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Playing with a Pixelbook

I’ve never been tremendously happy with the Tab S3 I got before leaving Samsung; it’s never been tremendously performant (which I’ve always found rather strange; the older 8″ Tab S2 I use for reading has always been quite snappy), and Samsung doesn’t have the best track record for timely updates of its tablets (or its phones, frankly, but particularly its tablets).

So when Google discounted the Pixelbook by 30% as part of its Thanskgiving sales, I decided to pick one up. I considered waiting a few weeks for a Pixel Slate instead, but I’m more interested in the Pixelbook as a device I can use for work instead of my 15″ laptop when traveling (the thing is, quite frankly, a brick). With the Pixelbook, I get a real keyboard instead of a more limited keyboard cover. Plus I can set it up with both work and personal accounts, so I can bring a single device and use it for both purposes (previously I’ve traveled with both a work laptop and a personal tablet).

So far setting up the Pixelbook has been pretty smooth. Google has good instructions on setting up a personal Chromebook to access work services, and the Android integration with Chrome OS is fairly good so far (although I haven’t really pushed on it too much yet). I installed Linux and set up Android Studio so I can prototype. And I’m working on making the transition to Kotlin, so I installed the Kotlin compiler too.

I’m still working on finding the right balance between web services and Android apps; I suspect it’ll be an evolutionary process as I get more experience. So far I’ve been leaning more heavily on web services, but that’s largely because I’m mainly been using the Pixelbook for work so far.

Oh, and so far the keyboard is great. 

Begin the catalog onslaught

I can always tell when merchants have decided that the holiday shopping season has begun by the sudden onslaught of shopping catalogs (particularly clothing catalogs). And clearly this week we crossed that threshold; pretty much every day brought one or two (or even more!) catalogs to our mailbox.

In some cases the catalogs are from companies we’ve bought from in the past, so it’s obvious why we’ve gotten them. In many cases, however, they’re from companies we’ve never bought from (and sometimes have never even heard of), and in those cases I amuse myself by trying to guess who they bought our contact information from. Sometimes it’s fairly obvious: I’m looking at you, Runner’s World, for selling our information to the running apparel company. But other times it’s less clear, like when it’s an outdoor apparel company.

While I don’t mind the catalogs too much; as a good Californian I lament the paper used to create them and the fuel used to transport them, but they are sometimes fun to look through. I do, however, mind the companies that feel the need to send me multiple catalogs. If I’ve ignored the previous four catalogs you sent, the odds are pretty good that I’m going to ignore the fifth. There should be a one per company rule: give me your best shot, and if you don’t get a bite move on the next potential customer.

Rain already

In general I really appreciate the weather in the Bay Area. It’s generally not too hot and not too cold, it doesn’t get that humid, and in the summer the lack of rain means you never have to worry about your outdoor plans getting rained out.

But around November, when it’s been 6 months since we got any rain, everything is brown (sorry, golden), fires start with the smallest spark and can explode out of control, and you’re reminded that one of the many benefits of rain is that it washes the air clean, it sometimes becomes a serious drag.

Rain already.

Looking at old photos

I like assistive devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, but I think audio-only devices are over-hyped. Yes, your devices has thousands of skills. But let’s be serious, what do people really do with them? They play music, check the forecast, and ask the occasional question. Other than that, pretty much everything is in the long-tail.

But I do think assistive devices with screens add some interesting possibilities. I’ve held off on buying one, however, until Google released the Home Hub. I chose to buy it not because I prefer Google’s Assistant to Amazon’s Alexa (although I actually do). No, the reason I bought it was because when not in use you can set it to act as a photo frame for your Google Photos collection. And the device does a great job of adjusting brightness based on lighting conditions, so that it tends to blend into its environment rather than stand out.

I don’t know about you, but I have thousands of digital photos that I almost never look at. Even when we’ve created photo books for more memorable occasions like big vacations, we don’t look at them that often. So I love having a photo frame that without any additional work on my part will remind me of things I’ve done and places I’ve been. I’ve even started slowly uploading (uplink speeds still generally suck on home network connections)  more photos so that I have even more opportunities to remember. Several times a day I find myself looking more closely at a photo to see where it is (the Hub helpfully labels photos with the album they’re from to help you identify it).

If I could make one change to the photo frame experience, I’d have it assign sample frequency to albums rather than by number of photos. Trips with lots of photos show up more often, when what I’d prefer is that it sample more evenly across albums (ensuring a more even distribution of memories across time). But I recognize that’s totally a personal preference, and albums with more photos do admittedly tend to have more notable moments within them.

Google’s Moffett Place campus

I visited Google’s Moffett Place campus this week for the annual UX University. The campus is still new; some of the buildings at it aren’t fully finished and open yet (although they all seemed to be at least partially in use). The space has potential; there are enough open areas that could eventually become nice gathering or outside work areas, and it’s got convenient VTA and Google bus transit options. But right now it feels pretty bland (which might also be due to fall making the foliage seem rather sparse and colorless).

The Google Event Center is fairly nice, though. And hey, there’s a pool in the complex!

Android’s 10th birthday party

Google celebrated Android’s 10th birthday last week, and Google being Google they did so with a party for the Android team. While I appreciate the thought and the party was fun, I do wish that the Android releases had been named after healthy foods rather than desserts. Faced with an array of cupcakes, donuts, eclairs, ice cream, KitKats, jelly beans, lollipops, Oreos, and more, I found myself wondering if somewhere they were also handing out insulin shots to help people deal with the sugar shock.

If I’m ever in charge of naming the releases for a major product, I’ll be going with Apple, Banana, Cherry, etc.

Google’s new hardware

Google announced its new hardware this week. As I’ve mentioned previously, I hate notches on smartphones, so I’m not that fond of the Pixel 3 XL. Thankfully my Pixel 2 XL is still in good shape, so I’ll just stick with it. I do like the Pixel Stand, though; we played with a number of UX ideas for docked phones when I was at Samsung (the patent application is public now, so I can talk about the work in vague terms), and I’m happy to see that  someone is pushing on the idea (even though I think our work at Samsung actually pushed the boundaries a bit more).

The Pixel Slate looks kind of interesting too. I’ve got a Tab S3 with a keyboard cover that I bought before I left Samsung. It’s got a great display (which isn’t surprising for Samsung), but it’s never run Android particularly well. I’m not sure if Samsung did a lousy job putting their custom changes on top of Android (which is entirely possible), or whether the tablet is just underpowered (although from a purely spec sheet perspective it doesn’t seem like that should be the case). So I’m a bit curiously what it’d be like to have a really performant Android tablet. Plus it’d be nice to get regular OS updates, something that has never been Samsung’s strong suit.

The Google Home Hub is the device that I find most interesting, though. We’ve got one of the first generation Echo speakers and we use it every day, but really just to stream music and occasionally check the weather, which pretty much any smart device can do. But the Home Hub will also tie into my Google Photos account and show pictures from it, and it’d be great to regularly see the pictures we’ve taken over the years. Plus $150 is a really nice price point. So I suspect I may end up getting one once they’re actually on sale.