…after a lot of thought and hand-wringing over whether I actually need one (of course I don’t). But, hey, I felt like I deserved a treat after finally completing the Masters in Information and Library Studies, so I bought one. Technically, I guess, I should have waited until after the dissertation had got back from the exam board, but I have gone well beyond the stage of worrying about what kind of grade I receive. So, anyway, the Nexus 7…here’s some early thoughts on Google’s reasonably priced ‘tablet’.
As well as the factor of cost, one of the other reasons I had held back on purchasing a tablet was the fact that I had purchased a netbook only 18 months ago (a Samsung n210 plus). Coupled with that, I already had the latest iPhone and I wasn’t really sure what a tablet would give me that these two devices didn’t already offer. I have pretty much all my music on the iPhone and the netbook was convenient for writing blog posts and writing meeting notes on the fly (well, on the train). The netbook is also the base for the iPhone so I felt particularly reluctant to cut my losses on it and purchase yet another piece of kit (aside from the fact I love the netbook – it’s quick to boot and comfortable to use). That said, I do go to a lot of events, conferences, meetings etc and I often find that the netbook isn’t that comfortable to use. Indeed, on several occasions I have had to prop a bag underneath it just so I don’t suffer from horrendous back pain whilst trying to take notes (I’m 6′ 2″ and resting a netbook on my lap is not good). So, a suitable solution was sought. Well, a solution other than pen and paper anyway.
I had already discounted the possibility of ever purchasing an iPad unless they substantially came down in price. Considering I have an iPhone, I wasn’t sure that an iPad would offer me that much extra that it would warrant shelling out big bucks. And then, along came the Nexus 7 at a ridiculous price point and suddenly things got interesting. Not being wedded to Apple (I’m not a ‘fanboy’ of any particular brand), the release of a ‘tablet’ at just over £150 was pretty appealing (I bought the 8GB as I store most of the storage hungry items like music and photos on my 64GB iPhone). At that price, and with the thought of buying a tablet already swirling around my mind, it seemed a bit of a no-brainer. So anyway, my thoughts…
I have to say that when I ordered it I had fairly low expectations about the build quality. For that kind of price I knew I wasn’t going to get something as well-designed and easy on the eye as the iPad and expected it to be pretty cheap looking. Turned out that my fears were unfounded. Whilst it may not win any awards for design, it is not un-attractive and doesn’t feel as cheap and tacky as I first feared. In fact, I prefer the home and navigation buttons on the Nexus to the home button on the iPhone (which gets used so much it tends to get spongey pretty quickly – at least if you are a heavy user).
When first booting it up I connected it to the wifi and my Google account. No bother with any of this whatsoever. Of course, it being a Google device a whole load of Google tools are already on it – YouTube, Google Maps, the Gmail app and Google+. As well as a few of their apps, Google also adds £15 to spend in the Play Store, which is a handy bonus. On the flip side, you also get a Jeffrey Archer novel and Transformers: Dark of the Moon – both have already been removed. Although I guess it is nice for these things to be pre-loaded to demonstrate what a film is like on the device right from the get go, I’d prefer it if maybe there was a choice or a few quid chucked in on top of the £15. But I guess there are some people out there who like the Transformers movies…
I suppose one of the early difficulties I encountered was with the operating system. After around three years of using iOS, I had kind of got used to the Apple way of doing things, and I liked it. Getting used to the Android way of doing things has taken longer than I expected. For example, I like that pretty much no matter what app you are in, touching the toolbar at the top of the iPhone fast scrolls you to the top of the page you are viewing. This is particularly handy for apps like Twitter if you haven’t opened it for a while, or when ploughing through lists such as on a RSS reader app. I was a bit disappointed to discover that this did not appear to be the case on Android (although belatedly discovered that you could do it on the Twitter app). It’s not a major inconvenience, just a little niggle.
I’ve also found the keyboard a little tricky to work with at times, assuming it would work in the same way as the iPhone’s and then finding that it apparently doesn’t. For example, when I make a typo on the iPhone and realise after I press space, pressing the delete button automatically offers some alternative spelling suggestions. If I do the same on the Nexus I have to ‘touch’ the word to make a list of alternatives come up. Again, it’s not a big problem, it just comes down to the fact I have got used to the way Apple’s operating system works. I’m sure before long I will barely notice these differences as I flit between the two devices but, at the moment, it is a little bit annoying.
Some of the social media integration isn’t quite as smooth as it is with the iPhone either. The way Twitter is built into iOS is really handy. I just click to share a URL or YouTube video and it prepares a tweet that can either be edited or sent as is. With the Nexus, I find sharing via Twitter just populates the tweet with the URL, which means that you then have to add text to give it some context. But then this is all down to the way in which Twitter has been incorporated into iOS and I am not sure if this is possible on Android.
The only other issue (last one I promise!), is that I really miss the “Reader” option on the iPhone. Depending on the website, iOS may add a “Reader” button into the browser’s address bar. Hitting this strips out all the text and ads from around the article and leaves you with just the text and any associated images. This makes for a much more pleasurable reading experience (particularly on the iPhone), removing all the distractions that blight some web pages (I’m particularly hating on those awful scrolling ads at either side of the window – I’m looking at you New Statesman et al).
So what about the other stuff? Well, I quite like reading on the Nexus. I had already downloaded an ebook from the Google store a little while back for the Sony Reader and added another using the £15 I received for purchasing the device (I perhaps should have mentioned I have one of those too). When you purchase a book via Google Play it downloads to the ‘tablet’ but you also have the option (when visiting your books on the Play store) to download an ePub version to read on your Sony Reader. However, whilst books bought via Google Play can be read on any device that supports ePub, ePub books bought in other stores are not compatible with the Nexus. So ebooks that I have purchased via WHSmiths or Waterstones for example, cannot be transferred to the device which is a bit of a shame.
Anyway, reading the book itself is not too bad. I was wary of using a backlit screen to read books as I felt it would put a strain on my eyes and be too uncomfortable after a long period of time. I still think I will prefer to use the Sony Reader to read for long periods, but with the additional features of the Nexus (plus the colour screen obviously), I would be quite happy to read books etc from it in short bursts. The text is crisp and clear, without the ghosting issue that appears to have affected some Nexus users. Of course, it’s no Retina display, but I barely notice the difference and, let’s face it, most of us managed just fine before that came along.
The general social networking experience is also pretty good. In fact I found it rather strange flicking back to the iPhone for Twitter after accessing it via the ‘tablet’. Obviously far more tweets are displayed on screen which helps a great deal when, like me, you try to read as many tweets as you can (and I follow 900 people – that’s a lot of reading!). The only drawback with Twitter is that whereas hitting a link on the iPhone takes you to the site on an internal Twitter browser, doing the same on the Nexus kicks you out of Twitter and into Chrome – although, again, it is easy to skip back to Twitter using the navigation buttons at the bottom of the device. Once more, it is just a case of getting used to the different way in which this particular device operates.
In relation to social networking, Google+ has a pretty big presence across the Nexus. Sharing via G+ is easy and convenient (more so than sharing via Twitter which is interesting to note), and it is certainly well integrated, photos that an individual adds to G+ are even synced to the photo gallery app on the device. Indeed, this has prompted me to explore G+ a bit more since purchasing the ‘tablet’ (which I am sure is Google’s intention). I have to say, I have found it pretty useful on a couple of occasions since I started experimenting with it. In one instance, using it saved a very long exchange of tweets on library school admissions. In some ways, it amazes me that it hasn’t really caught on yet…from time to time you see long multiple tweet exchanges (the old tweet ending in 1/3 or some such) when a quick swap to G+ makes the exchange easier to follow and allows greater scope for broadening out the discussion (it’s also more suitable for niche conversations, but that’s another story). Of course, the funny thing with G+ is that everyone says it is a ghost town when the nature of G+ means that you don’t see everything (users divide stuff into circles and you will only see stuff if an individual posts to a circle that that user has put you in, or if that individual posts to a public timeline) and you cannot be sure that there aren’t loads of conversations taking place that exclude you (probably not but still, how can you possibly be sure?).
Anyway, G+ does look really nice on the app with photo posts particularly nice looking (I have been told that it is becoming an increasingly popular place for photographers to share their work). They’ve clearly put a lot of work into making sure it looks nice and is user friendly. If only you could feed in from other networks (at least to a minimal degree) it might not be the waste land of the social media world that it appears to be.
In terms of apps that I have downloaded so far, I’ve added all the usual social media apps, plus Dropbox, Evernote, Google Reader (which doesn’t come pre-loaded – a little surprising) plus a few other apps I use regularly on the iPhone. I’ve also downloaded Epistle (a note taking app that automatically syncs notes to Dropbox) and ezPDF Reader for, you’ll never guess, reading PDFs. I can certainly see Evernote getting far more usage now that I have it on a more suitable device…taking notes on the iPhone was never particularly convenient.
As well as the various apps that you can add, the Nexus also comes with a number of widgets that can be added to the home screen. For example, I currently have the calendar widget which enables me to view the next two ‘events’ created on my Google calendar (including anything from imported calendars). There are a whole host of other widgets including email and Twitter preview widgets.
One of the aspects of the Nexus that I haven’t really played around with yet is the Google Now function (see the video/ad below). According to the blurb, Google Now provides you with the information you need when you need to know it. What this basically means is that accessing the Google Now function presents you with a range of data that it learns you might find useful on a series of ‘cards’. These ‘cards’ include everything from upcoming weather information, traffic data for the commute home, public transport timetables when near stations and sports scores for teams you have searched for. It will be interesting to see how useful this proves to be.
So, how would I sum up the Nexus 7? Well, you might have noticed that throughout this blog post I have called it a ‘tablet’ rather than a tablet. This is because, in some regards, it doesn’t really feel like a standard tablet. Like other 7″ ‘tablets’, it seems to fall somewhere between being a large smartphone and a full size tablet. It’s size is excellent for reading (it’s comfortable to hold in one hand) but I am not too sure about its writing capabilities. It may well be the case that for writing blog posts etc I will prefer to use the netbook rather than the Nexus. But it is early days yet and I haven’t really had a chance to write anything substantial on it. I’m also a bit disappointed that there is not much choice at present in the way of cases to protect the device (only a standard, grey Google case is available at present). However, it looks like a whole range of alternatives are being released shortly.
But what about the positives? Well, for such a cheap ‘tablet’ it is pretty impressive and the build quality is far better than I expected. Reading on the device is also better than I anticipated and I really like the whole interface for ebooks (certainly much more user-friendly than what I have got used to with the Sony Reader). The screen, whilst not of the same standard as a Retina display, is nonetheless crisp and clear and I have not experienced any of the ghosting issues some others have reported. I also find that the device is fast becoming my preferred option for social networking. When I first tried out Twitter on the Nexus and then went to use it on the iPhone, I found the experience really odd due to the difference in screen sizes. As the Nexus is wi-fi only (something that doesn’t really bother me as for my purposes I don’t really need a data connection at all times), it will almost certainly become my first choice device for social networking where I do have a connection. At all other times, I have the iPhone. Furthermore, in relation to the iPhone, the lack of a rear-facing camera doesn’t really bother me. If I need to take pictures and post them online, the iPhone is far more convenient than holding up a ‘tablet’ to take pictures.
Overall, I am really glad I treated myself to the Nexus 7. Whilst it is no iPad, it offers enough to make it a worthy purchase, particularly at its affordable price point. In terms of the iPhone and netbook, I can see how the Nexus will change the way I use these devices. Certainly the Nexus will be preferable to the netbook for meetings etc and it beats the iPhone for social networking when I am at home. So would I recommend buying one? If the price of the iPad is off-putting, I would definitely recommend the Nexus 7. That said, it may be worth hanging back to see what Apple’s new, smaller tablet has to offer before taking that decision.