I have had my Nexus 7 for a month now and I’m finally ready to write my review of it. I know many of you have been wondering what I think and how I’ve been using it. I’m going to break this review into three parts: Hardware & OS, Apps, and Accessories then I’ll wrap up with some tips for those still considering a tablet. The bottom line is I love it and it’s had profound changes on how I work, consume information, manage my time, and what I carry with me.
Hardware & OS
The Hardware on the Nexus 7 is just incredible. You can find a lot of reviews that talk about how good the build quality, screen, and specs are. Rather than repeat that here, I’ll cover what I found surprising about it. The biggest surprise is how perfect the size is. After seeing, using, and hearing about iPads for years I was under the impression that 10” was the right size for a tablet. The original 7” android tablets were thick and heavy with bad screens and small batteries. The Nexus 7 really shines in all of these areas. I love the way it fits in my hand, or coat pocket, and is still big enough for reading, watching video, and taking notes (more on that later). It really is a size that causes me to engage with it more often than I would if I had a 10” tablet. And while it’s not a laptop replacement, where a 10” might be, it does much more than I expected. So much so that I don’t carry my laptop around everywhere like I used to. I feel comfortable going out, for coffee or a meeting, with just the tablet. It’s ironic that one of the few things, other than typing long posts like this, that I still need my laptop for is the page and community management features in Google+ which you can’t do from a mobile browser (shrug).
I have been a fan of Android since it first launched in 2008 and have owned a string of phones, including the original T-Mobile G1 phone. I have loved watching both the OS and the Apps mature. This latest version, showcased on the Nexus 7, is a crowning achievement for the Android team. The system is fast and easy to navigate. The built in apps are robust and well thought out. It’s easy to say that the GMail app is my favorite way to interact with my email, even over the standard GMail web interface. Two Android features that I couldn’t live without are the Widgets and built in Share function. I spend almost as much time interacting with my data through widgets than I do in the Apps created for that purpose. I’ll provide links to some of my favorites in next section. The universal Share feature is more than just a way to send data to other people. It’s like a magic conduit that allows your Apps to interact around your data without needing to know about each other. In any App you can “Share” to all other Apps that accept that form of data. Share a URL and only the URL aware Apps show on the list, if it’s a picture then you will only see those apps that say they can handle pics. The newest feature that is a runaway hit is Google Now. I’m finding all kinds of neat information that I didn’t realize I needed until Now presented it. From nearby places to how long my drive home is delayed by traffic. Also, if I search for a location in my desktop browser, then Now presents a one click ‘Navigate to’ link without me worrying about getting the address to my phone.
It’s not surprising that I’m using many of the same apps on my Galaxy Nexus and my Nexus 7. What is surprising is how differently I’m using them. Here is a list of my top third party Apps and why the Nexus 7 makes them even better.
I can’t say enough great things about Evernote. I have been using it for years and it’s a great way to organize, remember, and retrieve all the stuff the we collect in our lives. I know lots of people who have fallen in love with this App and every one uses it differently. I use it for everything from GTD and meeting notes, to technical reference and even writing my blog posts. The Evernote App on my phone was almost always for either looking up something or capturing an idea or bit of data (email address or movie title). I never did any long form writing or organization on there, I relied on the desktop app for that. Now on my tablet I’m creating, reviewing, and filing new stuff all the time. My use of Evernote has gone way up and so has my discipline in capturing everything.
Pocket is a wonderful app for gathering up all the stuff you want to remember to read. If you have 30 browser tabs open for stuff you want to come back to then Pocket is the App for you. The Pocket App on my phone was mostly used as a place to capture links into from Twitter, Email, or Facebook. I rarely used it to actually read the stories there. This is now the #1 reading App on my Nexus 7, even more than the Kindle App. I’m doing better at keeping up on the new stuff I save there and am even making a dent on the hundreds of older stories I’ve saved. I don’t even bother to read articles in my browser anymore, which used to be the only place I read them. Now when I want to read something it always goes to Pocket for reading on the Nexus 7 later.
This was the real surprise of the list. Before I would carry a Staples Arc Notebook everywhere with me, especially at work. I try to be diligent about writing down all the commitments, new ideas, and information that flew at me all day long, epically in meetings. With Handrite, and the right stylus (see below), I can take all those same notes, just as fast, on the screen. It treats each word or symbol as a separate image or object. This allows for selective editing, inserting new lines, or revising what I wrote. Things that pen and paper would never allow. I then Share the finished note to Evernote as a JPG and it sits in my inbox waiting to be Processed. Usually at the end of the week I would be flipping through my notebook, looking for all the things that haven’t made it into my system yet. Now they are already there, and because of the magic of Evernote, it’s all searchable too.
I have to point out two Widgets that I use all the time. The first is Android Agenda Widget. This is a super-configurable replacement for the standard Calendar Widget that offers both multiple calendar support and configurable views. It’s hot corner buttons and menus mean that I almost never open the Calendar App directly. On the new Android 4.2 it also functions as a lock screen widget while keeping all it’s features. The second is One More Clock. It offers some beautiful clock widgets that include weather and battery monitors. Some of the themes are nicer than others, but I’m betting that everyone will find one they like. Also the configurable Tap-to-Launch feature make it a great shortcut launcher as well. These along with the GMail and Evernote Widgets are the goto interfaces for my most used data.
After much research I have found several accessories that are vital my new tablet driven life.
Moko slim fit Case
A great case should not only provide protection, but make the device it holds more functional. The Moko slim fit case is exactly that. It’s great looking and feels solid in the hand both open or closed. The well designed ‘hinge back’ puts the screen at either of the two most frequent angles you will want it sitting in. And the corner hooks hold the Nexus 7 firmly without being hard to remove. It’s a wonderful design and a great purchase to both protect and use the tablet in.
PhantomSkinz screen protector
I have been a fan of PhantomSkinz since my NexusOne. It’s a perfect premium protector with almost no Orange Peel common in many other screen protectors. While it is a bit tricky to apply the first time (it involves water) it shouldn’t deter anyone from this most excellent product. Not only does my Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus have one but my wife’s iPhone 4S does as well.
This was a game changer for me. I had tried several other styluses (styli?) and couldn’t handle the dragging and skipping, especially once I had the screen protector in place. The Truglide stylus completely solves this. It’s cloth tip glides smoothly over the screen, even with the protector on. It offers a great writing experience, enough to allow me to leave my notepad on my desk when I go to meetings. The active stylus on the Samsung Note series may be more accurate, but this is the best capacitive stylus I’ve ever seen.
I’ve know for a while now that i had a tablet shaped whole in my life. I had never imagined that it would be filled so perfectly with a 7” tablet. After reading this, you may also be wondering if you have such a whole. So here are a few tips for those considering adding a tablet, of any size, to your life.
First, try to be mindful of when you could be using it for things you already do. I had many, many times in the last few years where I would think “If I had a tablet, I could use it for this right now.” This could be reading a article on the couch or emailing while waiting for my wife to finish shopping. I had racked up enough of those instances to make the purchase an easy one when the time came. Look for similar uses in your daily routine.
Second, be open to the fact that you will start doing new things or using it in ways you never thought. I never imagined that a tablet would replace so much of my laptop usage as it has. I also didn’t expect to stop carrying a paper notepad to meetings. I’m sure as time goes on I’ll find even more to do with it that I can’t guess right now. Realize that the purchase of a tablet can enable all kinds of new things if you are open to it.
Finally, pick an ecosystem before you pick a device. The big question in mobile and tablets now is “Which one?” There are so many choices and more coming out each day. The biggest influence on how successful your tablet will be is not what specific one you buy, but who’s system you are tying yourself to. The major contenders: Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all offer their own stores with different Apps, music, videos, ebooks, and communities. You need to think strongly about who you want to tie yourself to. If you already have an iPhone and a bunch of Apps and music in iTunes, then an iPad makes much more sense than a Kindle Fire. If you are deeply entrenched in Amazon music, Prime videos, and Apps then a Kindle may be the way to go. The only exception I would make is Kindle books, which work great on every platform and syncs between all of your readers. Which ever system you choose, you should buy your ebooks from Amazon. So pick a ecosystem first, then find the right device within that system for you.
I hope this helps anyone still looking at tablets to make an informed decision and finally feel comfortable about making the leap to the tablet life. I’m glad I did every time I turn on my Nexus 7.