Available for preorder now, arriving in June: It's a home hub and a sharable tablet. But where's the keyboard?
Google's got a tablet, again. The Pixel Tablet, originally teased last year, is finally arriving in June after a detailed reveal at Google I/O earlier this week. Its price isn't bad at all: $499 (£599, AU$899), with preorders open now. It looks nice. It seems to perform well. But really, right now, it's hard to know whether this is the rebirth of Android tablets or another experimental turn in the road.
After a little time holding and using one, I came away feeling that this may be Google's best tablet in years. Whether it can be an iPad replacement, well, that's another story. The Pixel Tablet is clearly straddling the Nest Hub-meets-tablet line here, which may not be a bad thing at all. It's also far more affordable as a large-screen Android device than the upcoming Pixel Fold phone.
Android tablets may have faded from Google's focus, but they still exist: Samsung's Galaxy Tab series, and OnePlus' recent affordable tablet entry, to name two. The problem, usually, is the app support and software, not the hardware. That's where Google's renewed focus could be a big positive sign.
The last Google tablet I used was the 2019 Pixel Slate, a product that went fully toward trying to be a fusion of Chromebook and tablet. The keyboard-equipped Slate felt like a Chromebook first, tablet second. This time, the Pixel Tablet is all tablet and no Chromebook. The software experience, and the onboard Google Tensor G2 processor, are mirrors of the Google Pixel phone experience, with the benefit of a larger multitasking screen. Also, this time, there's no keyboard accessory to be found at all.
The Pixel Tablet, sitting in its included magnetically attached speaker dock, looks like a giant smart photo frame or Google Nest Hub. It feels like a home device, and it's designed to be a home device; docked in the base when not being used, and popped off for whatever you want on the move.
Google's betting that most home tablets are casually used and shared. It's not a bad bet, since that's sort of how iPads in our house end up floating around. The Pixel Tablet has distinct advantages over the iPad in several ways: Google makes having multiple accounts, or a guest mode, easy on Android. Google's AI-infused strategy for its services on Android could also eventually make the Pixel Tablet feel like a perfect way to explore everyday Google uses on a home device -- even more than a phone.
The speaker dock is also a big plus. Google chose to include the dock with the $500 purchase, rather than making it an add-on and dropping the Pixel Tablet price. The dock amplifies sound quality considerably, and it made movies and music sound punchy in my brief demo. Audio instantly switches into dock mode when attached or plays through the Pixel Tablet when it's not. The dock can also be a Google Cast receiver, playing back stuff on other people's phones. It's not a Bluetooth speaker, though; it only plays back audio from a connected Pixel Tablet, which snaps into magnetic pins on the back to charge up.
Those smart pins could potentially work with other accessories, like a smart keyboard, but Google has nothing else at the moment. Not offering a keyboard, or even a stylus, feels like a miss. Tablets have become very good tiny laptop stand-ins, especially as iOS and Android have evolved. You could pair your own Bluetooth keyboard, and third-party accessories are likely to come, but it's surprising that Google offers no unique keyboard case of its own.
Google does have its own protective case cover with a metal kickstand that also works with the magnetic speaker dock when attached, and Speck has been announced as a third-party case manufacturing partner. Still, nothing yet on the keyboard front.
The Pixel Tablet is also no closer to figuring out how to be a better Chromebook alternative for kids. Google's Chrome OS is a standard at our public schools, and it would be great if this could be a perfect little Chromebook on the fly. You could launch Chrome as an Android app, but that's not the same thing.
Google's been attentive to lots of other details here, though. A fingerprint-sensor power button handles security, along with an included Titan M2 chip. The front-facing 8-megapixel camera is centered on the long edge, and has video chat optimizations borrowed from Google's Pixel phones. Some Pixel photo-retouching options like Magic Eraser work with the Tablet, too. The multitasking shortcuts look smooth and easy to use, adjusting app pane sizes and dragging and dropping files between apps. Voice dictation was fast and flawless in a few spontaneous demos. And the LCD display looked sharp and vivid, especially for the tablet's price (equivalent to my eyes to an iPad Air).
Google's pledging a new wave of optimized-for-larger-screen Android apps, including 50 of Google's own most-used ones, and a number of third-party partners including Spotify and Disney Plus. The larger-screened efforts have a double reward: These larger apps will show up on Google's new Pixel Fold phone and the Pixel Tablet. In a sense, the Fold and the Tablet are sort of like two sides of the same large-screen coin.
Turning a phone into a portable unfolding tablet has always been a bit of a fantasy for some, but the Fold's 7.6-inch potential also comes at $1,799. The Pixel Tablet, meanwhile, is $499 for an 11-inch screen, and shareable. For most people, the affordable option will always win. But it may also mean that Google works on these larger-screen ideas now so that future products can have software ready to go, no matter the size or foldability.
All of that sounds great, as long as Google stays consistent and committed. Those are hard words to come by for Google products, which sometimes appear and vanish in experimental waves. Android tablets should be better, and the Pixel Tablet shows they can be. For a communal screen at home, it looks great. But for all the other keyboard-connected and Chromebook-ish uses, it would be great to see Google evolve there, too.
For more from Google I/O, take a look at the Pixel 7A and Android 14.