Living with the…Google Nexus 7

I adopted the tablet revolution quite early on. In the build up to the release of Apple’s iPad I was critical of how useful something like Steve Jobs’ latest magical creation could be. In fact the first time I encountered an iPad it left me unimpressed. I played with a few apps, discovered that well lit rooms were no friend of the tablet then decided that laptops were for me, not these expensive toys. I can’t remember when I changed my mind, but somehow – via a generous birthday present – I had the chance to really explore this new computer format…and from then on I was hooked.

Now the iPad is easily my most used piece of hardware. Internet browsing is strangely serene on it, podcasts play loud enough that I can use the device as a mobile speaker unit in the house, reading is great at night, I’ve rediscovered an old love of comic books thanks to excellent apps like Comix, and when teamed up with my Apple TV the iPad brings the endless time-wasting joy of Youtube directly to my TV. I’ve even been known to do the odd bit of writing on my beloved machine, including this blog post.

So now it’s pretty fair to say that I’ll always want a tablet in my life. Funny how times change. The problem is that due to the closed nature of the production of tablets there’s no way I can fix one or upgrade it to maintain optimum performance. Slowly, over time, my original iPad has developed…issues. Due to the low 256mb of internal memory apps now crash in a frustratingly regular fashion, and some tasks that were once instant now drag their heels in spectacular fashion. I’m guessing this is the way that Apple and their competitors ensure that we move up to a new device every three years or so, just like we do with phones. But a £500 purchase is something I want to last a bit longer than that, especially when it’s being used for non-intensive tasks. Thus it was with great interest when I saw that Google had released the Nexus 7 – a smaller, lighter, much, much cheaper tablet that had the press in unanimous praise. Could this be the Droid I’m looking for?

Good things come in small packages….sometimes.

There’s no doubt that the Nexus 7 is an attractive device. Everyone that has seen the review unit I’ve been using was impressed by it’s bright, clear screen and diminutive form. Holding it in the hand was a light relief from its chunky inspiration, and the latest Jelly Bean Android software felt quick and stable. Initially it was an instant success and I thought that my bank account could be saved the mauling that Apple had bestowed upon it in previous days. Then the cracks began to appear.

The Nexus is small…but it’s also too big.

Confused? Yes, I’m not surprised. You see swiping and pinch-to-zooming is all well and good, but to navigate the internet, send emails, or interact with social media you’re going to need to enter some text. Typing on the iPad is, well, excellent. In landscape mode I can pretty much type at 80% of my top speeds, with a surprising level of accuracy. Using the Nexus 7 is somewhat confusing. Landscape mode is a bit of a stretch and the onscreen keyboard feels less accurate and sensitive than the Apple one. Turning to portrait mode makes the Nexus seem like an over-large phone, and once again the lower accuracy makes it easier to make mistakes. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s not the effortless experience that I’ve enjoyed on my iPad.

Of course the Nexus’ size becomes an advantage when using apps like Google Currents and Flipboard, which are both excellent and make catching up on news a very easy and pleasant experience. Amazon’s Kindle app is also a standout. Reading novels on pages that are pretty much the same as an actual book feels right, and the screen definition renders the text in a crisp manner. Social media is a little less splendid. The Facebook and Twitter apps appear to be the mobile versions, offering smaller text size and a compact view that just seems to lessen the experience, especially Facebook with it’s constant flow of pictures. Google+ is decent, but again feels a cheaper alternative to the magnificent iPad offering.

After exploring these sites I noticed another oddity of the device. With the iPad I tend to balance the unit against my legs, lean it on furniture, or prop it up against any random protuberances that offer purchase. It means that my arms don’t tire of holding what is still a quite substantial weight. The Nexus is light and slim, but I found that I had to hold it all the time, which actually ended up causing my hands to ache faster than the iPad did. It’s a small thing, but as I suffer from an old RSI injury, this became a bigger issue rather quickly.

You’ll be needing this…

Ok, so comparing a £200 device to a £400 one seems a little unfair. Of course the iPad should be a more luxurious environment, it damn well better be for double the price. But the reason I’m doing this is that I was serious about converting from an expensive Apple device that I use mainly for media consumption to a cheaper alternative that offered most of the benefits with only a few losses. After a few weeks with the Nexus 7 though I was disappointed to realise that the iPad has pretty much ruined me for anything else. The drop down felt so vast in terms of quality, not of build – the Nexus is very solid – but rather experience. I’ve rarely felt frustrated by the iPad (except now that it crashes more often) but the Nexus became annoying in a fairly short space of time. As an e-reader it’s a very tempting option, offering more functionality than the Kindle Paperwhite for only £50 more, but for more general purpose tablet adventures it seems limited and more akin to a phone.

I dearly wanted to love this device, as did my wallet, and to be fair my children did. I think the issues I had with size were the exact opposite for them. But the compromises seem too big to make this a viable option to those who have grown used to the glorious expanse of Apple’s tablet. Even my mother, who has to be surgically removed from my iPad every time she comes over, but for whom the price tag is prohibitive, couldn’t get on with the Nexus. The text size proving difficult for her older eyes.

The Nexus is a cool little device which some people will undoubtedly love. For me though it looks like another trip to the Apple store looms in March when the new model comes out. Better start saving now then…

…or are you just pleased to see me?

In the early days of the mobile phone you weren’t worried about styling, screen size, data tariffs, or when the must-have app would finally arrive on your platform. No, life was simpler then. All the pioneer mobiler had on their mind was whether they could get through a five minute call without ending up in traction. You see the original phones where big….really big. You know those inflatable, joke ones you’ve seen wacky individuals sporting? Yeah, that big, but made out of lead with black hole linings. You could always tell those fortunate enough to live on the cutting edge of telecommunications as they invariably had one enormous arm, not unlike the genetic disaster that roamed the power plants at the end of Resident Evil.

A man, yesterday.

Then, in the interests of public safety, manufacturers set about reducing the burden that phones put upon their customers and finally normality was restored. Over time we were treated to diminutive models such as the Motorola Razor, and those teeny tiny Nokia ones that were impossible to dial due to the buttons being only an atom wide. Surely it was only a matter of time until they were so small they’d be built into our watches and we could live out our Dick Tracy fantasies?

Can you help me? My normal-sized fingers are just too big.

But no…

Recently a strange reversal has begun to take place. The Apple iPhone bares upon its delicate chassis a 3.5″ screen. It’s compact, neat, and looks like a phone, albeit a slabbish one. Over in the Android camp though we have seen the emergence of colossus’ such as the dangerously named Titan, Nexus, Galaxy S2 (ok that’s not so dangerous, just a bit dull), and the One X (come on, it sounds like something Wolverine would use!), with screens that technically qualify as surfboards. What’s going on? Have we not learned our lessons from the past? Due we want a nation of uni-armsters once more?

Ok, I’ll admit, it’s a bit different this time around. This new breed of phone isn’t built from recently collapsed stars, instead their waif-like frames are composed of baby sighs and fairy wishes. They positively lift you up as you use them then return you gently to the ground as you make your goodbyes. The girth isn’t simply a casket for an enormous battery either. Nowadays the size is there to accommodate gorgeous displays which act as portals to the internet with all its video laden riches. We read books upon the devices, record our adventures in stunning HD, and store more CDs than still seems feasible. Some of them even make telephone calls. It’s astounding!

A women with a phone the size of her face.

So why is it then that I still find it odd that the size is on the increase? We’ve seen tablets of various sizes emerge that would seem more suited to the purposes of viewing. Even laptops are becoming lighter and slimmer. Why do we need our phones to meet them? Is it the convenience? I’m not so sure, even with the larger models on offer I’m not convinced I’d ever want to watch a movie on one, whereas on my iPad it’s a very pleasant experience. Is it for photography? Maybe, but the results are not dependent on the screen size, and we pretty much always download pictures to a PC if we want to keep them. Is it a male need to compensate for some other deficiency? Of course, but that goes for any kind of technology. We’re just big kids after all.

In the end I’m left wondering whether it’s just because we’ve done small and now need to go somewhere else? But I’m all up for being convinced otherwise. Maybe I’m just stuck in the past and need to embrace the cult of the big. Please, teach me your ways…

What do you think is the ideal size for a phone? And how big is too big?