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Google Pixelbook: Day Two Awkwardness

Posted November 11, 2017 | Android | Chrome OS | Chromebook | Google Pixelbook | Mobile | Windows

In the harsh cold light of the morning, I’m turning back to Google’s Pixelbook and addressing some feedback and some day two awkwardness.

The feedback to my first hands-on article about the Google Pixelbook was predictably all over the map. But I was very happy with the quality of that feedback.

That is, it was interesting to watch readers provide answers to some of the questions that doubters (or even haters) asked. Accurate answers. Non-emotional answers. In many cases, I’d read a comment, formulate a response, and then find out someone else had already handled it. That’s good stuff. That’s the way this should work.

Looking at a few general themes, I can see that price is the major barrier for many, and that the combination of a high price and Chrome OS, which many see as inadequate, makes this device a non-starter. That’s understandable. No product is perfect for everyone. But I see Pixelbook as part of a continuum, much like Surface is on the Windows PC side of the fence. It’s aspirational for both customers and partners.

As you would expect from the more technically-inclined readers of a tech blog, there were a lot of very specific complaints; having access to certain features in Excel, and the like. I get that.

But we all need to step outside of our very specific ways of doing things and understand that “good enough” really is good enough for most people. A Chromebook, whether it’s expensive or not, may seem like a waste of money to you. But the complexity and ongoing costs of Windows seem like a waste of time and money to a very big audience as well. And the software a Chromebook runs, including Google’s productivity suite, is good enough for many. Including many educational institutions, by the way. An entire generation of users will know nothing else. This is one of those things that’s happening no matter whether we like it, or agree with it.

Anyway. Kudos to everyone who chimed in. This is the kind of discussion or debate that is worth having, whether it happens in person—which is always better—or virtually.

Since posting that first impressions article, I’ve continued to use the Pixelbook, as possible, throughout the day. I’m not switching to Chrome OS or anything like that, nor will I engage in the standard “blogger tries something else and you’re not going to believe what happens next” type of thing that is far too common these days. But I do have some observations. And as we move forward, many of those observations will, by necessity, involve how well I can adapt myself to some of the (often) weird differences between this device and the Windows PCs with which I am more comfortable and familiar.

Put simply, it’s awkward.

I try to preach about being open to change—hell, I did so as recently a few paragraphs ago—but the truth is, change is hard. It’s hard because familiar is always easier than unfamiliar. And it’s not clear that some new way of doing things is better. It may just be different. It may very much be worse.

Here’s an example.

With Chrome OS, you get very seamless access to Google Drive, Google’s cloud-based storage service, and you get limited access to local files on the device. That is Chrome OS includes a Files app which works like File Explorer in Windows at a high level. But the system basically assumes that you’re using Google Drive for everything.

This gets weird in a few ways. The Pixelbook comes with at least 128 GB of storage, which is monumental compared to the 16 or 32 GB that is more typical on most Chromebooks. But the system isn’t really tailored to use that storage efficiently: That Files app does provide access to Audio and Videos folders, for example, but not Documents or Music. Regardless, it doesn’t offer to make such locations the default for anything. And, of course, most apps—whether they’re web-based or Android apps—kind of do their own thing. There’s no real sense that you’d ever want to know where things are stored.

And I don’t want to use Google Drive. I want to use OneDrive. You can access OneDrive from the Files app by installing what I’ll call an extension (it’s officially supported). But you can’t sync anything. You can just browse your storage, and when you double-click any file, it opens, slowly, from the Internet.

That’s better than nothing. But apps can’t really use it. For example, I use a web-based photo editing app called Pixlr, and it’s surprisingly full-featured (to anyone still surprised to discover that web apps can be awesome, I guess). But when I try to access a OneDrive-based photo from this app, the File Open dialog (not its real name) doesn’t show thumbnails. And you can’t even open a photo/image file. So … It’s a non-starter. And one form of struggle for me, specifically, and perhaps for many coming from the Microsoft world.)

Another major weirdness will impact anyone using a Pixelbook or other modern Chromebook: There are often both Android and Chrome OS versions of apps, and knowing which to use is confusing and unclear. The problem here, really, is that the onus is on the user: You have to do the work of finding the app(s) in either or both of the available stores (and/or the web), trying both app types, and keeping up on changes to either app that may put a different version over the top in the future. That’s crazy.

And I don’t see a solution here. For Microsoft’s productivity apps, for example, I’ve been trying both, and keeping the one I prefer more (say, OneNote for Android instead of OneNote Online) and removing the other. For other apps, it varies: I sort of like having the smartphone version of a music app—Spotify, Google Play Music, whatever—floating around in a little window, because that’s sort of a secondary/background activity. It’s just something you have to deal with on a case-by-base basis.

Finally, I didn’t really get into this in the first article, but anytime I look at a product like this, I view it from two perspectives: How well it would meet the needs of a wider, more general audience. And how well it might meet my own needs.

So, does this thing meet my needs?

No, not really. I would personally prefer a bigger display, though I understand how that would make the device less usable in tablet mode. But then I find that tablet mode is thick and heavy, and less elegant than just using a separate device (iPad Pro, phablet) for reading or whatever.

Some might believe that I stick with Windows simply because of my Microsoft focus or whatever. That’s not the case: I actually prefer Windows generally, and Windows 10 specifically, over any other personal computing platform. And I try them all, regularly. If money was no object, I would currently choose a Mac over any Chromebook, but that could change as Android app integration becomes more seamless; certainly, the Pixelbook is an impressive laptop. But I would, and do, choose Windows over either regardless. It’s just a personal preference.

But I get it. I get why some people would want a Pixelbook. And I certainly get why many people are fans of Chromebook more generally. This is a viable alternative for Windows or the Mac, and it will only grow in popularity and usage. And I’ll keep testing it, of course, as I’ve been doing for years. It doesn’t pay to be close-minded about this or anything else. Google is getting a lot right with Pixelbook, and with Chrome OS and Chromebook. And even if you are doubter, you should be impressed by how quickly this system is maturing.

Anyway, thanks for the discussion.


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