Thursday, March 6, 2014

Nexus 7 Notes and Impressions

I’ve been using a Nexus 7 for a week or two now, and have decided to write down some of my impressions. Here it is:

The display is simply beautiful.

The processor is swift; launching apps is really fast, and games play smoothly.

After viewing a tutorial or two, I now know my way around Android sufficient for my purposes – personal use, not development. It wasn’t hard, but probably too geeky for, e.g., my wife. Too many “hidden” (invisible) commands – like swiping down from upper left for notifications, upper right for settings. It’s also more incomplete than iOS out of the box; for example, there’s no weather (need to add an app), it only does pdf in Chrome (had to download Acrobat reader), and won’t recognize .mov (Apple movie) files until you download an app for that. You can actually find – it’s not instantly obvious – an actual file system, and stash things there.

Category of weird: I always have the damndest time finding the &^%$# power switch. And the volume control. They’re over the lip, on the side; that cuts in under the slab, making them essentially invisible, and they’re recessed, making them hard to press. I actually spent 5 minutes trying to turn the thing on when I initially opened the box. I kept pressing the front-facing camera lens, thinking it was a power button. Having a cover that automatically turns it on and off when opened and closed has been a wonderful thing for me. Obviously nobody did a “walk around with this thing using it” review of this design before it was shipped.

No tablet is great for creating content, and this one is no exception. However, I find the keyboard better than Apple’s on iPhone. In part this is simply size, but I like Google’s choice of what keys are available without a shift/keyboard replace. In particular, period, comma, question mark and exclamation point are right there all the time. If apostrophe had made it, I’d be in hog heaven. I also like the way it does word prediction, with three choices shown at all times; this gives many more hits than the single choice on iOS. There are lots of complaints about the “awful” Android stock keyboard, but I don’t see the point. Just advertising the replacements, I guess. Maybe I’ll try one at some point, just out of curiosity.

You have to have drunk the Google Kool-Aid to use the Nexus effectively; this probably applies to any Android device. It wants a Google ID login when you initially boot it – a must-have; if you don’t have one, you get to create one – and many things are geared to Google services. Google Drive is always a top-level option for keeping things, for example, and “Try Google Now” is a permanent ad on searches. I do use Google stuff, but not all of it. I really don’t want to keep all my photos on G+, for example, and it seems always to be pushing me there.

I’m a bit disappointed with the apps. Nearly all of the necessities of life – my life, anyway – are there: Twitter, Facebook, mail, calendar, Feedly, QuickOffice, Kindle, Evernote, Flixster, etc. The calendar (Google, of course) is pretty good, and Tweetcaster (not standard; I installed it) is the best Twitter app I’ve seen; it’s not complicated, just nicer to read than the official one. Most apps are ports from a phone app, and so don’t utilize the larger screen as well as they could, but they work. Some – not all – are more buggy than I’ve seen on iOS. The Facebook app, in particular, has a problem bringing up the keyboard for comments, doesn’t send most notifications to the system notification area, and doesn’t synchronize with the web app as well as it might; notifications cleared on the app, for example, don’t show as cleared on the Facebook web page.

I really feel the Gmail app – of all things! – could use a bit of love. Refresh often doesn’t, and there appears to be no way to get a wider display of an email body; rotating brings up a two-column view that actually reduces the space used to display email content. I don’t see others complaining about this online, so maybe there’s something obvious I’m missing.

Chrome, too. It doesn’t return to the same place on a page when you go back. Bizarre.

It’s a great solitaire machine.

Other games, well, I’ve not yet found one that really grabs me. They are mostly side-scrollers, puzzle games, racers, and first-person-shooters, none of which are my cup of tea. Where are the RPGs with good FPS-level-realism graphics? I can do an RPG that looks like an early Zelda, with graphics obviously aimed at 12 year old boys. There was a version of Ultima I could play on my iPhone, but that screen was too small for it, and I can’t find it for Android, not to mention Nexus 7. Grump. I’d pay regular PC RPG prices for a good RPG.

UPDATE 3/7/14: I just discovered "The Bard's Tale," and am downloading it now. This is the kind of thing I was looking for. Yay!

It’s a better alternative than my iPhone for messing around sitting on the couch, and especially for taking on trips. It fits nicely into a small shoulder bag I have, letting me ditch the backpack I’ve been using to hold a laptop. That’s essentially what I bought it for, so overall I’m adequately happy. I do wish I could find a game I like, though.

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