Nexus 7/Android initial review

I’ve been considering a Nexus 7 install in my car for multiple reasons: as I’ve mentioned, the standard nav unit in the BRZ is terrible for basically everything, and to be able to put an updateable and clean replacement in there would be sweet.  Most head units have resistive touchscreens, and they’re just terrible.  That, plus the lure of a tech challenge, drew me into wanting to try the car install.  Then, T-Mobile went and announced 200 MB of free data per month to any tablet owner, so I bit the bullet and bought a 2nd generation Nexus 7 with LTE.  I am still planning on putting it in my car, but I did end up liking it a lot for it’s intended purpose as a non-car device.

This is my first Android device, so I will be comparing it a lot to iOS.  I’ve never had an Android device because I never had a desire for one, and the car install was really the perfect application of Android, as iOS is simply not as customizable as I would need it to be.

First, the hardware is really solid.  It feels like a good device when you hold it, and that’s important to me.  It’s light and thin, and it’s easy to hold with one hand or easy to type on with two hands the same way I’d type on my phone.  My first generation iPad is not easy to hold with one hand, nor is it easy to type on in that orientation.  The 7″ form factor may be a little small for some people, but it is honestly the perfect size to hold.  In comparison, I went to the Apple store today and held an iPad mini, and it felt just a little too wide.  Not a big deal for two-handed typing, but it is harder to hold with one hand unless you have huge hands.

The Nexus 7 does not have any physical buttons other than the sleep/wake button and the volume button.  This makes the face of the device harder to orient if you’re picking it up when the screen is off, and it is also pretty inconvenient to have to press the sleep/wake button on the side to wake the screen.  I think the device could benefit from a front button to give the user some orientation of top and bottom, and also to wake the screen with less effort.

As far as the operating system goes, I’m still getting used to it and I’m constantly picking out little details that I like or don’t like.  For example, to select a space between characters in iOS, you have to place your finger over the space and a little magnifying glass pops up under your finger so you can see what you’re selecting.  Oftentimes, this turns out to be highly inaccurate, and right as I find the space I want to select, I let go and the selection changes at the last second.  On Android, you begin the same way, but an arrow is placed under the space.  You simply let go and drag the arrow to the space you want to select.  This is, in my opinion, a vastly superior way to handle this task.

The touch screen is very accurate on the Nexus 7, and the device is very speedy, but yet, scrolling seems jumpy, and zooming oftentimes is not very smooth.  On iOS, scrolling and zooming are booth fluid.  It may seem like a little thing, but this honestly needs refinement on Android.

The Google Play store is…interesting.  The first app I tried to download turned out to be a trial app, and I didn’t even realize it until I opened the app.  This is my fault for not completely reading the description, but it took me by surprise.  Some of the apps are ridiculously sketchy, too.  I downloaded a live wallpaper that – when I opened it – would’ve made me scared if it was a website and I was on a PC using Internet Explorer.  It looked and felt like malware.  This is just not an experience you get on iOS, which, of course, has its ups and downs.  Apple’s “walled garden” is nice for feeling safe, even if you know that some things can still slip by Apple.  You also know you’re not getting a shitty app, for the most part.  It may not be a good app, but it won’t look and feel like malware.  This, of course, also means Apple can say no to a lot of really good apps for whatever reason they want, which is bad.  On Android, you don’t have to even use the Google Play store to install apps.

Many apps instantly pop up a changelog when you open them on Android.  In iOS, the changelog is available in the app update screen.  The more user-friendly and less intrusive approach here is Apple’s, hands down, but I feel like a lot of techies probably would prefer Android’s method.  I personally only sometimes look at changelogs and much prefer Apple’s method – the option to look only if I choose to look.

I’m torn on whether or not widgets are awesome or awful.  They’re essentially the entire reason I am using an Android device, since they make a “car interface” possible without a dedicated app or programming skills.  On the other hand, some of them are just…bad.  They don’t seem to stretch like you’d expect them to when you resize them, and the ones that do pixelate badly.  I feel like this may be due to some widgets being developed for smaller screens (phones), so this is probably an example of Android’s fragmentation causing a poor user experience.  On the flip side, I’d rather be able to use the pixelated widgets than be told I can’t because they’re not “compatible” with my device.  I feel like there must be some kind of middle ground here, but I don’t see either Google or Apple moving toward it since both of their models are working for them.

There are certain things about Android that you can change that you can’t even begin to affect on iOS without jailbreaking your device.  You can root your Android device, but I don’t plan on doing this.  I did replace the stock launcher app, though, which gives me the ability to add gestures and hide the dock, which you can’t do on iOS.  I’ve done the whole jailbreaking thing back in the 3GS days, and though you gain functionality, you lose the refinement and stability of the device.  While I may not lose refinement that doesn’t really exist on such a pedestal on Android, I am concerned about stability – especially since the Nexus will be mounted behind my dash panel, as long as I go through with the car install.

All in all, it’s a great device.  And if you’re buying the 16 GB Nexus 7 without LTE capability, unless there’s some reason you need iOS, I can’t see any reason to pay almost double for an iPad Mini ($229 vs $399).  That said, I’m still of the opinion that iOS provides a better user experience.

Hobbies

I’ve been examining my hobbies lately and realized they’ve gotten less diverse.  If you’d asked me in 2010 what my hobbies were, I probably would’ve said, “computers, cars, writing, and anime.”  Since then, I’ve only really added “fashion” to that list.  Anime has remained true, and my interest in cars has grown exponentially, but my writing bug has all but died.  And the most I’ve done computer-related in my spare time anytime recently was priced out a budget media PC build that would potentially fit inside of an NES shell.

I guess the latter of those is to be expected since I work in IT and I deal with computers all day, but I don’t think that’s really the reason my interest has dropped.  My opinion is that it has more to do with the lack of anything really exciting happening lately in the industry, and also because even if I wanted to buy a new laptop or build a new desktop PC to replace my already completely adequate computers, I’d rather just save that money toward car stuff.  I mean, recently, the question I’d ask myself was “do you want a new MacBook Air, or do you want $1,400 toward an FR-S/BRZ?”  And now, even though I have the BRZ, I’d still rather spend that money on mods or save it toward a project car or a Z06 or something.

Writing is still a love of mine.  I fantasize about writing all of the time.  The problem is that I just don’t ever do it anymore.  I need a certain atmosphere to write, and the mood that atmosphere creates has been absent from my life for a while now.  I still get ideas and I still have the desire, but as soon as I’m staring at a blank screen, it disappears.  I’ve flirted with the idea of trying out NaNoWriMo, even though (as anyone that reads my blog knows) I am not a fan of the concept.  I’ve already written two full novels though, so I’m not really in the business of proving to myself that I can do it anymore.

More than anything right now, I really just like the idea of doing things to cars.  I have a list of mods for the BRZ, I still plan on buying that Corvette Z06 one day, and I want a project car at some point.  I actually really like that idea a lot and look forward to having the time, space, and money to have that in my life.

The BRZ Review

I’ve had the BRZ for almost a week, and it’s been a blast.  So in true inphiltrate.com fashion, here is my 6 day review.

BRZ

First, it’s a 2013 Subaru BRZ Limited 6MT with Option Package #2C.  I didn’t order the car, so I didn’t really choose that option package, but it did have a few things in it that I wanted anyway – Homelink rearview mirror, chrome fender trim, wheel lock kit, and a rear bumper appliqué (which I didn’t particularly want, but I’m glad to have it; it’s just a clear bra for the top of the rear bumper).

The 2014s are coming out this month, but the only difference between the 2013 and the 2014 is a useless upgrade to the navigation unit and (optional?) knee pads, the latter of which I’ve already ordered to add to my 2013.  Really no reason at that point to pay MSRP for a 2014 when a 2013 can be had for a better price, so that was a pretty easy decision.

BRZ side

When I first started looking at the FT86, I’d decided to try to get the FR-S version as a second car to my Camaro.  If I’d gone that route, I would’ve gotten Firestorm (red).  When I decided that trading my Camaro was an option, I decided if I did that, I wanted the best version of the FT86 that I could get, and to me, that was a World Rally Blue Pearl Subaru BRZ Limited.  The color looks amazing in person, and I’m pretty surprised how well it hides dirt (though it is spotless in these pictures since it’s straight from the dealership).

The BRZ Limited has the following differences from the FR-S:

  • Heated seats
  • Alcantara and leather seats
  • Dual zone climate control
  • HID headlights
  • Dash is styled differently
  • Front fascia is styled differently
  • Heated side mirrors
  • Nicer trunk interior
  • Keyless access (touch the door handle/trunk button with the key in your pocket and it opens)
  • Push to start
  • Different head unit

The FR-S is offered in a limited “10 Series” edition that has some of the things above, but aside from the styling differences, it still lacks heated seats and is only offered in one color, and since I am very particular about colors, that ruled out the 10 Series.

IMG_4774

There is really no angle on this car that isn’t attractive.  The front and rear lights look really aggressive, and the spoiler is really sweet.  I really like the rooflines as well.  Almost makes up for the fact that the car isn’t offered with a sunroof.

Steering wheel

The steering wheel is a very satisfying combination of my old 240sx and the Camaro’s.  It has a thick, modern feel, and is very simple.  The red contrast stitching is super nice, and is common throughout the interior.  There are no buttons on it to control the stereo, which I miss, but no one is buying a BRZ because they want a super awesome stereo system.

The electric assist steering is actually really responsive.  One of the things I noticed when I had the 240sx and the Camaro was how much more responsive the 240sx’s steering was.  I think the Camaro had electric assist steering that wasn’t as helpful to the driver as the BRZ’s.

BRZ console

This is my first car with dual climate control and push to start.  The climate control system is automatic, which I actually had in my old Kia, but then the Camaro didn’t have.  I am glad to have it back, and the dual zone thing is nifty.  Push to start is so strange to get used to.  My hand immediately goes to grab the key as soon as I engage the parking brake, and that is a hard habit to break.  That aside, it’s very cool and modern, and I dig it.

BRZ nav unit

Straight up, the nav unit sucks and the stereo system in general is sub-par.  The unit doesn’t have physical buttons to change tracks and the speech recognition is awful, so selecting music is slightly challenging.  That said, the unit does look nice.

The sound the system produces pales in comparison to the Boston Acoustics system the Camaro had.  Again, no one is buying this car to listen to music, and I knew before I bought the car that I’d be upgrading the sound system.  I found a set of EQ settings online for the unit that at least make it bearable, but without those settings, the system pumps all of the bass into the door speakers, and the tweeters clip.  It just didn’t sound good.  I will probably purchase the OEM Audio Plus 400 system and install it, as I’ve heard the results are incredible.

BRZ seats

This isn’t a great picture and doesn’t do the seats justice, but the Alcantara (basically synthetic suede) and leather seats look really great, and the Alcantara actually feels more comfortable to sit on (and doesn’t get as hot, and supposedly also doesn’t get as cold as leather).  I’m sure it was just a cost-saving decision to not make the seats entirely leather, but strangely enough, I think I prefer these to completely leather seats.

BRZ pedals

BRZ entry

The pedals are really cool-looking, and they’re neatly matched to the protective panel at the top of the rocker panel.  I will note that the clutch pedal grabs a little high, which I’m not used to.  It’s taking some relearning to shift properly without incurring too much accidental engine braking.

BRZ engine

This is, of course, my first Boxer engine, and it’s totally badass.  In fact, you can’t even see it in this picture because it’s mounted so low.  Everything in the engine bay is so neatly and thoughtfully laid out.  For example, the battery and the master brake cylinder sit opposite each other to maintain weight balance.

The sound the Boxer makes is really cool.  It’s pretty grunty for a 4 cylinder, and though it’s “only” got 200 HP, the power-to-weight ratio is better than the Camaro’s, so it’s just slightly slower 0-60, but would destroy the 312 HP and 3700 pound beast on a track.

This car is all about the handling, and it lives up to every ounce of hype.  There is absolutely zero body roll.  When you turn, the car turns.  And you may be asking yourself, “Well duh, that’s what’s supposed to happen.  What’s special about that?”  But really, until you’ve sat behind the wheel of a driver’s car, it’s hard to explain the feeling.  To put it bluntly, this car could be butt ugly – it could look like a group of 1990s Linux UI designer rejects had shit this car out – and people would buy it if it handled the same.  It is a joy, a pleasure, an extreme privilege to drive.  I find myself gleefully going into twists in the road instead of trying to cut across them.  It’s just a blast.  I’m so incredibly happy that an affordable driver’s car is finally being produced again, and that I am fortunate enough to have one.