In my Nexus 7 initial impressions piece, posted over the weekend, I was a bit critical of Google Now. I made a point of carrying the Nexus 7 with me every day to see if Google Now would “learn” from my movements. I did not have an active WiFi signal during the day at work, but the Nexus 7 does have GPS built in, so I assumed that it would keep track of my movements. Sadly, it didn’t do that. I made a point of connecting the Nexus 7 to my phone, via a 3G WiFi hotspot, when I traveled to Atlanta last Friday. While Google Now did recognize where I was, and offered a travel time map — that map was not connected with my destination within Atlanta. It merely provided the driving time from Hartsfield/Jackson to downtown Atlanta.
Today, I made a point of keeping the 3G WiFi hotspot active throughout the day. I unlocked the Nexus 7 this afternoon and Google Now displayed some cards that I hadn’t seen before.
As you can see, at the top of the Google Now screen is a card with an estimate of my commute time to home. What’s interesting about the traffic card is that it appears to know that I don’t take the Washington Beltway home in the evenings because of traffic. I do travel the Beltway in the mornings, so I will keep an eye on what the card displays tomorrow morning.
Next up is the weather card. This cards is normally at the first card in the stack.
Below the weather is where things got interesting. There is a card displaying transportation (bus) schedules for the bus stop near my office. Below the transportation card were several cards for businesses near my office, including Whole Foods, LA Fitness, and a couple of restaurants. The cards displayed operating hours, and gave me the option to get more information or check in.
One card that I swiped away before taking the screen captures was a place card for the movie theater I went to on Saturday. Interestingly, I searched for movie times with the Nexus 7, but did not take the tablet with me. While I am a little puzzled about why my flight searches didn’t produce a card, it’s pretty cool to see that Google Now is trying to interpret my searches and create, potentially, relevant cards.
I don’t know if keeping the WiFi connection open was the key for the addition of these new cards, but the appearance of these new cards is very encouraging. If improvement of cards displayed on Google Now is contingent on having an Internet connection, than I now more fully understand why Josh Topolsky on The Verge stated that he felt that Google Now was much more useful on the Galaxy Nexus than on the Nexus 7. The Galaxy Nexus has a constant connection, where as the Nexus 7 needs access to WiFi to update data on many, if not all, of the cards.) I plan to take the Metro (subway) and/or the bus to work a few days this week. I’d like to see if the transportation card starts to add departure times for the Metro station closest to my office.
Thanks to my good friend Sarah Mattingly, I currently have a number of photos on display at The Java Shack in Arlington, Virginia. I am not sure how long the work will be displayed, but if you’re in the area, please stop by to check them out, and enjoy some coffee and light fare while you’re there.
Here are some images of my work hanging on the walls of Java Shack.
The Java Shack — Getting There
I still have a bad taste in my mouth because of the whole ordering and shipping experience. As expected, after the package bouncing around on UPS trucks for the better part of a week, the shipping box was pretty beat up.
Ok. I finally have the Nexus 7 in hand! Now, let me get on with sharing my first impressions.
Fortunately, the shipping box contained an inflated packing bubble, so the retail box for the Nexus 7 was not damaged.
I was forewarned that the Nexus 7 was packed pretty tight into the box, and unboxing could be tricky. The packaging is, indeed, snug, but I managed to get the box open without making too many deposits into my imaginary swear jar.
Many reviewers have stated that back of the Nexus 7 looks like a golf ball. I think these people must not play much golf. To me, it looks like perforated leather, like what you might see on a driving glove, or car seat upholstery.
Though I actually handled a Nexus 7 prior to receiving mine (thanks Francis!), I was surprised at how solid the tablet feels. In my head, I was concerned about the build quality of a $200 tablet. Asus did a really nice job.
The Nexus 7 is built to work with data in the cloud, namely Google Play and other Google services. The lack of internal memory is the biggest clue — just 8GB or 16GB. This reliance on cloud storage becomes even more obvious as you take a quick tour of the exterior of the tablet. There is a power button, volume rocker, headphone jack and a micro-USB port. That’s it.
My wife teases me about being a manual reader. Keeping true to form, I had already perused the Nexus 7 user guide before receiving the tablet — I had enough time (eye roll) — so after taking a tour of the exterior, I powered it up.
The screen is gorgeous! Frankly, I am getting sick of the Apple zombies that throw “But, is it a Retina display?” around. No. First of all, Retina display is Apple’s thing. Everything doesn’t have to be Apple. Secondly, and probably more importantly, I doubt that the average person can discern the difference in pixel density between the Nexus 7 and the new iPad. I can, but it’s not that big of a deal. The screen on the Nexus 7 has deep blacks, rich colors, and the text on the screen is pretty damned sharp.
If you’ve every used an Android device, you know that set up is pretty easy. You simply enter your primary Google or Google Apps email address and you’re off.
This initial setup took all of about two minutes. I did click through things a little too quickly, because I clicked “Ok” for the Nexus 7 to sync all the apps in my Google Play account. I didn’t want it to do that, but I simply uninstalled the apps that I didn’t want once they finished loading. Almost as soon as the Nexus 7 was setup, I received a notification than an update to the operating system was available. That was fast. I clicked “Ok” and let the update do its thing.
Overall, the Nexus 7 is very easy to operate. There is an adjustment, though, if you’re coming to the Jelly Bean version of Android from a device running on Gingerbread. A fair number of the gestures and controls are different, and take a little getting used to. The operative word is “little.” The Jelly Bean version of Android is very intuitive.
Press the power button and you’re presented with a simple image of a lock. Simply taping the lock screen presents you with two options — unlock the device or go to Google Now. I’ll discuss the latter in a moment.
Unlocking the device for the first time, the home screen is populated with an edge-to-edge Google Play store widget.
This widget adjusts as you add to, play, or read items in your Google Play library. It’s an attractive widget. The size of widget, like practically every other widget on the Nexus 7, can be adjusted. Irrespective of the size, I found the widget to be a bit too heavy for my taste. Removing the widget is easy. Simply long-press and drug it toward the top of the screen. Speaking widgets, adding a widget to one of the home screens is no longer performed by long-pressing on the screen. With Ice Cream Sandwich, and above, you have to tap the launcher button and go the widgets tab to select a widget. Long press the desired widget and and drag it to a page.
Sidebar: With the purchase of the Nexus 7, Google has thrown in several free magazines to sample, a free book, the last Transformer movie, and $25 credit in the Google Play store. Not bad.
The handling of notifications in Jelly Bean is quite different than what I’m accustomed to…and that’s a good thing. Gingerbread allowed you to delete individual items in the notifications bar. Ice Cream introduced the ability to swipe individual notifications. Jelly Bean takes the notification a step further with not only swiping, but also rich content. Now, instead of just seeing that I have two messages (email, text), I can swipe down with two fingers of the email notification and see a little bit about each email.
Another new feature that I like is the addition of magazines and TV shows to the Google Play store. Reading magazines on the Nexus 7 is a pretty smooth experience. You can flip through a magazine one page at a time, or you can tap the screen to pull up a slider at the bottom of the screen that lets you skip ahead to any page. You can zoom in on any page, but the traditional spread-to-zoom gesture doesn’t resize the text, though. To get a clear read of a specific article in the magazine, tap the screen and click “view text” at the top right of the screen. Google Play Magazine converts the article to a clean, readable article, that you can scroll through left-to-right.
One operational issue I’ve encountered with the Nexus 7 has to do with the physical design. The power button and the volume rocker are too close to each other. I find myself turning off the screen when I’m trying to turn up the volume. This is particularly annoying when watching a video because the video stops when the screen goes dark.
Depending on who you ask, Google Now is either described as a Apple Siri beater, or a shameless, inferior, knock off of Siri. I couldn’t care less about comparisons. I just want to know if the product performs as promised. Here is the video introducing Google Now.
In my experience, I found that Google Now is only consistent with a few things — showing the weather, showing driving estimates to-and-from work, and answering most queries accurately. Unfortunately, I have yet to see Google Now “learn” from my queries and add info cards, such as flight information and place suggestions, to my Google Now screen. I recently traveled to Atlanta. I searched my outbound flight more than once, but Google Now never showed me a card for that flight with a status update, on it’s own. I always had to search anew, and that didn’t always give me consistent results. Additionally, I had the flight on my calendar. The calendar notice showed up in Google Now as a small card, but it didn’t interpret that data from that appointment and create a card for the flight. I tried the same thing for my return flight from Atlanta, and experienced the same thing. That was disappointing. I’m also a little stumped why Google Now keeps showing me driving information to work on Saturday and Sunday. I’ve only had the Nexus 7 since Monday, but I haven’t traveled in that direction since Thursday. I don’t know how long it takes for Google Now to learn from my movement patterns, but so far it’s seriously lacking. Likewise, I have been searched for sports scores of some favorite teams every day, but Google Now has yet to automatically show me the schedule for these teams, nor the scores of their games. I’ve tried adjusted the settings, with no success. I’ll stay after it, but Google Now seems like a novelty that isn’t quite ready for prime time. Of course, I’m always prepared to account for user error, but I just don’t see it.
In just a week, my Nexus 7 has had two force closes and one complete device lock up, which required a soft reset to get it working again. Force closes have plagued Android devices, so I truly hope this is not a recurring issue with the Nexus 7.
After one week with the Nexus 7, here’s my honest opinion. The Nexus 7 is a solidly built tablet. The screen is bright and crisp. The Jelly Bean version of Android is a very good improvement from Gingerbread, and even smoother than the devices I’ve seen with Ice Cream sandwich. Though the few glitches I’ve experienced concern me, I don’t think the Nexus 7 is an inherently flawed device.
Here’s the rub for me. The 7″ size would seemingly appel to most people, because it’s more portable and easier to hold than a 10″ tablet. That just doesn’t hold up for me. Maybe my opinion will change after a few more weeks, but right now the Nexus 7 just feels too small. Perhaps it’s because I had been using a 13″ MacBook Pro most of the time. Shrinking the screen down six inches is pretty dramatic for most of the reading that I do online or in Feedly. Additionally, while the keyboard on the Nexus 7 is really nice, I’ve found that I cannot type as well as I do on a physical keyboard. What this means for me is that the Nexus 7 is truly a media consumption device, not something that can serve as a stand-in for a laptop. I’m not suggesting that Google is marketing the Nexus 7 as a laptop replacement — the push has been all about media consumption. Let’s be honest, though, more and more people use iPads and other tablets in lieu of laptops.
If you think a 10″ tablet is too large, but don’t want something dumbed down, the Nexus 7 is probably a great tablet for you. For $200, I am hard-pressed to name anything else on the market that can compete. There are rumors that Apple will likely launch an iPad mini this fall. I doubt that it will be in the same price point, though. I suspect it to run around $250 to start. If Apple integrates a 4G cell radio, the Nexus 7 may be in trouble. I don’t mind the absence of a cell radio. WiFi is enough, and works just fine for me.
I hate to sound like I’m luke warm about the Nexus 7, but I am left wondering after a week whether I really need this device. I guess, if nothing else, I have a nice small tablet that is good to have around the house as well as a lightweight device to add to my bag when traveling. I have been on the fence about e-books, but I have a couple loaded on the Nexus 7. I am going to give one a try to see how I like the reading experience. Something tells me that I will still prefer reading books printed on paper. We’ll see.
So, there you have it. If you have any questions about the Nexus 7, please ask in the comments. I am more than happy to answer, and compare the Nexus 7 to other tablets. (I’ve played around with just about all of them.)
Since jumping off of social media, I have been reading more. Specifically, I have been reading books. In addition to revisiting the library, I resumed print subscriptions to The Washington Post and the Sunday New York Times. I still look at my fair share of news online, but there’s something really special, and a bit nostalgic, about reading the newspaper.
I was taken back the other day when someone commented, when I asked if she wanted part of my newspaper, that she doesn’t pay attention to the news. Call me judgmental, but I think failing to keep up with, or seemingly not care about, the news is not something to proudly state out loud. Now I’m not suggesting that other should or must read the paper, not am I talking about being, or becoming, a news junkie. Just be aware. If newspapers aren’t your thing, that’s cool. There are plenty of news outlets on TV and online.
I think consciously ignoring what’s going on locally, nationally, or globally, effectively eliminates your right to complain. I say this not simply as a punishment for being willing myopic and ignorant, but because any opinions expressed will have been developed purely by conjecture — not fact. Of course, it’s debatable just how much fact we actually get through the news, but that’s a subject for another post.