A week or so ago, my wife and I were shopping (at a local office supply store), and they had the two Microsoft Surfaces. The RT which is ARM powered, and the other one (pro?) with a Core i5 and full windows compatibility.
I was expecting to be underwhelmed, but the Metro interface, and the responsiveness of the product was surprising. Metro (the Windows 8) UI is well suited for touch interactions. The tiles are intuitive, and the system is quite snappy. As I played with it, I found it very well designed and easy to interact with.
I am not in danger of giving up my iPad, but if Microsoft launched this in 2010 at the same time as the iPad was launched, it might have had a chance. But now, it is too little too late, and the ship has sailed.
Shame, because it is a nice platform. I definitely like it better than the stock Android 4.2 on my Nexus7.
I also played with the laptops with Windows 8 (the wife was busy exchanging toner cartridges and finding the binders). After playing with the Surface, it was impossible to not reach out and touch the display. Even though only about 1/4 of the demo units had touch screens.
While Metro is fine for the tablet, I am not sold on the desktop. Again, there is minimal risk of me abandoning my Mac’s anytime soon for a Windows 8 system.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.