I’ve had a few days to play with the Nexus 7 and I’m more or less happy with it, especially for $200.
Before I continue, I should point out a few things that may influence my opinions of this little gadget. For one, this is my first ever Android device, so I have nothing to compare it to in terms of improvements made in Jelly Bean or Project Butter. Secondly, I’ve been an Apple fanboy for about a quarter century now and I adore my iPad.
I’m also just a few days into the whole Android experience, so I should emphasize that what follows are initial impressions and will probably evolve over time.
So let’s get the brutal honesty out of the way first. The one thing the Nexus 7 does better than anything else is to make me appreciate my iPad that much more. Granted, the iPad is more than twice the price, but it blows away the Nexus 7 in terms of intuitiveness, responsiveness, build quality, and overall polish. And if Apple does indeed build the rumored iPad mini, it will no doubt put the Nexus 7 to shame.
Size Does Matter
The 7″ form factor is great for mobility. The 16×9 aspect ratio is slightly awkward, especially when using it in landscape mode. I’m beginning to see the genius of making the iPad 4×3 even though a lot of us thought that was a dumb idea when it first came out.
The device is amazingly light. Only 2 ounces heavier than my Kindle 2, so it easily doubles as an e-reader for those of you who can tolerate reading on a backlit screen.
From now on, when I travel, I will be taking the Nexus 7 instead of my Kindle 2. But at home, where mobility is not as big a deal, I will probably reach for iPad more often than the Nexus 7.
Out of the box, with a few additional apps installed, the battery life on my Nexus 7 was pretty bad. Just laying on the night table while I slept used up 40% of a full charge. There are lots of things that can cause bad battery life, but some of the major culprits seem to be screen brightness, the GPS radio, the Bluetooth radio, and all the data syncing services that are running under the hood. Turning off as much of that stuff as possible improved things. With everything but wifi turned off and syncing services cut way back, the device only lost 15% of its charge during the night. Still not as good as iPad, but acceptable.
And then there’s the wifi radio. The iPad is smart enough to turn its wifi radio off when it’s idle and only connect when it needs to check for email or notifications or whatever. As best I can figure, there’s no such intelligence with Android without the help of third-party addons. When the device is asleep, the wifi radio is either always on or always off, no in-between.
And that leads into a more general problem with Android. It needs too much custom tuning and babysitting to work well. Most users are going to be intimidated by the thought of drilling through lots of menus to tweak their wifi settings or to disable different syncing services trying to improve the battery life.
Most of the iOS apps I use on a regular basis are available for Android. Some are better than their iOS cousins and some are worse. The only app I find myself really missing so far is GoodReader.
Scroll, Scroll, Scroll Your Boat
Basic web browsing is awkward. In portrait mode, stuff is too small and I’m constantly zooming in and out. In landscape mode things are sized better, but you can only see a sliver of a page at a time, so I find myself scrolling a lot. A lot of this problem is caused by the aspect ratio of the screen. In this respect, the device feels more like a large phone than a small tablet.
Chrome itself works fairly well, but iPad/Safari is a vastly superior experience.
Typing is more awkward than I thought it might be. Not because of the size of the on-screen keyboard so much as the way Android handles things like copy/cut/paste, word selection and replacement, etc. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been using an iPad for almost two years, but Android seems massively inferior to iOS in this area.
Well Put Together
The industrial design and construction of the device are above average, which is not at all surprising given that it was built by Asus. I actually like the rubberized backside more than I thought I would. It’s a big help when holding the thing with one hand.
My biggest problem with the physical features of the device is that the power button and volume rocker are too mushy for my taste. They don’t provide enough tactile feedback.
Decent Bang for Buck
Despite its shortcomings, and they are many, this is not a bad little device if you want an affordable 7″ tablet. It’s more feature-rich than any other 7″ Android tablet on the market in the $200 price range. And that’s not likely to change for a while unless Amazon really comes through when they refresh the Kindle Fire.
If Apple does bring an iPad mini to market this year, I doubt they’ll be able to hit the $200 mark, but if they do it will be bad news for every other tablet maker out there.