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Google Pixel Tablet and Pixel Fold Preview

Posted June 19, 2023 | Android | Google | Google Pixel | Mobile | Pixel Fold | Pixel Tablet | Windows


Well, it’s gut-check time. After experimenting with some lower-priced Google Pixel offerings—the Pixel Buds Pro and Pixel Watch–this Spring, I’m diving into the deep end of the pool and will review the Pixel Tablet and Pixel Fold.

Or I will at least try: I preordered one of each and if Google’s promised shipping schedule holds up, and I will review both. But if the Pixel Fold slips into early July, I may have to cancel the order because we’ll be in Mexico City from July 6 to July 31. As of today, both will allegedly arrive before the trip, with the Pixel Tablet set to arrive tomorrow (Tuesday) or Wednesday, and the Pixel Fold—gulp—scheduled for June 28 to July 5.

These are interesting reviews for me because there is a chance that these products will make sense for me and that I will keep them and work them into my daily routine. I had expected the Pixel Buds Pro to work out, for example, and was surprised and disappointed that its active noise cancelation (ANC) wasn’t better. (And for the curious, I eventually upgraded to a pair of Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II after seeing that The Wirecutter chose them as the best ANC earbuds and Amazon had a sale lowering the price to $250.) And I had likewise expected the Pixel Watch to come up short and was surprised when it was much better, and much more competitive with the Apple Watch, than I expected. (I still ended up returning Pixel Watch because of the one-day battery life and have returned to my Fitbit Charge 5, but will look at the Pixel Watch 2 closely when that’s announced.)

The Pixel Tablet and Pixel Fold are, of course, bigger purchases, especially the Fold, which starts at an incredible $1799. More problematic: I’m not sure that either one will meet my needs. So I’m going into this with that in the back of my mind.

I’ve been using an iPad Air since early 2021; this is the 4th-Gen version, so it’s based on an A14 Bionic chipset and not the newer M1 chipset found in the current version. But at the time, I chose it for its iPad Pro-like form factor and USB-C connectivity. Had the current iPad been available then (or the current iPad Mini), I would have gotten a less expensive iPad. So the Pixel Tablet doesn’t necessarily have to outdo my two-year-old iPad Air, though that seems like a reasonable baseline. It also needs to outdo the current (mainstream) iPad.

This feels unlikely to me, though the devices are similar enough on paper. The Pixel Tablet is just a bit bigger than the 10th-generation iPad (6.7 x 10.2 inches with a 10.95-inch display vs. 7.07 x 9.79 inches with a 10.9-inch display), a bit thicker (0.3 vs. 0.28 inches), and maybe a tad heavier too (1.09 vs. 1.05 pounds), but close enough. It comes with a speaker dock, which is an interesting bit of calculation on Google’s part that customers will want to use it as a docked smart display when not in use as a tablet. But there’s no keyboard or smartpen support, per se—I assume Bluetooth keyboards will work fine—which doesn’t impact me at all since I consider tablets to be consumption devices anyway.

My experience with the Tensor G2 processor in my Pixel 7 Pro tells me that the Pixel Tablet, which uses the same system-on-a-chip will not be competitive with the iPad from a performance perspective. The question here is whether it will be good enough. And for the most part it is, on the phone, with just a few examples of poorly-written apps and some heat/power management issues mucking up the promise. Perhaps this will be a good setup for a consumption device, I’m not sure.

What I do know is that the apps situation will be problematic. This isn’t Google’s fault: it has done everything it can do to entice developers to support large-screen devices like tablets, Chromebooks, and folding phones, and it seems to have done a decent job of modifying its own apps. But Android developers do not fall into lockstep behind the platform maker as iPhone and iPad developers do with Apple, and the iPad’s amazing library of customized apps will remain an advantage for some time to come, I bet.

So the issue here is simple: will the Pixel Tablet meet my needs? That is, will the apps that I use every day look and work as well on this device as they do on the iPad. I’m going to find out. But if I were a betting man, I would bet against it. I am open to the change, regardless.

The Pixel Fold is an even tougher sell.

There are some obvious reasons, like the heady price, Google’s history of hardware reliability issues, and the fact that this is a first-generation product, all of which makes me worry about the device’s long-term viability. Then there’s the camera system, which is not as powerful as that on my Pixel 7 Pro. And I’m not sold on the form factor: despite several generations of Samsung Z Fold smartphones, I’ve never once even considered trying such a device. Oddly, my wife is far more interested in this form factor, and so I suspect that

But there are a few things about the Pixel Fold that make me curious.

If done correctly—and this would require a magical nexus of hardware reliability and applications customization for the form factor—the Pixel Fold or a similar device could finally achieve that dream of a single device replacing two others, in this case a phone and a mini-tablet. And that is compelling, to some degree, though I will also point out that I like the separation of phone/tablet/PC right now and that each serves its own purpose.

I’m also curious about the design. Where Samsung has gone with two tall and thin slabs, the Pixel Fold is shorter and squatter, the result being an external display that could feel more natural (though small at just 5.8-inches diagonally) and an internal folding display that has a squarish (6:5) aspect ratio. I’ve been listening to the Made by Google podcast and the interviews with the Pixel Fold and Pixel Tablet design team members in episode S3E2 suggest that some real thought went into the form factor.

Plus, it’s a Pixel. Despite the many issues I’ve had with various Pixel phones over the years, I still feel the pull of this product line and its clean, optimized Android version. A folding phone without all the Samsung nonsense is, of course, interesting.

Still. This one is a long shot. There is only the tiniest chance that I would keep this for myself—I just can’t see it—but I suppose there is a small but better chance that my wife would want to hold onto it. In that case, she would have to sacrifice her Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and its superior camera system. But it’s possible. Remotely possible.

Whatever happens, this will be interesting. I’m happy to see Google pushing Pixel into new markets, and even if these first-generation products don’t meet my needs, I hope they succeed enough to spur future versions.

More soon.



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