Last week was my first full week of Nexus 7 ownership. Being scientifically minded (as I think most of us nerdy types are), I conducted an experiment: could the Nexus 7 fill the same role as my iPad? For the entire week, my The New iPad sat unused and barely touched on my dresser. As things popped into my head I jotted them down (in Evernote of course). I wasn’t nit picky about inconsistent fonts or behavior because frankly I don’t give a shit. As long as it worked and allowed me to accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish without a huge hassle, I was cool.I will now attempt to make some kind of coherant narrative out of those notes.
tl;dr: For me, and my admittedly simple needs, yes I’ve found that the Nexus 7 can replace my iPad. Keep in mind, however, that I don’t do anything particularly interesting with my iPad. I read RSS feeds, check email, look things up on the net, etc.
Now for those of you who are still here, let’s start off with the hardware.
Starting a week or so before the Google I/O keynote, I acquired an itch to try a 7“ Android tablet. The form factor intrigued me, as did the ”openness“ and ”freedom” (I promise that is the first and last time you will see those words in this post) of the Android platform. I was just about ready to pull the trigger on a Kindle Fire because the price was right, even though I knew from many reports that it was a pretty shitty product overall. I’m so glad I waited.
The N7 is nice and light, as you would expect from a 7” device. But at the same time it feels solid. The lack of a home button does cause me to pick it up upside down on a somewhat regular basis. The bezel along the side is a bit thin when holding the N7 in portrait, which does make it a little awkward to hold without inadvertantly triggering a touch event. Also there’s almost no room for content when typing in landscape and using the software keyboard. This is an issue I have on the iPad as well, but it is understandably worse here. Fortunately I rarely use either device in landscape.
One thing I’ve always disliked about the iPad was the aluminum back. For as good as it looks I never felt comfortable putting it down on a hard surface for fear of scratching it. The N7’s rubberized back feels a little slick sometimes, but I don’t feel like I have to treat it with kid gloves every time I put it down on my desk.
Connectivity hasn’t been an issue at all. When I’m at home or work I have access to wifi, so I don’t miss the lack of a cellular data option. And in the rare instances that I may find myself in a wifi-less situation, well there’s a reason I pay AT&T for the priviledge of tethering my iPhone.
Bluetooth also works as expected. The N7 paired perfectly fine with my ThinkOutside Stowaway keyboard.
Battery life is a big thing for a lot of people. I am one of them. I get nervous when the battery on my iPhone goes below 90%. The N7 never once died on me over the course of the week. It may have gotten down into the 30s by the end of the day some days, but really that’s still plenty of juice.
To satisfy my inner nerd, I logged the battery percentage 5 times during each day (except the first). I’ll have a little more to say about how I did this later, but here’s a handy table with the results:
Onward and upward to software, starting with the built-in stuff. It’s all usable. There are a few mildly annoying idiosyncracies though. The predictive typing on the default keyboard works well enough, but it doesn’t show up every place that there’s a text field so that’s a little confusing. Text selection feels hit or miss, but that could just be me not really getting how it works on Android. And to be fair, sometimes it’s janky on iOS too. The interface for setting the wallpaper is awkward, but again I could just not be grokking how it’s supposed to work.
I can see and mess about with the file system. You can not imagine the joy this brings me. I can actually click a link in Chrome and have a file download to a folder instead of copying the link into Pastebot and pasting it to my Mac to download. Seriously one of my favorite features of Android.
Speaking of Chrome, I like it a lot. Being able to see tabs that I had open on another device is killer. Yes, iOS is getting this feature in iOS 6, but Chrome has it now and it works great. It’s actually made me switch to Chrome as my desktop and iPhone browser too. One of the big complaints about Chrome on iOS is that it’s practically impossible to use bookmarklets so you can’t, for example, save things to Instapaper or Pocket very easily. Chrome on Android solves this problem for me by having an extensive Share menu that third party apps and services can hook into. I doubt we’ll ever see this kind of thing from Mobile Safari.
Widgets. I love widgets. I love them in my Dashboard on OS X and I love them on my secondary home screens on the N7. To be able to just tap an icon and automatically start a new Evernote note is fantastic.
Notifications are better in almost every way than on iOS. That’s all I have to say about that.
I do have a few miscellaneous nitpicks with the built-in software. If I want to delete an app I have to click through two modal dialogs to do it. It’s only one more than iOS makes you tap, but it’s still annoying. The Gmail app is good, but it doesn’t scale emails down to fit the window so more often than not I have to scroll horizontally to see the whole message.
Third party software seems to be where Android gets dinged the most. Having never used an Android device prior to the N7, it was certainly my impression that I wouldn’t be able to find any software to use on it. The reality was that I didn’t have much trouble finding usable apps at all. And most seemed to be regularly updated. They’re not as pretty and polished as most of the iOS apps I’ve used, but I prefer function over form anyway (I was a Linux user for years after all).
There are five apps in particular that I’m really digging on the N7 (and look at that: going to a web browser and getting links to them is trivial).
sl4a is the Scripting Library for Android. I can write Python scripts that can actually interact with the OS and do useful things. I can write Python scripts that don’t interact with the OS and do useful things. For example, I wrote a little program that will pop up my current GPS coordinates. Now I’m sure there’s an app in the Google Play store that does this (I honestly didn’t bother to look) but being able to write it myself, on the device, makes this my favorite application on the N7 hands down.
DroidEdit is a code editor. It works as you would expect a code editor to work with syntax highlighting, etc. And it has two-way hooks into sl4a. I can use it as an external editor for sl4a and I can run a script from DroidEdit using sl4a. It’s a similar workflow to what I use on my Mac and can’t use on my iPad.
Locale is a bit like IFTTT for your Android device. I can set up actions to be performed when certain conditions are met. For exampe, my battery logging above was done by scheduling this Python script to run at predetermined times of the day.
Hacker’s Keyboard is a replacement keyboard (another thing you’ll never see on iOS). While the stock keyboard is perfectly fine and usable, Hacker’s Keyboard just makes more keys (like numbers and punctuation) easily accessable. It also includes control, function and arrow keys that I’ve found helpful in a few situations.
Dropsync automatically syncs a directory on your N7 with a folder on your Dropbox. No need to install a middle man (like Goodreader on iOS for example). It’s fantastic.
I’ve done a bit of reading on the N7 as well. The Google Books app isn’t horrible. It remembers your place in the book, but for some reason doesn’t want to remember what book you were reading from launch to launch. I installed the Kindle app but haven’t done much with it just yet. Comixology works well and I don’t have any complaints about it, but I still think it’s a better experience on the iPad’s larger screen (sorry Myke).
I’m using gReader Pro for RSS. It’s no Reeder, but it gets the job done. BaconReader works well enough for reading Reddit and Hacker News Droid does the same for Hacker News. I have yet to find a Twitter client that I like as much as Tweetbot, but Tweet Lanes is almost there.
I suppose I should say a few words about gaming to close this section out. I’m not a huge gamer by any means. I play casually, but I don’t have the attention span needed to play most of the more popular games these days. That said, you know what does hold my attention? The DOS games of my childhood. Thanks to the plethora of DOSBox ports to Android (I’m using DosBox Turbo) I can boot up a game of Space Quest II wherever I am. It’s literally my gaming dream come true.
Now that my experiment is done, I can honestly say I don’t miss my iPad. Could that be because the Nexus 7 is still new and shiny? Absolutely. I’m not saying that I’ll never use my iPad again. But the N7 is truly a computer in your (cargo) pocket. iOS devices, as great as they are, have always felt more like game consoles: you put in your cartridge, do one thing, then put in another to do something else. I like to fiddle. I like having power and control over my gadgets. The N7 gives me that.
Would I tell the average non nerd to run out and buy a Nexus 7? Doubtful. I think the iPad is definitely more appropriate for them. But for a nerd like me, it’s been nothing but a breath of fresh geeky air.