Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nexus 7 - One Year On

This time last year, I was given a Nexus 7 as a birthday gift (I'd hinted really, really strongly!). One year on, Google has released an updated model, and I have a lot better understanding of how the thing works and what it's good at. The new Nexus 7 hasn't been released in Australia yet - but will I upgrade?

I think so. I've come to regard the N7, along with the Roomba, as one of my two most successful "Let's give this a shot and see what it's all about" tech purchases. However, the N7 hasn't achieved this position on the basis of its technology or bang-for-the-buck alone; its significance was to introduce me to the Google ecosystem and I should, perhaps, give a close runner-up award to the Galaxy Nexus phone which I bought as a result of my positive experience with the N7.

I haven't used the N7 as a toy at all. Never watched a movie on it, rarely play music on it, will never play a game on it (I'm not a gamer, unless you count me vs the evil Java compiler as some kind of strategy game).

For me, it's all been about personal organization and having instant access to information wherever I happen to be - in my office, in the kitchen, in front of the TV, in a lecture theatre, in the coffee shop. The apps I use most heavily would be Gmail (I have two business and one university accounts), Google Calendar, and Google Maps, along with Google Drive/Docs/Apps. The latter, especially, has been getting heavy use for writing up course materials and presentations - I do a lot of the heavy lifting on my desktop machines or on a Chromebook I also bought in the "Let's give this a shot and see what it's all about" mind-set, but it's been really useful to have ability to view materials while away from my desk, or to display them on a second (really fourth!) screen while working.

Then there's Evernote, which has also been getting heavy use, especially for mundane things like shopping lists. However, with Google Keep maturing and being standard in Android 4.3, it might take over for those lightweight tasks.

Perhaps the biggest unexpected "killer app" is Google Now, which integrates voice search against the Google Knowledge Graph with before-demand presentation of information cards to organise my day.

And then there's a whole host of other information-handling apps: Wikipedia, Youtube, IMDB for when I'm watching movies (always nice to be able to answer "What else have we seen him in?"), the Guardian for my twice-daily news fix - plus, of course, go41cx and free42 for calculations. And the Kindle app has proved especially useful while dining alone in dimly-lit restaurants recently.

Where has the N7 fallen down, and what would I like to fix? The only thing I would change would be to get a 3G/HSPA+/LTE model next time. Although the N7 is not as dependent on an always-on connection as the Chromebook, and I can get a wi-fi connection all over the university campus, there are times when the longer battery life and larger display of the N7 has made it a better choice for navigation and some other tasks than the Galaxy Nexus phone, which is my "always-connected" device. I suspect that quite a low-cost, low-bandwidth prepaid SIM would be more than adequate, so it needn't break the bank.

The other thing I want to investigate is yet another case, this time with a bluetooth keyboard. While the standard Google keyboard's swype input technique really is quite usable, a more capable keyboard would hugely improve the usability of Evernote and similar apps.

All things considered, I think I'll be queuing up for a 32G/HSPA+ N7 when they finally make it to Australia.