This article is part of a 30 day Pixel C Challenge by Chip Colandreo. Read all the articles from this series here. Pixel C Challenge.
I’m about halfway through my 30-day commitment to use the Pixel C as my only laptop/desktop computing device. To my own surprise, I haven’t cheated even once. My Chromebook Pixel has been off since I began this odyssey on February 29th, and I’ve not laid a finger on any other computer (except for my Nexus 5X). It’s been quite a ride so far, and here’s a sampling of the hardware and software tools that are getting me through my work as a magazine publisher:
This section is pretty simple. I’m using a 32GB Pixel C with the official keyboard accessory. I tried (and failed… spectacularly) to install a screen protector on the C due to reports of display scratches caused by the “slide to separate” motion when detaching the tablet from the keyboard. So, the Pixel C is running naked as the day it was born, but the display is still pristine. I only put the Pixel C face down on the keyboard to charge it at night and to slide it into a generic tablet pouch for transport, which only happens occasionally. I treat my gadgets like fine china, and I keep the keyboard grime-free, but I do find myself giving the keyboard a thorough inspection before I slap the tabby on it at night.
The only other piece of hardware I’ve used is a small USB Type-C hub made by Satechi. The hub includes two USB 3.0 ports, a micro-USB port, SD and micro-SD card slots, and a passthrough for charging via USB Type-C while the hub is attached. I’ve not tried the passthrough charging or the micro-SD slot, but all other ports have worked as expected. I’ve attached the Pixel C to my crappy HP printer via the USB ports, and I’ve imported a few hundred photos from SD cards during the last couple of weeks.
When the Satechi hub is attached, the “USB for charging” notification appears. When tapped, the notification opens a dialog that says “Use USB for.” The only available option, which is already selected, reads “Power supply – Charge the other connected device.” The hub gets warm when plugged in, even when nothing is connected to it and it’s not otherwise doing anything. I should probably be more worried about this than I am.
Here are some quick-hit highlights:
JotterPad — I’m a huge fan of distraction-free text editors, and JotterPad is my tool of choice on the Pixel C. I want my word processors to do four things, and four things only: 1) Allow me to choose a monospaced font (it makes editing and proofing text infinitely easier). 2) Allow me to change the size of this font to my liking. 3) Give me easy access to a running word count of my work. 4) Flag my frequent spelling mistakes. I consider ANY features beyond these four to be bloat that I don’t want. JotterPad does all the above and very little else. I love it. It features a ton of Material Design, and it automatically/instantly saves everything I type to Dropbox (I wish it was Google Drive, though, ’cause I’m a fanboy).
Talk – Text to Voice — This is probably my most treasured editorial secret: The best way to proofread something (especially something you’ve written yourself) is to have the computer read it back to you. Talk – Text to Voice is an app that does precisely that. I copy/paste text into it, then use a play/pause button to control the nice computerized lady who reads what I’ve written. There are controls for volume, pitch, and speed of the voice, and you can choose from a variety of output languages supported by Android. The app features serif and sans-serif fonts, though I’d kill for monospace, and the size can be adjusted from tiny to huge. Material Design is present here, too. If you’ve never tried to edit/proofread something this way, give it a go. It takes time, but the computerized voice will reveal typos and bad sentence structure that our brains and eyes will whiz right by every time.
Inbox by Gmail — I wouldn’t call it tablet optimized, but it looks just like the Web app. Lots of folks will say the Web app isn’t very laptop/desktop optimized, so there you go. There’s a lot of white space, if you’re into that kind of thing. My biggest complaint is the spellcheck issue I mentioned early in the challenge. It’s a bummer. Honestly, I wish I could switch back to Gmail, at least for as long as I remain on the Pixel C, but thanks to my complex bundling schemes, it would be a traumatic transition.
Hangouts — It’s not tablet optimized at all, but it’s serviceable. I’m a Google Voice user, so I do all of my texting and make most of my phone calls through Hangouts, which works as well on the Pixel C as it did on my Chromebook Pixel. The mobile version of Hangouts doesn’t support text formatting like bold and italics, though. With the keyboard attached and all sorts of formatting key combos at my disposal, that’s lame.
Google Photos — My job includes a lot of writing and editing of text, plus a fair amount of picture taking and light processing of the images. All my photo organizing/archiving and about 99% of my photo editing happens in Google Photos. I keep a special folder on the Pixel C’s internal storage called “Google Photos Uploads.” Pics from my SD card are dumped there and silently uploaded in the background to Google Photos. I’m often uploading hundreds of megabytes of pictures at a time, and this used to grind my Chromebook Pixel and my home network to a halt. I’m not sure if the uploads on the Pixel C are any slower, but they aren’t causing my device or my network to choke, which has been a nice surprise.
Solid Explorer — Once my images are processed, I upload them to a file server at my company’s office. I do this with Solid Explorer, a beautifully designed file management app that supports FTP. It features MOAR! Material Design and an intuative UI, but it does have some Android N compatibility issues. I’ve had to uninstall/reinstall the app several times to bring it back from the dead. Such is life on the bleeding edge.
Drive/Docs/Sheets — My company uses the Google suite of apps to manage/track our content and our advertisers. I’d say everything in the Android apps works better than you probably expect.
Slack — All of my company’s internal communication happens through Slack. This is another app that is not optimized for tablets besides support for landscape orientation. Many tech reviewers got themselves in a twist because the Slack login screen only works in portrait mode, which is jarring when the Pixel C is attached to the keyboard, but this is the least of the Slack app’s problems. You only use the login screen once, but I swap between my starred items and Slack’s basic channel list dozens of times a day. The fact that these two UI elements are separated by an overflow menu in the Android app makes me insane. Proper tablet support would feature a fixed panel of channels on the left and a separate panel to access starred items and direct messages on the right. This would mirror the desktop app and make efficient use of tablet real estate.
I take my homescreens pretty seriously, and I despise the boring grid of app icons that Apples seems content to take to its grave. My homescreen is one, big custom Zooper Widget that I built from scratch, all sitting on top of Action Launcher 3. Tapping on any of the “cards” opens the relevant app, with one exception, which we’ll talk about below. A swipe in from the left edge of the display triggers Action Launcher’s awesome Quickfind feature, which opens the app drawer but highlights the “Find apps” search bar at the top with the cursor placed and ready to accept queries. So, I can swipe and immediately start typing to bring up the app I want. Thanks to this setup, I don’t need the traditional app drawer at all, and I won’t miss it if the drawer ever does die in Android N or beyond.
You might notice the icon and card for iA Writer on the homescreen. Tapping it takes me instead to JotterPad. Why the discrepancy? I like iA Writer’s icon better than JotterPad’s, and I’m a big fan of iA Writer and what the company behind it has done to bring design awareness to the word-processor space. Having said that, however, iA Writer’s Android app leaves a lot to be desired. Active spellcheck doesn’t work there, which is pretty incredible, and the app doesn’t support the editing keyboard shortcuts (like Home and End) that I use constantly. There’s no word count feature, either. It’s a real shame, because iA Writer’s proprietary monospaced font is still my all time favorite with which to write.
Do you have questions about other apps in my workflow? What do you think of my setup? Do you have any suggestions to make it better? Let me know in the comments, and keep an eye out for the next post soon.