Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

In a world of increasingly complex tech, wireless chargers are refreshingly simple devices. Just take your phone, drop it on a pad or stand, and walk away. That’s it. And now that wireless charging is basically a standard feature for most flagship handsets, it’s quickly becoming the preferred way to keep your phone’s battery topped up. But what if your wireless charger could do more than just excite electrons without the need for wires or cables? Well, that’s exactly what Google is trying to do with the new Pixel Stand.

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To start, Google took a 10-watt wireless charging stand (which is a bit faster than most wireless chargers) and then it did what Google does best: programmed in a bunch of neat software tricks. And the result? When docked, the Pixel Stand transforms a Pixel 3 into a mini smart speaker plus Home Hub, with the potential to be even more in the future.

Unlike like other wireless chargers, the Pixel Stand is smart (or at least smarter), so not only does it know where it is, it can also differentiate between different Pixel phones. There isn’t even a need to download the Pixel Stand app, as it should be pre-installed on all Pixel 3s. From there, you can name your stand before wading through its settings to best customize its functions for your needs

If you’re someone who likes to keep a wireless charger next to the bed next to your bed, you can set it to automatically turn on Do Not Disturb mode so your phone won’t blink or vibrate when you’re trying to sleep. In fact, if you want to be even more specific, you can set the Pixel Stand to only turn on Do Not Disturb between set times, so that you can still see notifications during the day, and still get uninterrupted silence at night. And if you happen to have two Pixel Stands, say one at home and one at work, you can customize them individually to best suit their location.

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The Pixel Stand’s music screen is a good way to keep tabs on your music while you’re getting ready in the morning.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

On top of the Pixel Stand’s charging and notification duties, Google also created custom music and photo interfaces, so that when a Pixel 3 is sitting on the stand, you can easily view things like album art and song titles at a glance, with big buttons along the bottom so you can pause and skip between tracks without needing to unlock the phone. Now, when you take into account the Pixel 3's powerful front-facing stereo speakers and the Pixel Stand’s bespoke music interface, suddenly everything begins to make sense. These products were designed in tandem, and when combined, a Pixel 3 essentially becomes Google Home Mini, except that unlike a Home Mini, it’s much easier to take your phone with you when you leave the room.

The ambient photo mode crops in on pictures to best fit the display.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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As for pictures, the device’s dedicated gallery mode syncs with Google Photos and displays them on the Pixel 3's screen. You can set it to only pull images from specific albums (in case you’re worried about privacy) and it will even vary between single shots and a tw0-shot layout that makes the best of the phone’s real estate. So now, the Pixel Stand turns your phone into a mini digital picture frame too. But we’re not done yet.

And for folks who have trouble getting up in the morning, the Pixel Stand also features what Google calls a Sunrise Alarm. The way it works is that based on whatever alarms you have set, 15 minutes before any noises go off, the Pixel 3's screen turns on and gradually shifts from orange to yellow in an attempt to wake you up more gently.

Just try not to knock the whole setup over when your alarm goes off.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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However, because the Sunrise Alarm is reliant on the Pixel 3's screen for illumination, it doesn’t get quite as bright as a dedicated wake-up light. But if you prefer to sleep in pitch black light me, the extra yellow light is still quite noticeable. And if light alone isn’t enough to rouse you, when your alarm finally goes off, the Pixel Stand’s alarm screen also includes Snooze and Dismiss buttons so you can continue on (or not) with the rest of your day.

Also, like everything else Google makes these days, the Pixel Stand also features Google Assistant integration. That means you can start your day by getting a quick rundown or your schedule and a weather forecast, control lights or other smart devices, or just ask it any other questions you might have.

The little Google Assistant icon lets you know it’s there to answer questions. Meanwhile, the middle button is contextual and changes based on the time of day and other current events, while the button on the right gives you a quick rundown of your schedule and other important events.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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The Pixel Stand even has tie-ins with security gadgets like Nest’s Video Doorbell, so that anytime the camera senses motion, it will automatically send the video feed straight to your phone, assuming it’s sitting on a Pixel Stand. Sadly, this function is currently restricted to Google’s family of Nest devices, and while I did have a chance to see this in action during the Pixel 3 launch event, I don’t own any Nest products myself, so I haven’t been able to actually test it out. Hopefully, Google can partner up with more companies down the road so that this sort of functionality is available across a wider range of devices.

Ambient Photo Mode adjusts pretty well to being landscape, music mode not so much.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Now as good as all this sounds, there are a few issues with the Pixel Stand. The most obvious of these is that none of these features work with non-Pixel phones, which is a real shame because many of the features are rooted in software, one might think it would be Google’s interest to make them available to the wider Android community. The other major problem is that while the Pixel Stand charges phones just fine in portrait or landscape mode, Google’s custom music screen only really works when the phone is resting vertically.

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I also had a few issues getting the Sunrise Alarm to work properly alongside Ambient Photo Mode, as the latter tended to override the alarm’s glowing wake up screen. And while the Pixel Stand boasts some relatively speedy charging speeds, priced at $80, it ain’t cheap either.

Out of all this though, there’s one thing that feels truly shady. Thanks to its 10-watt wireless charging capabilities, the Pixel Stand topped off a Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL faster than other similarly priced chargers. That’s good, right? Well not really, because as part of its charging protocol, Google requires the Pixel 3 to establish a “secure handshake” in order to get full 10-watt wireless charging. All non-Google-certified wireless stands are restricted to just 5-watt charging (even though the phone will say it’s “charging rapidly), regardless of their actual capabilities.

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This approach is a new spin on the walled ecosystems that Apple, Microsoft, and more recently, Google have built, and it doesn’t feel good. I’m sure part of the reasoning here is about protecting the device, but given all the smart capabilities of this stand, it seems like it should also be smart enough to detect how much juice is flowing in and regulate things appropriately, without the need to hamstring chargers made by other companies. Samsung and Apple don’t do this on their phones, and I wish Google wouldn’t either.

Yes, I know my electric bill is due soon. Don’t @ me, the check is in the mail.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

But when compared to its less sophisticated brethren, the Pixel Stand serves as a reminder that wireless chargers can do more than just fill up your battery. And for anyone dead set on buying a new Pixel 3, I’d argue that a Pixel Stand is almost a required accessory, even if part of the reason for that is because Google refuses to play nice with others. It’s one part smart speaker, one part picture frame, and maybe someday, it will even be a portal into your home security. For $80, not only is the Pixel Stand an above average wireless charger, it makes an already intelligent phone just that much smarter.

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README

  • Each Pixel Stand has a unique ID so you can program your phone to behave differently depending on whether you connect it to your Pixel Stand at home or work.
  • Thanks to bespoke full-screen UI for displaying music and photos, the Pixel Stand turns a Pixel 3 into a mini smart speaker/digital photo frame.
  • Currently, the Pixel Stand’s home security video feed only works with the Nest Hello doorbell camera.
  • You can charge in both portrait and landscape modes, but the special photo and music screens work better in portrait.
  • The Pixel Stand is Qi-compatible and charges at up to 10-watts on the Pixel 3. Charging speeds for other phones may vary.

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[Update: 10/25 at 5:00 pm] We have updated the review to reflect that you can change the Pixel Stand’s settings even when your phone isn’t docked by going to Connected Devices > Previously Connected Devices. Also, for retail Pixel 3 devices, there shouldn’t be a need to download the Pixel Stand app, as the app should come pre-installed.