A week with the Nexus 7

A week ago I ordered and received a 16GB Nexus 7 bought directly through Google. Coming from a first generation iPad and series of Android 2.x phones, I was hopeful from Google’s presentation at I/O, but not quite certain their promises would exceed, let alone meet, my expectations. My phone, through little fault of Google’s and more fault of Samsung’s has been a less than optimal experience. My iPad has been a fantastic device for meetings, note taking and media. So how does the new Jelly Bean Android based Nexus 7 stack up against these prior experiences?

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A week ago I ordered and received a 16GB Nexus 7 bought directly through Google. Coming from a first generation iPad and series of Android 2.x phones, I was hopeful from Google’s presentation at I/O, but not quite certain their promises would exceed, let alone meet, my expectations. My phone, through little fault of Google’s and more fault of Samsung’s has been a less than optimal experience. My iPad has been a fantastic device for meetings, note taking and media. So how does the new Jelly Bean Android based Nexus 7 stack up against these prior experiences?

Physical Construction

The physical construction of the Nexus 7 is overall pretty decent, but it’s obvious this is not an iPad. The back case may have the appearance of a pair of expensive, leather racing gloves, but it certainly doesn’t feel like them. That being said however, it does feel very nice to the touch. You can tell that the casing is made of plastic and the screen feels closer to acrylic than glass. In spite of these appearances the device still feels solidly constructed. While the build quality of Apple’s iPad line has always been a top notch, their least expensive model starts out at twice the price as the 16GB Nexus 7.

I know that some owners have reported the screen coming apart from the back case, my co-worker in fact has had that problem and shown it to me on his 8GB model, but I have seen no such lack of structural integrity with my 16GB model. This was not a pre-order, but one of the 16GB models that was released after the short take down of availability so in the Play store. I have a feeling that the 8GB stock was much larger in the initial manufacturing run than the 16GB and it seems that they have fixed the defect since that run.

I think that the only disappointment that I have with the hardware on the Nexus 7 is the lack of storage. 16GB is pretty good for me, but I know I’m going to fill it pretty soon if I don’t rely on the cloud for playback of media. There’s no expandable storage options either, so watch which one you buy.

Performance

Up until this point my entire experience with Android has been with the 2.x series of the operating system running on one phone or another. My first foray into the Android ecosystem was the original Motorola Droid, followed by the somewhat disappointing Samsung Droid Charge (SCH-I510). I was impressed by the operating system then and saw a lot of potential, but it was painfully obvious that there was a lot of maturing that needed to happen. The interface lagged, the icon menu took a while to load, the phones were constantly running out of memory causing the launcher to get dumped and reloaded after exiting an application. None of these phones was a great user experience, but tolerable for Android’s other benefits. The Nexus 7, however, has failed to disappoint with the improvements in Google’s latest Android iteration – Jelly Bean.

“Project Butter”, as Google likes to refer to it, resulted in a massive performance increase in the operating system overall. The browsers scroll smoother, the home screen scrolls smoother, the operating system doesn’t seem to get in the way of interacting with it like it did on previous versions. The only time I see any lag at all is when I’m trying to interact with it while its attempting to finish installing a new application – not while its installing, only when its attempting to finish cleaning up the install and add the new application’s icon to the home screen. Odd to say the least that it would lag here, but since it only happens when I request the application to be installed for the first time, its almost not worth mentioning.

Overall I have been extremely pleased with the performance, even when I can tell that the operating system is having to reload the launcher application or refresh it, the quad-core Tegra 3 processor handles it with aplomb. I’ve experienced more lag and performance issues on my Gen 1 iPad than I do on my Nexus 7 (eh, I know that’s not really a fair comparison, but I’m kind of proud that an Android device is outperforming an Apple competitor 🙂

User Experience

The user experience of the Nexus 7 has been, in a word, pleasurable. I’ve been able to take my Nexus 7 into meetings, take notes in Evernote, rapidly switch over to a Google Drive Doc and observe the notes there, switch back to my email and reply to a message, flip to the calendar and update a meeting for later and answer a quick Google chat message without ever feeling impeded by the device hardware or operating system. The application switching methodology introduced in Ice Cream Sandwich is superior to any I’ve experienced, including Apple’s iPad four-finger swipe. Couple the native Android experience with the Android exclusive ability to add community built replacements for common tools like the keyboard with offerings like SwiftKey, its a very efficient device for both communication and consumption.

The 7 inch form-factor is also a much better experience to hold and use than my previous iPad (which now feels bulky and over-sized in comparison). I am able to hold the device in portrait mode and type with my thumbs without it feeling awkward. The device is small enough to be highly portable without needing to place it in a bag, case or other transportation container; depending on the shorts I’m wearing, I can even drop it in my pocket.

Concolusions

The Nexus 7 is a pretty great device, especially for the price-point. With price level competitors like the Amazon Kindle Fire and low-end Hong Kong knock-offs, its miles ahead in capability and quality. While the build quality may not be quite up to Apple’s iPad standards (which is a very admirable pursuit to aim for, Apple’s engineers have always produced amazing quality hardware), its still pretty good for $199-$249. The updated Jelly Bean Android experience is also a great pleasure to work with and it looks like the Android OS has finally grown up. If you’re looking for a new tablet, but don’t want shell out at least $499 for an iPad or invest in the Apple ecosystem, the Nexus 7 is a great offering to consider.

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