Switching back to my iPad

About 8 months ago, on a whim I bought a Nexus 7. Really to be used for testing websites I work on for how they look on that size screen, a few months ago I decided to give Android a fair shake. Caveat: I have been an Apple person since 2002 or so, and have been with iOS since the original iPhone, so I am clearly a biased opinion.

The fair shake involved me using the Nexus 7 for all my media consumption, and tablet like duties (email, magazine reading, newspaper apps, etc). I did not “root” my device, or install a modified ROM. It is plain Android (jelly bean 4.2 right now I think). I have only used the Android play store, and I have never sideloaded apps (unlike most of my Android phanatique friends, who load tons of pirate apps).

I have documented some of the annoyances in the past, but I will summarize:

  • The auto intensity adjustment is flakey. I read in bed, and the intensity switches levels a couple times a minute. I have never seen that with my iPad.
  • The interface is at times unresponsive. Mostly noticeable during games (for example Astra Solitaire is painful to play, because the UI at times take 2 or 3 stabs with your finger to get it to respond. But I experience this with many applications. From reading the forums, this is not an uncommon Android experience.
  • Gmail application. When I got this, it was great, very well mimicking the web browser version. But they have Google+’d it, and it sucks. I have gone back to using the “other” mail application.
  • Chrome is missing one killer feature. Safari on the ipad (and on my mac as well), has a “reader” mode. It strips all the miscellaneous cruft, and displays the main content in a larger, easy to read font. Yes, Chrome lets you double tap to size it to the window, but that often is still text that is too small to comfortably read.
  • The facebook application for android blows donkeys. It is just horrible. The iOS app used to suck, but about 4 months ago, a major rewrite made it killer and easy to use. Android still suffers here.
  • The Google Play music app is painful to use. Really hard to create/modify playlists on the device.
  • The accuracy of where it reads taps is odd. This is hard to explain, but for example, if you are looking at the device tilted back, and you pull up the email account selector on the gmail app, in the iOS world, it would know that you are looking at the screen tilted, and assume that you will tap a little low. Android misses this, and you select the one below your intent.
  • Battery life is atrocious. I don;t play much music, or video, but have to charge it every day to day and a half for 2 – 3 hours of reading, light browsing. My iPad (granted a much larger device), I get easily 3 – 5 days of that same amount of usage. And it is 2,5 years old, so the battery isn’t fresh. I suspect this is somewhat caused by a lot of background processes that are constantly active. Unlike my iOS devices, it does update programs and the system silently and in real time. So I often have updates in the notification area. IOS prompts me to upgrade apps, so I tend to do it all at once.

I have heard people on the interwebz saying that the Nexus 7 is the best tablet out there, period. I suspect that they have never spent time with an iPad. It is just enough more polished, and less intrusive to knock the Nexus 7 off the pedestal that some place it. I haven’t toyed with one of the updated Nexus 7’s, perhaps they fix these gripes, but I suspect it is more tied to the Android OS, than the hardware, so I would be skeptical.

So, I am back on the iPad, and I will keep dabbling with the Nexus 7, but it isn’t going to displace iOS for me. (as I said, I was biased)

More on life with the Nexus 7

I have been trying really hard to use my Nexus 7 as my tablet and media consumption device. In general, it is a worthy competitor to the iOS based iPad’s, but there are some notable differences.

1) The built in Safari “Reader” function is something I use heavily. If you are unfamiliar with it, it takes a web page, strips out all the marginal things, formats it in larger, more legible text, and makes it easy to read.  This is built in and “free”.  On a PC, it is not a big deal, as I usually have plenty of screen resolution, but even on a tablet, it is nice to have a clean copy to read without distraction. I have not found a good replacement in Chrome yet. Why won’t Google replicate this awesome feature?

2) Google can’t help but fucking with their applications. I guess the drive to “Google+”-ify everything is a top down directive. What it means though is that they have pretty much ruined the Gmail application in the stock Android.  It has avatars of the people, linked to their profile, which isn’t terrible, but it takes up valuable screen real estate on a device that has limited space to begin with. Yes, I could set up all my Gmail accounts on the “other” email software, but then I lose the goodness of the Google integration (like Apple, it “just works”)

3) (Again) The auto-brightness feature is pretty funked up.  When I read in bed, it is constantly adjusting the intensity, making appear to flicker.  Google needs to tune that control feedback loop to make it less sensistive.

4) It eats battery.  I am charging it every other day, where with my generation 2 iPad, I could often go 4 – 6 days of normal use before I needed to plug it in. I am not even listening to music, or doing much streaming, just reading my ebooks, or playing solitaire.

But, all in all, it has been a not too unpleasant experience.  I am still not looking to give up my iOS devices, but I have a new appreciation for the Android ecosystem.

Update: My time with a Nexus-7 Android tablet

A while back, I had a quick review of my first impressions of Android (recap: I had bought a Nexus 7 primarily to test a website I maintain for that form factor). Being a long fan of Apple and iOS, I was cautious in my review.

At the end of that review, I committed to putting my iPad down, and living with the Nexus-7 day to day to give it a fair shake.  Here are some interim observations:

  • The display is nice. Sharp, clear, and plenty bright.
  • The auto brightness based on ambient light is a bit glitchy. I tend to do a half hour or so of reading every night in bed before I sleep, and the brightness bounces up and down enough to make me crazy.
  • The Android Facebook application is crap. Crashes a lot, and clumsy navigation. It is a lot like the iOS app was 6 months ago, but FB got their shit together and made it reasonable. Seems that hasn’t happened on the Android version.
  • The system crashes fairly regularly. I haven’t counted how many times, but enough to be bothersome (no, these are restarts to upgrade the firmware).
  • Video playback via the Play store, and my Flixter account is quite good. As long as I have a good WiFi signal, and enough bandwidth, it is a great streaming platform.
  • The built in Play application for the Google Music is weird. It just seems un-intuitive to navigate and create playlists. To be fair, I am usually happy with the iOS version of iTunes, so it is probably not the device/sw, but me and my expectations.
  • Some applications are very susceptible to crashing. FML is one.
  • I really like the Play Magazine app. I read Foreign Affairs with it, and I enjoy it. However, the Economist app is not compatible with the Nexus 7 (not a Google problem). Dafuq is up with that?

I am reasonably satisfied with the Nexus 7, but I am not a gamer, and I am not a hacker. I am just using it in the manner which Google made it. (ok, Asus, but Google was responsible for the design and software). Since it was a lot less expensive than the iPad, it is a good value.

But I still like iOS devices better. Probably not going to switch to Android across the board.

My first Android Device – Nexus 7

About 7 months ago, I splurged and bought a Nexus 7.  Ostensibly, I bought it to test the websites I work on in an intermediate resolution (I already use an iphone and an iPad to test different mobile sizes).  I figured that I would give Android a fair shake, but alas, I have used it sporadically.

Nexus 7 - Google's 7" tablet with ANdroid
Nexus 7 – Google’s 7″ tablet with ANdroid

Naturally, I used my gmail account to set it up, and I have done my best to set it up, and keep it up to date. It is still stock, I haven’t rooted it or sideloaded any apps or changed the rom’s.  I wanted to get a good feel for Android, and I thought that using a stock Google branded device would give me the best of the experience. (I hear that for those who want to keep Google at arm’s length, you can set it up without a Google account, but I am already in for a pound)

The Nexus 7 isn’t a bad piece of kit. It has a rubberized plastic back, and 16G of flash memory (32G was an option).  It was one of the first devices shipping with “Jelly Bean”, and it has had several updates.  I must admit that Google does a good job distributing updates, and keeping it current.

The Apps.  The Gmail application and integration is pretty tight.  Really easy to use, and I will admit that it is a hair better than on my iPhone.  It just “fits”. It comes with gtalk (now Hangouts), Google Earth, among other Google standards. Of note is the Music application. I liked the fact that it picked up on my collections that I sync’d with Google, so I had access to all my tunes (more on this later).

I did add some applications, a solitaire game (I tend to piss away hours playing solitaire, a weakness), an eBook reader (Aldiko) and applications for 1Password, Dropbox, some other games (angry birds space, monopoly etc), hootsuite for my Twitter use, and Facebook.  They all work OK, and I can’t complain too much for the integration and interface. However, one thing that was somewhat annoying is that at times, the UI gets balky.  What I mean by that is that it just becomes unresponsive. It can take 2 or three “taps” with the finger to get the application to respond. There are some threads out in the world on this, it is just different how Android prioritizes UI actions than iOS.  (Naturally, I am an Apple fan, and I have both an iPhone and an iPad, so there is definitely some bias here.)

The past week, I have endeavored to use my Nexus more. It does have a better display than my iPad, and it is a convenient form factor (my iPad is a second generation, non-retina display version). Of course, I could use it to be a little bigger. My eyes are not young anymore, so I would appreciate Google using their resolution to make larger text a joy to read, but that is hardly a fault of the device.

Unlike many Android devices, it lacks a SD card slot to increase memory. However, I haven’t found a reason to need more memory.

Google Play.

The music player, and media player are based on the Google Play service. It comes with a full length movie (Transformers 2, not really my type of movie) and it streams well (WiFi to a Cable modem with a business class bandwidth package).  I haven’t felt the need to rent or buy any more videos, and I haven’t bothered to figure out how to play a media file from my extensive collection on it (I am sure it is possible, but I usually don’t watch videos on my devices).

The music player is nice. I find that the navigation and creating/managing of playlists is a bit cumbersome, but that is likely because I have become immersed in the iOS (and iTunes) way of managing my music, so I won’t hold it against Google.

However, there is a wart. I have mentioned in other posts that one of my reasons why I don’t rely on Google Play to stream music to my work PC (since it is limited in storage, I prefer to keep it media file free) is that it stutters, stalls, and in general is a poor (and distant) second to my go to streaming service, Spotify premium. I gave it one more whirl this weekend with the launch of Google’s “All Access” streaming service that is similar to Spotify’s service. However, I am sorry to report that on WiFi, on a great cable connection (plenty of bandwidth and low latency) it still stalls, hiccups, and stutters.  It can go 2 – 3 songs perfectly, then it will be really crappy for a minute or two.

As a book reader.

The Aldiko application, combined with DropBox, and I have all my (DRM Free) ePub books on hand. I like that, no need to sync like I do with iTunes.  I have bought several books from the Google Play book store.  find their selection excellent, and the price fair. It uses the standard Adobe Adept DRM, so it is easy to strip (I use Calibre) and then I load them with Aldiko.  I also use the Google book reader application, and it is quite good (and it is just like the Google book reader on my iPad.)

Lastly, I was an early Sony Reader adopter, and I have probably 40 – 50 books I have bought from the Sony store. There is a Sony application that makes it trivial to access my library.

The hardware does quite well as a book reader. It is a good size and form factor, the text is crisp, and the applications let me scale the text to be friendly with my gradually declining eyes.

Observations.

The hardware is pretty solid. It is light, and easy to hold and carry. When you plug it into a PC (or my Mac) it is mounted like a file system so you can poke around. It does have a front camera, but I haven’t used it. With the new Google Hangout application, I suspect I will have some occasion to use it. Even with moderate use, I still have plenty of flash storage remaining. I am not missing the SD card slot.

Gaining root access is trivial. It is in the setup, and easy to find. I haven’t felt the need to allow applications loaded from stores/repositories other than the official Google store. I am at a point in my life where I can afford to buy my software, and I prefer to not have to worry about malware.

The battery life is so-so. On my iPad (now more than 2 years old), I get 4-5 days on a charge, using it a couple hours a day. Even light use of the Nexus 7 seems to drain the battery much quicker.  I haven’t timed it, but I figure that if/when I start to use it more I will be charging it every other day or so.

I hoped that using the Google app on a google device, with a good connection would make the music streaming much more robust, but alas, it is not to be.  I will probably not be replacing Spotify with All Access.

My iPad has the cellular option, so I can get data when I am traveling (it is disables now, but I can turn it back on), and I probably would have bought this with a cellular radio for that same access.

Summary

I have dabbled with the Nexus 7, now that I have spent some serious time with it, I can say that I like it. But I am probably not going to be giving up my iPad or iPhone anytime soon. I am probably not ever going to be an Android fanboy, but I now have a better appreciation of the ecosystem, and the charm.