I’ve been breaking out of my usual wheelhouse and getting hands-on with Google’s new Pixel Tablet for the last few days. It’s in stores now, and starts at $499 for the base 128 GB model. You can also spring for the $599 256 GB model, and at only $100 more, I think it’s a worthwhile upgrade to double your storage capacity, depending on your use case.
It’s been years since Google rolled out a new tablet, and besides the included charging dock and attendant Hub Mode, the company hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel. You won’t find pro-oriented accessories like you do on the iPad: no stylus, no keyboard, and aside from a matching case with kickstand, not much in the way of Google-designed accessories.
But in my few days of testing, it seems like this might have been by design. And there’s really one kind of consumer Google had in mind for this product, and if that’s you, this tablet may be worth the price.
Hub Mode, Hub Mode, Hub Mode. If you’re a consumer who’s already enmeshed in Google’s ecosystem and are interested in a Google Home-compatible array of smart home devices, the Pixel Tablet may just become your new best friend.
Here’s how it works: When you dock your Pixel tablet with the included charging speaker dock, the tablet visually responds and transforms its lock screen into a customizable screen.
It’s the kind of feature that works well if you already have Google Home devices. From the lock screen, you can view cameras, tweak lighting and adjust your blinds, if you’re one of the lucky folks with smart window treatments. If someone rings your Nest or Ring doorbell, it’ll show you who’s at the door as well.
It could work well in the kitchen or family room — somewhere with a lot of people moving in and out — and can feed in alerts about package delivery, running timers or even when your Uber or Lyft is en route.
I opted for Google’s dynamic on-screen clock in the Prime skin. The clock faces are beautiful and manage to be visually engaging without being a needless distraction.
Unfortunately, my smart-home devices are all set up for Apple HomeKit, which made it difficult to see how it fit into my ecosystem. But the functionality that Hub Mode can offer makes it a step up from relying just on your Nest Hub, because it’s portable.
You can buy charging docks individually and dot them around your home, moving your tablet(s) from location to location as you go about your day. For example, you could find a recipe from the couch, tote your Pixel Tablet to the kitchen and get to cooking.
Hub Mode also lets you cast video from your phone or computer to the Hub.
Multitasking is also solid, although it definitely isn’t a computer-killer — nor is Google positioning it as one. It’s perfectly adequate for streaming video and weeding through your inbox at the same time, although depending on the angle of the tablet or the optional case with kickstand, your typing experience may vary.
The Tensor G2 SoC processor, new to the Pixel Tablet, offers a snappy experience, but its power felt constrained by some aspects of the user interface, such as a momentary lag when you pull down to access the control panel.
Although the emoji background is a great concept and responds to user touch, the lag muted the experience a bit.
This is a tablet that requires you to get used to its shortcomings: Getting the angle of motion precisely right to go to the home screen rather than switching to another app, for example. Some of those weak points, though, are likely my inexperience with Android.
This isn’t a tablet for a power user, either. It’ll help you do what you need to do as far as basic productivity, but don’t expect to be penning a novel or a tablet review on it. It’s a similar story with the twinned 8MP cameras. My colleague and I both felt that the 7MP front-facing camera on an older iPad Pro outshone the front-facing camera on the Pixel, which seemed a little washed out and unusually sharp in comparison.
Should you buy it?
Go for the Pixel Tablet if you think there’s a space in your home and routine for a portable smart hub. Hub Mode is where this device shines, and even little things such as the air quality indicator on the lock screen and the improved speaker quality made my morning routine noticeably better. At $499 for the 128GB model, it’s got more than enough storage at a reasonable price, especially if you’re already integrated into the Google ecosystem.