An iPad-Toting Mom Reviews the Google Nexus 7

It is the ultimate test: What would your mother think? Usually that question arises around questionable behavior, like dating a stripper or kicking a puppy. I had a more tangible question. If my mother used the brand-new Android Nexus 7 tablet, would she love it or hate it?

Targeting the Perfect Consumer

Often when reviewing devices, technology pundits get all wrapped up in the minutiae and nuance. They write long, geeky reviews intended for . . . well, geeks. That can be fine for a certain time and place, but it is important to remember that most people looking to buy smartphones or tablets do not care what kind of CPU the device uses. 153.9 million smartphones shipped in the second quarter of 2012. It is safe to say that the market for smartphone and tablets has well eclipsed the uber-geek subset by now. 

So, I came up with an experiment: Putting a Nexus 7 in the hands of the sort of mainstream consumer that companies like Apple, Google or Samsung strive to reach with every device they release. In short, my mother.

Mother is tech-savvy and well aware of digital trends, since one of her sons is a technology reporter and the other a computer engineer. She owns an iPad and an iPhone, and she uses popular apps and services to make her work and life easier and more enjoyable. She is aware of the Android operating system but had never used an Android device outside of browsing her sons’ various toys. 

So, mother set to work, Nexus 7 in hand, to determine how the device stands up to her expectations.

Mother’s Reaction, In Her Own Words

Day 1: Out of the box, Initial Thoughts

I open the box and admire the packaging. Nicely done, Google. But then, I am an Apple fan, so I would have been disappointed in anything less. I lift the tablet from its cardboard cradle. Hmmm, sleek, nice weight. Oh, look at the back. A sensible finish that won’t go flying off the counter like that absurd aluminum back on the iPad. In spite of my inclination against a smaller tablet, I am taken with this little gem. I like the size, taller than wide. It feels fashionable, modern and hip, sitting next to my iPad.

Set up is quick, as is the update to 4.1.1. I do a quick exploration. For someone like me, whose life is wrapped up in Google products, this is appealing. All things Google are in one place - Gmail, Talk, Google+. Ironically, the first thing I do is to pick up my iPhone and photograph the Nexus 7, and then post the snapshot to Facebook. Sorry about that, Google+. Still, I really like the Google thing. I could learn to love this.

There are some magazine, book and film apps already here. Mmmm . . . should I read Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Dominion or M.T. Cicernis De Diviniations libri duo?  Well, maybe I will get back to that later. I add a book, The Time Machine, and it loads in a heartbeat and opens instantly.

I back out and continue exploring. I have always found magazine apps annoying. Skip. Tranformers: Dark Side of the Moon is already installed. Do I like this sort of movie? I click, and instantly I am watching it. Wow, that was fast.

I set about adding apps. What, no ABC Player? How am I going to watch Revenge?  Oh well, never mind. HuffPo, Twitter, Words with Friends, Flipboard, all install quickly. Really quickly, by the way. 

Enough playing with the new tablet, I go to bed intrigued.

Day 2: No Flash? Really?

I wake up in the morning to twin pings announcing that my friend Lucy is up early playing Words With Friends. I immediately reach for my iPad and then feeling guilty and switch to the Nexus instead. OK, basically the same function, although I swear the font is different and it zooms to where I am working on the board, a feature I don’t like.

Coffee in hand, I open the HuffPo. Articles are listed neatly, rather than displayed with pics and “quick reads.” I wonder if it will open the slide shows? I guess not, as I can’t even find them. OK, I will just watch this Stephen Colbert clip. Must load Flash Player - but, um, Flash is not available! What? I can’t watch my clip?! Well, sorry. But that just sucks. To add insult to injury, HuffPo crashes several times as I am browsing. WTH?

Sigh. This is getting less fun all the time.

At this point I explain to my mother that Adobe no longer makes Flash for mobile devices and her iPad never supported Flash in the first place. She does not seem to care much; she is disappointed that the app she wanted to use did not work as she expected. 

Later: Taking the Nexus 7 to Work, Playing With Widgets

One other person at the office has already scored a Nexus 7. We compare notes. He is an Android guy, so he is starting way ahead of me, but he quickly catches me up on some features. 

This morning, I am playing with the Widgets. My Android-inclined friend seems to love them. I built one for my work-related stuff, but I am not sure whether I will do much more with it. There is an Animated Weather widget that quickly ID’d my location, and it’s kind of fun to see moving clouds and rain, but a little off-putting to see the Grand Canyon on my East Coast location.

Voice command is not great. Can’t seem to get it to do much of what I ask, unlike Siri, with whom I have a close personal relationship. It does some quick Web searches, some of them wrong. It struggles to find a contact or do a voice-to-text.

Overall, I am not impressed with the sound. It is kind of tinny for music and video, and I find the volume inadequate in Talk. I was a little surprised that no earphones were included, since they are a crucial accessory to the prominently featured music and video functions. 

There is a front-facing camera that seems to be exclusively for video chat. I can’t find a camera app anywhere. I am a little disappointed that there is no rear-facing camera. I might actually use a tablet of this size to take a picture, where the iPad really is too big to use its camera under most conditions.

A really important item for me in a tablet is access to Microsoft Office products, like Word and Excel. It looks like OfficeSuite Pro 6 will fit the bill. It imports, views, allows editing etc. It handled the manuscripts and spreadsheets I had stored in my Dropbox very quickly. Nice.

Conclusion: Waiting on an iPad Mini, Maybe

Bottom line: Fast, small, cute, great price, packed with stuff. I can already think of people to give this to for Christmas.

Would I switch from an Apple product to the Nexus? I still prefer the Apple user interface. The Google features are awfully nice, but I can do what I need to on the iPad, so I am not sure that’s enough incentive. The speed is impressive though, definitely a plus. The lack of 4G connectivity is a downer, especially for a device that is even more portable than an iPad. I can’t imagine connecting to Wi-Fi at a store just to use Google Wallet.

Would I switch to the smaller tablet? I don’t know. It is slick, it is modern, it is comfortable in the hand. (But then, I bought the bigger Kindle because I thought the original was too small).

The Nexus 7 is sort of like that really small purse you think you can get used to because it’s just so darned cute. It has lots of pockets and compartments and features, and it just seems really cool. But eventually you are back to your first love — the beaten up hobo bag that holds all your junk.   

 Still, I can’t help feeling that with a few more days of use, I could really get used to this. My iPad is already looking kind of clunky. Hey, Apple, where is that iPad Mini?