Tim Allen My CV

February 9, 2016

Google Pixel as an Android development box

Filed under: programming — tallen @ 3:16 am

Recently I bought a Google Pixel (2015 samus). Chrome OS is really just a Linux variant running the Chrome browser so I figured I could just get it to boot Debian or Ubuntu and I’d have a nice laptop; indeed, there is much to like about the Pixel. Alas, I’ve tried booting an Ubuntu variant natively and Crouton; neither were good experiences.

Ubuntu
There are plenty of step by step instructions out there on how to do this and to Google’s credit they don’t try to stop you from owning your hardware. Getting Linux to boot is not the problem, living with it is. I suspect things will improve over time but here is my list of fails:

The keyboard layout is rather simple, I think I could have learned to live with this, but I found no mappings for this unique keyboard.
– The top row of keys are just F1 through F10, no combination of ctrl, alt, shift will make them adjust brightness etc; I could have lived with this.
– WiFi randomly stops working requiring a reboot; I can’t live with this.
– Every-time you wake from sleep there is a finite chance that you will have to do a cold reboot to get the track-pad to work again; this is another show-stopper, this is Linux, we don’t reboot.
– It didn’t seem to know if it was on AC or battery so things like folding down the screen didn’t work well; when I’m on AC, just keep running, but when I’m on battery, sleep.

On the other hand, no lockups and I could run Android Studio reliably, it was almost good enough. Yes, I did try the git-hub stuff with the special kernel version and the fixes for some of the hardware, no joy.

Crouton
I reinstalled Chrome OS and tried Crouton next… uh a little better and then I tried to run Android Studio… eh, not good. With Crouton one runs xorg et al. in a kind of sandbox. One switches between X and Chrome OS by holding down shift, ctrl, alt F1 or F2. In X, the keyboard problems noted above are still there but one can easily switch to Chrome OS and adjust the brightness etc. Sleeping seems to work better, the track-pad is reliable, and AC/battery detection and battery life seem to be better. …and then Android Studio took over eight minutes to build a small app and it is at this point I threw up my hands. [see update below]

Conclusion
I know many of these things are fixable –I could wait for the hardware fixes which I suspect will be here soon and I could remap the keyboard– but I don’t have the time. I need a Linux Laptop experience that works reasonably well out of the box. Really Google 1200 bucks for a Chromebook? Yes the hardware is nice, there really is a lot to like there, but I needed a better experience running a real OS.

I tried to buy a Dell ultrabook, they have a line that comes with Ubuntu out of the box but their moronic marketing department and broken business process caused me to have contact with sales support… epic fail! I should note that their tech support has become legendarily bad in recent years too.

Finding a good Linux laptop sucks, but I’m going to put the blame where it belongs… on the hardware vendors. The hardware market has gone from bad to really broken. Hey vendors, I need an ultrabook that runs Linux out of the box.

In closing I am writing this on the Pixel, when I finish I’m going to do a factory reset, box it up, send it back. I’m not happy about this, I really want like this thing, there
is a lot to like.

update 02/09: I got Android Studio to build/ The problem was with aapt, the fix, install lib32z1.

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