Google Pixel Tablet review: Clever accessories transform an unexciting tablet

The things that make Google’s latest tablet great are not the device itself.

Video Transcript


CHERLYNN LOW: The best thing about the Pixel Tablet is its case. Now if you recall, Google launched the Pixel Tablet at its I/O Developer Conference in May, and one of its most significant features was its ability to double as a smart display. Each device ships with an included charging speaker dock. And together with some nifty software, the Pixel Tablet is able to turn into a pretty full-featured smart display when connected to the base.

And full disclosure, that's primarily how I use the Pixel Tablet in my time testing it. It's really been situated in my bedroom on top of my chest of drawers. As a smart display in there as a secondary TV monitor because I'm too cheap to buy another TV. That's not to say I didn't use it as a tablet. I did test it on that front as well. But for this video, we're going to focus a little bit more about how to use it as a smart display, as well as why that case comes in so handy in those scenarios. Throughout this video too, I'm going to instead of saying, hey G, which would trigger all your devices at home, we're going to say, hey baby. All right? Cool.


So first up, this is an 11-inch screen, which ranks as one of Google's bigger smart home devices with a screen like a smart display, and it was very easy for me to see the time from afar when I would step into my bedroom. You can also use the Pixel Tablet as a smart photo frame and see pictures of you, your loved ones, your family members, or your pets.

The Pixel Tablet also shares a design that's very similar to the rest of Google's Nest or Google Home portfolio, which is to say this is a very pastel-color-based theme. There's a mesh covering on the speaker base, and it's all very inoffensive. I think at this point, I've gotten a little bit bored by Google's aesthetic here.

You can get in either gray, white, or rose, which is what I chose for my review unit, and it fits in quite nicely with my very woody bedroom. The tablet itself feels very sturdy and lightweight. I have it here with the case attached. The way Google designed it here is actually pretty clever. The little hinge or carrying mechanism doesn't cover, doesn't get in the way of the speaker dock when you want to attach this tablet back to the base.

One thing I found somewhat annoying through my use of the Pixel Tablet is that it's quite hard to access the fingerprint sensor through the case. The groove here is a little too thick. I like the Pixel Tablet a lot as a smart display. It's not very different from other Google smart displays, like the Nest Hub Max. I actually really appreciate the audio that comes through the speaker base when I connect the tablet back to it and I play my Spotify. Songs like The Weekend's "Blinding Lights" had ample bass. It felt really like there's a lot of oomph, and the trebles and the mid-notes out really crisp as well.

But this also suffers from a lot of the issues that plague other Google smart home products. When I am in between my Nest Mini and my Pixel Tablet, and I'm asking for maybe the Nest Mini to play music, or tell me about my commute, the Pixel Tablet does tend to kick in.

It is the more helpful device. It does have the better music. It does have that graphic interface to show me things with more context. So I'm not mad at it. I just think Google has a little bit more work to do there to better identify which device I want it to respond from. And it is working on that. It does constantly ask me surveys about whether the correct device answered. So I guess we might see improvement in the future.

Another thing that's useful on the hub mode interface of the Pixel Tablet is it's basically a smart home controls dashboard. I can press the home button on the bottom left of the screen, and immediately see all my connected devices that are on my Wi-Fi network. You see I have two camera feeds. I have several lights, some speakers on the TV. It's nice to be able to manage all of that from one place.

Another thing I use the Pixel Tablet to do is set up some automations. And again, this is not a feature unique to the Pixel Tablet. You can do this with any other Google Home device on the Google Home app, but I did set up a automation where if I said to any of my Google devices, hey baby, I am home, it would start some sexy music.

The trouble is that right now, Google doesn't allow you to choose which device the music would start playing from. So only the device that heard you will start playing the music that you want it to play. Another standout feature of the Pixel Tablet is this is the first Android tablet that also doubles as a Chromecast receiver. It's not the first smart display to do so, but this is the first tablet to do so except for when you remove it from the dock, it can't receive Chromecast. So I don't really know where Google was going with this idea. However, it is nice to be able to cast to the Pixel Tablet when I am laying in bed and, like I said, trying to use this as a cheap, small secondary TV.


The Pixel Tablet, by and large, is a very capable and competent smart. Display everything I've seen on here from pictures of myself, to pictures of my family, to videos, and YouTube shows has come off clear, regardless of the lighting situation. It's been bright enough to see, and pictures are crisp, videos are vibrant and smooth. Again, nothing much to complain about here.

Now, the audio through the tablet itself is a little tinny. I don't really like it. It will be good enough, say, if you're laying back on your couch and you have no other option for music playback. But for most of the time, I think you would prefer either pairing headphones to it or putting it on the speaker dock.

My favorite thing about the case is what I showed you at the start. It is the silver kickstand that doubles as a handle that you can use to carry it like it's the next fashion item of the year, or hang it on anything that you can try. I mean, I tried to hang out on a co-worker's ear. That didn't work very well. Basically, this enables you to work on the Pixel Tablet pretty much wherever you go.

When I did start to use the Pixel Tablet as a tablet, one of the things I wanted to test out is how good Android L is for multitasking. One of the new things that Google added with the Pixel Tablet is this dedicated taskbar at the bottom where when you slow drag from the bottom up, you'll see a row of about five to six icons pop up, and these will enable you to launch apps more easily in split screen.

Sometimes what happens is the smaller window defaults back to the app's mobile version instead of its tablet-friendly layout. For example, when we resized the "New York Times" crossword app back to about a third of the page, it asked us to restart the app and then relaunch it in the phone-friendly version.

It feels like a fix, a stopgap solution to a problem that Google is going to have to look into further. One thing I wasn't really able to test extensively in time for this video is battery life. Now, Google promises upwards of 18 hours of non-stop video playback on the Pixel Tablet. Here's why I wasn't able to test it. The instinct with the Pixel Tablet is when you're not using it to put it back on the charging dock. Whenever I put it back, it just recharges again. What I'm going to do is run our typical Engadget battery test, and you can check out our written review on for the details of the battery test results.

I can say, however, that the tensor G2 chip running inside the Pixel Tablet did perform fairly admirably. I haven't pushed it to its limits just yet. I will, however, put this through more of its paces by running different games and doing the typical things that would push a processor to its limit. So, again, check out the written review on for that.

It's hard to tell you how I feel about the Pixel Tablet because it's one thing trying to be many things at once. It leads with its name, the Pixel Tablet. And we just have such a bad history with Android tablets that it's hard to feel any enthusiasm for the Pixel Tablet as a tablet.

Does it work? Sure. Does it have better software than ever before? Yes. But I'm not so much sold on the Pixel Tablet as a tablet. I am more intrigued by its potential as a smart display with a detachable screen. For $500, Google is giving you a pretty complete package here. You've got a very competent tablet. You've got a speaker dock that if you wanted to buy additional ones will cost you $120 each, and it provides really good audio as well. It's even better when you include the Pixel's case. If you want the case on its own, that's just $80.

So overall, while I think the Pixel Tablet does offer a lot for the price, it is just really hard to compare it against what's out there. There's nothing really that straddles device categories like this. I could maybe try to compare it to some Echo Tablets, but those devices are just a little bit more simplistic and don't come with as beefy speaker bases. Plus, I am more of a Google Ecosystem person.

If that's and you're a fan of Google's products and devices, the Google Pixel tablet might just be the best new addition to your home. For more in-depth reviews of smart displays and other competing devices in the smart home space, make sure you subscribe to Engadget.