Large white borders. Matte, looks like plastic back. Thick profile. 2023. Android.
That’s about all we know about Google’s upcoming Pixel tablet, which the company teased this week during its keynote presentation for the I/O 2022 developer conference. Rick Osterloh, Google’s senior vice president of devices and services and head of the Pixel program, confirmed to my colleague David Pierce that the tablet will complement the lineup of Pixel devices and provide a complete ecosystem in Google’s lineup.
But when I saw the image of the Pixel Tablet pop up in the livestream during the keynote, I couldn’t help but respond with, “That? That’s Google’s big return to tablet hardware?” The device Google showed is reminiscent of the front of a circa 2013 or 2014 Samsung tablet with the back of an Amazon Fire HD 10, not something that would feel futuristic or even current in 2023 when it’s supposed to be released.
While it’s been a few years since Google made its own tablet, the rest of the tablet market (namely Apple and Samsung) has refined their products with sleek, aluminum frames; loud, extended speaker systems; and trim bezels that make anything on their bright, high-refresh screens practically jump at you. Heck, even relatively cheap Chrome OS tablets look more modern than what Google has shown so far.
The other weird part about this design is that it bears absolutely no resemblance to the Pixel phone line. When you see an iPad Air or iPad Pro, you immediately see the connection with the latest iPhones. I’m not asking Google to put a camera bar on the back of the tablet (or maybe it should?), but this tablet looks like it could have been made by any company and doesn’t exactly match Google’s Pixel 6, 6A , 7 or even the Pixel Watch. It almost seems like a reference design that can collapse a factory for a customer. That’s despite Osterloh describing it as “a perfect companion for Pixel” and a “next-generation Android tablet”.
Much of this could be excused if Google decides to price the Pixel Tablet extremely low to compete with Amazon’s budget Fire tablets (and hearken back to the only Google tablet anyone liked, the Nexus 7). But in a separate talk, Osterloh said the tablet “would be more of a premium-style product, in the larger size,” indicating to me that it A) won’t be particularly cheap and B) won’t be particularly small.
2023 is still a long way off and Google has plenty of time to make adjustments here. We also know very little about the hardware itself: which Tensor processor is inside? How much RAM and storage will there be? Does it support pen input? Will there be a version with less distracting black edges? Are there detachable keyboard accessories? (As to the last point, it’s probably because there seemed to be pogo connecting pins on the back of the tablet.) I’m also judging the design based on what we know these years Pixel line of products. Maybe in 2023 Google has shifted everything back to a matte plastic aesthetic, and the Pixel Tablet fits right in. It would be an odd twist after embracing premium metal and glass finishes on the Pixel phones, but it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing I’ve seen Google do.
And of course, hardware isn’t what makes the Pixel Tablet sink or swim. It will all come down to software, for which Google still has a lot of work to do to prove it cares about Android tablets. The company has committed to updating more than 20 of its first-party apps in the coming weeks to better support tablet screens, and it says it has gained support from major third-party apps to make tablet versions of their Android apps as well. . But that’s a story we’ve heard many times before, and I’m reluctant to believe it until I see it.
Despite all that and the long lead time before the Pixel tablet hits the market, first impressions are important, and based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s hard to get excited about this and hard to see how Google does something different than what we already have with tablets from other companies. It’s strange that it chose this hardware design to spark interest.
And uh, those white borders.