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.