Trial of the Nexus 7: The Kid Stays in the Picture

It’s been almost a week with the Nexus 7, and since the kids are finally asleep, I thought this might be my one chance to follow up from my first post and report on how it’s been going. And much to my surprise, it’s going extremely well.
Put it this way. I haven’t picked up my iPad 3 since turning on my Nexus. And not just because I wanted to intentionally eschew the iPad for the sake of this trial (which I did), but because I have had no desire or need to use it.

The biggest reason for this I have to think is the Nexus 7’s size and weight. It’s simply comfortable to hold, in terms of how much it weighs, the build quality, and the fit in the hand. My problem with the iPad 3 has always been its weight and the heat it gives off. It’s as though it wants me to put it down, and I have to be all, “Hey, iPad, you’re a hand-held computing device. If I want to put my device on a desk, I’ll use my MacBook!” and then the iPad is all, “Yeah right, butt-brain. Look at my gorgeous screen and luscious UI,” and then I’m all, “Yeah.”

That got weird. Anyway.

The Nexus 7 took care of the comfort problem. But the other concern was always whether the user experience was going to be sufficiently tolerable to keep me from pining for the iPad. And much to my surprise, the Nexus 7 has proven not only to be sufficient, not just acceptable, but to actually excel in many areas. The long and the short of it is that it has not felt like a sacrifice to go from the vaunted iPad 3 to the Nexus. Not all things have been equal, and each device has its aspects that are better or worse than the other, but on the whole, I never feel like I’m missing something crucial when using the Nexus 7 instead of the iPad. For me, a devoted follower of The Steve (peace be upon him), that’s huge.

Let’s talk some more about the screen. It remains the case that the Nexus 7 display is not as sharp as the Retina iPads. What I feared was a kind of heightened awareness of this disparity as I switched between this and my Retina iPhone, but that hasn’t been the case. I may become reminded of how smooth and polished iOS is when using the iPhone, but going back to the Nexus is never a disappointment. There’s still room for improvement in terms of polish in Android, but it’s plenty good in terms of aesthetics and fluidity.

Where screen resolution matters most to me is in text rendering. Jagged, pixely text is the bane of my computing existence as someone who reads an enormous amount of content on screens, from books to web pages to my own writing. Again, while it is perceivable that the Nexus 7’s rendering of text is inferior to the iPad’s, it rarely makes itself apparent. I more often find myself happily surprised at the crispness of the text, particularly if I don’t have the device too close to my face.

Here are some screen shots that will give you an idea if you’re reading this on a display with high enough resolution to get the gist. The first is a New York Times article zoomed in all the way. On the Nexus 7, even those enlarged letters look just lovely.

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Here’s the Times front page zoomed out. This shows the Nexus hitting a limitation. While legible, it’s difficult to read the smaller text, and it just doesn’t look very slick. On an iPad 3, you’d easily make all of that out.

Screenshot_2013-01-05-21-29-30

Of even greater concern to me was the Kindle app. Web pages are one thing — you can learn to settle for whatever comes up on the web — but books are different. You want to be able to forget about the mode of delivery and get wrapped up in the words. And this gets curious. When I first downloaded the Kindle app from the Google Play store, I could have sworn that the text looked kind of crummy, pixellated as though it were being displayed on a previous-generation Kindle Fire. On a lark, then, I considered that perhaps the app might be in better shape coming from Amazon’s own app store. So I grabbed the Kindle app from there, and now it seems like the text looks much better. As good as anywhere else on the device.

Screenshot_2013-01-05-21-32-38

I may have just been perceiving things oddly for whatever reason with the first download of the app. I find it hard to believe there’d be two versions of it with such a ghastly difference in clarity. But it is Android, after all, and it is not known for consistency of experience across platforms.

The Kindle app is a little bit of a letdown coming from the Kindle devices themselves and the iOS versions. The bells and whistles just aren’t there. No font choices, no X-ray feature, and for me the biggest deal of all, no page turn animation. I know it’s goofy, but I really like it. The Android Kindle app doesn’t have it, just a shove of one page to the next. It’ll do, but, Bezos, come on. Help me out.

And speaking of long-form reading, the Instapaper app is fine, but again, not as good as its iOS counterpart. Mostly, again, because not only has it not got page turn animation, but it does no pagination at all. One may scroll, and that’s it. I’m all about pagination when reading something particularly long, so I miss this. I know that Marco Arment farms out the Android development of Instapaper to another company, but I’d be very happy to see at least this basic feature reach parity with iOS.

And the Android market of apps still seems like a mess to me. It still looks like it’s full of crap and knockoffs, and the curation, or lack thereof, of the Google Play store does little to help. Everything looks cheap and sketchy, and to get a better grasp of things, I’m going to have to start reading up on what doesn’t suck in the Android ecosphere.

I mentioned in my first post about the device that I had only just realized that Google Drive (Google Docs) is a good way to do your word processing, and that continues to be the case. Honestly, it’s proven to be all I need for writing almost anything I would write on the device. That may change if I start using it more for work, and advanced compatibility with Word becomes an issue, but until then, there’s no reason to look for an alternative. And as I mentioned last time as well, the device (or the OS) seems to really embrace the addition of a wireless keyboard.

The OS as a whole leaves so much room for customization of the look and functioning of the tablet, it can be a little overwhelming. (This is why that I’d bet a Kindle Fire HD would be a better bet to a tech newbie, as Amazon strips most of Android’s UI away.) Every day I find new little tweaks and capabilities that I didn’t know were there. Nothing earth-shattering as of yet, so I can still keep things simple and not feel like I’m really missing anything. For example, the home screen can be gussied up to absurd levels with not just icons, but widgets, folders, animated wallpaper that reacts to your touch, etc. I’ve got mine pretty boring right now, with just the things I suspect I’ll need the most stuck right in the middle. We’ll see if I stick to that.

Screenshot_2013-01-05-21-24-57

One thing I love about the OS is how easily accessible settings are. Yes, there’s the settings “app” on the home screen, but a swipe down from the top right corner brings up a menu of some of the more common toggles and indicators, as you can see in the picture. A swipe and a tap, and you’ve turned on or off Bluetooth, for example. It’s great.

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My biggest gripe about the OS so far is that damn back button on the lower left. The lack of a hardware home button has not bothered me as much as I thought it would, since it’s so ubiquitous, and always does what you expect. But that is not the case with the back button. Sometimes it takes you to the last thing you were doing within an app. Sometimes it takes you to the app you were using just previous to this one. Sometimes it takes you to the home screen. It’s not that you never know, but it’s surprise far, far too often. In many, if not most apps, the button is redundant to another similar button already in the app, usually at the top. Why its behavior can’t be made consistent is a mystery to me.

Other than writing, I’ve not done anything terribly creative with the Nexus 7 yet. On an iPad, I get things like Garageband, Paper, and iPhoto, which are remarkably powerful and diverse apps for doing creative work. I have to wonder if I’ll find anything that can sufficiently “fill in” for those kinds of apps, or whether, because of the device’s more diminutive size, I’ll not even think to try. As of now, though, I can’t speak to the Nexus 7 or the Android OS as a creative tool for music or visual arts. I have to wonder if the larger screen of the iPad is what really makes the difference there — just having a larger canvas on which to work. (Like I have time for that kind of thing anymore, anyway.)

Okay, let’s wind this down for now. In my last post, I said that I suspected that my wife was right, that at the end of the two-week return window, I’d bring the thing back. But I have not at all missed using my iPad, an ostensibly superior device, and when my wife uses her own iPad, I look at it in wonder of its substantial footprint, like it’s overkill. So I’ll have to figure out what I’m going to do with my iPad, but from my experience over the past few days, I can say pretty assuredly that the Nexus 7 stays.

At least until there’s a Retina iPad mini.

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11 thoughts on “Trial of the Nexus 7: The Kid Stays in the Picture

  1. Why its behavior can’t be made consistent is a mystery to me.

    Because each individual app is responsible for handling the back button. Getting everyone to agree is herding cats.

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  2. I haven’t bought any tablet computers yet. One question about them, which holds me back, is how well they display the pages of comic books and graphic novels. Do you have any experience with that medium (and its panel-to-panel reading format) on the Nexus 7 versus the iPad?

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    • Very little, but from what I’ve seen, a big retina level iPad screen is better just in terms of display. Comfort, convenience, those are different.

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    • I have an enormous Ecomic collection and a 10″ tablet (Acer A500). As long as you have a minimum of 1280×720 it is great. I found the 7″ tablets do not have enough screen real estate to make comics work, for me, but I love the 10″ tablet for comics. I have a 32GB thumb drive just for comics and use the tablet almost daily for reading either comics or books. I have stopped using greader and instead gone with Dolphin and the Desktop toggle addon to force all webpages to appear as they would on a PC, much better. Many of the mobile sites kind of suck. IMO.

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  3. So if you’ve conceded that going back & forth between the retina display and the “regular” display, why wait for the Retina ipad mini? I have the ipad mini, but l got it as a gift. I wasn’t going to be able to afford one, so I had been looking at various Android options. (I also find my ipad too heavy for nighttime reading/watching, but I had a 1st gen before my 3y/o shattered the screen.) It was scary, since I am also an acolyte of The Steve.

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    • Because the resolution on the mini is far worse than the nexus. Equivalent to reading off a 3GS. Acceptable I suppose, but coming from retina, it’s just too eye-scratching for long form reading. To me.

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  4. I haven’t seen in either of your posts about the Nexus 7 which one you have. Wifi only or Wifi + Mobile data?
    I’m trying to decide which way to go. I could probably get by with wifi only, but I could see myself wanting to breakaway with the mobile data in the future.
    Just curious…

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