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How I used the Pixel Tablet as my smart home display (and key things to consider)

Compared to stationary displays like the Nest and Echo Hub, here's how the Google Pixel Tablet does things better (and worse).
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Google Pixel Tablet
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Google Pixel Tablet and dock are available for $499.
  • The 11-inch tablet runs Android 13 on Google's Tensor G2 chip, with solid performance and small bezels surrounding the screen that can handle multitasking and comes with a charging dock.
  • Android can be buggy on the Pixel Tablet, though less so than on competing devices; the refresh rate tops out at 60Hz, and picking up the tablet takes some getting used to. 

Google's Pixel Tablet marked the company's return to the tablet market after some years (previous efforts included the Pixel C and Pixel Slate). While it was highly praised as a near-perfect Android tablet, its reception was underwhelming. 

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The Google Pixel Tablet is an 11-inch Android slab with a charging dock that doubles as a speaker. When users set the tablet on the dock to charge, it switches into a customizable smart display, like an iPhone during Standby Mode or a Fire tablet in Show Mode. When you charge your Pixel Tablet, it's close to getting a Nest Hub Max experience, but not quite there.

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As a smart home user, I decided to give this tablet's smart display feature a try. I love smart panels more than I love tablets. I don't reach for my tablet for entertainment often -- I rely on my phone for that -- so I use a smart display or the smart home apps on my phone more and for longer than a tablet. The Echo Hub is quickly working its way into my heart as my current favorite option, though it is still buggy -- as many new devices are. 

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The problem many reviewers have with the Pixel is that it's a simpleton among its peers -- and not in a bad way. Google didn't design this tablet to be the next iPad Pro, capable of handling intense video editing sessions and being an occasional replacement for your laptop. 

The Pixel Tablet is an entertainment device that allows you to check the latest game scores or scroll TikTok while taking a break from writing in a Word document.

Google Pixel Tablet
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

That said, it's a tablet that delivers a clean Android experience, and you can forget whether you're team iOS or Android. As a loyal iOS user for six years, I sometimes feel disoriented when using an Android device; the weird navigation bugs and lags remind me of why I ditched Android years ago. But these bugs are few and far between with the Google Pixel Tablet. While the Pixel Tablet did have some bugs during navigation and daily use, they were far fewer than the ones I experienced with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9, though far more frequent than what I experienced on my iPad. 

The Pixel Tablet worked surprisingly well as a smart home display but still left much to be desired.

Here's what Pixel Tablet does well

The first thing I noticed when I began using this Pixel Tablet as a smart home panel for Google Home-compatible products around my house is that Google Assistant still seems much smarter than Siri and Alexa. But this is a close race where the leader changes seemingly by the minute as all three are constantly improving, even more so now that generative AI is being thrown into the mix. Google Home does, however, run smoothly on the Pixel Tablet.

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Also, compared to stationary smart displays like Google Nest Hub and Echo Hub, the Pixel Tablet is a portable device, a device you can grab to read the news or play a game almost anywhere -- I've taken mine to my kids' after-school activities to play or watch something while I wait. Having a multipurpose display at the center of a smart home is like having two tablets in one. 

Google Pixel Tablet
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Here's what Pixel Tablet could do better

The problem is that the Pixel Tablet itself is buggy. Of course, all smart displays have their bugs. Still, after testing several Echo Show devices and using the Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, and Google Home app on iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, I expected more from the Pixel Tablet's smart home control capabilities. 

Google is reportedly working on a new Nest speaker and a Nest Hub Max to launch later this year, so we don't believe the company will discontinue these smart devices in favor of the Pixel Tablet.

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While Google Home runs well on the Pixel Tablet, Nanoleaf products were the most difficult to run smoothly on Google Home. I have some connectivity issues with certain Cree smart devices that don't always respond through Google Home, although these perform well with Alexa. 

Google Pixel Tablet
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The far-field mic experience also left me wanting, especially being surrounded by far too many Echo devices and a HomePod mini. The Pixel Tablet could hear me well enough from across the room, the farthest I would use it most of the time. But -- unlike my Echo devices -- the Pixel Tablet couldn't understand me in our open floor plan when I was in the kitchen, which suggests that it would work best in a bedroom or smaller living room. (My HomePod mini can hear me from a story away.)

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The dock itself also feels slightly awkward when you pick up the device. It's not hard to dock the Pixel Tablet to charge, especially once you get used to the feeling, but you have to pick it up just right to undock it. Google suggests lifting it by the lower edge to undock it and pick it up. But picking it up almost any other way can result in you pulling the dock up along with the tablet.

ZDNET's buying advice

Should you choose a Pixel Tablet to use as a smart home panel over an Echo Hub or Google Nest Hub Max Compared to both, the Pixel Tablet is a portable device, whereas the Google Nest Hub and Echo Hub are stationary smart displays.

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Although many users prefer the $229 Nest Hub Max's function as a dedicated smart display, I like having a multipurpose display at the center of the smart home with the 2-in-1 Pixel Tablet. Grabbing the fully charged tablet on my way out the door or upstairs makes it easier to use than other tablets. Setting it down to become a smart display gives it a second life when idle whereas other tablets are off or stowed away.

The Echo Hub is specifically designed to be a smart home display for Amazon Alexa. If you prefer the Alexa voice assistant and already have other Echo devices, an $180 Echo Hub would likely be a better addition to your smart home over a Pixel Tablet.

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