After some stops and starts, Google is returning to tablets, but with a smart home twist. The company first teased the upcoming Pixel Tablet at I/O this year, saying the device would be launching in 2023. Though that release window is at least several months away, Google was eager to share more details at its hardware launch event today.
Google's vice president of product management Rose Yao said during the keynote that the company thinks of the tablet as part of its Pixel portfolio of products, and that it didn't feel complete without a "large screen device". That might be confusing if you recall the ill-fated Pixel Slate and Pixelbook, which were "large screen" Pixel-branded devices.
Like other Pixel gadgets, the tablet will be a canvas for Google's own expression of Android. And as the company already hinted at its developer conference this year, the tablet will be powered by the same Tensor G2 chip that's in the flagship phones. Since this is still just a tease, the company is still keeping details like screen size, resolution, RAM and more under wraps.
Google is ready, however, to share more about the Pixel Tablet's design. It looks similar to older phones like the Pixel 3, with a rounded rectangle shape and a matte-ish glass back. In fact, Yao said the company developed a new "nano-ceramic coating" that she said is inspired by "the feel of porcelain."
In an interview with Engadget, Yao said the best way to think about this finish is to imagine the coating on a Le Creuset dutch oven. She said that the Pixel Tablet's coating should feel similarly durable and premium, and that it's basically embedding tiny pieces of ceramic onto the device's frame, which is made of recycled aluminum. This creates what she said is a "soft matte finish" with a "grippy feel" that should alleviate what her team believed was a pain point of tablets: "They're really big devices that are kind of slippery."
The Pixel Tablet will also run Android, complete with Material You personalization and big screen-friendly features like split screen and stylus support. When I asked for more information about stylus support, Yao said "We'll talk about the more next year," though she added that "you can use a third-party stylus."
The fact that the Pixel Tablet is powered by Tensor, which Yao said is the first time Google is bringing its own processor to a different type of product than a phone, enables a few different things.
"I have so many stories I want to share about what that means," Yao said. But she can't at the moment, besides alluding to speech recognition, video calls, photo editing and image processing as areas to look out for.
She also shouted out the Assistant, which will be able to "work seamlessly between a tablet and the phone" thanks to Tensor. But not just that, Google wants you to think of its tablet as a place for an always-listening Assistant, much like you would with a Nest speaker. Yao said that her team observed how people used tablets and learned that "tablets are homebodies." According to her, most tablets are home 80 percent of the time and are only active for a small portion of the time.
Another thing Yao said was that though tablets tended to remain in people's homes, they "don't really have a home at home." They're often left in drawers or by charging outlets, and can either be forgotten or get in the way. To make a tablet that's "truly useful 24/7" and that would "bring together the best of Pixel and home," Yao said her team made a charging speaker dock.
The base doesn't just charge the device, Yao said it also "unlocks a ton of new experiences and makes the tablet helpful all the time." Her favorite feature is the photo frame, which is similar to that on the Nest Hub smart display. But the Pixel Tablet also has front and rear cameras, making it useful for video calls.
Yao said the angle "is just really perfect for me," though based on the pictures Google has shown so far it appears the camera might shoot at an unflattering upwards angle. She also confirmed that the base won't allow for adjustable angles, so if you don't like the position you likely won't be able to change it.
"I really think it's one of the most versatile tablets on the market," Yao said, adding "We'll talk more next year." While Google still hasn't shared information like screen size and pricing, we'll likely find out more closer to launch.
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