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.
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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

MIUI.us ROM – A quick review of another Android ROM

While I’ve always been partial to CyanogenMod ROMs for my device (it’s the de facto standard for Android ROMs), I’ve had a bit of issues with it on my HTC Desire Z starting a few weeks ago. For whatever reason, the marketplace just kept force closing every time I opened the app. Even the install of a third-party app like AppBrain didn’t help me a lot. I tried every trick I know about known issues such as fixing permissions to all the apps and wiping everything including the local cache and the Davlik cache but to no avail. The nice thing about ROM Manager is that it gives you all the ROMs that are available for your device, when it was last updated and how many installed it.

Sample Theme from MIUI

The MIUI ROM is better in that I can actually download apps from the Android Marketplace 😀 It runs Android 2.3.5 and is a lot prettier then Cyanogen – the lines are a lot cleaner. The “native” apps for MIUI are also more refined than the apps that came with Cyanogen. For a quick list of what they are, you can take a look at them at the Core Features section of the MIUI site itself. More features are listed in the For Advanced Users section. My main pet peeve against the MIUI ROM is that every app downloaded is put directly on the screen and not in an app drawer like typical Android. It’s mildly frustrating because that is the one of the things I don’t like about iOS. My general impression leans towards being a bit slower but more stable than Cyanogen.

Google, Motorola and other madness this week

This has been a pretty mad week in technology starting with Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility for $12B followed by HP announced the folding of their PC business including their newly launched tablets featuring WebOS. There have been some articles about the Motorola purchase which I really enjoyed and some that I thought seem a bit short-sighted for various reasons. So here are some scattered thoughts about the events this week.

It’s all about defense
It’s really hard to imagine why Google would buy Motorola outside of its patents. While I wouldn’t second guess what Google’s patent defence would be or if I think it’s better or worse after the purchase, Google does believe that it’s worth $12B. Android is important to Google – not because of it’s $11M revenue through the Android Marketplace but it’s really important for their ad business. It’s the main reason why they got into it and then continues to give it away for free. The Android, Chrome and ChromeOS strategy all have the same goal which is really about further reach and control over how a user interacts with Google. It’s not difficult to recognize that the browser is quickly replacing the desktop when users aren’t mobile and users are consuming information on their mobile devices more and more each day. Outside of Microsoft’s accusation that Google intended to purchase Nortel’s patents to attack others, I haven’t been able to find an instance where Google attacked anyone based on patents outside of protecting others.

Strength in numbers
Android’s strength is in its ecosystem which is made of the OS, the manufacturers that use them, the software and the developers that develop the software. Android is important to Google and I would imagine even more important than Motorola. It is in Google’s best interest to keep the ecosystem they have in tact. If Google intends to get into the handset manufacturing business as an additional business, HTC would have been a much better buy. Google does not have the in-house expertise to turn around Motorola as a handset business. While I agree that Google may use the opportunity of owning Motorola to build phones in the way that they envision the phone, it by no means equate to other OEMs from creating other phones that are equally or are even more successful. That Nexus program to date proves that. The Nexus series are phones that are built very closely by OEM manufacturers to date starting with the Nexus One followed by the Nexus S but rarely are these phones the overwhelming favourites in terms of number of handsets purchased. In fact, the Nexus One was a complete flop. It is also the Nexus One experience that should indicate to both the market and OEM manufacturers that Google buying Motorola is unlikely a threat to their business. Building a business is much more than building a successful technical product – it’s also about marketing and partnerships. Google does not know how to do either well in the handset business and unfortunately (as I snakily remarked in my Google+ post) neither does Motorola.

Changing the game but not really
The OEM reaction of Google’s purchase of MMI is reminiscent of a two-year old child welcoming a newborn sibling into the family for the first time. The OEMs are tentative and cautious; they’re waiting to see what Google will do with MMI. On one hand, they’re a bit optimistic because the 25K odd patents could land an extra hand in protecting their Android investments. On the other hand, they’re also worried that Google might play favourites with Motorola by giving them special privileges. For Google to really protect Android, it will need the OEM support. Without OEM support, the number of Android handsets sold will plummet and likely resulting in the loss of developer interest and hence equating the demise of Android altogether. Motorola is nowhere near the top in terms of total number of Android handsets sold. It is in Google’s best interest to treat all their OEMs well if they intend to protect the Android platform. I think HTC recognizes this.

There’s plenty of room for everyone
For OEMs to compete with Apple, the only realistic choice is Android. No one is going to out-Apple Apple however the good news as the market has shown, not everyone wants an Apple. There are other factors that people look at when purchasing a phone including price point and form factor. While no one Android phone is dominant in market today, many companies, especially HTC and Samsung, have been able to make successful Android products that compete one another and make each of their parent companies money. Google is very interested in the number of devices activated; it is a metric they actively track. It is quite easy to imply that their own revenue is based on these activities and not so much from the revenue generated by manufacturers or from the marketplace.

I don’t get patents
I have to admit this – I don’t get the patent wars that we’re in. It’s obvious that it isn’t working and that it’s hurting innovation in the US especially at a time where innovation is one of the longer term answers to US economic success in the future. Some of the patent disputes are silly. I remember seeing this article and thinking to myself that yes, all tablets look like iPads but the author seem to also have missed that most devices look similar to each other long before the iPad. The Lenovo PC tablets look very similar to the Dell Latitude tablets that look very similar to the Asus tablets. It’s the nature of the beast. I’d hate to imagine if someone in home building patented open-concept homes or that cars have 4 wheels in the 1920s. Imagine how much further we’d be as a civilization.

WebOS is a failure of HP, not a failure of WebOS
Launching (or in this case re-launching) any new platform is hard. Even when Google first launched Android, it took many a year before it became the success that it is today. WebOS is a decent enough OS. While I read that HP spent a lot of money in terms of marketing it, I don’t think I’ve come across any ads for it. I suspect that HP marketed it like it was 1999 with tactics such as in store marketing, etc. The market has changed but HP hasn’t. I sincerely hope that someone else (even HTC) picks up WebOS. It deserves a much better fate than it got.

HTC Flyer: Two months later

I thought I’d start this blog entry by jumping to a bit of a conclusion – I’ve given up on the HTC Flyer and am now using an Acer Iconia A500. Although I’m not using the HTC Flyer, I have to say that it is probably one of the best devices that I’ve used to date. A big part of why I really like the HTC Flyer is because of the form factor. WIth those things being said, let’s jump into the review of my fabulous HTC Flyer

Just a quick recap about the HTC Flyer – it’s a 7″ tablet from HTC and is pre-loaded with Android 2.3 or commonly known as Gingerbread. The hardware specs aren’t spectacular – it’s a single core 1.5 GHz processor, front-facing and rear-facing cameras, wi-fi only and weighing 420 grams. It is only one of a handful of 7″ Android tablets out there; the other notable ones are the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak. From a software perspective, there are a few software that it comes with – HTC Sense, Kids Mode, Reader, Notes Watch and Car Panel that are worth calling out.

The most unique feature of the HTC Flyer is the built-in N-Trig layer which combines a digitizer along with the standard capacitive screen allowing for very fine-grained writing with a stylus. Although the device comes with a weird connector, a standard micro-usb can be used to adequately charge the HTC Flyer. While this may not seem like much, in comparison to the other tablets, this is a really useful and desired hardware feature on any device. Although it doesn’t have a dual-core processor, the device works really well. There aren’t any moments when I feel like the HTC Flyer is under performing. There are a few really nice touches such as the buttons automatically lighting up depending on how you orient your screen.

There are a few things that irk me a little. One of them being that with a larger screen surface, I’m finding that the screen is smudging much more and that for some reason, the wi-fi tends to drop after a few days regardless of which wireless router I connect to. Also, like most HTC devices I’ve used to date, the camera leaves lots to be desired. However, one thing to note – it is not always the most convenient thing to take photos with a 7″ tablet.

While I’ve always felt that the HTC Sense software has always been mediocre at best for phones, I found myself liking it a lot for the HTC Flyer. I found it for some reason more usable than either ADW Launcher or Go Ex Launcher which I love on the HTC Desire Z. At the time I was using the HTC Flyer, the unlock screen was pretty unique – you could drag a ring towards one of 4 app icons to launch it directly from the lock screen. The one thing that HTC Sense has always been known for is their gorgeous widgets and the HTC Sense for the Flyer really is no different.

Notes is a bit unique – it’s an HTC-written app that integrates directly to Evernote. What is unique about this app is that it supports handwritten notes which is otherwise not supported by the standard Android Evernote app. It does some things really well including doing offline synchronization with Evernote but it also does some things really poorly such as it lacks the ability to display shared notebooks and the way it organizes notebooks isn’t exactly intuitive. Overall though, the application works well. One feature that would really differentiate it would be the ability to sync with other note taking apps like Spring Pad. Reader is like Notes from the perspective that it is written by HTC and synchronizes with a third-party service. In this case, the third party service is Kobo. Just like Notes, it would make itself a killer service if it could synchronize with other services like Amazon as well.

Car Panel is really a GPS app that is provided by Route 66. I have to say that I am a bit mixed about my experience with it. The features are surprisingly limiting especially given the maturity of GPS software today. It provides the most basic of features such as being able to search for a destination and routing to it. Some features that I would have loved to use would have included multi-destination and being able to edit my favourite destinations. Car Panel does well to integrate to the HTC Flyer but would have been nice to see it integrate with the Android ecosystem a bit better.

The very best thing about the HTC Flyer really is the form factor. I found myself loving that it was small enough to be portable but large enough to expand on how I use a mobile computing device. I would describe how I use the Flyer is that it is truly a mobile computing device for me. It is intentionally not a phone; I never feel compelled to lift it to my face to make a call. I would, however, happily and productively communicate with others through IM, email and DM. I would never feel compelled to take photos on it but it is quite a pleasure to view photos, movies and music on it. It is definitely a pleasure to write and read blogs on it. The most typical use case for me is to listen to music while reading or writing on it in transit. I also find it convenient to carry it in my back pocket of my jeans around the house although oddly enough I wouldn’t do the same with my phone. Another thing to consider about the form factor is that apps written for a 4″ device tends to scale really well to a 7″ form factor.

Overall, the HTC Flyer is my favourite tablet to date because of the form factor. I do like my Asus EEE EP-121 but it is limited to OneNote usage largely because Windows is still not yet a touchscreen friendly operating system. The HTC Flyer is the first Android device that I haven’t felt the need to root as it works really well out of the box. Also, HTC has promised to upgrade the Flyer to Honeycomb in the very “near” future.

I’ll post pictures of the HTC Flyer in a few days

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

HTC and the Bootloader

I have always loved HTC because in so many ways they have made their devices not only good-looking but also user community friendly. Their history with this has been long before they were a well-recognized consumer brand. XDA-Developers is one of the most recognized communities for this kind of activity. HTC contemplated about whether or not to lock up the bootloader. After concerns from the community, HTC opted to not forge ahead. This is another testament of HTC’s commitment to the community.

It never really occured to me as to why they would contemplate such a thing especially since of their standing in the user community and it’s one of the reasons why their devices is so popular. As we are exploring other devices here other than the BlackBerry, @lukereeves pointed out the security risks with Android devices that have root access. The issue is to do this, you’d have to open access to the bootloader. Once the Bootloader is opened, regardless of what security you have on the ROM, you’ve enabled a way to bypass it.

I’m really curious about how HTC would balance between the consumer community and the business community which is traditionally lucrative. The other thing to consider is that the consumer space is where most of the bleeding edge technology is now unlike 15 years ago. The consumer is more than likely to switch more often. However, not many people would like to carry two devices so whatever corporate provides tend to be an individual’s primary device. It would be interesting to see what HTC will do. Perhaps start a separate brand to focus on the enterprise space?

HTC Flyer – First Impressions

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I didn’t think the wi-fi version of the HTC Flyer would be available today but good friend, @karatedan, mentioned that it was so I went out to pick it up while I was in the New York state on a short vacation. Here’s a picture of it sprawled all over the floor of my hotel room after I got it this evening. I managed to spend around 30 minutes with it and thought I’d write about my first impress

Some quick specifications of the HTC Flyer

  • Android 2.3 OS(Gingerbread)
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
  • 7-inch capacitive multi-touch sensitive TFT screen with 1024 X 600 resolution
  • 1 GB of RAM , 16 GB of internal storage and Micro SD memory card support
  • 5 megapixel camera with auto focus on back side and front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera
  • 4000 mAh Lithium – ion battery
  • Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP for wireless stereo headsets
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Internal GPS antenna with navigation system
  • GPS Sensors, Ambient light sensor, G-Sensor Digital compass, Accelerometer
  • HTC Sense Pen API

My initial impressions about the HTC Flyer is a positive one unlike how I felt about the ExoPC. 7 inches is a really nice form factor for a tablet. Large enough that reading on it is a pleasure but small enough to carry around with you. Android is a much better tablet OS than Windows because multitouch is supported by the entire OS and not only by certain applications. The HTC Reader app is quite nice and is linked to Kobo and Adobe. I suspect it’s actually the native Kobo Android application. Other than that, I haven’t had the opportunity to play with anything else on the device. I will write a more detailed blog in a month or two after getting a chance to use it some more.