Tablet is a tablet that will be used as a smart display. It’s bundled with the dock that enables that latter use case, and it’s the only way to charge the tablet out of the box. So you’d have to go out of your way to not use it like a smart display. And what kind of a monster would do that? (And, no, the dock power cable is not USB-C for some reason.)

Like every iPad, the Pixel Tablet doesn’t include a kickstand or other means of holding up the display so you can use it hands-free (away from the dock). That’s a shame: if Microsoft’s Surface Pro has taught us anything, and I believe it is literally this one thing, it’s that tablets need integrated kickstands. Fortunately, Google sells one in the form of the expensive Pixel Tablet Case, which looks like a thick outer shell with an elegant, polished metal ring stand. But that ring stand should simply be integrated into the tablet. And, yes, I’m upset that one wasn’t available for preorder when I bought the Pixel Tablet.

Compared to my iPad Air, the Pixel Tablet looks like it’s made of cheaper materials (e.g. plastic), but Google has instead coated the device’s aluminum body with a pleasant soft-touch coating. It’s more tapered on the sides and has just slightly bigger bezels.

It’s oriented to landscape mode by default, which means that the webcam is only in the right place when the tablet is used in landscape. This is the right positioning: my iPad Air places its webcam in the portrait position, which is silly for a number of reasons. The most obvious being that it’s not possible to prop it up in that mode. (Apple is starting to correct this design mistake with newer iPads.)

But the Pixel Tablet’s 2560 x 1600 display has a rectangular 16:10 aspect ratio, and that means that it’s not ideal for portrait mode use … which is exactly how I use my iPad Air most of the time (for reading). And that alone kind of makes it a non-starter for me personally, though I will give it the old college try. Still, I respect Google optimizing it for landscape, given its smart display ancillary usage. It’s not what I want. But I suspect it will find fans.

And on that note, the dock works pretty well. The tablet attaches to it easily enough, though detaching successfully took several tries to find exactly the right motion. When docked, the tablet works like a smart display using a Hub mode, and you can cast content to it via Chromecast, which works well. The sound is nice too, with the dock’s speakers offering a richer, deeper sound than the tablet.

There is a lot going on here, so I will follow up on at least the software situation in a day or so. I’ve installed several reading and video apps so far, and I’ve experimented with the tablet-optimized multitasking features a bit. So far so good: I’ve not seen any software deal-breakers yet.

But there is one obvious problem with the Pixel Tablet: it’s more expensive than the market leader, Apple’s base model iPad, which starts at $449, or $50 less. Yes, the Pixel Tablet includes the dock, but the jury is out on whether this peripheral is essential, and if I could have, I would have bought the Pixel Tablet without it. (This reminds me, vaguely, of Microsoft forcing original-generation Xbox One buyers to also get a Kinect. Suffice to say that that strategy backfired.) I appreciate what Google is attempting here, but I prefer choice.

More soon.

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