Finally, there’s an Android tablet I like: the Nexus 7. More important, Google’s produced a device that’s a solid alternative to the iPad. If you can’t afford an iPad, don’t like the size of an iPad or for some reason just don’t want an iPad, the Nexus 7 may be the tablet — or should I say tabletette — for you.
An Android Tablet That Works
I’ve used two different Android tablets in the past, a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10 that I was given when attending the Google I/O conference in 2011 and an Asus Transformer Prime that I purchased earlier this year. Neither resonated with me. Typing, shifting between apps, these things felt far more sluggish than when using an iPad.
That’s not the case with the Nexus 7. The review unit Google gave me has been fast and responsive. The on-screen keyboard keeps up with my typing. I can shift between apps in blazing fast speed. More important, the lack of actual tablet apps is less noticeable because of the tablet’s smaller size.
More Space For Phone Apps Works Well
Twitter is a good example of this. The iPad has a custom Twitter app that’s a pleasure to use, one that’s been designed for making full use of the iPad’s 10″ screen. In contrast, using Twitter on an Android tablet is sad. You’re simply getting the Twitter phone app, all stretched out with wasted space.
How Apple Made Twitter The Poster Child Of Android’s Tablet Failure from me earlier this year covers how Apple was able to use the Twitter app being nicer on the iPad than Android as a selling point against Android tablets. But with the Nexus 7, it’s not so much an issue.
The Nexus 7 gives you the extra room to get comfortable with your phone app. There’s more room to type or read comfortably. But there’s not so much extra room that the phone app feels wrong. It works fine for the 7″ setting.
Nexus 7 Meets Google Play
The most striking thing about the Nexus 7 is the tight connection with Google Play, Google’s content store. Yes, content store, not app store. Sure, you can get apps there. But Google Play, what the app store was renamed to in March, offers music, movies, TV shows, books and more.
To me, as I wrote recently, content offerings seem to be coming much more important than the number of apps that are available. The Nexus 7 could have been easily called the Google Play itself, given how closely it’s linked to the Google Play content store, underscoring that content is where the next battle’s at. Consider this home screen:
There’s your Google Play library, all ready to go. To get you started, Google even tosses in $25 of credit to buy content as well as a free copy of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.
Nexus 7: The Kindle Fire-Killer?
Previously, this has been the appeal of the Kindle Fire — a low-cost alternative to the iPad with big links into content. To me, the Kindle Fire had huge appeal to anyone who was already buying content through Amazon. It gave access to your music, your videos and yes, your books. It was especially strong in this department, being a book-like format that to me is easier to hold than the iPad for those who want to read books. The lower price was also appealing.
The Nexus 7 seriously knocks the Kindle Fire aside. The Kindle Fire isn’t as elegant as the iPad, in terms of using it or responsiveness. But at half the $400 price of the iPad 2, more than half the $500 price of the new iPad, those shortcomings could be forgiven, especially for those who, as I believed, were weighing the Kindle Fire up not against the iPad but against other Kindles.
The Nexus 7 doesn’t have the shortcomings of the Kindle Fire. It’s elegant looking compared to the blocky Kindle Fire, easy to hold and has the quick responsiveness I’ve already mentioned. Whereas many see it as Google’s challenge to the iPad, I see it first as heading off the threat of Amazon, then building in-roads against Apple.
If you’re a big Kindle reader, the Nexus 7 offers you your entire library with the Kindle app — plus you also have access to books through Google Play and even the Nook app from Barnes & Noble. You get the option of Kindle and much more.
For music, your Amazon (or Apple) purchases can flow into Google Music and be available on the Nexus 7, if you like. You can also buy directly from Google, though I’ve found the selection not as good as with Apple or Amazon.
For video, if you buy or rent much from Amazon — and you really want that content on a tablet — the Kindle Fire remains appealing. The Nexus 7 doesn’t do Flash, and Amazon Instant Video requires that to play.
The Email Letdown
My biggest disappointment is with email. The Nexus 7 runs the latest “Jelly Bean” version of Android, Android 4.1. Google still hasn’t added a conversation view to the native email app.
I don’t like the Gmail app and how it combines messages into a single thread. That’s why I depend on the native email app in Android. I’m not alone in needing to use this. But without a conversation view, it can take twice as long for me to do the same email tasks as with the iPad.
Given that email is one of the most popular mobile activities, I remain dumbfounded that Google hasn’t corrected this. The iPad has conversation view. Windows Phone has it. Android device makers like Samsung provide their own email apps with it. But Google keeps its head buried in the “everyone must use Gmail” sand and ignores adding this simple feature.
For more on this, see also my column, You’ve got bad mail: Android needs a better e-mail app.
The Camera You Can’t Really Use (And Won’t Care To)
Aside from that, there’s a small annoyance that you can’t rotate the home screens to landscape mode (when you’re in applications themselves, they do rotate).
The front-facing camera can’t be used natively (apps can access it, or there are third-party apps like Camera Launcher For Nexus 7 that can use it). It seems designed mainly for video conferencing. Using a camera to take pictures when you have no viewfinder (because you have to turn it away from yourself) can be difficult, so I can understand Google being almost Apple-like in deciding to close that off from users. But it was annoying.
Still, not having a usable camera isn’t a big deal (remember the first iPad). Rotating the home screen is largely a quibble. Anyone who does serious email and doesn’t like Gmail has a bigger issues with the Nexus 7.
As I continue testing, I may come across more issues, as well as more things I like.
Nice At The Price (& Size)
With the Nexus 7 now shipping ($200 or $250 versions, more money = more storage), expect more reviews to appear shortly from around the web, such as MG Siegler’s over at TechCrunch, in addition to reviews already out there.
My take? If you’ve been looking for a tablet for less — less in cost or size — the Nexus 7 is a nobrainer device to get. At least until Apple comes out with its own smaller device that’s been rumored. then it will be reassessment time!
- The Kindle Fire Is A Kindle-Killer, Not An iPad Killer — That’s Why It Works
- Google’s Coming Tablet: A Response To Kindle Fire, Not The iPad
- Yes Virginia, There Will Be An Amazon Kindle Smartphone
- Review: Real Life With The Galaxy Nexus Android 4.0 Smartphone
- Android Market Becomes “Google Play,” Reflects Google’s Multiplatform Content Aims
- Google I/O 2012: Nexus 7 Tablet Announced, Google Glasses Demo’d In Amazing Style
- Google Shows Nexus 7 Tablet, Media-Streaming Device “Q” At Developer Conference