Nexus 7 and 7 inch tablets

I've been using various tablet-sized devices for a while, on and off. We did a lot of work on 800x600 A5 Windows CE tablets in around 2004, writing .NET Compact Framework apps for ACNielson (the survey people - same parent company as Nielson's, who do the TV ratings in the US). It was, and still is, a great form factor. It's small and light enough to carry around, but big enough to do actual work on, even if your eyesight is not 20/20.

So I was quite excited to get the Google Nexus 7 as an Android test device - I've wanted to use Mono for Android for a while, but the Google emulator is awfully slow, and I didn't want to buy yet another phone as they don't do a iPod Touch-equivalent WIFI-only device.

It was also a tablet sized I've not used before, and it ran (and was likely to run for a while) the latest and greatest Android OS - 4.1.x at present, aka Jellybean - without the vendor junk.

I'm also a bit of an Apple convert, so up until now, having another device around wasn't high on my list of things to spend £160 on.

One thing I didn't count on: Android is so much like Windows. Get a device, and install the OS creator's version on it - Google's version of Android, an MSDN version of Windows - to avoid all the other crap that's normally there. I left that world behind 5 years ago when we got our first Macs!

There have been plenty of lengthy words written about the Nexus 7 recently, so I'm going to leave most of the obvious things to them. Here's my quick list:

  • I really wanted to love this device. I really did. And in some ways, I do.
  • For reading on, it ownes the iPad, and it's almost at the Kindle's point for book-reading-convenience. It's so much lighter and smaller, but still big enough to read the text easily. The font rendering isn't fantastic, but it's good enough. More on that shortly.
  • The build quality is a mixed bag. It's a nice weight, it feels well made, but after just three days of actual use (and a week sitting in my top drawer) the screen is dead. I charged it back up, but as soon as it's turned on, it's as if the backlight is on 150%, and it gradually fades back down "normal" over about 2-3 mins. Turn it off, and it does it again. I'm going to RMA it.
  • This is a big phone, not a tablet. It's a 7" iPod Touch, not an iPad. That's not a bad thing.
  • It's great to type on when hand held, using thumbs. Way better than the iPad. Not so good when on a desk, tho. It should be better with one of the Android keyboard replacements.

All of this is possibly not a huge surprise. The current Android builds are nice, and a lot more polished than 2.2/2.3 which I looked at last time. Sadly that's the version most people are still using.

So, who do I think this is for?

  • For geeks like me who want a no-contract, up to date Android device, this is great. Get one.
  • For normals who want a device to read books on, get a Kindle. Cheaper and more reliable.
  • For normals who want an app device to use as a lightweight computer, get an iPad unless you are really short on cash. And even then, get an iPad.
  • For "your mother" (substitute suitably tech-illiterate relation): oh hell no. This is not a device for anyone who is not very tech savvy. I wouldn't give one to my wife, who is very tech savvy, if a little impatient with gear which isn't perfect. (contrast with an iPad, which my wife has and uses a lot, and which I'm considering getting for Mum, even if I have to support it from the other side of the planet)

One thing I do think is good in this device is the size and weight. The 7" form factor is brilliant, even if the hardware and software in this case let it down. The hotly rumored iPad Mini, or whatever they are going to call it, will, I think, be a huge hit. It'll be interesting if they make it a big iPod Touch (with iPhone iOS) or a small iPad (with iPad iOS), or do something different (iPad Mini iOS), which given it's Apple, is just as likely as the other options. Maybe there is some 75% iPad iOS and 25% iPhone iOS mix that is just right for a small tablet.

As a gaming device, a 7" tablet is excellent. It's big enough to get a good sized screen, absolute portability isn't as strong a requirement (vrs a phone), and there is enough room to fit a big battery and a nice graphics co-processor in the case. This (or the Nexus 7, really) is going to be the killer non-console gaming device, as the iPod Touch/iPad/iPhone are at the moment. I think it'll even have a big impact on the soft-core console market.

So, Nexus 7: most likely not for you. But the 7" form factor gets an A+ for potential, but most likely only if Apple does it.