Tag Archives: Nexus 7

Ode to the Nexus 7

The Nexus 7 Android tablet has been discontinued in favor of the Nexus 9. (via Slashdot.) I’ve had a Nexus 7 (2012) almost since the beginning, and while it’s showing its age, I’ve been trying to stretch out its lifetime, because I actually do still use it on a regular basis.

Most of what I do these days with it is reading. Email. Books. Comics. Feedly. Pocket. Some photo management and searching. My four-year-old plays games, most of which run fine once they’re up but they take forever to load. I’ve also started introducing him to photo editing apps like Pixlr and Aviary. I used to do more typing and web browsing on it, but it’s just gotten so slow that it’s actually faster to pull out my phone or go over to a computer. Katie doesn’t use it much at all because she has a Note, which is almost into tablet territory already. (She’s not alone. Since the iPhone 6S came out, Pocket has noticed that people with both tablets and phones use their tablets a lot less often if their phones are larger.)

But the 7″ tablet form factor is perfect to keep with you at the breakfast or lunch table, or kick back on the couch.

The thing to remember about the Nexus 7 is that the original release was a proof of concept. There were android tablets before, but the market was still considered something of a joke compared to the iPad, and Google wanted to prove that (a) there was a market for a good Android tablet, and (b) there was a market for a tablet larger than a phone and smaller than an iPad. The iPad Mini didn’t exist at the time, and Apple was still ridiculing the concept.

It succeeded. But they made some mistakes with the hardware that were corrected in the 2013 model. Unfortunately those mistakes have made the first edition notorious for slowing down.

Mine was getting close to unusable around the time Lollipop was released, and upgrading finished the job. Fortunately wiping it and doing a fresh install cleared up a lot of the problems, though as I’ve added more apps, it’s continued to slow down. Chrome is too slow to use, and while Firefox is a little faster, I basically can’t surf the web on the tablet anymore.

But for a core set of apps, it’s still useful. I’ll read/reply to email and skim Feedly in the morning at breakfast, saving items to Pocket to read later. Then at lunch I may read a book or catch up on those saved articles. Since Gmail and Pocket both work offline and sync in the background, I can still use them in places without WiFi. Mobile data would be nice, but offline+sync makes it less critical, and I’ve saved a few hundred over the last three years by not having an extra data plan.

I am going to have to replace it soon, but I can’t decide what with. I don’t want the larger size that the Nexus line is moving toward, and while I’ve been looking at Samsung’s Galaxy tablets, the models I’ve tried all feel a little too small or a bit too big. I don’t want a 10″ tablet, and I don’t want a giant phone. I want a device that’s just big enough to read a full comic book page on it, but still small enough that it feels like a paperback book.

Note: I didn’t actually post this when I wrote it. I’ve backdated it to the original date because it’s no longer timely, but I wanted it online so I could link to it.

How I Actually Use My Nexus 7 Android Tablet

Nexus

I’ve been using desktop computers most of my life, laptops since my teens, a smartphone for about four years and a Nexus 7 tablet for about two months. I’m starting to get a sense of where the tablet fits in my overall computer usage, and with the release of the iPad Mini and upgraded Nexus 7 models, I figured it was time to write about it.

One thing I’ve found interesting is that, all other things being equal, I’d almost always prefer using the tablet to my smartphone for anything that takes longer than a minute. What makes the smartphone great is that it’s ultra-portable. If I’m running errands or anything else, I just put it in my pocket and forget about it. I walk around normally, and it’s there when I need it to check messages, post a status update, moderate comments, check directions, pull up a grocery list, take a picture, or yes, make or take a phone call.

But if I’m going to sit down for 10 minutes or more to read, to reply to email, to blog, or really much of anything else, I’d rather use the tablet. It’s easier to read. It’s easier to see things at a glance. Websites designed for desktop use work better since the screen is bigger. Apps are easier to use on the tablet than the phone, at least those designed to take advantage of it. The 7″ tablet is a great size for reading, just a little wider than a paperback book, easy to hold up while on the couch, in bed, at a table, or anywhere else.

I’m a lot faster at typing on the tablet than on the phone, and it’s certainly easier to compose when you can see more of what you’re writing. One downside of a 7″ tablet rather than a 10″: The keyboard takes up a lot of screen space in landscape mode, which is the mode I type fastest in because of my years typing on real keyboards.

When we were on vacation for 10 days, I used the Nexus 7 heavily. The only times I fired up the laptop were for photo management (this seems to be a recurring theme) and for one round of blogging.

As far as the tablet vs. the desktop, I like the tablet because I can so easily take it anywhere in the house. It’s the way to get through a morning’s email, Facebook, and news site rounds while eating breakfast. I can lie on the couch (well, in theory), kick back in the easy chair, prop myself up in bed — anywhere. I’m not tied to my desk, or to the places I can set a laptop, and I don’t have close it and wake it up again if I want to move to another room.

The main obstacle I find to using the tablet at home is that my almost-2-year old son loves using it himself to play games, read interactive kids’ books, and watch videos. We limit his time, but whenever I pick it up, it reminds him it’s here, and we have to go through another round of “Not now.” and “Ninja!” and “No, I’m using this right now, you’ve already had plenty of time on it tonight” before he decides he’s happy going back to his toys or books (which of course he wants me to read to him now…)

A desktop is still better for some tasks, though. A full (or at least laptop) sized physical keyboard trumps a virtual keyboard for serious writing or especially editing, whether it’s text or code. (A mouse makes editing a lot easier. I keep fat-fingering when trying to use a touchscreen to select & rearrange text, and I’m a lot slower with a touchpad than an actual mouse.) I’m still trying out image editors on Android. And of course there’s the storage factor: you can always plug another hard drive into your desktop to store more photos (or music, or video, or raw images, or…), but mobile devices are a lot more limited. (No, I haven’t migrated all my personal data to the cloud.)

Even with web applications and cross-platform services that offer mobile apps, there are a lot of sites that haven’t quite figured out how to tell a tablet from a smartphone, or that leave out functionality in their mobile apps. For example: until a couple of weeks ago, you couldn’t manage a Google+ page using the Android app (and you still can’t with the mobile-optimized website as far as I know), and even now it’s kind of clunky: you have to sign out and sign back in as the page.

So there you have it: One data point of how a 7″ tablet gets used in real life. It’s different enough from a smartphone that it’s worth having both, though I can’t really compare usage of the 7″ and 10″ form factors. That said, having the smaller tablet, I don’t really feel a need for a larger one.

Update: Something that came up in the Google+ discussion is connectivity. The model I have is wi-fi only, which was a calculated trade-off at the time, but is basically my only regret when it comes to buying the Nexus 7. It works great where wi-fi is available (home, office, coffee shops, hotel lobbies), and I can use my phone as a mobile hotspot where it isn’t…but that drains the battery, and it means fiddling with an extra device, waiting for it to start up, etc. Of course, now Google has a Nexus 7 with mobile data access, so if I were buying it today, that’s what I’d get.

Nexus 7 + USB Cable = Finally! Upload Photos Without a Laptop!

Nexus 7 connected to camera.

All right! I’ve verified that my Nexus 7 can read photos from my camera!

The tablet supports a subset of USB OTG (On The Go), which also lets it connect to keyboards, mice and external storage. It only has a micro-USB port, which means I had to get a $1 USB cable adapter, but for that price? Big deal.

If I put the camera in PTP mode, it can import directly to the gallery. If I put it in PC mode, I can use the Nexus Media Importer app. And I can use FlickFolio to upload multiple photos to Flickr at once.

The next time we go on vacation (OK, the next time we go to Comic-Con — I don’t mass-post vacation photos during a trip), I won’t have to hog the laptop just to upload photos!

This is something I’ve wanted the ability to do for a long time, since before Apple redefined tablet computing and I was considering getting a netbook. And unlike a netbook, which I would have only used while traveling, I use the tablet every day.

On the downside, even though I won’t be competing with Katie for laptop time, I’ll be competing with J for tablet time….

Photo: Why I still need a good camera in addition to my phone. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration: The phone isn’t really that bad when used under good lighting, or with the flash (though the Lumix is a lot better, and has an awesome optical zoom). It’s just that the picture with the flash, while sharp, showed the smudges better than the images on the screen.

Nexus 7: First Impressions from a Tablet Newbie

Nexus 7 Tablet in caseSo, I’ve joined the tablet generation. I recently bought a Nexus 7, Google’s latest 7″ tablet.  Here are some first impressions.

Performance is very nice. The games I’d played on my (almost two-year-old) phone are much snappier, plus of course the bigger screen helps a lot.

Within minutes I was typing a lot faster than on my phone, at least when holding it horizontally. Downsides: It’s easy to hit the menu buttons while trying to hit the space bar. Editing is a pain. I miss having arrow keys or a trackball.

The screen size and resolution are just inside the edge of being able to read a full page of a comic book without resorting to guided view. This will change as I get older, but tech will no doubt improve, and I may end up using a larger tablet in the future. I just wish comiXology’s app made it easier to locate comics I’ve already purchased and want to download.

Backup/restore pulled in all my WiFi settings from my phone, which was convenient.

A tablet is much nicer for catching up on news/email/Facebook at breakfast than a phone. Or a desktop or laptop, for that matter. It’s also nice if you drop in at Coffee Bean to relax for a half hour.

My toddler loves the tablet. A few days ago while I set up his breakfast, he grabbed it off the table, set it on the floor, opened the cover, and tried tapping on the screen to wake it up. So far I’ve let him play Fruit Ninja and a couple of interactive kids’ books. He doesn’t quite have the coordination to avoid the edge of the screen, though, so he keeps bringing up a search or dropping back to the home screen while he’s trying to play. I need to find an app to temporarily lock in the running app, so that (a) he won’t get too frustrated and (b) I can look away for 30 seconds and not worry that he’ll end up clicking on an ad for something.

Reading a novel in ordinary indoor light was just fine, and comparable to reading on a Kindle 2. It’s not that great in bright sunlight, though.

Book Navigation on the Google Play Reader takes some getting used to. I’m reading Year Zero, which has a lot of footnotes. You can tap the number to jump to the note, but I kept missing it, or missing the link back to the source. And then trying to return, I’d accidentally tap the slider, jumping forward 1/3 of the way through the book, and reflexively hit the Back button, which doesn’t go back to where you left off, but goes back to the home screen. By the second chapter, I’d stopped reading the footnotes as I got to them and figured I’d just read them when I got to the end of the chapter, which of course removes them entirely from context.

I don’t really mind not having a camera (except the front-facing one for conferencing), because it’s a bit bulky for a camera if I’m not going to get the benefit of actual optics out of it, and I usually have a phone or actual camera anyway.

I am sort of regretting that it’s Wi-Fi only, though, because intermittent access does limit things a bit. Anything you’ve already downloaded is fine, of course, but Google Docs Drive is virtually useless without a connection. I definitely need to look for some sort of local word processing app for writing offline notes. On the plus side, it reconnects automatically to remembered networks, and Gmail at least seems to sync immediately — both with incoming and outgoing mail, so you can read, compose and “send” offline, and new messages will go out as soon as you’re back in WiFi range. (Also, I don’t have to add another $25/30 monthly data plan on top of both our phones.)

Overall, I’m liking it a lot. It’s great for casual reading, communication, and games, and it looks like it’ll work well for writing. I need to look for a decent image editor and offline word processor, and fix a few issues with my WordPress install (I’m using a CDN tool on this site that doesn’t play nicely with image uploads from the mobile app), and I think it’ll be great for travel as well.

Update: Nothing to do with the tablet itself, but I can’t believe WordPress’ Android app still has the bug where if you upload a draft, it pre-fills the publication date so that the post ends up being back-dated when you finally finish it.