Google Pixel Tablet hands-on: Docked and loaded

 Google Pixel Tablet
Google Pixel Tablet

Though tablets are inherently portable, the Google Pixel Tablet is a homebody. Google's first tablet, powered by the Tensor G2 chip, is meant to be the center of your smart home as much as it's a handheld device for work and play.

Yes, it's outfitted with everything you'd expect from a tablet: built-in cameras, multi-tasking tools and support for all sorts of apps. It's even the first tablet with built-in Chromecast. But when stationed on the included speaker dock, this $499 Android tablet turns into a smart display, quite similar to Google's Nest Hub devices.

The Pixel Tablet's versatility could be the key to becoming one of the best tablets, and not just for Android users. That said, there are certainly perks for those within the Pixel ecosystem, including those who might pick up the new Google Fold or Google Pixel 7a.

We went hands-on with the Pixel Tablet at Google I/O 2023 and walked away with strong first impressions. Until we conduct a full review to see how Google's version 1.0 device stacks up, here's what you'll want to know.

Pixel Tablet price and availability

Google Pixel Tablet
Google Pixel Tablet

The Google Pixel Tablet is available for preorder as of May 10, with full availability coming sometime in June. It costs $499, coming in one configuration with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. This price also includes one charging dock, with additional charging docks available to purchase for $129 a piece.

For those who intend to travel with the Pixel Tablet, say, for work or school, the Pixel Tablet Case accessory offers protection and features a flexible kickstand. It costs $79. The stand also made it easier to dock the tablet during our hands-on demo.

Surprisingly, Google hasn't announced a keyboard accessory for the Pixel Tablet. While it could arrive at a later point, it seems like a missed opportunity to not have one available for those who intend to use their tablet for productivity.

Pixel Tablet design

Google Pixel Tablet
Google Pixel Tablet

As just a tablet, there's not much exciting about the device in terms of design. Maybe it's because we've seen iPads and Galaxy Tabs for more than 10 years, but we didn't expect Google to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the Pixel Tablet looks like a Google Nest Hub Max screen that's been detached from its base and adhered to a curvy aluminum chassis with a single 8MP rear camera lens.

The 11-inch display is wrapped by sizable borders, with a 8MP front-facing camera cutout that sits centered on the long side of the Pixel Tablet. As such, it felt more natural to hold the tablet horizontally during the hands-on demo, though it can be used vertically like other tablets, too.

In addition to the power and volume switches, the Pixel Tablet features a physical privacy switch, which deactivates the microphone and camera. This isn't something we've ever seen on a tablet, but then again the Pixel Tablet Is more than a tablet.

Pixel Tablet dock

Google Pixel Tablet
Google Pixel Tablet

The Pixel Tablet attaches to a dock that looks like that found on the Google Nest Hub Max. In fact, instead it seems like Google used launching this tablet as an alternative updating company's largest smart display. When we magnetically adhered the device to the dock, it felt surprisingly secure. It also took a good amount of intention to detach the Pixel Tablet.

When transformed into a smart home command center, the Pixel Tablet gets a big audio boost with four times more bass and louder overall sound compared to the tablet alone. Paired with hands-free Google Assistant, and you can play any music or podcast you want just by asking.

The device also switches to Hub Mode, adopting a digital photo frame experience powered by Google Photos. Hub Mode also enables an adaptive tone feature, which automatically adjusts the screen brightness and color to match the ambient lighting.

Of course, in Hub Mode, the Pixel Tablet becomes a smart home panel. Google Home compatible devices and other smart home devices can be controlled via the tablet, creating a convenient station to change lights, adjust the thermostat or check the feed from a video doorbell.

Pixel Tablet software

Google Pixel Tablet
Google Pixel Tablet

The Pixel Tablet is an Android tablet, but the software is a bit more refined for the device than what we're used to seeing on Chromebooks. It works with both Google's collection of apps plus third-party apps from the Google Play Store. You can run multiple apps at once and multitask with the split screen feature. We opened at least a dozen apps, yet the device stood responsive and smooth in terms of navigation.

Whether mobile or docked, the Pixel Tablet can be used for video calling. The Tensor G2 helps with higher resolution video and clear audio, as well as 360-degree video backgrounds and automatic lighting adjustments.

The Pixel Tablet doesn't come with a physical keyboard, but it does have an on-screen one for typing messages or documents. Or, you can use the voice-to-text feature to input text three times faster than tapping.

Streaming content is a front and center in the Pixel Tablet interface. Swiping right on the device's home screen reveals movies and shows recommendations, while built-in Chromecast offers further streaming capabilities.

Pixel Tablet outlook

Google's experience in both the smart display and mobile markets appears to have presented an opportunity to merge the two into the Pixel Tablet. Leaning into the at-home, docked uses gives the tablet a home. Even when it's not being used, it serves a practical if somewhat ambient purpose, which is something that other mainstream tablets don't offer. We have to respect a device that dares to be different.

Still, the Pixel Tablet is a gamble. We won't know whether it pays off until we run benchmark tests and use it on a day-to-day basis. Stay tuned for a full Pixel Tablet review coming soon.