A couple of days ago, I finally took possession of my new Nexus 7 tablet. I was on the ‘pre-order’ site within minutes of it opening (about 3 or 4 weeks ago) and have been eagerly awaiting delivery ever since. The manyrave reviews the thing received heightened my sense of anticipation.
It is therefore a bit of a surprise -to myself!- to have to report that I am rather underwhelmed by it, to the point where I wonder whether I’ll actually make much use of it. Here’s why…
It’s too heavy. Sure, it’s only 340g… and that’s only 90g heavier than, say, my old Kindle 3, but hold it for an hour and you definitely notice the strain on the wrist. It’s perhaps something to do with the grip, too: there’s a natural tendency to stretch your hand open and hold the thing by the back and sides, whereas I hold my Kindle more as I would a paperback (i.e., from the bottom). The one is obviously less ergonomic than the other and after 2 hours of holding it (the average time I am on the train to work), I felt like my wrist had maybe been broken. (I exaggerate only a little!)
It’s a fingerprint magnet. I realise this is somewhat inevitable with a fondleslab, but whereas my little Samsung Galaxy SII can have a bit of protective plastic stuck on the screen to minimise the grime accumulation, I don’t have anything equivalent for the Nexus 7 (and I wouldn’t fancy trying to fit it without getting loads of trapped bubbles etc, even if I did). I suppose at some point, I’m going to have to try fitting one of these things, but I’m not looking forward to it.
By default, the auto-orientation lock is ON. Dumb point, I realise, but whilst apps on my Samsung switch between landscape and portrait as the device is rotated, that wasn’t happening on the Nexus. I actually had to google it (ironic, huh?!) and discovered there’s a re-orientation lock available in the settings panel. Once you know what to look for (it’s just an icon, no text), it’s obvious and easily unlocked… but it seems a silly default setting and the last time I had to read the manual for getting a bit of tech to work was around 1993.
There’s no case/cover. There is one allegedly available in the Google Play store, but when I try to purchase one, I am curtly told “This device is not for sale at this time”. I’m not sure if that means it’s out of stock or not. I think I was offered the option of that case at the time of purchase of the original device, so its non-presence now is probably my own fault… but in the absence of a protective cover, the thing is largely useless, unless you feel like being cavalier with it. As it is, I’ve now ordered one of the cases from this site instead, so maybe I’ll get some use of the Nexus when that finally arrives.
There’s no wireless broadband. OK, this is something I was well aware of before buying: the Nexus is able to connect to wifi networks, but not to a 3G wireless broadband (unlike, say, my relatively ancient Kindle 3). I didn’t think this would be an issue: my Samsung SII can act as a wireless hotspot/tether, so all I have to do is make the Nexus get to the Internet via the ‘phone. Except that now I’ve got both devices to hand, I realise there’s nothing I can’t browse reasonably effectively on the Samsung itself and it’s a bit daft to have one perfectly capable browser in my pocket merely acting as a connectivity conduit for the other one slowly breaking my wrists. Sure, I can *functionally* browse the web with the Nexus… but *practically*, it’s not ideal. And yup, the Nexus renders websites nice and large whereas the Samsung is tiny and requires constant zooming/unzooming… but I happen to have 20:20 vision for close reading (blind as a bat at a distance, unfortunately!), and so the Samsing held at about 20cm from my face is extremely comfortable to read as-is: I simply don’t need most websites rendered any larger than it’s already doing.
Playing movies is difficult. When I first switched on the Nexus, it began to synchronise all my apps, books and settings between it and my other Android device (the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy SII). That’s quite nice, I guess (though the size of all the downloads was a bit much for someone on a severe monthly cap), but not everything translates between the platforms: Moboplayer: I’m looking at you. Instead of playing video, the Moboplayer on Nexus said it needed a new codec pack and, in very broken English, offered me two ways of obtaining it… neither of which worked. The Android default movie player doesn’t like my MKV h264 movies, either… so I ended up having to buy the Vplayer app instead. Thankfully, I paid for it out of the $25 app store credit you get with the Nexus, but the faffing around getting to that point was not a great experience. At the end of the day, output from Handbrake (a pretty standard video encoding tool) couldn’t be played on a tablet -and I’d suggest that one of the main reasons tablets exist is to, er, be able to play video.
PDF rendering is rubbish. This is a biggie for me: one of the main reasons I wanted to buy a tablet was for it to be able to render music scores (widely available for free in PDF format) at a speed suitable for following along with the music as it plays. I’ve tried this with the Kindle in the past and, for large parts of a score, it works OK… but then there’ll be a page turn that the Kindle thinks about for tens of seconds before it’s ready and by the time it’s displaying the new page, the music has moved on several more bars or pages. Very frustrating, and something I’d hoped the Nexus’ quad core processor would resolve. Well, it doesn’t. First, it’s still quite slow to render the PDF in the first place. But worse, it displays them in ‘toilet paper format’: each page is displayed underneath the other in a long, vertical scroll. Instead of gesturing left/right to switch pages, you now have to gesture up/down, which is unnatural and doesn’t fit the rest of the tablet/e-book ‘paradigm’. It’s also not how real scores, real books or real newspapers work -nor how Google’s own e-books behave. The real pits, though, is that the scroll is continuous: you don’t switch cleanly from page A to page B, but merely re-position the ‘toilet paper scroll’ anywhere you like between the two. This makes it easy to scroll too far and miss a page; or not enough, in which case you end up staring at the gap between the pages. The Nexus 7 is therefore unsuitable as a music score reader… and there goes about 80% of my justification for the original purchase.
I won’t have Apple in the house and I love Android on my Samsung, so this isn’t an anti-Android rant. I also appreciate that a lot of the above is either (a) highly specific to me or (b) one-off niggles that shouldn’t greatly reflect on the product’s attractions overall. But even conceding all that, I am left thinking that the Nexus is a misfit which doesn’t quite do anything I wanted it to do very well. I had to wrestle with it to play movies; I am not going to be able to wrestle it into being a suitable music score reader; it’s uncomfortable to use for a couple of hours at a time; it’s difficult to keep clean; and there’s nothing much it can do that the Samsung doesn’t do more conveniently. It might well be the best Android tablet in existence, but right now, I am genuinely at a loss to know what use I’m going to make of it.