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Google’s return to the world of tablets isn’t an attempt to make any profound statements or advancements — it’s just a tablet that’s good at the things people use tablets for.
Google is officially back in the tablet business. After teasing it a year ago, the company has now announced the Pixel Tablet, a $499 slab that’s available for preorder starting today, May 10th, and will begin shipping on June 20th.
Google’s history with tablets has been, well, fraught. The only real success it’s had was with the Nexus 7, a cheap, small tablet that was beloved when it came out back in 2012. The subsequent years saw the company try lots of ideas on portable touchscreen computers, launching new tablets with either Android or ChromeOS and then abandoning them shortly after. None ever recaptured the success of the Nexus 7. It even got to the point where Google’s head of hardware said it wouldn’t bother making new tablets anymore in 2019.
Clearly, that has changed because here we are in 2023, and Google is once again selling a tablet-ass tablet. The Pixel Tablet is designed from the ground up to be good at what people typically use tablets for: watching video or playing games in the comfort of their own home. It is not, however, making any statements about the future of computing.
The looks of the Pixel Tablet are relatively generic. It has an 11-inch, 16:10, 2560 x 1600 pixel LCD display, even bezels all around, and a matte back. It comes in three colors: white, dark green, and light pink, with the dark green model featuring a black bezel. Though it looks like plastic from a distance, the Pixel Tablet has an aluminum frame with a nanotexture coating, not unlike what Google did with the Pixel 5 smartphone.
Bundled in the box with the Pixel Tablet is a magnetic speaker dock. This serves multiple purposes and is meant to prevent the dreaded “dead tablet in a drawer” syndrome: it’s a place to store the Pixel Tablet when it’s not in use; it charges the battery; and it has a louder, fuller speaker better suited for communal listening than the speakers that are built into the tablet. If you’re playing music or watching a video on the tablet when you put it on the dock, it will seamlessly transfer the audio to the dock’s speaker. Pull the tablet off the dock while something is playing, and it will instantly switch to the tablet’s speakers.
When mounted on the speaker dock, the Pixel Tablet looks an awful lot like the Nest Hub Max, a $250 smart display that Google released back in 2019. But make no mistake, the Pixel Tablet is an Android tablet and not a smart display — it runs completely different software and has different capabilities compared to the Nest Hub.
That said, when the tablet is docked on the speaker, it can show a slideshow of images from your Google Photos albums just like the Nest Hub. It also has a quick access button to the Google Home app so you can control smart home devices, and it can accept voice commands from a distance for hands-free Google Assistant queries. The lock screen won’t show any personal information like notifications — for that, you’ll have to unlock the tablet to access the accounts that are set up on it.
The Pixel Tablet has the same Tensor G2 processor found in the new Pixel Fold, Pixel 7A, and the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro released last year. It’s paired with 8GB of RAM and either 128 or 256GB of storage. Google says the battery provides up to 12 hours of video streaming between charges, and there’s a USB-C port for wired charging if you don’t have the dock with you. But in further proof that Google expects most people to never take the tablet outside of the home, it’s only available in Wi-Fi-only configurations; there are no 5G or LTE options here.
Adorning the tablet are four speakers, three microphones for video calls, and two cameras. On the back, an eight-megapixel rear camera is situated in the upper-right corner of the tablet, and on the front, another eight-megapixel camera is centered in the top bezel when you hold the tablet in landscape orientation, where it should be. A fingerprint scanner is built into the power button to support login and biometric authentication.
Google has made a snap-on case for the Pixel Tablet that has a built-in kickstand and still supports mounting on the speaker dock. But notably missing from the Google-made accessories list is a keyboard or stylus — this isn’t the tablet you buy to replace a laptop. (You can, of course, pair a Bluetooth keyboard to it and the tablet does support USI 2.0 styluses, but Google isn’t producing either of those accessories.)
The Pixel Tablet runs Android 13 at launch and will be updated to Android 14 later this year. (The company promises five years of security and three years of OS updates.) The software is familiar to anyone that owns a Pixel phone, and Google claims that more than 50 of its own apps have been updated to support the Pixel Tablet’s larger display.
But while you can split the screen between two apps at the same time, the Pixel Tablet’s software doesn’t have much in the way of productivity features. Samsung, Apple, and even OnePlus are doing much more to make their tablets more conducive to getting work done on them than Google seems to be interested in right now. It will display all of your favorite streaming apps in full screen, however.
And that really is the whole story with the Pixel Tablet: it’s a tablet designed for what people mostly use tablets for right now. The long-standing complaint against any sort of Android tablet has been a lack of properly optimized apps, and despite Google’s efforts on its own first-party apps, the Pixel Tablet likely won’t solve that problem. But if you just want to watch the latest episode of Succession while sitting on your couch, you likely don’t care that the Slack app looks silly on the Pixel Tablet’s screen.
Google spent years trying to divine the future of computing in its tablet efforts — it built creative keyboard cases and tried multiple operating systems to try to make something that is as flexible as a smartphone but as creatively powerful as a laptop. It’s now trying a simpler approach with the Pixel Tablet, and I think it’s one a lot of people might be interested in.
Correction, 5:00pm ET, May 10th, 2023: An earlier version of this article said the Pixel Tablet would get five years of both OS and security updates. Google is committing to five years of security updates but only three years of OS updates. We regret the error.