First Impressions of Google’s Nexus 7

After being away for a few weeks in Asia, it was nice to come back to a brand new toy in Canada. I was really excited to receive an email indicating that the device had shipped especially after all the hoopla that Google had screwed up the launch of the Nexus 7 devices. It didn’t help that Howard got his Nexus 7 before I did even though he initially wasn’t that enthusiastic about the Nexus 7. For me though, the timing worked out perfectly.

To give some context about what I’m about to write, this isn’t my first 7 inch device. In fact, it’ll be my third after the HTC Flyer and the Blackberry Playbook. I also have previously written some of my thoughts about device form factors. It’s also not my first exposure to Jelly Bean as I’d been playing with Jelly Bean on my Galaxy Nexus for a few weeks already. So because of my experience, I have a lot of expectations of the device especially with all of the enthusiastic reviews of the Nexus 7 device.
Specs
Dimensions: 7.82″ x 4.72″ x 0.41″
Weight: 0.75 lbs
Resolution: 1280 px x 800 px
Processor: Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad Core 1.3 GHz
RAM: 1 GB
Storage: 16 GB
Connectivity: WiFi (b,g,n), GPS, Bluetooth, NFC
Front Camera: 1.2 megapixels
Battery Capacity: 4326 mAh
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Packaging
The one thing that Apple does a great job on is packaging regardless of what the device is. I have never bought an Apple product and once not thought – “oooh… pretty…” Unboxing the Google Nexus 7 was shockingly blend. I remember opening the Nexus One, Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus and I had the “oooh… pretty…” feel. In all honesty, the packaging for the Nexus 7 felt a bit cheap which is a bit surprising for me because of my previous Nexus experience and that in general Asus packages their products well.
PhotoPhoto
Physical look and feel
The first thing that I noticed about the Nexus 7 is that it feels significantly lighter than the HTC Flyer although the reality is that it’s only 2 oz lighter than the Flyer. It also feel thinner than the Flyer but it’s only marginally so. The back has a bit of a rubbery feel to it making it easier to grip and hold on to. Like the HTC Flyer, the device is built for it to be mostly in portrait mode. So the buttons are on the longer side of the device. It’s slightly recessed making it hard to press which has it’s pros and cons. From my use, it feels as though it’s been designed so that it’d be slightly more difficult to accidentally press the button which is a good thing. The thing with a 7″ device is that I tend to hold it with one hand more often. There is a standard 3.5 mm jack at the bottom of the device along with a standard micro usb port for charging it. It is quite nice to be able to charge the tablet via a standard micro usb port because it is one less thing to carry around.
Jelly Bean
As this is a Nexus device, it’s one of the few devices that comes with stock Android. In this case, Google was trying to show off Jelly Bean, their latest version of the OS. One of the main focus for Jelly Bean was to ensure that the OS got a lot more polish. One thing that people often complained was when swiping screens, it wasn’t nearly as smooth as it was in iOS. Frankly, since I never noticed it, it’s really hard to comment that it’s better now. Most of the people who have complained about it in the past, however, have been fairly impressed by the change. The things that I have really enjoyed about Jelly Bean have been the Google Now, the ability to swipe from camera to gallery and the ability to do offline voice commands (albeit limited).
Usage
Over the past few days, I found myself depending more on my Nexus 7 instead of the Asus Transformer. In comparison, the Asus Transformer feels unwieldy and cumbersome to carry around. Although it sticks out a bit, I can easily slip the Nexus 7 in my back pocket and walk around comfortably around the house. In general, I tend to use the Nexus 7 to read my news, quickly manage my many tasks, read my emails and IM people and I can do this pretty effectively. I haven’t yet written any blogs on my device yet so that will be interesting to see if I do write more because of an accessible 7″ device. One thing to note is that after extended amount of typing, I find that the corners dig into my palms a little bit even though they are rounded.
A neat but scary thing is that when I started to set up the accounts on the device, it automatically pre-filled the account with the email address which I bought the phone with on the Play Store. It’s a nice touch but quite a bit creepy at the same time. After a few hours, I found that it was better for me to use the Swift keyboard instead of Swype.
While it does take a standard micro usb cable, the charger is actually a 2A charger which is interesting. I had problems charging the tablet when it was hooked up to the built-in usb charger on my power bar and it only charged about 30% of my complete battery after about 4 hours. I have to admit that it did take forever to charge the phone the first time I started to charge the phone. On my usage, the Nexus 7 lasts me for a good 16 hours before it started to show that it was at 50% capacity. One thing to note is that at that point, the battery does drain awfully quickly.
The Nexus 7 is positioned as a cloud dependent device and hence claiming that having 16 GB of memory is plenty. I’m not so sure about that personally but I’m willing to give it a go. I’ve primarily loaded only cloud based services for most things so I have Grooveshark and Slacker set up for music, feedly for news and Netflix for movies. I’m curious to see if not having much offline data stored on the data will become a nuisance if I can’t get Internet access.
My current overall impressions of the Nexus 7 is that it’s not an overwhelmingly good device; it’s a solid device at $250 and definitely good bang for buck.
My Nexus 7 photos can be found here

Size Matters – Some thoughts on mobile form factor

I’ve recently acquired my 7th mobile device in the last 12 months or so. I started out with a Nexus One, Points gave me a BlackBerry Bold 9000, picked up the HTC Desire Z, explored the ExoPC but didn’t like it. So I bought an Asus EEE Pad (EP 121) which I LOVE. Upgraded the BlackBerry Bold to a newer version and then recently picked up the HTC Flyer. The only other device I’d look to get this year is something with NFC. Truthfully, I hope to be done with mobile purchases this year. There were some lessons I learned over that time and the conclusion is that size matters when it comes to devices. OS matters as well bit to a lesser degree than size.

4 inches (aka the phone)
This is probably one of the more familiar form factors. It started with PDAs which evolved into smartphones. It is small enough to fit into a pocket and travels everywhere with me. It’s extremely versatile because of its size and the amount of computing power you can fit into that package these days.

At 4″, the screen is big enough to read things if you have at least a 6pt font and stripped away graphics to remove the clutter. However, given its small screen, reading a lot of text can be tedious at times. It doesn’t do well for managing information because in order to truly manage information, you often need other pieces of supporting data to do the job adequately. However, it is great for quick updates such as checking off tasks and creating reminder type notes.

Because of its constant availability, it’s usually where a lot of personal data is created and is likely the data master for this type of data. Some examples of this kind of data include information like credit card info, passwords, appointments and contact info. This is one device that you want extreme security with.

7 inches (aka the Playbook)
While there are many other 7″ device, I deem the Playbook to be the most prolific because they started this idea although the Samsung Galaxy Tab launched first. I remember hearing about the 7″ form factor and didn’t find myself interested in it until playing with the Samsung Galaxy Tab last year. It was naturally more phone then tablet and was surprisingly usable. It’s small enough to fit into the back of most of my jeans pockets bit has a large enough screen to read a lot of information efficiently. This makes the device quite portable but not portable to bring it every where with me like a phone. For instance, I can bring it with me to a meeting but not likely to bring it with me if I were stepping out with the guys for coffee, for instance.

Creating information on this form factor is a pleasure. I can opt to hold it with both hands and type or hold it in one hand and peck away at it. Two thumb typing (not to be confused by two hand typing) is actually quite great and ends up being the primary way I enter data. I like that I’m fast and have enough real estate on my screen to read and keep context of my data. This is also the average size for an e-book reader making it the natural device to do most of my reading from.

I like it because it’s versatile due to its size. I find myself using this device frequently whenever I think I’m going to consume information. This is the primary device I use when I’m not working or walking. So my main uses are at home, in transit to work or even travelling.

10 inches (aka the iPad)
I remember the fanfare that followed the launch of the iPad. It was yet another revolution for Apple. Yes, tablets have been around for almost 5 year’s at this point. Apple revolutionized the use of the device more than anything else.

The 10″ form factor is an awesome media consumption device. The screen is large enough where it’s often like reading a magazine. Watching movies on such a size is also quite the treat because it is large enough to see the important details. At 10″, most web pages will render legibly although just a little bit more dense than normal making it a very natural web driven device. One of the things that was recognized early is that an app created for a 4″ device doesn’t scale that well to a 10″ device. However, apps created for a 12″ device actually renders decently for a 10″ device.

Content creation for a 10″ device can be cumbersome that is similar to the 4″ device for portable information creation. It’s too long (and quickly becomes too heavy) for two thumbed content writing. It is actually quite comfortable to two-hand type on the device in portrait mode if you can place it down. However, in portrait mode, you quickly lose the real estate space for context which is personally quite important when considering content creation. You could attach a mouse and keyboard to the device but at that point, it is less functional than a desktop or laptop because of the small screen limitation. Although no hardware supports a digitizer today, I suspect using it as a pen input device would actually be a decent experience. The surface is large enough where you can write an adequate amount of information per screen on it.

This is an awesome form factor for travel and personal use. I like it for when I’m sitting around and want to peruse the internet but don’t really want to do a lot of work on it. Newer uses for it are as a cash register or sales tool which makes sense in a number of scenarios.

12 inches (aka the Asus EEE pad)
There are actually only a handful of devices in this form factor and none of them are particularly cheap. This is perhaps the original tablet form factor. The only OS so far available for it really is Microsoft Windows. You could put Ubuntu on it but even at Natty, Ubuntu is not ready for multi-touch use.

Like the 10″ device, it is an awesome media consumption device. If 10″ is nice, media on a 12″ is so much nicer. All web sites render like it should for this form factor. One thing to note though, a 12″ device as you’d expect would be the heaviest of all these form factors. So reading it would entail cradling the device on one arm and swiping screens with the other.

Content creation on a 12″ has many of the same challenges as the 10″ device. No one even thinks about two-thumb content creation on a 12″ device and you have the same challenges although it is slightly better with two-handed typing on a 12″ device. Writing on a 12″ device’s a joy. It is quite possible to hook up a mouse and keyboard to generate content on a 12″ device for an extended period of time.

The reality is that the 12″ device is often a full-blown notebook/laptop without a keyboard. So it has all of the hardware advantages and limitations of one. They often have powerful processors, gobs of RAM, lots of connectors and unfortunately also chew through battery. The power consumption is even more of an issue when the form factor limits the size of a battery that you can put on the device.

Hopefully if you’re looking for a new device or writing software for one, this helps with thinking about how form should factor into that decision making process

Asus EEE Pad EP 121 – Two month review

I’ve always been a fan of Asus and always felt that Windows 7 would make a great tablet for me. I first experimented with the ExoPC but quickly felt that it was quite under powered making it’s use to be cumbersome. I used it for a few weeks but quickly realized that it wasn’t meeting my needs. When Best Buy in Canada announced that it had devices in stock, I quickly ordered it and picked up the device the very same day.

Asus EP-121 with all accessoriesPower Supply

Here are my general thoughts for it:

Handwriting
The Asus EP 121 has a built-in Wacom digitizer on it allowing for very fine grained writing. The handwriting recognition is quite mature on Windows. It does a number of things really well. Windows has a handwriting bar where you can write and it does OCR to translate it to something legible quickly and fairly accurately which is nice. It is more usable then the soft keyboard that comes with Windows 7 which is an absolute disaster in comparison to other OSs like iOS and Android

Windows 7
Having Windows 7 is both a strength and a weakness. It’s great because it is a rich OS. Apps like OneNote and Outlook which I love are available for this device. A number of apps like Kindle and IE support multi-touch really well. Where it fails miserably is that multi-touch is not supported by the OS but rather it’s a bit of an afterthought. Most apps get confused with the multi-touch input. Other things that is a detriment is that Windows isn’t a fast boot up device and it tends to burn through power really quickly. I can probably only get through a couple of hours before runnint out of batteries.

12 inches
The size is actually massive for a tablet in general but it’s a perfect notepad size. I like having all of the real estate on the screen to write efficiently. A 10″ feels cramp to write on in general.

No compromises on performance
It’s an i5 processor that is quad-core with 4 GB of memory and a 64 GB hard drive. It can run most productivity apps that I can throw at it without any lag most of the time. It’s a full blown notebook with USB ports, Bluetooth, WiFi and HDMI capability. When needed, I can dock the tablet to attach a wireless keyboard and mouse and it acts like a real notebook

Wacom digitizer
Unlike many tablets, this is one of the few that has both a digitizer as well as multi-touch capability which means it supports touch as well as pen input. It does both really well from a capability perspective however, it’s multi-touch is limited by the Windows OS in terms actual usability. Hopefully Microsoft will solve this in Windows 8. Another thing about Wacom tablets is that I’m able to buy third party pens from Cross.

Asus
This is my 5th Asus device and Asus has had yet to let me down. I love the build quality of it and traditionally Asus has a worry-free warranty for a year. Short of losing it, they will fix anything for free. Another thing about Asus is that they make very nice looking devices and their build quality in general is simply fantastic.

Upgrading and Accessorising
The Asus EEE Pad EP 121 comes with a case, pen, spare nibs for the pen and power supply. The case makes it look like a proper portfolio and it comes with a slot for an extra pen. The case also allows you to prop the tablet in either landscape or potrait mode. The power supply is extremely slim and has a port for USB charging. I love the little things that Asus does to make their devices stand out. There are a few things that I would probably like to do over time. The first is of course to upgrade the hard drive. After the warranty is over, I’d like to open up the casing to put in at least 120 GB of hard disk space. A stand would be nice too. I have one from the ExoPC and it’s great to use when I get home. I also have a Logitech MX550 keyboard and mouse attached when I’m at home.

Tips and tricks
This really is more about RTFM then about tips and tricks. If you’re like me, reading manuals are always quite optional. The Asus EP-121 is actually quite intuitive but there were two things that I found useful to know. The first is that when in boot up mode, the volume rocker buttons act as up and down navigation which is intuitive enough but I didn’t realize that the base button also acts as the enter key. This is useful when recovering from a bad reboot. The base button activates the Aero program scrolling which is very useful especially in Windows 7 where touch navigation is a bit cumbersome. Another really useful feature is that holding down the base button also acts like Ctrl-Alt-Delete which really helps to lock your screen

I’ve had the Asus EEE Slate for a few months now and I have to say that I love it. It has made my job so much more productive and I can’t imagine functioning any other way. I had always envisioned in going to meetings with an electronic notebook. I love my Asus EP 121 for this because it runs Windows and by default runs OneNote. OneNote is by far the best note taking tool I’ve ever used. Evernote comes a close second. I like that I can handwrite my notes quickly. I also like that I can organize my thoughts in Notebooks, Section Groups and Sections. It’s allowing me to combine multiple notebooks in one. Although it is pricier than most other tablets, the conclusion is that it is quite worth it. At approximately $1200, it combines a full blown notebook (and not a netbook) and tablet in one.

Asus R1F – A Second Life

Although I really love my Macbook, there are certain aspects of my Asus R1F tablet that I really miss. The biggest one, of course, is the ability to use the tablet function. While I type a lot of things, I actually write and draw just as much. The only difference is that most of it is done on paper and they never get transferred to anywhere else and often times I lose them too. While I have my handy dandy tgrmobile (HTC Fuze) with me close to 100% of my waking hours, there are a few shortcomings to it. The first is that it’s a phone. When I type information with it during meetings, the assumption is that I am texting someone or emailing someone. It does have Evernote on it but the reality is that it is too small to be truly useful to write lots of notes or jott down my ideas fully with it. So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about going back to the Asus R1F or purchasing an Asus T91 to solve this issue. There were quite a few things that frustrated me about the Asus R1F, most of them stemming from using Windows Vista. When it was announced that Windows 7 would be released, I decided to give it another go. Although my initial install of Windows 7 RC was quite disastrous, the RTM seems much more solid. Here are some of my notes about setting up the Asus R1F with Windows 7.

 
Tablet functionality
After installing Windows 7, one of the things that I quickly noticed about my install was that I didn’t seem to have the tablet functionality. That will be fixed after the Intel 965 drivers were updated
 
Screen Rotation
This took a little bit more research but after doing some reading the answer was to install the Vista ATK Hotkey Utility for the Asus R1E. Yes, that’s not a typo. For the most part, most R1E software and drivers should work with the R1F. This is one such case.
August 13th, 2009
Biometric security
I’ve been slowly starting to use the tablet more and more and I finally got around to looking into the biometric feature for the R1F. When you install Windows 7 the first time, it will download an updated biometric driver. I actually found that it wouldn’t work properly. After some digging and testing, I found that the best way of getting this to work was to install the drivers that are available on the Upek site followed by installing the Protector Suite software after. Both will require reboots. Once Protector Suite is installed, go through the steps to activate it. In my case, I had to the Biometric Device Centre to enable domain security for biometric.
I’ll continue to update this post as I come across more fixes for the install.

 

Asus is Awesome

For
those of you who have been following my Tweets, you might remember my
complaints about a green line appearing on the screen of my Asus R1F.
This generally happens, especially with LCD screens. Anyway, I was
debating whether or not to take the opportunity to pick up an R1E but
there isn't enough of an incentive to pick one since the hardware specs
are about the same. So I opted to try to fix it.

So I called
Asus in the afternoon, from my phone number they were able to confirm
my asset and contact info. They emailed me my RMA number without even
having to ask me for my email. CRM at its best. How amazing is that.
One of the major benefits of buying an Asus notebook is that the repair
centre is a 10 minute drive from me. When I dropped off my notebook,
the technician did a quick assessment and said that it would take a
couple hours to fix. That came as a surprise. My previous experience is
that it typically takes around 3 days. I was pleasantly surprised when
I got a call in about an hour to say my notebook was fixed.

I
have 3 Asus notebooks now and have had to do warranty repairs on all of
them to date. Most of them were human fault rather than manufacturing
fault (i.e. Niece falling on screen, dropping of device, etc). Even
though they are more expensive to purchase, the warranty and level of
service have made it all worthwhile. I will continue to be a loyal Asus
purchaser after this.

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.