When the Google Nexus 7 came out, both Dan and I pre-ordered one as I noted here. We discussed it in a video chat, and from that I had committed to a ‘7 Day Nexus Challenge’. The 7 days have long since passed, but I had wanted to get to the conclusion of my ‘initial Nexus experience’ before writing about it. So, here goes …
My pre-order through Google was confirmed and then canceled within a few hours for unknown reasons. Perhaps I should have taken that as an omen, but instead I just did another pre-order the next day.
My Nexus arrived right around the time that people were able to get them in certain stores. The retail availability before pre-order fulfillment was yet another sign that Google had no real clue about these ‘customer’ things.
When you get as many gadgets as I do, it is easy to evaluate them in the context of how they fit into your daily life. For example, using a new phone while keeping your existing phone active might be a necessity, but it allows for a crutch that can cloud your judgment. So … Dan and the other editors challenged me to put away my iPad and ONLY use the Nexus for 7 days. I thought it was a GREAT idea that would really put it to the test.
Before getting started, there were a couple of things I needed to do:
– Make sure I had as many apps as possible.
– Get everything (email, RSS, productivity, etc) set up.
I was able to get most everything set up, but wasn’t sure on what to expect with my Apple Bluetooth keyboard. I have had about a 50% success rate on pairing, but I had left my keyboard at work, so I would have to wait.
I would say that the theme for the first day was ‘wait … I have a tablet’?
I got to work, got the Nexus online with my company’s ‘guest’ WiFi, which has a spoofed authentication system that requires re-checkin periodically. On my iOS stuff I could simply ‘trust’ the connection and get to the check-in screen after it reset the connection. For the Nexus I needed to go into the web browser, confirm my desire to go forward and then get to the check-in point. This is the same as other Android tablets, where it will appear to be connected but will just fail to connect services and email until I explicitly go into the web browser and start the process again. To say that Android is grossly inferior in this way is an understatement.
As I feared, the Apple keyboard didn’t work with the Nexus 7 (as I read online, the ‘2 battery’ newer version has broader compatibility with newer devices whereas the older ‘3 battery’ one works mainly with older stuff). My next thought was to use my old Palm Touchstone station as an angled rest, something that worked pretty well with my old Acer Iconia … but for whatever reason it wasn’t particularly stable with the Nexus. The Nexus also didn’t fit properly into my Oberon Kindle Fire case, so I couldn’t use THAT to help it stay upright.
Since the main attraction of the Nexus 7 was the $199 cost, I had no desire to buy a $80+ Bluetooth keyboard to make it useful. So for the rest of the day I carried the Nexus around with me, checked email, used Google Reader for my RSS feeds, and tried to use WordPress to edit some posts. Have you ever used WordPress on Android? It fits the description for many Android apps – bits of smartphone and large tablet mushed together in an incoherent and inconvenient way.
Throughout the day, I found myself using my work laptop more and more for personal stuff, which is something I try to ‘firewall’ – and successfully do with the iPad. At home that night I grabbed my Mac and did everything I needed there, with the Nexus sitting mostly idle except for browing TV Guide, playing some games, and checking email.
And … I made a decision.
The next morning, after some early meetings and tasks at work, I was in front of Best Buy when it opened. I headed in and bought the ‘Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Android 3.0+’, brought it back to work and hoped it would work. And … it worked great. It was simple to configure, the keyboard is decent (not as good as either my Apple keyboard dock for iPad or the Bluetooth keyboard, but still solid). The keyboard cover doubles as a foldable stand, which was great for the Nexus as it allowed me to use it in portrait or landscape format.
Using the Nexus actually started to ‘happen’ at this point … I actually put together a complete (albeit quick) post in WordPress using the Nexus. I had to go to the PC to get some of the formatting and image stuff resolved, but I wasn’t overly surprised about that. I even sent a couple of emails from the Nexus that were more than the couple of words I could tolerate typing on the virtual keyboard. For the first time, it really worked.
Day Three & Four
The next couple of days were more or less the same. I had my Logitech keyboard and stand at my desk, and would carry the Nexus everywhere with me. The problem was that those couple of days had me working in the lab most of the time on a number of critical metrology issues, and so I was constantly moving between rooms and equipment and processes and trying not to interfere with technicians doing their jobs. In other words, I needed just a tablet, not the whole station – and with the iPad with SmartCover and the virtual keyboard I would have been fine. But not the Nexus 7.
One critical thing is that while ‘content consumption’ is something that 7″ tablets excel at, content creation is a distinct weak point. So while I was fine checking emails and sending quick replies and generally LOOKING at stuff, actually DOING anything was a horribly inefficient process … and for Day Four I brought in my work laptop, something I hadn’t needed to do in months.
In the lab during the week, we also put the Nexus through some basic ‘cosmetic inspection’ tests. I had noticed that the ‘fit & finish’ was sub-par: the glass of the screen wasn’t completely even in terms of spacing from the bezel edge, the case edge was rough in spots, the corner-to-corner feel was ‘creaky’ … and I really felt that the Nexus wouldn’t survive even a modest drop.
I had been reading the rampant issues with audio-out, dead pixels, stuck pixels, and so on – and even knew a couple of people who bought the Nexus 7 (after talking to me, no less) and BOTH of them had issues. One had totally dead audio, the other had a screen that would glitch in and out. Both had HORRIBLE experiences with Google, but managed to get exchanges; one got a perfectly operational system (not perfect, about like mine), the other had SIX dead pixels, and had to battle to NOT lose the ‘restocking fee’ and just get a refund.
Another thing during these couple of days is that I was reminded of something – with the iPad 3, suddenly I have a great camera in a tablet. What this means is that I can take very good pictures, display them on a big and portable screen, and zoom easily while maintaining detail on the Retina screen. It is so important to me, and frankly so obviously useful, that I would say that anyone who denies the utility is an idiot. The Nexus, needless to say, doesn’t have a camera … so I found myself using my smartphone more, trying to show pictures there … but with the small and lower DPI screen it is an inadequate experience. Yes, I have a ‘big’ Android phone, but it just isn’t good enough. In other words – yet another way the limited functionality drove me to other devices.
Day Five & Six
Over the weekend I tried to use the Nexus 7 as much as possible, but it wasn’t easy. The Android system in general is seriously lacking in apps: I have mentioned multiple times that there is simply no music creation, which kills a HUGE amount of stuff for me. Also, the selection of games could be summed up as follows ‘the iPad games you played a month or two ago … but at lower resolution’. Again, with the exception of a select few games – some of which have yet ANOTHER full priced version – most games are either scaled-up smartphone games or scaled down tablet games – but few are a ‘good fit’ for the Nexus.
During the week I kept running into more and more apps that were either inadequate or missing on the Nexus 7. Of course the Amazon Prime stuff isn’t there, and while Francis posted the hack to get it working, the (first gen) Kindle Fire is simply better for that stuff. Many things like Statistics programs or app-companions for desktop statistics packages are iPad only, and that seriously impacted me … same with good ‘thought mapping’ tools. Even the Office apps are simply more mature on iOS. And WordPress is a majorly inadequate solution on Android – I typed most of this on the Nexus, lost content too many times, had formatting screwed up and so on.
In short – my 7-day experience has reinforced for me the incredible extent to which Android apps are stuck in ‘amateur hour’.
By the time I headed back to work on Monday, I estimated I was using the Nexus for ~10% of my stuff. It is simply inadequate – it might be zippy and have decent hardware, but it is not enough. In fact, I had pulled out my LiveScribe Echo and notebook to get some information from an earlier experiment, and was surprised that someone noted at our morning meeting I had the LiveScribe and not the Nexus … which was sitting unpacked at my desk in my laptop bag.
That finally drove it home – with each passing day I was NOT getting more engaged with the Nexus 7 … in fact I was finding more ways to work AROUND having to use it! It is simply an inadequate productivity solution for anything but content consumption and the most trivial creation. I got through the day, but was thrilled the next day to have my iPad back.
It should already be clear, but in spite of having a solid Android foundation (and several previous tablets) and an obvious affinity for tablets and mobile OS … I couldn’t recommend the Nexus 7 as a fully capable productivity solution. It is a ‘nice add-on’ – but REALLY needs to be a secondary solution to something else. So, it was going back to Google.
Or so I thought.
Dealing With Google
If you need to return something to Best Buy you go to the store. If Amazon or Apple, the policies are clear and straight-forward. Most importantly they have a history of great service before and after the sale. Google … well, not so much. They are not really a ‘people company’. My only experience was having my pre-order canceled and having to re-do it and never getting a reply to my inquiries.
But it was easy enough to find the return link on their site, and I submitted my claim. And I waited … and waited … and waited. I waited 6 days before I got ANY sort of response – what I heard one of my friends was told was that the volume of returns and exchanges was bogging Google down. I believe it. Anyway, on Day 6 (13 days total of the 14 day return window) I got an email confirming my desire to return and stating I would get a return label by email.
Only I never did. Since the first email took 6 days, I waited a few days before emailing again, and after a day of no response I called … and called again and a third time after failing to obtain human assistance. I was told I would get a follow-up email (which I did) and a UPS mailing label (which I did not). If anyone is counting we are now more than a MONTH since I got my Nexus 7 … which was this past week. Several emails and phone calls and I simply accepted that I was stuck with a tablet due to the absolutely abysmal customer service of Google.
And as I said, I am FAR from alone – what I have heard is there are two types of Nexus 7 customers: those who got a good unit initially and kept it, and those who discovered why Google doesn’t deal with customer. Because they suck at it.
The Google Nexus 7 is a solid low-end tablet for those looking for an entry-level device. It is lacking in many features that iPad users have come to expect including the build quality, fit and finish, overall utility, and a robust app ecosystem. But if your use case is more about content consumption, then all of the basic apps are there and work pretty well, if generally sub-par compared to the iOS versions; most also lack usability compared to their smartphone counterparts.
The biggest disappointment for me was Google. I have been very critical and said that they have no clue about dealing with ‘real’ customers … but I was ready to be wrong! Sadly my experiences, and those of two co-workers, were wholly negative. As one said ‘well, they can make it cheap because they seem to have two people running customer service’.
As I was finishing this up, I used the Nexus 7 as much as possible, though I will admit to completing it on a laptop and confirming how much better it would be writing it on the iPad. I also used the Nexus for some Hulu watching and playing games. The size and speed of the Nexus works great for those content consumption activities, but beyond that it is simply out of its league.
It is, as many have stated, a solid Kindle Fire competitor … but regarding it as competition to the iPad in any but the most trivial ways is laughable.