The Broken Promise of Android Treble

Google surprised everyone when they announced the Android Pie (then just Android P) beta would be on more than just Google’s own phones this year. The full list was:

  • Sony Xperia XZ2
  • Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S
  • Nokia 7 Plus
  • Oppo R15 Pro
  • Vivo X21
  • OnePlus 6
  • Essential PH‑1

Not a bad list! I mean it would be nice for Samsung, Motorola, LG, or HTC to be on the list, as these are all very niche phones in the US, but it’s certainly progress.

So here were are a month after Android Pie was released, so let’s look at how many of these beta phones have been updated to Pie. After all, they were running the beta all summer, so they should be ready to go, right?

Phone Status
Sony Xperia XZ2 Coming in November 2018
Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S Unknown, but alpha build leaked online
Nokia 7 Plus Coming in September 2018
Oppo R15 Pro Unknown, no announcements
Vivo X21 ”Q4 2018” so likely close to the end of the year
OnePlus 6 Q4 2018, so likely also by December
Essential PH‑1 Released same day as Pixel devices

I have 2 things to say about this:

One, this is a sad showing by these companies who were involved in the official Android Pie beta. They’ve had Pie in beta since May and they were not able to have it ready when Google released Pie to the world. A month after launch and we’re still looking at October through “someday” on most of these phones.

Two, the whole point of Android Treble, which was added in Android 8.0 in 2017, was to make it super easy for OEMs to upgrade their phones from one version of Android to another. Some Android commentators suggested this was basically a matter of swapping out the Android version and required next to zero work from the OEM. The Galaxy S 9 phones, the most popular Android line in the US, will see Pie in January at the earliest. Similarly, other major OEMs have given vague non-answers for when their phones will get the update.

For a bit of fun, check this article from 2 days after the Android Pie release, with an Android site being as optimistic as always:

In short, the Nokia 7 Plus, Sony Xperia XZ2, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, Oppo R15 Pro, OnePlus 6, and the Vivo X21 should see Android Pie arriving in the next few weeks, probably before the end of this month or in September 2018. If this materializes, it would make Android Pie one of the fastest Android operating systems to be adopted by non-Google devices, however, whether this will be true across the board remains a mystery.

One month in, none of those phones are updated, and only one of them is promised for September. Maybe this train will turn get moving pretty quick here, but we’re a month into Pie and the story seems to be playing out the same as it always does. If you are interested in timely updates to the latest Android versions, it still seems you have to go Google or bust.

Microsoft Surface Go Review: Conclusion

This is a multi-part review. Make sure to check the whole thing out with the links below!

The Microsoft Surface Go is a product rife with contradictions. On the one hand it’s a delightfully portable PC with high end hardware, excellent accessories, and the flexibility to work in many situations. On the other hand, it is slow as a dog, runs an operating system not optimized for the hardware, and costs more than it should.

For a device intrinsically linked to the “no compromises” moniker, it sure feels like there are a lot of compromises here.

If you love Windows and want the most portable version of Windows available, then this could be an okay choice. The hardware is undeniably wonderfully constructed, and it does indeed run the full Windows 10 experience. But I worry that the performance and battery issues hold it back from being a good buy for a lot of people. You really have to be comfortable with quite poor performance if you’re going to truly enjoy this product. Even typing this article right now, typing into a plain text file and no other apps open has the letters appears on screen about a second after I type them from the Type Cover. It’s sloooooooow, and it’s basically unacceptable for a computer in 2018.

The cost for this performance is also hard to justify. I paid $630 for the Surface Go, Type Cover, and Surface Pen. I think that’s exactly what Microsoft expects you to get with this device, and for that cost I’m hard pressed to think of another PC for the same price that runs this badly.

As I mentioned in the parts on hardware (build quality) and accessories, these are very nice physical goods you’re getting, but they’re betrayed by the Intel chipset running it all.

If you want this hardware and accessory quality with decent performance, the Surface Pro is going for $599 right now and looks to be a much better performer for only $200 more. That may be a notable difference for some buyers, but I also think that computer will last you much longer. The Surface Go is wildly sluggish today; I can’t imagine how slow it’s going to be in just a few months. I can’t even reliably watch YouTube or Netflix videos on this thing without dropped frames or complete crashing.

My personal opinion is that the Surface Go was made to hit a price point, not to deliver a certain quality of experience. I think Microsoft wanted to sell a $400 tablet and they refused to say no when the hardware clearly wasn’t there to get their users a great experience. Because of that, I really can’t recommend the Surface Go to almost anyone. It’s super portable, but I think the jump in performance from the Go to the Pro line is well worth the small upgrade price.

On the other side we have the iPad 2018, which is $70 less expensive than the entry level Surface Go, and performs much better and does basically all of the same things people are going to buy a Surface Go to do. If you can’t stand iOS, then this isn’t really an option for you, but if you like iOS at all, I really think the iPad is a better tablet if you’re looking for something portable and well made.

All this said, I actually plan on returning my Surface Go and exchanging it for a Surface Pro. I have enjoyed having a Windows system in my life and the flexibility of a tablet that can convert to laptop and desktop interfaces is quite nice to have. If I do go through with that exchange, then you can be sure I’ll share my (far more abbreviated than this 7,000+ word review) feelings on it right here on BirchTree.

Microsoft Surface Go Review: Maximum Flexibility

This is a multi-part review. Make sure to check the whole thing out with the links below!

Using the Surface Go for the past month has not made me want to give up my iPad Pro and switch to the Windows life, but it has made me look at the Mac with new eyes. Not so much macOS, which I still prefer over Windows for many, many reasons, but instead I’m looking at Mac hardware a bit differently.

From a hardware perspective, the Surface Go is very much an iPad competitor; it’s a 10″ touch screen that’s exceedingly portable. But when it comes to software, this really is a traditional PC. That may be good or bad depending on what you want from a device like this, but I think it puts it in a weird middle ground that Apple is not covering right now, but I find very interesting.

So if you want a portable Mac today, you can get a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro. These are all very similar devices with varying levels of speed, screen size, and weight. There are other details, but we’re essentially talking about 3 different clamshell devices that take up slightly different amounts of space in a bag. If you want a portable Mac, that’s all you can choose from.

What the Surface Go (and much of the Surface line in general) offers is a full Windows experience in a form factor that’s wildly flexible. Here are the many ways I’ve used the Go:

  • “tablet mode” with no accessories and manipulating with touch
  • “tablet mode” but with the Surface Pen
  • “laptop mode” with the attached Type Cover
  • “laptop mode” with a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard and mouse
  • “desktop mode” by plugging into a 27″ monitor

All of these setups are possible via an iPad and a Mac, but none of Apple’s hardware can do it all. So despite my personal feeling about Windows, I would really enjoy this flexibility on a platform I enjoy using more.

My personal dream here is that the iPad grows into a desktop experience more than the Mac shrinking down into a tablet form factor. Almost 3x as many people buy iPads as Macs, so I’d expect that’s the market Apple wants to grow too.

The bottom line here is that Microsoft has a device that has wonderful build quality, is super portable, and transitions to a desktop experience with ease. I don’t plan on ditching any of my Apple hardware for this right now but what Microsoft is doing here with a device that works however you want, wherever you want is very appealing. Apple can get you here with a Mac and an iPad, but I’m very hopeful that they have a solution that matches the Surface Go’s flexibility in the near future.

You Already Have the Tools You Need

Matt Hauger – You already have everything you need to create stuff on the internet

[I]f you want to create stuff, you don’t need a new device. You probably already have everything you need to make stuff on the internet.

I’m a firm believer in getting the best tools for the job and that these better tools can indeed lead to better work. That said, you shouldn’t feel like you have to buy something new to start making something for the web.

You can write without paying up for Ulysses. You can publish without paying for a server or Squarespace account. You can podcast without a $100 microphone. You can post to YouTube from your phone’s camera (which you edit in iMovie).

Instead of Ulysses, try Byword or just TextEdit (Mac) or

Try posting to Medium or if you want to publish for free.

Go into a quiet room and talk into your iPhone with the built in Voice Memos app and you can get surprisingly good audio quality.

Your phone probably shoots in 4K, which is plenty. Just make sure you get a lot of lights in the room you’re shooting in, phones get pretty grainy video indoors.

Paying for things like Ulysses, Final Cut Pro X, a fancy microphone, and a Creative Cloud subscription can absolutely help you do more and improve aspects of your work, but don’t let the lack of any of that prevent you from actually doing the work now.

Gather Round Apple Event Wallpapers

Apple invited press to their September event today, and as is tradition at this point, I’ve made some wallpapers to go with it. As always, there are numerous color options and these are all high res (3840×3840) so they should look good on basically any screen you throw them at.

P.S. I considered making all of the alternates exclusive to patrons, but I decided this was a big event for the year and limiting their reach didn’t make a lot of sense. Still, these took time to make and I would appreciate it deeply if you considered supporting the work on Patreon.


Full resolution link – gold

Full resolution link – rainbow “six colors”

Full resolution link – pink

Full resolution link – purple

Full resolution link – blue

Full resolution link – green

Full resolution link – white