June 10, 2014
So I finally caved and used my tax return to buy myself a Nexus 7. I figured I’d write down my impressions so that I can keep track of them.
The hardware itself is a pleasure to use (for the most part). I really like the rubber/plastic backing, and the whole device itself feels very sturdy. The screen is also excellent as far as I can tell. I’ve tried reading some books on it, and the pixel density is more than good enough for it.
The feature that has most impressed me though is the text-to-speech functionality. I find myself using the keyboard less frequently than just saying whatever I want to type out loud, and that’s not something that I would ever do on iOS. The speed difference between Google’s text-to-speech and Siri is just unbelievable.
I’d always heard that Android’s notification center was superior to the iOS version, but I never really believed it. I have to say though, my experience with the Android version has pretty much convinced me. Some of the features that I added via jailbreak tweaks in iOS (settings in the Notification Center in particular) come standard in Android, and that’s nice.
Finally, widgets are actually pretty neat. I’ve got a time/weather one that takes up about half the screen on my homescreen, and it works well for what I use my tablet for. I think if needed more homescreen space for apps I would find it less useful, but for now, it works out fine. I’m mildly concerned about what effects it has on battery life, but I’ll just have to wait an see on that.
The first thing I noticed was the surprisingly poor performance in general usage. I use an iPhone 5 daily, and it was surprising to see a larger device stutter while scrolling even simple webpages. I suppose part of the issue with this was that I hadn’t done research and reaslized that the Nexus 7 hardware is less powerful than the iPhone 5, but still, basic UI operations are significantly less smooth. I’d always heard Android had issues with smoothness, but I assumed they were exaggerated. I have to say, my experience so far has pretty much confirmed those issues in my mind. I can’t even imagine using older versions of Android if this is an improved smoothness experience.
I was less impressed with Google Now than the reviews it’s gotten would have lead me to believe. I keep seeing it referred to as Android’s “killer feature”, but it hasn’t really added any value for me. Right now, it’s basically a weather widget. I mainly use the tablet in my apartment, so maybe it would be more useful on the road.
Another thing that sort of worried me was that one of the top app recommendations I received was for an anti-virus application. So far it hasn’t encountered anything, but the fact that it’s necessary/recommended worries me.
One problem that I encountered that frustrated me was the inability to delete empty screens from the stock launcher. It seemed like such a basic feature, but all the advice I saw online basically said to just replace the launcher. It’s a bit of a hassle to have to find a third party solution to get basic functionality, but I guess that’s the point of Android being customizable.
Finally, on a hardware note, the buttons on the side of the device are really inconveniently placed, and their motion is not very good. I’d prefer it if they had a bit more click to them or if they moved a bit more.
Right now, I still miss having a dedicated home button on the front of the device. Reaching around the side to turn on the device still seems a bit less efficient and inconvenient to me.
I’m also not entirely sold yet on the general design aesthetic of Android apps. I’m not a huge fan of the flat or rectangular school of design, and the apps that I’ve found most easy to use are the ones that mimic their iPhone counterparts rather than sticking with the default Android styles. The edges of buttons seem poorly defined, and I feel like I’m navigating more by guesswork than by using cues from the interface. I have trouble imagining, for example, my grandma figuring out how to use this interface.
I think Android turned out better than I expected. There are some really neat bits, but there are also some warts. I guess if I had to summarize it, it would be that my iPhone does 95% of what I want to do at an A to A- level, while Android does 95% of what I want to do at a B to B- level. The difference would be that I can improve those grades and get up to 100% by replacing and adding on, while iOS is pretty much limited to what you’ve got. I’m still not sure which one I prefer yet, but I guess I’ll see.