Marc Bilodeau/ Coder's Life, Minimalism

The Google Pixel XL is the third smartphone to be my primary PC quite by happenstance. After updating to the August Security Patch, my Google Nexus 6P fell victim to the boot loop issue. This is when the Google Nexus 6P boots, but never gets past the Google Logo. The Android boot animation doesn’t shows up, and then the smartphone reboots. So, my Google Nexus 6P was rendered useless. There are unofficial fixes available, but with some unfortunate caveats.

In hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise. The newest high-end smartphone options have faster hardware and more memory. When one uses a smartphone as a PC, CPU and memory are key.

Why the Google Pixel XL?

Overall, I would rate my experience using the Google Nexus 6P as a PC very good. However, there were a couple issues that sometimes slowed me down. First, the Bluetooth would occasionally cause my keyboard to not respond for ten or so seconds. This can be frustrating when in the middle of a task. Secondly, although rare, the phone would lock up and reboot itself.

The Google Nexus 6P has 3 GB of memory, a Snapdragon 810 SoC, and an octa-core processor. That’s plenty of resources for typical smartphone usage. However, not quite enough for the best smartphone PC experience.

There are a number of amazing smartphone models available. So, why did I choose the Google Pixel XL?

CPU and Memory

One lesson I’ve learned is that a little more CPU power and memory go a long way. When my journey started with the Samsung Galaxy S4, the apps were simpler and did an adequate job. However, as time passed my requirements changed and the apps became more feature rich. Thus, more features require more memory and processing power.

When I upgraded to the Google Nexus 6P, the difference in speed and performance was quite noticeable over the Samsung Galaxy S4. My workflow improved dramatically, and everything for the most part was right as rain up until the boot loop issue.

The Google Pixel XL has 4 GB of memory, a faster SoC, and newer processor. Now that I’m using the Google Pixel XL, my workflow is smoother and the responsiveness is excellent. I realize there are other smartphones that have better CPUs and more memory, but there is a major reason why I stuck with a Google smartphone. And that’s…

Frequent OS and Security Patches

Android is a great operating system. However, it has become fragmented because different vendors customize it for their devices. This means devices not directly released by Google are potentially behind in security patches and bug fixes. However in Android Oreo, Google has taken steps to make it easier for other vendors to patch and update the operating system.

Another reason I like the Google Pixel XL is because Google supports their devices for three years. This means I can expect important security patches through October 2019.

With that said, why not use an Apple iPhone? Apple keeps their operating system patched and up-to-date. While this is true, Android provides a couple of advantages over iOS that are important elements to the smartphone PC experience.

Termux

Termux provides everything that a Linux terminal could offer. It really takes smartphone computing to the next level. Without it, one would need more apps to accomplish tasks like ssh or file manipulation. However at the time of this writing, any Apple iPhone fan will need to find an alternative. Termux is only available for Android.

For me, access to a shell is critical. It’s a means to install packages to customize my environment, and to have all those great command line tools at my fingertips.

Multi-Window

On a traditional PC or laptop, users can open multiple applications on the desktop at the same time. Although any mobile operating system is nowhere close to what Microsoft Windows, Linux, or Mac OS have today, Android has taken a step in the right direction.

My Google Pixel XL is my PC

An example of Multi-Window in use with Gmail and Evernote

Since it’s introduction in Android Nougat, I’ve become quite fond of two apps on the screen at the same time. Although not all apps support this, I find most apps do. Multi-Window is great for when I take notes while watching a YouTube video, or read a blog while writing code with Emacs.

The Peripherals

The peripherals I used with the Google Nexus 6P work nicely with the Google Pixel XL. Moving from one smartphone to the other was easy.

I first started using the iClever Ultra Slim 3 Color Backlight Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard and Logitech MX ANYWHERE 2 Mobile Mouse when I upgraded to the Google Nexus 6P over a year ago.

iclever keyboard and logitech mouse

However after several months of use, the keyboard’s micro USB connection became loose. Now, I use the Plugable Full-size Bluetooth Folding Keyboard. The new keyboard is the exact size and layout of the old one, except the keyboard’s protective case is also a Tablet Stand. This small victory meant I could remove the Pocket Size V-Holder Tablet Stand from my travel kit.

It seems like there are a lot of moving parts to this setup, but there really isn’t much to it. Each day, I take three items to and from work.

For convenience, I have these items at both my work and home desks.

The TP-Link N300 Wireless Wi-Fi Mini Router works with the Google Chromecast to mirror the Google Pixel XL screen. In many professional and hotel networks, this setup may be necessary. The Wireless Mini Router provides an access point connecting the smartphone and Google Chromecast together. Then, an Ethernet cable connects them to the outside network. It’s easy to set up and has worked well over the past few years.

I prefer the Plantronics Voyager 5200 Bluetooth Headset to listen to music, videos, and audiobooks. A Chromecast streams both audio and video. Since the audio is no longer audible from the phone speakers or connected headset, the TaoTronics Wireless Portable Bluetooth Transmitter connects a Bluetooth headset to the monitor to hear any streaming audio.

Daily Usage

I am constantly striving to optimize and minimize my PC needs through trial and error. I often try different apps to make my life easier to manage, and then uninstall apps I no longer use.

Currently list of Pixel XL Apps

Currently 54 Apps do it all

I’ve learned there are two core operating system functions that are critical to the success of Smartphone Computing. The first is a decent file manager. It should be able to copy, delete, and move files around the file system. Ideally, a file manager should also connects to cloud services and windows shares. Thankfully, FX does the job nicely.

The second function is a flexible command line terminal. As a technical person, command line tools and the ability to install different packages helps get tasks done faster. After testing several apps, Termux is the most flexible and easiest to use.

We all have different requirements, and I realize this setup isn’t for everyone. However, it can be done, and done effectively. All one has to do is take a little time to understand their digital needs and habits.

The Travel Kit

Over the past year, I’ve taken several trips. Thankfully, the travel kit I use with the Google Nexus 6P works great with the Google Pixel XL.

However through experimentation, I’ve since downsized my old travel case. Everything I travel with fits into my new Minaal Mobile Tool case except for the Plugable Full-size Bluetooth Folding Keyboard and Logitech MX ANYWHERE 2 Mobile Mouse.

Google Pixel XL Travel Kit

Google Pixel XL Travel Kit with Keyboard and Mouse

It fits nicely in my Minaal Carry-On. It’s amazing how much can fit into this case. All my mobile office needs are in a single compact space.

Conclusion

It is certainly possible to use a smartphone as a personal computer. Although smartphones have limited capabilities, the technology and applications have evolved enough where one can be both entertained and productive each and every day.

From the beginning of this journey several years ago with my Samsung Galaxy S4 to today with my Google Pixel XL, it’s met all my computing needs and continues to manage my digital life.

The technology continues to evolve, and it seems this is the direction computing is heading. The smartphone is becoming the primary, and in many cases, the only way people use apps and the internet. Today is a wondrous time to be alive to experience the leaps and bounds in technology first-hand. The future is full of possibilities, and the only limitations are our imaginations.