Google Nexus 7 review – Software

Software review (by Ravi Patel)

I’m here to put a slight downer on things. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Nexus 7. Pound for pound it could very well be the best gadget ever. But it isn’t perfect (what is?) and I wanted to point out some areas where it falls a little short.


My main issue with the Nexus 7 is that it feels more like a larger phone than a small tablet. I feel like I’ve relentlessly expressed this opinion over and over again to anyone who’ll listen. Maybe it’s because I have a Galaxy Nexus and an iPad 2, which feel much more like distinct products. If you have neither I’m guessing the problem won’t affect you at all. I know that Mark feels differently for one.

Launcher

Google have decided to go with the standard Android phone launcher (desktop) with the Nexus 7, simply adding more icons to make use of the extra space available. Having tried out (and not liked) the full tablet mode, I think this was definitely the right way to go. The bigger screen size lets you go to town with customising the Launcher. Widgets are even more useful due to the sheer amount of information that they can provide at a glance.

Nova Launcher is usually one of the first things I install on any phone but on the Nexus 7 I’m finding that I don’t really need it. The enhancements that Google have made in Jellybean are fairly minor but nice all the same. The one I find most useful is the ability to remove items off the Launcher by just flicking them upwards. It’s also now easier to add widgets, as other icons automatically get out of the way when trying to insert something new. Being the pedant that I am, I don’t actually like this as I prefer everything to be in its exact place, but I’m sure the majority will find it useful.

Phone/Tablet

The general UI is a mixture of phone and tablet Android and the results are somewhat mixed. Google apps generally utilise a tablet UI, with a left column for selecting items and a right window displaying content. So Gmail shows your labels on the left and the actual messages on the right.

The problem is that the relatively small screen and wide aspect ratio don’t really lend themselves well to this. In portrait mode the message pane is pretty much the same physical width as on my Galaxy Nexus. So definitely readable, but just not the sort of experience you expect on a tablet.

Conversely, the settings app just uses the phone UI. It looks fine in portrait, albeit with a quite a lot of black space to the right, but in landscape it’s just plain wrong. There’s so much wasted space you just feel that Google could have done more to optimise the experience.

Web

By far my most popular use for my iPad was simple web browsing. It’s nearly the perfect device for surfing the net and naturally I was hoping to get the same usage out of the Nexus 7. But the experience isn’t as great as I’d hoped. It’s the same issue again. Pick from too narrow or too short. In fact, video apart, I find the Nexus 7 pretty much always works better in portrait mode. You know, like a phone!

And while I’m a big fan of Chrome (on any platform), I find that the browser is the one area where lag frequently rears its ugly head. I’ve found that zooming and scrolling can often be very laggy and unresponsive, which is unfortunate given the horsepower of the device and the “buttery” smoothness of everything else. I do find that I overwhelmingly prefer visiting mobile websites as they fit the screen better and don’t cause any performance issues. But the irony of buying a tablet to then browse mobile websites is not lost on me!

Apps

Up till now the biggest problems that Google has face with Android on tablets is the dearth of apps optimised to take advantage of the form factor. Despite providing the necessary tools and APIs, developers have shown a near complete lack of interest in updating their apps for tablets. With the Nexus 7 Google are aiming to change this. It already appears that the Nexus 7 has been a sales success, with the 16GB model selling out. If dramatically increasing the user base doesn’t do the trick, I’m not sure what will. In fact, we’ve already seen a few apps releasing updates specifically for the Nexus 7. With any luck, this trickle will become a deluge in the weeks and months ahead.

On the other hand (and continuing the big phone premise), I’ve found that phone apps work really well on the Nexus 7. Android handles app scaling more than adequately, with apps filling the screen, providing more content at a glance than is possible on a phone. I’m hoping that this doesn’t make devs complacent and discourage them from adapting their apps for this new form factor.

Conclusion

I know I’m coming off slightly negative, but I really do love the Nexus 7. I’ve been using mine pretty much non stop for the last ten days and really enjoy it. I just feel like it isn’t quite a fully blown tablet. At the same time, I think that this device has so much potential that is yet to be realised. Being a Nexus device it’s sure to be updated frequently, and I can’t wait to see what those updates turn it into.

Software review (by Mark Peters)

OK, I’ve seen a lot of gushing about the Nexus 7, but there are some bad points. So it’s not all glorious success. there are a few shortcomings. Chiefly, the screen and the speaker.
Coming from an iPad 3 (or ‘new Ipad’ if you want to get all official) the screen seemed initially to lack colour saturation and definition, even allowing for the lower resolution of the Nexus 7 screen. Perhaps, though, it’s unfair to compare a £200 tablet to a £400 one, especially one with a screen as ridiculuosly good as the iPad 3.

Speed

The Nexus 7 is fast. Very fast. Whether it’s the underlying hardware or Jelly Bean, or a combination of the two, it feels quicker (and smoother) than any Android device I’ve used. Including the Galaxy S3. That’s fast.

Form Factor

So, the Nexus 7. By now, you’ll have seen our first impressions and having used the device for just over a week, here are some more thoughts.

The immediate thing that sticks out about the Nexus 7, is how it feels much more like a big phone than a tablet. I don’t see this as a bad thing, but some might. Most people probably won’t even notice. But apps (for the most part) behave like they were running on a phone. There is no landscape home screen, for example.

I imagine this decision was made due to the screen being small (compared to other tablets) and it seems like the right one to me.

It is possible to hack Android into displaying the tablet version of the OS, but the text is too small and I think it looks a little cramped. What suits a 10″ screen, doesn’t necessarily fit a 7″ screen.

How does this device fit in with your current tech? If you have, for example, a Galaxy Nexus at 4.65 inches, do you need a tablet running the same OS which is only 2.35 inches bigger?

Currently, my main phone is the iPhone 4S (mainly because of the awesome camera), which although nice and small to carry around, has a small screen by today’s standards (something we hope to see rectified soon once Cupertino lifts the curtain on the iPhone 5). For me, then, the combination of an iPhone and a Nexus 7 makes more sense, than say, a Galaxy Nexus and a Nexus 7. You get to play with both operating systems, get all the good apps, and they are sufficiently different to warrant owning both.

Yes by owning an iPad and iPhone you get some of the interaction with iCloud and note syncing, but this is a small price to pay to get to grips with Google’s latest release.

Google Now

Google Now excited me when I first saw it demonstrated. It looked like a more useful version of Siri. However, on the Nexus 7 I don’t expect it will be that much use for most people. Here’s why..

Most people’s tablets sit on the coffee table and rarely venture out of the front door. Quite a few of Google Now’s party tricks are travel and traffic related. Not much use when the farthest your tablet goes is up the stairs occasionally.

Not owning an Android phone currently, I can’t comment on Google Now’s performance on a mobile device, but my fellow Coolsmartphone writers will surely help out there.

Google Now is very good for voice searches though, but the most impressive part of Jelly Bean’s voice recognition is dictation. It’s very good. I much prefer the way the device waits for you to say you’ve finished, rather than the iOS method of waiting for a pause, and then cutting you off.

Voice control is also everywhere in Jelly Bean. You can type URLs with it, text with it, email with it, brilliant. The Google Now voice that reads back to you is also much more human sounding than Siri.

So taking all of that into consideration, if it fits in with your current set-up, and you need a tablet, get the Nexus 7. You won’t be disappointed.

My experiment with iOS
Galaxy Tab 8.9 16GB WiFi dirt cheap