Category Archives: Gadgets

Google Pixelbook

I’ve consistently been an Android user since have to bid a sad farewell to my Blackberry Bold after tearing my hair out when the trackball needed cleaning yet again (if it wasn’t for the trackball issues, the Bold was a great phone at the time with an almost perfect keyboard for a mobile device).  Indeed, at the time, iPhones, not to mention Blackberry’s own Storm, with their on screen keyboards seemed like they were fighting a losing battle.  A few years on and we all tap happily away on screen and a physical keyboard on a phone seems like a bizarre historical artefact.

 

The switch to phones running Android with its inherent customisation options was a breath of fresh air and soon made me a dedicated convert who happily signed into the Google ecosystem.  In my dim and distant past, I was a big fan of the Amiga, rejecting the cumbersome IBM PC compatible computers of the day and, most of all, Windows.  I far preferred the flexibility offered by the Amiga OS but I could easily have gone down the Apple route too.  I just wasn’t a PC person!  I’m so glad that I didn’t follow the Apple route back in the day, though it was very tempting.  Mac OS still seems pretty awesome and iPhones are undeniably amazing at what they do.  However, the proprietary nature of much of their hardware and the locked-down nature of the iPhone’s OS would frustrate me no end.

 

Ultimately, this is a long winded way of explaining why, for example, I was one of the first to my a Google Pixel C when it launched. At £500 and a further £120 for the optional (pointless) without keyboard, this was an expensive way to replace my existing Motorola Xoom Android tablet.  It was also a fairly big gamble given Google’s so-so approach to supporting Android in tablet form.  Having said that, the Pixel C has proved to be a faithful companion over the past few years and has allowed me to do most of what I need to do whilst travelling, for example. And why, since it was released, I’ve had an itch to by the device I’m tying this on, the Google Pixelbook.

 

I’ve always been aware of Chrome OS but the idea of an extremely limited OS, albeit one that could run on very limited hardware, has never really appealed.  It seemed to me that I could do everything that it could do just as easily on my Lenovo Ideapad Z500 (yes, I do have a Window’s machine:-D) and I had my Pixel C for portable duties.  Of course, this began to change slightly when I saw the Pixelbook…it’s a gorgeous looking machine and a relatively powerful one too. However, the concerns about the limitations of Chrome OS remained and I looked away, mostly.

 

I’ll admit that I kept tabs on the Pixelbook, though. Actually this isn’t entirely true. In honesty, I spent a lot of time reading reviews of the device and even the frequent and very reasonable proclamations of “why would anyone spend £1000 on a Chromebook?” didn’t entirely put me off.  Through this I learned that the Android apps were now available. Interesting, thought I, that would certainly aid productivity.  And then I heard whispers of being able to run Linux apps on it. That pricked my ears up.  As I continued to monitor, I heard that Linux support had moved to Beta and was available in the stable, non-developer issues of Chrome OS.  That massively peaked my interest. Add in that I’m currently lugging around my laptop for R duties and then John Lewis doing a special offer of £300 pounds for the base model and it was inevitable that I’d cave.  (a lot of retailers have lowered the price but John Lewis offer a 2 year warranty, which isn’t to be sniffed at)

 

And so it is that I’ve spent most of today getting familiar with Chrome OS, setting up the Linus VM and installing R-base and RStudio.  Time will tell how effective it will be but all seems to be running ok at the moment.  Only slight issue is the resolution; RStudio opens with tiny, tiny text and when you zoom in, the cursor for typing (can’t remember its name) overlays the existing text, so it’s hard to insert or edit commands.

 

As for the normal stuff, all seems good. Everything is very snappy, no lag at all, even when opening Linux apps.  I’ve used it for several hours today and still have 41%/5hrs left – can’t complain about that.

 

Physically, it’s rather wonderful too. Everything is just as you’d want it to be: great chassis, great keyboard, great trackpad and great screen (I’m not bothered by the bezels that have irked so many).

 

I’ll update this soon, I’m sure but, for now, I’m happy for this to assume daily duties and I’ll see how I get on!

 

Noughat (or Nougat, I suppose)

Finally, many days after Google announced the arrival of Android 7.0, named Nougat (sodding Muricans), my Pixel C has updated to build number NRD90M. Exciting times indeed.  Why so, you may or may not ask?

Well, the standout feature of the latest version of the world dominating open source mobile OS, is the ability to split-screen apps.  It’s been done before, of course, by Apple and also Samsung, on their tablets running customised versions of Android.  But now, finally, it’s available on the official, vanilla release.


So what?  Well, being a bit of a technophile, I was unable to resist purchasing the Pixel C, the first Android tablet designed and built from scratch by Google, featuring a full(ish) keyboard, USB Type-C charger and ‘multi-angle display functionality’.  Now, if you care to search for reviews of said device, you’ll find that opinions vary greatly.  Many proclaimed it ‘the finest Android tablet available’ while others declared it unfit for purpose.  Both camps made their judgements with reservations, with the main thrust of the arguments that the Pixel C failed to live up to Google’s claims of a ‘productivity’ device.  Sure, it had a great screen, the requisite apps to allow work on the move and a great(ish) keyboard that connects to the tablet delightfully and is rather pleasant to type on (albeit missing several keys due to space constraints). However, if you intend using a device as your daily, specifically for work purposes, it’s inevitable that the inability to view two apps concurrently, e.g., Chrome for research alongside Word, will cause frustration.  Many felt (and I agree) that the device shouldn’t have been released without multiscreen support.  Will all the reviews bemoaning its absence now be updated?  One thinks not.  Ultimately, we’re left with an almost year old device that finally has the software to allow it to fulfil its purpose.  I’d still but one though, it looks gorgeous, performance is smooth as you like and it now, finally, supports split-screen! Happy days;-)

Tecknet X366 HB030B Bluetooth Keyboard

Well, this is my first experience using my new Tecknet bluetooth keyboard with my tablet.  To be fair, it’s somewhat difficult to appraise it performance given the age of my tablet (Motorola Xoom running 4.2) but I’m already feeling pleasantly surprised at the responsiveness whilst typing this.  I’ve already mentioned that I’m using an old tablet running an old version of Android but, thus far, keystrokes appear onscreen as I type.  There have been a couple of short moments when nothing has happened, though usually when I’ve accidentally hit one of the hotkeys or the tablet is doing something else  but, overall, the response is far better than is imagined it would be.  It’s certainly quicker than using the onscreen keyboard.  I look forward to trying it on a more modern tablet running Marshmallow to gauge the operating system impact.

The keyboard itself seems reasonably well built.  There’s some flex as I type this with the keyboard suspended between my legs but nothing that causes any major concern.  The feedback from the key is solid and meets all expectations.  I could see myself happily using this keyboard on the train, for example, or more generally on the move and it’s serving me well as I sit in an easy chair typing this at the moment.  However, I’m yet to try this on a table top, though suspect that the overall experience will be lessened somewhat.

Interestingly, the backlight, when connected to my Android tablet, is red.  However, when initially charging/powering on the keyboard, the backlight is blue.  I’ll have to do some investigating to see if there are further colours available or whether the keyboard default to certain colours depending on the connected device but can’t complain about the red, it works very well and contributes to the quality feel and look of the keyboard.

Overall, I’m very impressed thus far with this keyboard but will update when I’ve used it more thoroughly and tried out some of the hotkeys and investigated the backlighting further.  I’m a little sceptical about the cut, copy, paste and other function keys – unfairly admittedly, I haven’t tried them yet!

At thirteen squid, even without any further use I’d be happy to recommend this keyboard for use with an Android tablet!

 

Update, 2 days in…

A bit of googling for info on this keyboard revealed something very quickly: there is very little info available about this keyboard.  However, I did find out one interesting thing.  Remember I mentioned about the backlight colour? On switching the keyboard on, the backlight comes on in a nice shade of blue but it then switches off.  When the backlight is turned on manually, it lights up red.  Now, the red doesn’t look bad but I was intrigued about the colours available.  It turn out that the backlight can be one of 7 colours, from blue, through red, purple etc.  I’ve settled on a rather pleasing apple green shade.  Turns out that if you hold down the lightbulb button and press the down arrow (PgDn), you can cycle through the options.

I’ve still to explore the shortcut buttons fully but can confirm that the home key takes me to the homescreen on my tablet, which is a good start!  However, I’ve had less joy with the keyboard layout settings. I’ve selected English (UK) in my tablet settings but still get a ” instead of @ on the keyboard (i.e., I have to shift+2 to get the @ symbol).  A minor frustration really but one I’d like to overcome…

Update 4th Apr 2016

Mmm…I feel I need to update this in view of recent user experiences, not of this keyboard but of another (though not necessarily a direct competitor).  For reasons best known to myself, I’ve just acquired a Google Pixel C.  Now, you may or may not know that this is a ‘hybrid’, ‘productivity’ tablet.  Therefore, it makes little sense to buy one without the optional, bizarrely, keyboard.  And here is said keyboard:

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Crappy picture taken with Pixel C’s built in camera, btw.

Now, is there anything remarkable about this keyboard?  Not really…it doesn’t have a CAPS LOCK key, this is replaced with a Sherlock Holmes search key.  The enter key is small and rectangular, not shaped as normally expected.  No worries, though, one expects compromises on small, tablet targeted keyboards.

 

There is one standout feature of this keyboard, though…the price.  Have a little guess in your head.  Unless you’re peripheral vision had caught the figure below, I almost guarantee that your estimate will differ significantly from the amount that Google request in exchange for dispatching one your way.

 

 

 

£120 – that’s the cost of this keyboard!  Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s competent (it bloody well should be;-)), has a lovely, anodised finish, physically connects wonderfully to the actual tablet but in no way is £100 better than the Tecknet keyboard.  Remember, the Tecknet keyboard is a regular one, features backlighting and appears to be of robust construction.

 

To close, on reviewing this update, I see many errors, many of which I attribute directly to this keyboard (the frequency is certainly above average).  This doesn’t exactly add to the ‘pro’ column…