Android Expert Profiles

How I Use Android: Google engineer and USB-C crusader Benson Leung

He makes your favorite devices work and keeps accessory-makers from screwing you over. Time to get to know a Googler who boldly goes where -- well, you know.

How I Use Android: Benson Leung

If there's one indisputable truth in the tech world, it's that switching standards is always a major pain in the keister.

Some of us have been down the road before -- maybe even multiple times. And many of us are in the midst of traveling it now (or at the very least, getting ready to begin our journeys).

I'm talking, this time, about USB Type-C -- the up-and-coming standard that's showing up on more and more Chromebooks and Android devices (as well as products from other platforms -- including even those from a certain standard-resistant fruit-themed company!).

With my wife and I now both using this year's Nexus phones, we're among the masses starting to build up a stockpile of USB-C accessories to replace the miles of micro-USB cables that stretch across our lives. And we have one Google engineer to thank for helping us select those accessories safely and smartly.

Friends, meet Benson Leung. He's a senior software engineer on Google's Chrome OS kernel team, which means he works on the low-level code that makes it possible for a variety of devices to run. He's had a hand in prepping software to support numerous Chromebooks, 'boxes, and 'bases -- and even the recent USB-C-touting Pixel C tablet.

That's not why I owe him a debt of gratitude, though. In addition to his main gig making gadgets work, Leung has taken it upon himself to put his intricate knowledge of USB-C to use by publicly reviewing third-party USB-C accessories. With USB-C being such a new standard, Leung was appalled to discover that many manufacturers were either misunderstanding or flat-out ignoring the proper guidelines for how it works -- and consequently creating adapters and cables that could function poorly and even damage people's devices.

Over the past several weeks, Leung has called out numerous companies for their failures. In doing so, he's saved countless shoppers (myself included) from spending money on accessories that aren't up to snuff and might do more harm than good. Several manufacturers have already taken his reviews to heart and corrected their mistakes (while others have acknowledged his findings but, well, kinda missed the point).

Benson Leung USB Type-C Reviews

Benson Leung's USB-C reviews collection on Google+

Between Leung's up-close involvement with Google's platforms and his ongoing work as the USB-C crusader the Internet so desperately needs (side note: "USB-C Crusader" would make a great superhero name -- Benson, if you ever discover you have superhuman powers, feel free to use it), I thought it'd be interesting to see how our champion of standards lives with Android in his own earthly life. So let's find out, shall we?

In his own words, this is how Benson Leung uses Android.

The basics

Your current primary phone: My current daily driver is a Motorola Nexus 6. I’m not normally (nor am I now) a big phablet fan, and to be honest, I am still having a tough time dealing with the sheer size of the N6. I try (and fail) to use it one-handed sometimes. Many of my prior phones have been in the 4.7 in. size range, my last one being a 2013 Moto X, and I consider that size my optimal.

I decided to switch to the Nexus 6 because I am really excited about Project Fi, which is absolutely the kind of radical disruption the cellular industry needs right now. At the time, the N6 was the only phone available on Fi.

What I really like about the phone are the many ways to charge it: wirelessly with a Qi charger when I’m at my desk, or fast with a QC 2.0 charger. Fast charging is an absolute must when I’m using the phone for navigation duty in the car.

The speed of the phone and its Qualcomm 805 really make it hard to go back to a slower device.

What case is on your phone (if any): I’m using Supcase's Unicorn Beetle Series case for my Nexus 6. The case makes an already big phone even bigger, but it’s the toughest case I’ve ever used on a phone. I have dropped my N6 hard and the case has always done a great job of protecting it.

Nexus 6 Supcase

Your current tablet (if any): My current tablet is a Pixel C! I am a software engineer on the kernel team for the Pixel C, so I’ve seen it grow into the product we see today! A highlight of this platform is the detachable keyboard. Previous tablet + keyboard efforts have not hit the high marks this keyboard does for comfort and usability. I can easily use the Pixel C on my lap thanks to the keyboard’s rigid construction, and it almost feels like typing on Chromebook Pixel’s excellent keyboard.

The Pixel C's display is beautiful, and I spend a lot of my time "testing" touchscreen and GPU stability with games like Fallout Shelter and Goat Simulator. :)

Besides games, I use it for email productivity, writing Amazon reviews, and social media. Unfortunately, the keyboard’s missing keys makes it hard to code, so I switch to my Chromebook for coding.

Your current smartwatch (if any): I’m still rocking the LG G Watch! The most boring rectangular-face smartwatch ever, but it gets the job done. I originally got one on a trial basis to see what Android Wear was all about, and I found that Wear works well to keep on top of notifications and to help manage reminders without having to whip out my big honking phone, so I stuck with it.

Many new Android Wear smartwatches have been released since the G Watch, but to be honest, none has struck me as having any killer feature or functionality to warrant an upgrade yet.

What face you're using on your watch right now: For my most boring smartwatch ever, I have picked one of the most boring defaults. I use the "Digital" watchface because I like being able to read the time, date, and day of the week very clearly.

The home screen

A quick walk-through of your phone's home screen setup: On my phone, I mainly like to keep things flat without too much folder structure. What’s on the first panel are apps I launch at least once or twice a day. The bottom bar has been changed a little bit from the default setting. I use Inbox over Gmail now for my personal email/reminders, and Avocado as a messaging/to-do list app between me and my wife.

Benson Leung Home Screen (1)

On my Pixel C, the front pane follows mostly the same trend but ends up having some entertainment items for my son (Netflix, YouTube Kids, VLC) since he likes to steal the tablet to watch his videos often.

Benson Leung Home Screen (2)

On the second pane are mainly games I’ve been playing lately for "testing" purposes.

Benson Leung Home Screen (3)

What launcher you're using: Stock Google Now Launcher. I like being well integrated with Google Now (just one swipe away from my Now cards), so I haven’t felt the need to explore other launchers.

What wallpaper you're using: On my N6, a picture of my son.

On my Pixel C, I’m using the HD Wallpaper for Grim Fandango Remastered I got as a bonus for buying the game on GOG. Unfortunately, you don’t get the same wallpaper for buying the game on the Play Store.

The experience and the apps

What's one of your favorite Android-related tips or tricks?

Smart Lock has really changed the way I interact with my devices in a secure way! I have finally gotten around to improving all of my device passwords to be 8+ character complex passwords instead of the pin or pattern (which turns out to not be more secure than a pin), but Smart Lock means that as long as I keep my watch and phone close by, I only ever have to enter that complex password once a day or so.

I also use Smart Lock on Chrome OS. This lets me log in to my account as long as my Android phone is nearby and unlocked. A wonderful discovery that I made early on was that as long as my watch is near my phone, "unlocked" doesn’t mean that the screen on my phone needs to be on. My watch keeps my phone unlocked, which in turns lets me log into my Chromebook without a password. I can keep my phone in my bag and log into any of the half dozen Chrome OS devices (which sync the Smart Lock data) around me without a password! Neat!

Beyond the obvious stock Google programs, a few apps you can't live without right now (and a quick word about why):

  • tinyCam Monitor Pro: I use it to drop in on my baby-cam at home. It also comes with an excellent Android Wear app that’s by far the best tech demo for Android Wear that I have shown people. I can cast a live stream of my living room onto my watch and move the camera around.
  • Lastpass: An end to reused/insecure passwords!
  • Google Inbox: As much as I’ve griped about Inbox’s missing features (still no plain-text email!), it is an extremely useful tool for managing reminders, delayed tasks, and emails in a "Getting Things Done" work flow.
  • Swarm: Apparently Foursquare is out of style, but I still like keeping track of where I’ve been with check-ins.
  • Fallout Shelter: I’m a big Fallout fan, and my wife and I are obsessed with this silly little free game Bethesda released this year. More lunchboxes!

Check out more Android expert profiles below or in the official Google+ collection -- and stay tuned for even more entries in the weeks to come!

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