My Nexus 7 arrived a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve given it a spin for every facet of my tablet use. I’ve used games, text editors, Evernote, a couple books, magazines, Mint, and hit the widgets big time. I’m a fan of immersing oneself in the environment so I also used the keyboard quite a bit in both orientations.
People who know Android better than me have written plenty of reviews already, so I’ll try to not waste your time. Besides, after getting to know the Nexus 7 I only have questions about why seven-inch-ish tablets—let’s call them “mid-sized tablets”—exist.
The build is great. The Nexus 7 is sturdy, light, and the rubberized back makes it a pleasure to hold, so much that it makes me wish Apple would ease up on its obsession with anodized aluminum for the iPad. Placing the headphone jack on the bottom is a strange choice, though. Instead of sitting the Nexus 7 upright in a dock, I wonder if Asus bets on people resting it flat on a table and listening to audio. That way you don’t waste an extra foot or so running the cable around the side of the device to the top.
Obviously, the next version needs a mobile data option, be it in a separate “Nexus 7 with 4G” model or a one-size-fits-all package that Google and Asus just eat the costs on. Considering that the iPad’s mobile data edition is rumored to account for around one quarter of total iPad sales, two different models may be the most cost effective approach for now.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean does indeed feel like a great release. A lot of the sluggish and unresponsive behavior I’ve experienced on many other devices is gone, though there are still a number of strange and often aggravating oversights. For example, it’s a pure Android device but Google+ and its photo services are built into the OS. That means there’s no way to create a new photo album without doing it in the Google+ app (thereby handing your photos over to Google, even if in private) or installing a file manager with which to dig into the system and manually create a new folder.
I’m not going to nitpick Android, though, because there’s a much larger problem with not just this device, but this emerging class of mid-sized tablets, which would include Apple’s rumored “iPad mini,” if it exists.
Besides free-flow text and games, this tablet size feels caught in gadget purgatory. Even though I have great eyesight, I had to increase book text size a couple times. Things like magazines, comic books, and even the web are almost always illegible, and making the web useful on the Nexus 7 requires a tedious and constant amount of zoom in, zoom out, and panning. Some content is tough to read even on a 9.7-inch iPad screen. Will .85” of extra space and resolution on a supposed 7.85-inch iPad mini really make that much difference?
The Nexus 7’s screen size makes thumb typing in portrait marginally more comfortable than a smartphone, especially when compared to the relatively tight confines of my iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen. But typing in landscape on the Nexus 7 is an awkward pain. If I accidentally hit Android’s software Home or Back buttons instead of the space bar one more time, I’m going to make Google engineer voodoo dolls and do very, very bad things to them.
The landscape keyboard on an iPad display is already nearing cramped netbook territory (hey, remember those?), but it’s still very well in the “takes time to adjust to” region. I’ve written a good number of 1500-2000 word pieces on my iPad (including this one), and have seen plenty of people in coffee shops typing quite well that way.
The Nexus 7′s landscape keyboard feels firmly planted in the “prohibitive to use” end of the ballpark. It’s just too small. Again, I have a hard time believing a keyboard on an iPad mini will fare much better.
Some apps are able to slightly improve the prospects of this 7-inch tablet, such as Mint. It displays more useful information per screen over its smartphone counterpart, as well as a spending chart that offers a lot of information at a glance. But it feels like that utility is the exception, not the norm.
The more I use my Nexus 7, the more I am perplexed by its existence. It’s too large to fit in most pockets, yet too small to display almost every type of content one would want to consume, including the very stuff Google pre-loaded. It’s too large to trigger the mobile version of most websites, yet too small to be useful for any data input that could be considered a worthwhile improvement over the constraints of a smartphone. If I’m going to need some sort of a “not my pocket” bag to cart my tablet around, the tablet may as well be full sized.
In short, the Nexus 7 feels like the worst of both worlds: too large to be as portable as a smartphone, yet too small to be as useful as the “tablet” name suggests.
Stepping back to look at the mid-sized tablet category, I’ve used a Kindle Fire and read a lot of the arguments and technical speculation in favor of the rumored iPad mini. I still don’t get it, though I am certainly open to being convinced.
For now, I wonder if the whole point of these things is to cut costs and say “look! We have a [cheaper than the regular iPad] tablet too!” But that’s not a good reason to make a product, and it’s definitely not the first step towards making a good product.