I work remotely most of the time which means my access to corporate IT is limited at best. As such, I need to perform most of my maintenance work without the luxury of having installation CDs. So I decided to move to a ChromeOS-powered device, namely the Pixelbook.
So far I'm loving the thing. It is pricey and overpowered for what I need it to do, but it should also last a good long time. I tested this setup on my daughter's 4 year old $250 Chromebook and, aside from a lack of Android apps (which are of questionable use to me, see below), it seemed like a perfectly cromulent solution. As such, don't focus too heavily on the hardware but instead choose the equipment that fits your price range.
- 1 ChromeOS vs. Android
- 2 Chrome Apps and Extensions
- 3 Accessories
ChromeOS vs. Android
First and foremost, people see that the Pixelbook supports Android apps and think it should be an Android device. This isn't correct and you'll probably have a poor experience if you're looking for an Android tablet and would be better served by the Pixel C.
So, what's the difference? ChromeOS is a browser and that's it. If you get to the nuts and bolts there's a lightweight Linux distribution underneath, but really it's designed as a fully cloud-oriented device where you can log into any Chromebook anywhere and have nominally an identical experience with all of your settings and applications downloaded from the cloud.
Android isn't quite there. Android is very app-focused and more of a traditional computing methodology. If you want to do something on Android, you install an app for it. If you want to do something on ChromeOS you simply go to that website.
But ChromeOS now supports Android apps. These work fairly well for the most part, but you have to remember you're running an Android emulator next to a purpose-built browser. There is some separation between the Android virtualization and the browser, and most apps are designed for phones or (if you're lucky) tablets. In general, if there's a web UI you should consider whether you really need the app. In some cases, like audio and video, you get some local caching which is nice, but on the flip side Chromebooks have little storage and chances are you've got a phone next to you which is a better choice.
To me, Android apps are a crutch for services without a web presence. But some people love them, so I do encourage you to compare the native web app behavior to the Android app behavior and consider whether it's worthwhile.
Chrome Apps and Extensions
There are some apps and extensions that are pretty indispensable to me.
If you have access to a Linux box anyplace on the planet you'll probably want Secure Shell. This will let you SSH into a box using either passwords or keys (you'll need to upload your public and private keys through the UI, but you'll likely want to protect them with a passphrase). Thanks to this I can access a Linux machine at home which lets me do whatever I want, including setting up a SOCKS-based tunnel in case I need to look like I'm coming from my home IP address.
This is a nice little proxy controller. You've got a choice of Basic with a simplified UI or Standard which will allow you to set up specific rules. For example, you could specify that *.mywork.com goes through a proxy to your office while everything else goes direct.
The Kronymous app will connect you to the Tor network allowing you to anonymously browse the Internet. This is useful for when you're behind a restrictive firewall (for example, a state-sponsored censorship network), the decentralized nature of the service makes it hard to block. However, the connection from the exit point to the final destination is not encrypted. If you're using TLS (https) this may not be a huge concern, but WikiLeaks got their start by running an exit node and snooping on the traffic. You can also be sure that state-sponsored snoops do the same thing. That said, if you're doing Bad Guy Stuff you probably need to learn a lot more about these things than reading on some guy's wiki... To use this, just use FoxyProxy above to set up a SOCK5 proxy to localhost:9999, visiting https://check.torproject.org/ will verify if it's working.
Note that if you need to use WebEx, you'll need the WebEx App and not the extension. Cisco needs to step up their HTML5 game, Jabber doesn't seem to work at all and WebEx is a little bifurcated between desktop Chrome and ChromeOS.
One of the great things about the Pixelbook is USB-C for everything. When paired with a USB-C phone this means you can use a simple cable to charge your phone from your laptop or even reverse the flow and charge the Pixelbook from your phone. And if you have access to AC, the same charger can be used for both of your devices. You can even charge your laptop from AC and then charge your phone from the second USB-C port on the Pixelbook.
Since most USB-C accessories will work somewhat with other USB-C devices I've also tested them off a Pixel 2 and an original generation Pixel XL and a Moto X4 Android One edition. On Android you may need a file manager to view SD Cards. I use X-Plore.
Power is being tested with a Satechi USB-C Power Meter. When testing passthrough power the stock Pixelbook charger is being used.
HDMI is being tested with a 1080p TV.
USB 3.0 is being tested with a Logitech H800 headset.
The Pixelbook charger is, of course, a nice accessory all by itself. It's just a relatively compact high speed charger, but you may be able to get away with just carrying it. Tested 2017-11-07.
|Pixelbook||xxA @yyV (zzW)|
|Pixel 2||xxA @yyV (zzW)|
|Pixel XL||xxA @yyV (zzW)|
|Moto X4||xxA @yyV (zzW)|
Pixel 2 USB-C to 3.5mm Adapter
The Pixel 2 USB-C to 3.5mm adapter works well universally, it likely includes an onboard DAC instead of the Motorola solution of using a proprietary analog connection. This was tested with headphones only, I do not have a 3.5mm headset with a microphone. Tested 2017-11-07.
Anker USB-C Minidock
The Anker USB-C Minidock provides a USB-C passthrough charger (you do NOT need to power it for it to work), a couple of USB-A 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, an HDMI port, and an Ethernet port. It's compact enough to carry in a laptop bag, but of course you probably don't need to carry it to most places you'll travel. USB tested with a Logitech headset, obviously each USB 3.0 device may need its own set of drivers. Tested 2017-11-07.
|Device||Charge Rate||HDMI||SD Card||USB 3.0||Ethernet|
|Pixelbook||xxA @yyV (zzW)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Pixel 2||xxA @yyV (zzW)||No||Yes||No|
|Pixel XL||xxA @yyV (zzW)||No||Yes||No|
|Moto X4||xxA @yyV (zzW)||No||No||No|
Anker 3-port USB-C Ethernet Adapter
The Anker 3-port USB-C Ethernet Adapter provides 3 USB-A 3.0 ports and an Ethernet port. It's not THAT much smaller than the mini-dock above so I don't know that I'd recommend it, but it does provide wired Ethernet to the Pixel 2. Tested 2017-11-07.
OSCOO USB-C/USB-A Thumb Drive
The OSCOO USB-C/USB-A Thumb Drive has a switch allowing you to use it in USB-C ports or USB-A 3.0 ports on standard PCs allowing for an easy way to transfer files back and forth. Unlike the SD Card reader above, I couldn't access this via X-Plor but instead needed to select the USB icon from the notification window. Tested 2017-11-07.
Jellas 3 in 1 Aluminum Card Reader
The Jellas 3 in 1 Aluminum Card Reader has a USB-A, USB-C and MicroUSB port and can read SD and MicroSD cards. Tested 2017-11-07.