Monday, September 24, 2012

First Impressions: Google/Asus Nexus 7

I'm writing this review late, since there are plenty of Nexus 7 reviews out there. However, I did get the Nexus 7 as a birthday present recently, so that's my excuse. Why the Nexus 7, instead of say, one of the latest flock of Kindle Fires?

I could complain about my frustration with not having access to the native GMail App, and how I dislike the forking of Android, even though I understand the business reasons behind them. However, by far the most annoying one is that the latest Kindle Fires simply do not have GPS! Now, you might think that the lack of a GPS shouldn't matter to a device that doesn't have always-on connectivity, but first, Google Maps recently offered an off-line capability (though one that's not quite completely useful --- for instance, navigation absolutely does not work when off-line). Secondly, Frank Spychalski pointed me at this article about using the Nexus 7 for outdoors, and it looked quite usable: you do have to spend $15 for U.S. Topo maps (which is easily paid for by the $25 Google Play credit), but it's a much better screen than say, the Garmin Edge 800, and a better deal than the Garmin Topo U.S. at $60.

By the way, I spoke to a Kindle designer on my recent Birthday Trip and he assured me that the next iterations of the Kindle Fires will have GPS. So what about the device proper? My brothers splurged and got me the 16GB Nexus 7, so the first thing I did after charging it was to login and start loading up all the apps I had deleted from my phone ages ago due to the N1's meager 256MB of internal storage. It's interesting to see which applications makes a difference versus just using the plain old web-browser: apps like Quora, for instance, are surprisingly useful because the web-site is mis-designed for a smaller device. Apps like Delicious, for instance, are required otherwise the other apps wouldn't know how to share to delicious, not because anybody sane would want to use the delicious apps. By far the most sophisticated apps are games. The big screen, high definition display, and touch screen and tilt device makes the games great. The battery life was also decent: I could run MyTracks for 2 hours and change, and still run the machine intensively for the rest of the day without draining the battery. That was a surprise. Outdoors, the screen was usable, though not as bright as I would like it to be.

The speakers are the weakest part of the Nexus 7. They sound pretty terrible. Fortunately, the headphone jack works without fuss.

I paired the Logitech PS3 Media Board to the device (it was what I had lying around, and I'm not about to buy a new keyboard just for the device), and it worked great. My typing speed is as fast as on a real computer, and I couldn't out-type the machine. What's even more impressive was that the touchpad worked! That was unexpected and as a result I can IM as quickly from the N7 as I do from the desktop --- my friends couldn't tell the difference. Despite all that, I still found myself returning to my desktop machine for blogging, and I still refrained from reading important articles on the Google reader app. The truth is, if you're a photographer, you still end up booting your PC to read photos off an SD card, and I can't imagine preferring a 7" screen to a 27" display for serious writing. However, what I do see myself doing is using this to do a quick check of e-mail without booting up my power hungry PC in the morning, checking my Calendar, and so-forth. Also, I had been contemplating buying another laptop for travel purposes so that XiaoQin and I could each have a laptop, and I could see this eliminating the need to carry another laptop. Of course, carrying the Logitech keyboard is not ideal (I'm certainly not about to carry it onto the plane), but on the plane, I expect to just watch movies on it.

Ultimately, if the Nexus 7 died tomorrow would I run off and buy another one? Probably not. It's still not as good a fit for my life as say, the Kindle Keyboard in combination with a smartphone. In summary, I recommend the Nexus 7 over say, the Kindle Fires or the iPads.
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