July 24, 2012

1128 words 6 mins read

Getting to know the Google Nexus 7

I’m in an abusive relationship with Android. I love her, so I buy her. For a while things are good, then I slowly realize she’s gotten slow, kludgey and prone to crashing. After constantly abusing me, I swear I’ll never go back to her. Then the new hotness shows up, I forget my promise to never go back to her… so I buy her again. Over and over the cycle repeats. Well, on last Tuesday I received my Google Nexus 7 tablet and so far it looks to be the end of the vicious (abusive) cycle.

I’ll admit, my Droid 3 isn’t treating me well these days. I’m displeased that I don’t get to enjoy the Ice Cream Sandwiches or the Jelly Beans. On top of that the Droid 3 is very prone to crashing. While the Nexus 7 looks cool, one of the main reason I bought it was to evaluate Android 4.1+ for possibly another Android phone (if I liked it), else I’m going back to iOS.

The Box

Anyone who has trouble getting the Nexus 7 out of the box needs to be smacked up side the head. It took me all of 30 seconds to get the box open and the N7 out. Yes, the box is very tightly joined, so is the box for the new MacBook. None of these are that hard to open if you just use your brain (and possibly two hands; put the damn unboxing camera down).

Case/Exterior

The very first thing I noticed when I picked up the Nexus 7 was the weight… or lack thereof. According to Wikipedia it tips the scale at 12 ounces, or 4 oz short of a pound. What I really noticed was that it wasn’t as heavy as the Kindle Fire, which I returned in part because it was a bit too heavy.

The Nexus 7 has a 7” screen and is sold as a tablet, but resides squarely between phones and standard tablets (10”) in size. Google decided to go with a default orientation of portrait (rather than Landscape, which is the default on the Xoom and other 10” tablets) which makes it play a little more like a phone. Now, I don’t have the largest of hands, but I can still wrap them around the back and get a solid grip on it. Speaking of solid grip, I really like the dimpled back. It’s got a little grip to it without feeling rubbery. I don’t mind the rubber feeling (I’ve mentioned liking it before), but it is nice to have a little more “clean plastic” feel without losing grip.

Screen

The display is a 7” IPS LCD which means it has really nice color reproduction. It does 1280×800 at this 7” size for a density of 216PPI which isn’t too far from the iPad 3’s retina density of 264 PPI. Between the IPS and the high PPI, the screen looks really nice. The only possible detractor is that the screen is not terribly bright. It’s bright enough, but not SUPER bright which can be a problem in certain overly bright situations (like when you go outside). I found that manually flipping over to full screen brightness helped.

Jelly Bean

The big push in Jelly Bean was Google’s “Project Butter”, translation: make the UI as smooth as butter. I have to say that the device certainly feels VERY smooth off the bat. I can’t say if that is 100% because of Project Butter or because the Nexus 7 has a 1.2 GHz quad core processor with a Tegra 3 GPU. Whatever the magic sauce is in the N7, it is lightning quick and supremely responsive. The first night I had the device, I flipped through my list of purchased apps and started checking them off for download and install. I queued up more than 20 apps right off the bat and the device didn’t even flinch. The Droid 3 is normally chunking after the second or third app I’ve told it to install.

The speed and responsiveness certainly make the user experience of 4.1 a HUGE leap forward from the 2.x series. While there are still nice animations all around the actions you do, many of them are executed a great deal faster. I’m a power user, so I know what I’m doing and I like to move quickly. Animations that prevent me from getting to the next task normally annoy me, but I found that this was generally not the case in Jelly Bean.

All of the “little things” they’ve polished in the UI are really beginning to make Android shine. Simple tricks like swipe to kill apps or swipe to dismiss individual notifications are FANTASTIC. You can very quickly get done what you need to do and get back to the fun things. There are hundreds of small improvements all over the operating system that address as many of those “niggling bits” that I can think of. Suffice to say, the polish is really making Android a breeze to use.

Voice Search (IE Google Siri)

The game now is “Who is better? Google or Siri?” and that is something I can’t answer. I don’t have an iOS device currently so I can’t run Siri searches. That being said, I took the Voice Search for a short spin and haven’t been disappointed. I asked it where the nearest Japanese Restaurants were and it popped up a map with all the tasty eats around me. I asked it for directions to a cross street near me, it popped up a screen showing me what it was going to do (so I could abort if I wanted to), then after a few seconds it kicked me into Google Maps with my desired directions. I can even ask it how tall Mount Fuji is (12,388 feet, by the way) while music is blasting in the background. I’ll have to spend more time with the feature to see how strong it really is, but so far it’s worked very well.

Summary/Conclusion

A few media reports I’ve read have referred to the Google Nexus 7 as “slick” and I wholeheartedly agree. The only major detractor I can find with the device is the lack of expandable memory. I would have loved a MicroSD slot, but honestly, I doubt I’ll put 16GB of media on the tablet, let alone more. Really the MicroSD slot is no major loss unless you’re planning to use nothing but the N7 for extended periods. It is safe to say that the Nexus 7 is $250 well spent (for the 16GB version). I won’t be returning this any time soon as it’s now my Kindle, my portable game console, my tablet, my around-the-office notepad, and, of course, my media consumption device.