As 2012 rolls into 2013, I’m beginning a trial of a Nexus 7 tablet as a potential replacement* for my beloved iPad 3. Long wishing for a smaller iPad, but not satisfied by the sub-standard resolution on the iPad mini, I’m trying out the Nexus 7 to see if the form factor (packaging a sufficiently-strong user interface and feature set) is enough to trump the many, many strong suits of the iPad 3, which I’m finding too heavy and unwieldy for casual use.
I’ve had the device for a few hours now, and as I did when I got my Kindle Paperwhite, I’m going to offer up a handful of early impressions. I know, you can’t stand it. But control yourself, for god’s sake.
My only previous experience with owning an Android-based tablet was the first-generation Kindle Fire I got as a gift last year, and later traded up for my current iPad. There was a lot I liked about the Fire, but its bugginess and sluggishness proved to be unacceptable over time, especially coupled with the cognitive confusion of running two devices (iPhone and Fire) with different OSes.
The Nexus 7 runs much, much more smoothly. So far, almost anything that is part and parcel of the device itself and its operating system (home screen, apps screen, settings, native mail app, etc.) runs easily and with minimal hiccups.
Oddly, web browsing remains pretty choppy, and that’s with Chrome or any other browser I’ve tried. And this seems to be the case with every Android device I’ve briefly played with: Apple seems to have figured out how to make even the heaviest web pages slide and scroll fluidly, while Androids are still a little clumsy.
I immediately noticed the breaking-off of my syncronization with Safari across my OS X and iOS devices. Though I do use Chrome on my MacBook, it’s entirely for work, not for, as it were, dicking around (insert your own joke about my productivity here). I wound up feeling a little web-stranded with bookmarks and bookmarklets not where I’m used to having them, but what can you do?
The screen’s resolution is very good. It’s not Retina-level (216 ppi vs. iPad 3’s 264 ppi) but it’s not the eye-scratcher that the iPad mini is. I can see the pixels, but they’re not assaulting me. From the distance I’m working from right now (yes, I’m writing this on the Nexus 7 using an Apple Bluetooth keyboard), it’s as sharp as anything. And brighter than I was lead to believe from many reviews. If anything, I find myself turning the brightness down quite a bit.
Because of my experience with the Fire, the Nexus interface seems generally familiar. Navigating around things like menus and settings is not nearly as intuitive as Apple’s at its best, but not difficult, and I’m quickly getting the hang of it (interestingly, I feel like Android’s have grown easier and iOS’s have grown more byzantine over time).
Most of the apps I rely on in the iOS world are easily available for nothing or a pittance on the Nexus. That means that not too long after I powered the damn thing up, I had things like Instapaper, Flipboard, Dropbox, and Kindle up and running. I still lack an RSS reader that even comes close to iOS’s wonderful Reeder app, and I welcome recommendations. Kind of a big deal (see: “dicking around”).
Of course, not all of those apps work in exactly the same way as they did on iOS, and some not as well or with as many features. There is an unmistakable “bastardized” feel to many Android versions of iOS apps that may simply be my own prejudice, but is nonetheless hard to shake.
There is the problem of a dearth of tablet-optimized apps for Android. On a small-ish device like the Nexus 7, it’s not a huge deal, but it’d be nice if more often than not I was looking at something not designed to be seen on a 3-inch screen.
I use the iPad for work sometimes, and a lot for blogging on my off time, and so it seemed a natural early test of this device to try and blog on it. The previous post to this one was also written on the Nexus 7, for which I used the lackluster WordPress app, which was difficult. I’m at this moment working in Google Docs which a) I totally forgot would probably be a good idea and b) seems to be a good idea. Indeed, so far it’s easier to use than even Apple’s own Pages app.
And I should say something here about what I’m getting a sense of as far as Androids and “work.” I know that iPads are not toys, and that they get used for Big Important Things all the time. But I tell ya, on the Nexus, selecting text to copy and paste lets me select exactly what I want, without suddenly forcing me to choose entire paragraphs or entire documents. When I connect a wireless keyboard to my iPad, I get the sense that somewhere Jony Ive is sighing in disappointment, and the device is only humoring me with the bare minimum of functionality. Connecting it to the Nexus, though, it was like the device perked up a bit and said, “Hey! Your brought a keyboard! Cool! Now you can, like, tab around web pages, highlight text more easily, forward-delete, and use all sorts of shortcuts that you’d use on a regular computer! I’m not kidding! You can even alt-tab through apps! I know! It’s crazy! Share and enjoy!”
So far, I really like it. But I also already kind of pine for the fluid simplicity and gorgeous display on my iPad. In a perfect world, I’d just own both (see the “*”), but I must choose within the 14-day return window. My lovely bride predicted, wryly and with her trademark room-brightening smile, that I would wind up returning it. I actually think that this probably is the most likely outcome. It won’t be a slam dunk, but it’s as good a bet as any.
But dammit, I couldn’t go on wondering. I had to know.
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* To remain in good standing with my lovely bride, I have gleaned that owning both tablets would violate some sort of anti-decadence principle that must not be violated on pain of I don’t know what. So as far as I can tell, bringing in the new will mean out with the old.