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.