The Pixel C Challenge, Day 18: Gear, App, and Homescreen Tour

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.

8 responses to “The Pixel C Challenge, Day 18: Gear, App, and Homescreen Tour”

  1. Chip,
    my Pixel is already back at Googles. It was a very cool experience, but chromebooks are more fitting to my research pattern. I slightly regret it, though. The Pixel was such a nice machine. Most chromebooks…hm…less so.

    Have you tried monotype for writing? I think there was Gdrive included.

    1. I can certainly understand all your points. The Pixel C is a joy to use, even if it does take some workflow adjustment. Which Chromebook are you using?

  2. Ive recently bought an Acer R11. The screen certainly isnt as nice as the Pixels, but hardware looks aside, the Acer does a good job. And in the range of chromebooks, its IPS screen and sturdy body makes it one of the better chromebooks available.

    I still love the simplicity of chrome os. Wins me over better looking devices.

    1. I love that Chromebook. Nice choice!

  3. I love my Pixel C and I use most of the apps on your list. The only thing that I would say is a must for Pixel C users is SwiftKey. It adds their great predictions to the hardware keyboard and it allows me to type faster than on my MacBook Pro.

  4. I’m enjoying the story so far…just received my Pixel C this week and looking forward to trying out some of your ideas.

  5. ianbgibson – I am from northern England but underwent an ultimately successful transplant operation to the United States over eight years ago. I subsequently married my college sweetheart, but was amazed and aghast to discover a distinct lack of vacancies for professional philosophers (I must inform my professors at the University of Hull of this startling intelligence). Never one to miss an opportunity, I jumped on the bioscience bandwagon about ten years too late, and am at present trying to effect yet another career compromise, the precise details of which will remain undisclosed. Likes: science, reason & critical thinking; the Enlightenment; semi-colons. Dislikes: fundamentalist religion, politics and/or economics; superstition; moral relativism; soundbite culture; pompous loons who start their own weblogs (tee-hee).

    I took advantage of the 25% discount and got the 32GB Pixel C. I wasn’t planning on getting the keyboard initially, as I had a Chromebook for work and I just wanted a tablet for home. Once I got the device and enrolled it into the Android N beta program, though, I was very impressed. The design and build quality, screen, speed and battery life are all amazing.

    I realized that if I got myself the keyboard, I could replace my Chromebook and use the Pixel C at work and home. So I sold the Chromebook to pay for the keyboard and a carry case.

    Given the size constraints, I think Google also did a great job with the keyboard. It’s actually very nice to type on, and they made the right compromises to the layout, while keeping near full-size keys with decent travel. The keyboard integrates with the tablet very well; the whole thing feels very elegant, although it is on the heavy side. Incidentally, I’m not buying that the keyboard scratches the screen when taking the two pieces apart. I don’t see how plastic could possibly do that.

    So the hardware is top drawer, and the improvements being made to Android with the N release are exciting and useful, but that still leaves tablet-unoptimized apps as the biggest issue. Google really need to step up here and lead the way. Some apps, like GMail and Calendar, have great tablet interfaces: making full use of the screen space and having a full range of keyboard shortcuts. Others are poor (Hangouts especially, with loads of whitespace and no ability to change font size). The Keyboard app needs the option to make it thinner, so it’s not stretched across the whole screen. Docs, Sheets and Slides need to approach feature parity with the regular web/ChromeOS versions (including getting a toolbar).

    Having said all that, the Pixel C is great for me personally. It’s a beautiful tablet experience for home, and the Drive apps, although lacking in some areas, are okay for my needs. I create almost all my documents from my desktop machine, and just used my Chromebook for viewing and relatively light editing. The Pixel C is easily up to these tasks. For other people with other needs, this might not be the case, and everyone should think about their own needs before buying.

  6. I’ve read few ppl using satechi pass-through charging and the satechi device itself is getting really hot and there’s another amazon review saying that the satechi will allow read-only access to external storage when charging, can you confirm that for us?

    Have you tried the Baseus Sharp series dongle? it’s smaller, allows pass-through charging and have an extra USB 3.0 port that you can connect other stuff as well, I don’t know if it’ll work with pixel C though…

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