The Pixel C Challenge, Day 27: The Undiscovered Country

“Floating Windows” screen capture courtesy of Ars Technica

In isolation, the Pixel C is an impossible product to evaluate. You can’t look at it today (running Android 6.x Marshmallow) without being influenced by what we know the Pixel C will be tomorrow (with Android N and its split-screen multitasking goodness). Thanks to Google’s aggressive new Android Beta Program, we can actually experience tomorrow’s Pixel C today by playing with a surprisingly stable developer preview of Android N. As such, I’ve been rockin’ the split-screen for a couple of weeks now. I can tell you all about the basics of dual-app productivity on the Pixel C, but even that conversation has been recently muddied.

A few days ago, Ron Amadeo over at Ars Technica received and followed instructions to activate a very experimental “Freeform Window” mode in Android N. When fully baked, this mode will recreate within Android the traditional “desktop” motif we’ve used on Windows and Mac OS X (and Linux!… and Chrome OS!) computers for decades. In theory, this solves the mobile productivity problem. We’ll have a mobile OS with the same productivity-oriented UI as our rusty old desktop/laptop computers, only this OS will be fully optimized for touch, perfect for on-the-go, on-your-lap, at-your-desk, on-the-toilet, behind-your-girlfriend’s-back, and all applications in between. Truly this is world peace made real.

So what is the Pixel C? Is it the productivity-limited device you can trade your hard-earned money for today? The “injured athlete,” as a commenter on these posts described it recently. Is it the split-screen multitasking iPad Pro competitor that it sort of is today but will be for realsies later this year? Or is it the very legitimate PC replacement that will manifest itself somewhere in the as-yet-undiscovered future? I honestly don’t know the right answer. When followers of these posts tell me they’re curious about my evaluation of the Pixel C as a “real work” machine because the things they learn here will influence their buying decisions, I am genuinely not sure which device I’m encouraging or discouraging them to buy.

Ultimately, maddeningly, the Pixel C is exactly what Google says it is: a canvas. Like the Chromebook Pixel before it, the Pixel C is a blank slate on which Googlers and developers can sketch out their ideas. For better or worse, we mere mortal consumers can shell out a few hundred bucks to come along for the ride, wherever it may lead.

Are We There Yet?

I’ve used nothing but the Pixel C to do my work for more than three weeks now. I’ve become very comfortable with the device’s quirks and its limitations. I feel just as productive on the Pixel C as I was on my Chromebook Pixel. Whether I actually am just as productive would require some task-completion speed tests to determine. I might just do some of those after my 30-day exclusivity commitment is over. For now, though, no one on the receiving end of my business has told me that the quality of my work is slipping or that I’m taking any longer to do the things they expect me to do. I’m also having fun, which is important and significant.

It occurred to me that this transition from one type of computing device to another is not unlike other transitions I’ve made in the past, such as my move from Windows to Mac OS X in 2004, or from iOS to Android in 2012. Every time I’ve left one platform for another, an adjustment period has been required. This move to the Pixel C is no different. I’ve been impressed that just about every feature I use in Google’s desktop apps is present in their mobile counterparts, but everything is in a different place. It took time for my muscle memory to readjust when I needed to grab and share a link to a Google Doc, for instance, or sort a column in a Google Sheet. At first, it took longer for me to find the new commands to trigger these tasks and memorize the new procedures. During this time, the Pixel C didn’t feel very productive at all. Now that I know where everything is, I don’t find Android or the Pixel C to be inherently less productive than any other device or OS.

Some tasks are a bit more difficult to do in Android, and some are easier. You could replace the word “Android” in that sentence with “Windows” or “OS X” (or “Linux!”) and it would hold just as true. The process of uploading photos from my DSLR’s SD card to Google Photos is actually much more streamlined and network-efficient on the Pixel C than it was on my Chromebook. I do that a lot, so the time and headache savings has been a delight. By contrast, my standard editorial workflow has an extra step in Android because I must open a separate app to use text-to-speech to proof my work. In Chrome OS, that task was accomplished with a systemwide extension and a hotkey combo I could trigger while still in my word processor.

Here’s a Pixel C advantage: I love how quickly I can shift from work to play, from editing to gaming, and back. Likewise, I can move from desk to couch in one swift motion and be comfortable with the form factor of my device in both places. Other convertible computers always feel weird in one setting or the other. The Pixel C feels like one device to rule them all.

And a Pixel C disadvantage: Double  spaces  are  driving  me  crazy. When typing on the Pixel C’s physical keyboard, two spaces show up between my words a lot. I can’t be sure if this is a software/Bluetooth glitch or if the physical keyswitch beneath the space bar is to blame. Double keystrokes very occasionally occur with other letters/numbers, which makes the issue even harder to pin down. I’m leaning toward a software problem, though. I hope it can be fixed, ’cause man, it’s annoying.

So what will happen at the end of day 30 when I fire up my Chromebook Pixel for the first time in a month? Will I be overwhelmed with ease-of-use that I’ve been denying myself while using the Pixel C? Will a 12.85-inch display suddenly look like a billboard compared to the C’s 10.2-incher? Will I instantly be “productive” again? Keep your eyes here on Chromestory.com to find out!

Any questions or final analysis you’d like to see addressed in the next post? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for your continued support of this series.

This post is part of an ongoing series detailing my experience with Google’s Pixel C as my only desktop/laptop computing device. You can see the other posts here.

27 responses

  1. Looking forward to the next installment. I can say for now you have convinced me that if my current tablet (Xperia Tablet Z) were to bite the dust anytime soon, I would be looking at getting one of these. I, and my bank account, would prefer to put that off as long as possible. But, I will be looking at one of these or its future iteration.

    1. Ha! Well I’ll be crossing my fingers for your bank account. Of this we can be sure: There’s no better Android tablet on the market right now. Bar none. And I’m a fan of Sony tablets, too.

  2. Nicely composed and written Chip. I just got a Pixel C and am finding my way with it. I haven’t noticed the double spacing but I haven’t been using it as extensively.
    Thanks for writing.

    1. I get it like crazy in Google docs, but don’t notice it in things like inbox or hangouts. Can’t say if that is coincidence or that I type less in those other apps in most cases. I do know that I didn’t notice it until about a week or so ago. Have had the device since February. Also, my spell check still shuts off in a doc after 5 minutes or so, I think he mentioned this in a previous update, though.

      1. Thanks. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

      2. Yeah, spellcheck is wonky throughout Android. I really hope they fix that soon, ’cause I’m a very bad speller! 😉

  3. Thanks for your post Chip. It is very good to see someone reviewing the Pixel C in the light of what it is and can be, rather than the reviewer’s expectations of what they think it should be and the criticism of the device when it doesn’t coincide with their expectations. I look forward to hearing more of your comments. By the way I have a Pixel C and I think it is fantastic.

    1. Thanks, Ross! I agree that expectations and reality were seriously out of whack when the Pixel C launched. It was entirely the fault of the reviewers, too, since all Google promised was the Pixel C’s ability to make it easy to respond to long emails! The device has so much potential, though, and that’s what the reviewers were caught up in. It’s a compliment to the form factor and concept, I guess.

  4. Nice Chip! FINELY a a responsible look at the Pixel C vs. perpetuating this crap that it is somehow ‘not ready for primetime’; and, in the end basically stating that it is somehow a very inferior Android tablet. Seriously refreshing!

    As a heavy user of Chrome OS, a Nexus 7 and Moto X ALL on a daily basis, I can’t imagine using a touch screen without a mouse to quickly highlight and manage text while writing text and or documentation in a production environment.
    Question:
    Am I correct in assuming you must be using a mouse with your Pixel C for most of your serious production work?

    Looking forward to your future installments.
    Thank you
    P.S. waiting to see if we get a new incarnation of a Chromebook Pixel this year before buying the current one.

    1. Nope, no mouse. Part of the reason I’m doing all this is to experience productivity with an all-touch UI. Text selection is still the trickiest part. It’s not too bad when working in my word processor (JotterPad) because I typically like to select text via the keyboard, anyway. Android supports all the typical keyboard shortcuts to help you move around and select text quickly. Shift-alt-left/right arrow (a.k.a. shift-home/end) is one of my favorites that I use all the time to highlight a single line of text. Text selection in the Web browser and in email is the big challenge. Tap, hold, then drag works well to grab big blocks of text. It’s the finer maneuvers with the selection handles (to make sure you grab the period at the end of a sentence, etc.) that make you crazy.

  5. Have you tried remix Os on the Pixel C

    1. Is there a reliable way to flash it? I haven’t poked around XDA since my HTC One X crack-flashing days. 😉

  6. I absolutely love my Pixel c running the N preview release. I purchased a Bluetooth touch mouse and it works like a champ. I purchased the Pixel c not for what it was at the time, but what I know it would be in 8 or 9 months. NO. REGRETS.

  7. Have you tried reducing the interface scaling (settings > display > display size)? I imagine it would do wonders for split screen and freeform windows.

  8. Hey Chip, I have been contemplating getting the Pixel C, especially with the discount(wowy wow wowzer). I spend some serious time on spreadsheets for work, and typically work on my Toshiba 2 Chromebook. I am wondering how your experience has been with Google Sheets on your tablet–I’ve only ever used the app on my 5x and that can be a challenge for sure even if moderately sized phone screen.

    Text selection, formatting, formulas, etc.. Less productive, or more productive.

    Thanks for your thoughts

    1. I also spend a lot of time in Google Sheets. Before I started this adventure, I joked that using Sheets on my phone made me want to gouge my eyes out. On the tablet, Sheets is surprisingly useful, though it’s certainly not perfect. Sheets is probably the best example of an Android app that got “better” as I used it more. Everything I need in Sheets is there, but it can be difficult to find at first, and some things are in unintuitive places. Here’s a fun tip: If necessary, Google Sheets opens perfectly well in the mobile Chrome app, giving you the full Chrome OS Sheets experience. I’ve only needed to do that once to mess with some data validation settings. I don’t use a lot of complicated formulas, so I can’t speak to that, but I will say I expected Sheets to be a major headache, but it’s been OK.

      1. Wow ok that’s great to hear.

        What about the screen size. Difficult doing work with that small a screen?

        1. Like the Sheets thing, the screen size is something I thought I would hate, but I don’t. Having used it for a month, the size feels very natural to me now. Sometimes text on Web pages, etc. is too small (like this comment I’m typing in Chrome), so I end up having to hold the thing closer to my face, but that’s pretty rare. From the moment it was announced, I wished for a 12″ version of the Pixel C, sort of like the iPad Pro. But, having played with the big iPad quite a bit in my local Apple store, I’m really starting to believe the Pixel’s 10.2″ size is just about perfect. It’s not that the iPad is too big to hold, it’s that the display is too big to look at when holding it as you would a tablet. It’s like sitting too close to your TV. It makes your eyeballs hurt.

          The trick with the Pixel C, of course, is that it’s heavy. With the keyboard stuck to the back, it’s uncomfortably heavy. Making it bigger would only make it heavier, which would not work.

          What makes the Pixel C surprisingly great is that it’s equally good as a tablet and a “laptop,” and the display size has a lot to do with that. Literally every other convertible device, including the iPad Pro, sucks at being one or the other. And I’m not even talking about the software in this case, just the physical form factor. Surface devices and iPad Pros are bad laptops because of their crap foldable keyboards. Flipback devices are even heavier than the Pixel C and are usually too thick to be usable tablets, etc.

          I’m feeling like a fanboy, but the more I use the Pixel C, the more I’m buying into it. There’s still a lot (… A LOT) of kinks to be ironed out here, but I honestly believe stuff like this is the future.

          1. Hey Chip!

            Been looking for a summary article to wrap up your challenge. Do we have one coming?

            1. Hi Drew,

              Yes, there is at least one more post coming. It’s been delayed because my work has been intense lately. It makes for interesting discussion about productivity on the Pixel C, however. 😉 It’ll be another week, probably, but it will happen.

              1. Hey bro we got one coming!!?

                1. I’m assuming at this point this final post is gone with the wind 🙁 Oh well, was a great series either way!

              2. Hey Chip! Drew Simpson here again.

                Just wanted you to know how awesome this series was. I would so love to have a last article summarizing your conclusions, especially in the light of android apps coming to Chrome OS by this fall. If you had time I would love to hear your thoughts–even if it was informal over email. If not, so be it.

                Thanks for the time you put into everything despite being busy bro.

  9. When is the next update to the series Chip? Thank you.

  10. >The process of uploading photos from my DSLR’s SD card to Google Photos is actually much more streamlined and network-efficient on the Pixel C than it was on my Chromebook.

    Can you explain exactly how you’re doing this? What kind of cable/adapter are you using, and how are you getting Google Photos to see the DSLR photos? Are you able to use the auto backup feature, or do you have to choose the photos manually? I tried connecting my camera to my Pixel C with a USB cable and I wasn’t able to get it to communicate with Google Photos. Thanks a lot.

    1. I would assume a card reader connected to the Pixel C instead of directly connecting the camera would work better. I have a USB-C to USB-A adapter and can easily connect a flash drive to my Pixel C so I would assume it should work well with a card reader. I have also seen some USB-C micro sd card readers availbe as well on Amazon.

      I am still like you interested in knowing his process though for how he easily uploads his pictures then to Google Photos.

      Hoping we also get his wrap up to his 30 days with the Pixel C and then as to whether he went back full time to his Chromebook.

  11. I am very interested in buying the pixle c, but I have to have one question answered. I do most of my typing in Spanish, and anything that makes it hard to do accent marks and other foreign characters on a keyboard is less than desirable. I use a chromebook already and use this do do accent marks: https://gaillegrand.com/2013/09/23/accents-for-the-spanish-language-on-the-chromebook/

    Is there such a control for external keybaords on the pixle c or have you figured out any way to make these characters áéíóúñ¿¡

    Thanks in advance.

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