Nexus 7: The Tablet I Dearly Want to Love

If you have spent any time online over the past few months, you can’t help but have become aware of the Nexus 7. Even if you weren’t actively seeking out information about the device, you’ve probably absorbed a great deal as if by osmosis.

The latest addition to the Google / Asus Nexus range has been eagerly anticipated for some time now. Taking a leaf out of Apple’s book, the latest version of the Nexus 7 was not given a unique name. Just as the iPad 3 was not actually called the iPad 3, rather, the ‘new iPad’, so there is nothing in the name to distinguish this Nexus from last year’s model if you just look at the name.

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A Tablet by Any Other Name

This naming convention presents an interesting problem for any website looking to sell cases and other accessories designed specifically for this version. Do you refer to the tablet as just the Nexus 7? This is likely to result in a number of disgruntled customers who decide to invest in a cheap case…  Only to discover the reason it was cheap is that it was designed for the previous iteration of the tablet.

Looking for a Nexus 7 case? Be sure to get the right version!

Looking for a Nexus 7 case? Be sure to get the right version!

Websites have had to get creative. Look around the web and you’ll find references to the 2013 Nexus 7, the new Nexus 7, the Nexus 7 mk 2, the Nexus 7 FHD and numerous other variations.

But what’s in a name? This year’s Nexus 7 is the latest addition to the hugely successful Nexus range – the range that also includes the smaller screened phone, the Nexus 4, and the larger screened tablet, the Nexus 10. If you have the new one you’ll know about it — and having one probably means that you’re to be found in the US where the device hit stores a few weeks ago.

Can’t Wait, Won’t Wait

Living on the other side of the Atlantic, I was impatient to get my hands on a device I had already heard so much about from friends and colleagues, but the UK release date was not until the end of August. Thankfully, FedEx came up trumps and a US 32GB model found its way to my front door. (Pricing, by the way is an unswervingly reasonable $229 for the 16GB model, jumping to $269 for the 32GB version).

GB for GB, the Nexus 7 is amazing value for money.

GB for GB, the Nexus 7 is amazing value for money.

There was the minor irritation of a charger terminating in a US two-prong plug rather than the three-pin UK version I’m more accustomed. But I can live with this; it’s fixed with a cheap travel adaptor, or by using one of the countless other USB chargers I have lying around my office.

Every Silver Lining…

This is going to be a very personal look at the Nexus 7 experience. There are good bits and bad bits. Morbid curiosity gets the better of all of us, so I’ll jump straight to the ‘bad’ section before moving on — let’s face it, you know this is a great tablet.

Try as you might, you'll find it hard not to fall in love.

Try as you might, you’ll find it hard not to fall in love.

Before receiving my tablet I, like a good journalist, spent my time researching the device I was due to receive. Outside of the world of journalism, I was interested in the Nexus 7 — it sounded perfect. Super low price, a screen that crammed no far off 2.5 million pixels into a 7″ display. It ran Android 4.3. It looked… well… sexy.

But I’m going off track. I’m meant to be looking at the bad stuff right now; but it’s so easy to get distracted by the Nexus 7! Back to the job at hand.

In the course of my research, I read about problems some early adopters had experienced with GPS as well as issues with the touchscreen. A friend of mine was unfortunate to receive a Nexus 7 that wouldn’t boot — it arrived as dead as a dodo. A quick swap later and things were exactly as they should be.

Fire It Up!

So it was with some trepidation that I tapped the power button. Good start. The bright screen flashed into life quite reassuringly. One potential problem out of the way at least.

Actually, I should probably be completely honest here. When the Nexus 7 arrived, I was busy working. I had a brief glimmer of excitement opening the parcel to see what was inside, but it was my tech-minded girlfriend, Nic, who had the honour of first boot, first go, first everything really.

The new Nexus 7 is a great size and weight for slipping in a pocket.

The new Nexus 7 is a great size and weight for slipping in a pocket.

I did get to see the screen in its high definition, ultra clear, super-bright glory, but I saw it second, not first. Not that I’m bitter, you understand.

Nic, like me, is a massive Android fan. She was keen to see how the Nexus compared to her slightly aging Samsung Galaxy SII phone and liked the idea of something that was somewhat easier to handle than our iPad 2. So, I worked away on some project or other, Nic explored the Nexus.

Touch Me Up

It wasn’t long before complaints started to drift towards my ears. This is not the reaction I was expecting to such a seemingly amazing device! The issue, it seemed, was the screen. Trying to scroll around a website or map would result in zooming in and out rather than scrolling back and forth. It was as though the screen thought there was already a finger in place and reacted as if a pinch-to-zoom gesture was being performed.

It's the front that's meant for touching, but the back of the Nexus feels great in the hand.

It’s the front that’s meant for touching, but the back of the Nexus feels great in the hand.

I tried it out for myself and, sure enough, the same thing happened to me.

OK, let’s try typing. A quick test email saw that the niggling fear I had managed to the back of my mind come crashing rudely forward, elbowing its way through thoughts related to enjoyment.

Taking a quick scan around the web I soon discovered that I was not alone. Dozens of other users were experiencing exactly the same problem — some were also have issues with GPS and other things. ConsumerReports went as far as discouraging people from buying the tablet, so serious were the problems.

A Possible Solution

Turning to the app YAMTT (Yet Another MultiTouch Test) revealed that when I placed one or two fingers on the screen, the Nexus would often interpret this as three or four fingers. There were also issues with connectivity it seemed.

YAMTT will reveal once and for all whether you have multitouch issues.

YAMTT will reveal once and for all whether you have multitouch issues.

Leaving a finger in one place could result in it being picked up as a double tap. Drawing lines on the screen did not produce clean, unbroken lines, but dotted affairs that indicated that the Nexus was under the impression my finger has left the screen.

In a massively long thread on Google’s forums, hundreds of users were posting details of their experiences. My emails back and forth with Google yielded little in the way of help — the company remained tight-lipped about what the problem was, what was being done, and whether it was a hardware or software issue.

Page after page of disgruntled Nexus user complaints can be found online.

Page after page of disgruntled Nexus user complaints can be found online.

Suddenly, a Google representative entered the fray to announce that a software update was available. The JSS15Q firmware was meant to be the answer. For many people, it did indeed fix the problem — including for Consumer Reports who updated their review to recommend the Nexus 7.

But it was not good news for everyone, myself included. I’m currently awaiting the arrival of a replacement device, and it’s still not clear, or at least not being revealed, whether the problem lies with hardware or software. I can only hope I don’t end up like some of the people in the Google forums who claim to have swapped their Nexus five, six, seven, eight times.

Difficult to Love

So, how do I feel about the Nexus? It’s a tablet I dearly, dearly want to love. It’s lovely and loveable. Cute but powerful. Perfectly proportioned and portable. But there are those issue. Those issues that are still making it all but usable.

Working with the Nexus 7 is a bittersweet experience. The screen is just staggeringly good. The number of pixels that have been crammed into its 7 inches is mindblowing. 1920 x 1200 in such a tiny area is jaw-dropping.

It may look great, but even with the latest firmware many Nexus 7s are plagued with problems.

It may look great, but even with the latest firmware many Nexus 7s are plagued with problems.

It’s a while since I got a new tablet, but the speed is impressive. The Snapdragon S4 Pro processor can handle pretty much anything you care to throw at it — high definition video, games, and anything else you might think of.

A 7 inch screen is smaller than I’m used to. Initially I was concerned that this would feel like an oversized phone or an undersized tablet (I’m more used to working with 10 inches [oh, stop sniggering!]), but I was wrong.

Maybe it’s the super high resolution, maybe it’s the great balance of the Nexus 7, but it looks and feels great in the hand. Gloss over the touchscreen, and it’s nothing short of a joy to use.

Learn to Accessorize

I’ve already mentioned the difficulty of tracking down accessories because of the naming convention used. But I was desperate to ensure that my new tablet remained in pristine condition. I’m usually in two minds about wrapping up any device in a protective case, and I hunted high and low before settling on an Otter case for my phone.

The newness of the Nexus 7, particularly when I first received it, meant that it was nigh on impossible to find anything I could protect my tablet with. Poetic came up trumps. The company already has an impressive range of new Nexus 7 cases available and if you look on Amazon rather than the official website you’ll find some incredible ones.

Oozing 80s leather retro appeal, the SlimBook is a great way to protect your Nexus 7.

Oozing 80s leather retro appeal, the SlimBook is a great way to protect your Nexus 7.

Investing in a SlimBook, an executive-style case made from a pleasingly veggie-friendly leather-like material, a SlimLine, which very much lives up to its name, and a StrapBack, gave me everything I could be looking for — sadly, it does mean having to keep switching cases, but I think that’s a small price to pay.

Poetic's StrapBack case offers a great range of viewing angles.

Poetic’s StrapBack case offers a great range of viewing angles.

The touchscreen currently renders typing virtually impossible so using a Bluetooth keyboard would seem like a good idea. Sadly this is another problem to be found with the Nexus 7, and my existing Bluetooth keyboard simply refused to work. Continuing to play the waiting game, I’m sitting by the letterbox anticipating the arrival of a MiniSuit keyboard stand case which, while slightly chunkier than I would like, would do a great job of transforming the Nexus into a mini laptop.

In Conclusion

All of this needs to be wrapped up somehow. How do I feel about the Nexus 7? At the moment disappointed. I can see massive potential and as soon as I get my hands on a fully-functioning device, I think it will be hard to prise it from my fingers.

But I’m also disappointed with Google. I can’t help but feel that early adopters have been used as beta testers. The sheer number of people who have experienced the same problems as me means that this is something that really should have been picked up before the device hit the shops. And simply saying “we’re working on it” isn’t really good enough. Customers need details.

I’m prepared to give the new Nexus 7 a 9, maybe even 10 out of 10 — when it’s sorted. For now, it’s 4 out of 10 and “must try harder”.