About 12 hours into my week-long Nexus 7 experiment, I realized just how much I missed my iPad. The first pitch was about to be thrown in the Red Sox game, so I visited Google Play to download a copy of MLB At Bat, expecting a similar experience to the one I had enjoyed for the past three years on Apple’s tablet.
Not quite. Once I paid to upgrade from the lite version – a rambling, circuitous process that took about a half-inning to complete – I unlocked what appeared to be dual-orientation phone app. The graphics didn’t come close to matching the quality of the screen, and live pitches were slow and jerky, with none of the superb animations that pepper its iOS counterpart. By the top of the third inning, I was watching the play-by-play on my iPhone and counting down the days until I got my iPad back.
It’s a shame, because I really need to like Asus Google tablet. Having never seriously used an Android device before – the Nexus 7 is the first non-iOS touchscreen I’ve ever owned – I had high hopes. But despite an array of dazzling customization options, my experience was more frustrating than first-rate.
People are always quick to criticize the latest iPhone or iPad for not being revolutionary enough, but the truth is, most of its competitors are barely catching up. They may have bigger screens and better batteries, but few match Apple’s strict attention to detail.
Like last years model the new nexus 7 is about what you’d expect from a $200 tablet. The dimensions haven’t really changed much at all, so its still a good deal smaller than the iPad mini; people will naturally compare the two, but they feel completely different in your hand, with the mini requiring a much wider grip.
Asus trimmed a bit of the side bezel that flanked last year’s screen, but the top and bottom ones remain, giving it a somewhat unbalanced feel, its about 50 grams lighter than the old model (on par with the mini) and a good deal thinner, making it very easy to operate in a number of positions. The addition of a 5MP rear-facing camera is a nice touch, but like any tablet, you’ll probably be happier taking pictures with your phone.
The enclosure has none of the iPad’s sleek, industrial curves, but the rubberized back gives it a level of protection without the need for a case.
The power button was a constant nuisance and it still uses the dreaded micro USB for power (though it supports the Nexus 4′s underwhelming wireless charger), but overall it’s a very nice package, especially for the price.
Screen and Battery:
The new nexus 7 costs $29 more than the model it replaced, but you can literally see where the extra money goes. Last year’s display was an acceptable 1280×800 resolution – a tad more respectable than the mini’s heavily criticized 1024×768 screen – but Google pulled out all the stops this year, jamming an extra 107 pixels per inch, bringing it up to speed with the best Apple has to offer.
It’s beautiful screen with deep blacks, crisp fonts, and brilliant colors, but along with the extra dough, all that clarity will also cost you about 10 percent of your battery life. While using it as my main device, I made sure to carry a battery charger with me, even when doing light tasks like checking mail and writing this article. In fact, I didn’t load a single song on the device and barely watched any videos, yet the battery only lasted about as long as my iPhone 5 under similar circumstances – a far cry from my iPad.
But if sacrifices need to be made, this isn’t a terrible one. Once I saw just how tremendous text and graphics looked on the HD display. I certainly wasn’t about to give it up just to squeeze out another 60 minutes of usage.
Such a high quality screen deserves a library of beautifully designed apps, but if there are any in Google Play, I had a hard time finding them. Even when I was willing to pay, I never really knew what I was getting until it downloaded, and most times I felt like I was doing something wrong. There’s no differentiation between tablet and phone apps – presumably the store is smart enough to push the best version to my device – but in a lot of cases it seemed like I was using a blown-out phone app.
But it’s more than how they look. Every app I downloaded that wasn’t a game – from the aforementioned MLB At Bat to Writer and Plume for Twitter – was frustratingly inferior to its iPad doppelganger. I struggled to find an email app that accepted my iCloud credentials. Writing apps refused to let me share my data and wouldn’t count my words.
Even Google’s offerings, with the exception of the stellar Google Now, all seemed a step behind.
There may very well be original, high-quality tablet apps akin to Tweetbot or Wordflex to be found, but Google Play’s poor layout and search algorithm kept them locked away, I did manage to track down a couple of keepers (Tasks, Pattern, and Press instantly spring to mind), but for the most part, the productivity apps I downloaded – with five-star reviews and prime search position – didn’t live up to my expectation of a tablet app, mini or otherwise.
Despite its reputation, Android no longer operates like a cheap imitation of iOS. There is an inevitable bit of overlap, of course, but Android has a definite character and identity of its own. Truth to be told, the only time I was reminded of my iPad was when something didn’t work the way I expected. And unfortunately, that happened a lot.
But first, the good stuff. Android has always separated itself from iOS by allowing it’s users to customize their screens any way they want. Those who want to get their hands dirty can manipulate the OS even further at the root level (which is why a Samsung phone looks different than an HTC one), but even a quick visit to Google Play can give your Android device a personal touch far beyond anything apple allows.
There are numbers of things I do on my iPad repeatedly throughout my day – check email, browse my Twitter timeline, take notes, etc. and – I’ve made it as easy as possible to do so, positioning my favorite apps to launch with little effort. Android takes that one step further, and within minutes, I was able to make my Nexus 7 far more useful.
Tiny widgets gave me at-a-glance access to an array of data that remains hidden on my iPad. The fiesky keyboard helped type just as fast as I did on my Apple’s device. The clock on my lock screen went from garish to gorgeous. It’s Android singular advantage over iOS, and the main reason why an iPhone user would choose to switch (other than wanting a larger screen). Apple obsesses over every pixel in iOS, often taking years to get a feature just right. Android, in contrast, feels more like a blank palette than a fully realized operating system.
There are downsides to this. Since there are only a handful of devices that run so-called pure Android, you’d think Google would be devoting all of it’s resources to creating a rock-solid foundation. But while it’s certainly come a long way, my experiences with a brand-new unadulterated version of Android on a brand-new device left much to be desired.
I constantly kept pressing the back button. There’s a bit of iOS muscle memory here, but having a back button pinned to the bottom of the screen makes absolutely no sense. Similarly, I repeatedly hit the virtual home button when I wanted to hit the space bar, causing whatever app I was in to disappear.
Working with text was infuriating, starting with lack of any sort of undo command. Without a pop-up magnifier I constantly missed my target touches, and even when I got the cursor where I wanted it, I never knew if I was going to bring up the correct menu. Folders actually look pretty cool, but it’s impossible to see past the first app. Scrolling was very inconsistent, with some apps responding to my swipes and others sluttering and skipping.
And apparently no one takes screenshots in Android, because it may be the most unintuitive method ever created.
I’m not going to say my iPad apps never crash, but iOS certainly doesn’t feel the need to notify me each time they do. Along with the “Unfortunately so-and-so app has quit” messages, strange dialog boxes would pop-up intermittently.
Despite its flaws, I’ll be keeping the Nexus. It’s a fine tablet with an excellent screen and a tempting price tag, and I almost see how someone would choose to buy one over an iPad mini.