Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On Chromebooks - Second Week

Beta Blues

I was surprised and disappointed when, upon receiving my new Chromebook I discovered Google Play had been reverted to the dev channel from the stable channel (more on this below). I wasn't devastated by the change as I truly didn't purchase the Chromebook solely for its purported access to my Android apps. I've spent time discussing why this was an important part of my purchase decision, but the main goal for this device remains writing. I don't need Android apps to write. I don't really even need a new device, though the look and feel of this one has certainly inspired me with a desire to use it.

Writing is well and truly in hand at this point, though I do need to deal with some of my (possibly self-inflicted) trauma over past... efforts. I wanted to write "failures," but they weren't actually failures. They did lack the level of success I anticipated. Of course, the level of success I had anticipated was lost in that realm where the mind can confuse hopes with purpose and dreams with direction. Despite my disappointments, I can't escape the knowledge I am meant to write a story. I still don't know if it is a good story, a trite story, a forgettable story, a meaningful story, or a selfish story. I have to learn to accept my own ignorance in this regard.

I am still struggling to find that balance between writing what I am capable of writing and honing my capabilities into something greater. There is a parable about Mona Lisa to be applied here, but I will abstain. I think both are important and while I struggle with the fear of writing again in a way that is no better than what I've written before, I am also fearful of never bringing myself to write again. There is actually quite a bit at stake here. I highly value my desire to be seen by my children as a writer and to share my stories with them. Malachi is at the age now where he would accept anything I write as amazing and fuse it with his childhood memories. He will not be at that age forever. If I start writing again when he is a teenager, struggling with hormones and his own desire to be the leader God made him to be, then my stories may no longer have any impact for him. This isn't a tragedy in the larger sense, but it would be a personal tragedy. He has already lived seven years without any tangible evidence of his father's supposed love for writing.

So, in this regard, $500 is a small price to pay to stimulate my waning desire to risk my pride on another attempt at crafting my narrative. In this regard, the fact that my Chromebook fails to support Android apps the way I expected it to is a miniscule concern. Alas, I am an incurable problem solver. I can't simply accept the way things are when there is a better way in sight. I've tried.

It seems ChromeOS has three "channels" available to the end user. There is the stable channel, where everything is meant to work the way one would anticipate. This is the bug-free and dependable environment Google is selling as an alternative to other computing platforms. For a trouble-free Chromebook experience, the stable channel is the only option. There is the beta channel where most of the bugs have been eradicated. This environment isn't guaranteed to be stable, but it is pretty close. There are potentially more features to be found in the beta channel. Google allows access to new capabilities not fully developed to the point where they can be safely added to the stable channel. Lastly, there is the dev channel. This is the "unstable" version of the operating system that grants access to features and ideas which haven't been developed very far yet. This channel is meant to provide access to the earliest additions to ChromeOS, but comes with a sort of "use at your own risk" caveat. Things may not work as expected on this channel. In fact, your Chromebook might crash or lose data. Apps and features might crash unexpectedly. That's the tradeoff.

Having enjoyed ChromeOS on the reliable, Android app desolate stable channel for a few days, I was compelled to abandon it in favor of the dev channel, where I could experiment with the missing feature I anticipated so voraciously. Having done so, I can say with confidence that running Android apps on my Chromebook, even in the current dev state is pretty wonderful. It's not a thing that Google can really sell, though. I would characterize my usage of Chromedroid as light. I am not trying to be an app power user at this point. I just wanted to fiddle around with some games to see what the experience would be like on a large screen.

For the most part, the large screen Android experience has been satisfying for me. I have invested my time mainly in puzzle games, where the occasional, inexplicable lag is a non-issue. Mini Metro runs without a hitch, and I really prefer playing it on a 12 inch screen to a 5.5 inch screen. Ankora works well. The occasional lag is noticeable, though it doesn't really affect the gameplay. I like this type of game with a mouse instead of a finger, so I would say this one is also better on the Chromebook than the phone. Almightree is, again, easier to use on the Chromebook and better suited to the mouse in my opinion. It is also less fun, because its design flaws become more apparent in this environment. Zookeeper works fine, though this is an instance where I feel the smaller screen works better for the game. Shoot the Birds has some obvious ChromeOS oddities. However, since this one doesn't really work with any Android device I currently own, I am happy to be able to enjoy it again. Beyond some aesthetic concerns, it works fine, so it is another win. Lost Echo barely functions and although I paid a higher price for the game, I've already abandoned it. I thought it would be a good candidate for Chromedroid awesomeness. It is not. Vainglory does have game-affecting lag issues. They seem random to me as the user, having nothing to do with the intensity of the game itself. Most of the time, Vainglory runs as smooth as butter - even better than what I can achieve with my phone. But there are a few scattered moments where it becomes unresponsive for a second, which cause problems in a MOBA environment. Overall, though, this is a much better experience on my Chromebook than it ever was on my phone.

With these experiences in hand, I am reluctant to give up my access to Android apps on my Chromebook. There are other things going wrong with the ChromeOS experience as a result of my entry into the dev channel. For instance, Google Drive is completely unusable for me. The worst shortcoming is that I can't edit or view Google Sheets on my Chromebook any more. I have to use Chrome Remote Desktop and connect to my Windows PC to use Google Sheets.

In light of these problems, I know there may soon come a day when I have to abandon Android apps as a thing on my Chromebook in favor of ChromeOS being the thing. I am disappointed about this, but apparently shoehorning Android onto ChromeOS isn't such a simple thing. Who could have guessed?

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