Why I Ordered the New Nexus 7 Tablet from Google
If asked, I would not consider myself a geek, but I would consider myself a power user. When it comes to technology, it's all about what I can do with it, how I use it, how effectively it increases my productivity — in short how functional it is. I've found the entire category of tablets an incredibly functional tool. That said, however, not all tablets are the same, as I discovered with the ones I already own.
First, I purchased the original iPad. I then added an ASUS Transformer. The latest addition was the Kindle Fire. I also have an Android-based smartphone that is essentially a tiny tablet with cell phone capabilities. I've used these four devices for some time now and have integrated them into my life. Long ago they ceased being toys and became indispensable tools. As tools, however, each of the four devices I own and use have limitations. None of them provide everything I could wish for as a power user. Because the tablet paradigm has become so important to my everyday life, I do find myself lusting after that single device that does everything. In spite of the fact that I already own these four, I therefore find myself still shopping for the next generation that might do everything.
For those of you who are yet to experience a tablet, have experience with only one or two of them, or are simply curious, here are my observations on the pragmatics of tablets.
In a nutshell, here's what I find problematic in each of the four devices I own.
- It's big, it's heavy.
- Even worse, it's tethered to iTunes — software I find counterintuitive and clunky.
- It's squarish screen ratio of 4:3 doesn't facilitate widescreen movie formats nor 2-page eBook layouts very well.
- The closed world of the Apple-only environment bothers me. There are some incredibly useful apps that are simply not available for an iPad — and nowhere else to turn because that's the way Apple has designed their technology.
- I really wish I had no criticisms with the iPad because it clearly dominates the tablet world. It obviously does lots of stuff right. For me, however, the stuff it does wrong it does so wrong that it is the least used and least practical of all the devices I own.
- ASUS Transformer:
- It's big, it's heavy. Because of its screen size slightly longer than iPad and therefore even less comfortable for long-term handheld use. For movies it's great; for e-books it's uncomfortable. It's almost the size of the three ring binder — and I haven't carried a three ring binder around with me since I was in high school. Far too often I find I simply leave the transformer at home because it's too bulky.
- A problem that has plagued the Transformer since its introduction and has been widely reported on the Internet has to do with its built-in speakers: the left speaker volume is so low as to be almost inaudible. Lots and lots of us have reported this only to find ASUS reticent to address the problem. It makes this tablet only functional with headphones, a limitation that frustrates me.
- Worse, the upgrade to the ICS Android operating system created another problem widely reported and poorly resolved. For unknown reasons the tablet simply reboots at random, often getting stuck in a perpetual reboot cycle that can only be resolved by a total shutdown. This problem has been so widespread that it shocking that ASUS has not yet addressed it some six months after the operating system upgrade.
- That said, even if the speaker problem were resolved and ICS were working perfectly, it doesn't change the fact that this tablet is a big and bulky tote-along. I do like the 1280x800 pixel display, even if it is rendered at an unimpressive 155ppi. It easily wins hands down over my original iPad and its paltry1024x768 pixel display. The new iPad and its retina display are great, but all the other iPad issues are still in play.
- Kindle Fire:
- This is a tablet I desperately want to love. I find the 7-inch form factor to be perfect — large enough for viewing movies, perfectly sized for reading eBooks, small enough to carry with me, and the perfect sweet spot in size and weight. Because of this, it's the tablet I find myself using by default, leaving the iPad and the Transformer at home.
- So, what's not to love? First, it's not a full Android operating system which means that not all Android apps are available for the Fire. I can't, for example, employee the fabulous Android keyboard known as FlexT9 by Nuance. In fact, the Kindle allows no alternative keyboards at all. Apps that I've come to rely on are simply unavailable for the Fire, not even by so-called "sideloading."
- Second, because the Fire does not include a built-in microphone, it's useless for making audio notes, dictation, recording conversations or phone calls, or even sending simple voice e-mails. After some fussing around, I did discover that despite it not having a microphone jack, it does have recording capabilities with a headset microphone! It's an undocumented feature that was a surprise to discover. Sweet — except for the fact that it only records in 8-bit audio, a coarse, rough, unusable audio for most purposes. Close but no cigar. For some users, lack of audio recording is probably unimportant, but as a power user I find audio note taking and indispensable part of my publishing life. It's a serious deal breaker.
- Third, no microphone and no camera means no Skype. I'm a grandfather. Need I say more?
- Fourth, the Fire does not have Bluetooth capabilities. I probably use Bluetooth headphones at least as often as I use wired headphones. The convenience of being able to listen to a podcast, some music, or even watch a movie while occupied doing something else is indispensable. Without Bluetooth, I'm tethered to the tablet by that headphone cable that seems to catch on everything and get in the way with every movement.
- Additionally, by not including Bluetooth, the Fire cannot be configured to work a Bluetooth mouse. For reasons above my pay grade to understand, this means the Fire is useless for remote desktop applications. I don't often use my tablet to connect to my computer back in the office, but when I need to it's crucially important that I be able to. Without a mouse, the Fire is useless for this function.
- Like I say, I really want to love the Fire, but five major strikes against keep me search for the ideal device and looking forward to retiring the Kindle Fire.
- It's small, it's small, it's too damn small. It's too bad, too. My smart phone does everything I wish my tablets would do — Bluetooth, full Android apps, great built-in microphone, accepts plug-in microphones and headsets, is incredibly portable, and is the most useful device I own. I've watched a movie on it, but it's painfully small. I occasionally read eBooks on it, but it's uncomfortably small. It's a terrific device for podcasts, music, notes, audio recording, Skype, e-mail, and can even function in a pinch for surfing the Internet, transferring files via Dropbox, and as my GPS navigator while I drive. It's just so small!
So, having been a consistent and daily tablet user for over a year now, I made a list of things I actually do and things I want in my next tablet — the tablet of my dreams.
Things I actually do with a tablet device
- Surf the web (browser)
- Read eBooks (Moon+, Mantano, Kindle Reader)
- Check email and occasionally do a quick response (Touchdown)
- Audiobooks (Akimbo, Audible)
- Music (Poweramp, JetAudio)
- Take notes (Evernote)
- Write freehand finger notes (FreeNote)
- Watch movies (Netflix, Amazon, Google, Crackle)
- Calculator (NeoCalc)
- Pulse newsreader (Pulse)
- Occasionally RDP back to my office computer
Features I know I want
- Bluetooth for audio and mouse
- FlexT9 keyboard
- Android Market updates
- Memory card slot
- Better speakers than on my Transformer
- Microphone input
This brings us to the just announced Google Nexus 7.
- 7-inch screen
- 1280x800 pixel display at 216 ppi
- Not quite a retina display (264ppi), but way better than the Kindle Fire or Transformer (170ppi)
- Full Android 4.1 (Jellybean) OS
- Bluetooth for audio and mouse
- Built in speakers
- Microphone via headset
- User-facing camera for Skype
- Includes Google Chrome browser
- Wifi with the latest specs
Compared to my checklist of features I want, it hits the nail on the head of all but one — it does not include an expansion memory card slot. Damn.
However, that raises the question about how much memory to I actually need and use on my existing devices. I checked. I have the 8GB iPad and use almost none of its memory. I have the 24GB Transformer, and use about half of its memory. The Kindle Fire has only 5GB of memory for user data and I've only run up against its limitations once — in addition to several audio books, 50 or so albums of music, and a dozen eBooks, I had only enough memory for 3 full-length movies to watch on the plane to China. Only three.
How much memory do I need? Well, I have about 1,000 eBooks that consume about 350mb. Nothing. A typical, long audio book might run to 30 hours of audio and need 1GB for studio quality audio. I typically have 8-10 GB of music with me at any given time — a couple thousand songs representing a couple hundred albums. And — of course — I carry with me the entire library of LensWork PDFs, about a GB of data. What do I need? More than 10GB and less than 20GB.
Fortunately, the Nexus comes in two sizes, one of which has 16GB of memory. By my rough calculations, it will hold my entire library of eBooks, 3-4 audio books, a ton of music and still have room for several movies. Do I need any more than that? What a silly question. Still, if they'd have offered a 24GB version, I would have purchased it.
I pre-ordered the Nexus 7 last night. Should be in in 2-3 weeks, they say. I'll report on it more when I've had hands-on experience.