Nexus 7 First Impressions

So I finally managed to get my hands on a Google Nexus 7 last night. I’ve been playing around with a device for a couple hours now and I have to say I am for the most part blown away. It’s been a while since I played the original prototype, the MeMo 370T back at CES in January.  It’s no secret that the Nexus 7 is based on that device. The story goesthat Google approached Asus shortly after CES to work together on the first Nexus tablet after seeing how well the MeMo went over, it won several best of CES awards.  Let’s take a look at the original first.

Now the tablet has changed a lot since it’s debut but there is no doubt that they share similar ancestry, in fact while I was digging around in the ‘About Tablet’ section in the settings I even came up with the model number “ME370T”

About Tablet

From the humble origins as the MeMo 370T

Performance

So let’s get to it, what do I think about the tablet?  No denying I was very excited about the original back at CES as you can see in the video, and I can still say that I love this tablet!  This thing flies, I haven’t been able to trip it up yet and I’ve been known to be pretty demanding of my devices.  Straight out of the box I was up and running in less than five minutes, I immediately began installing my necessary apps on it.  I installed something like 40 apps without the thing so much as skipping a beat…and did I mention I was also streaming music from TuneIn radio, syncing Facebook contacts, browsing Twitter, and messing around with Google Play Magazines at the same time?  The Quad-Core Tegra 3 is no slouch, but it can’t take all the credit; I suspect that Android 4.1 Jellybean has a great deal do with it.  I will be continuing to put the device through it’s paces and I’ll report back after more grueling tests.

Bottom Edge of The Nexus 7

MicroUSB and 3.5mm Audio Jack

Design

Around the body you won’t find much in the way of port or buttons.  You have a MicroUSB port for charging, data transfer, and now audio over USB on the bottom, to the right of that along the bottom edge you’ll find a 3.5mm audio in/out jack.  If you’ve used another Nexus device before the bottom of the left edge will have your familiar pogo pins for a future desk dock (and maybe car dock?).  On the front of the device you have a 1.2MP VGA front-facing camera for video calls and a few other apps that have been updated to support it.  For audio you have a small microphone hole at the top left of the backing and a long speaker grill along the bottom of the back.  Finally on the upper right side you have your screen lock/power button and a volume rocker beneath that.  Those last two items are the only ones I have some issue with,  the buttons are a little too flat and difficult to feel out with your fingers without looking (at least at first); I imagine it’ll take some getting used to.  The overall effect of all of this is a very clean and slick look/feel to the device.

Rear of the Nexus 7

Grippy backing is great for one-handed use.

 I’m inclined to agree with what Google has said about the ergonomics of the device, the 7″ form factor feels great in the hand and is comfortable for extended one-handed use.  One of the significant changes from the CES model is the backing, it went from a thinner plastic backing with a concentric design to something that feels a lot more like a mix between leather and soft touch plastic.  The result is really very good, I’m not quite sure why I’ve seen a few complaints about it.  It has a very premium feel to it and because it’s not glossy like some other tablets you don’t have to worry nearly as much about smudging or scratching.

Audio

I would consider myself to be a slight audiophile and while the speakers aren’t going to be winning any awards anytime soon I was more than comfortable sitting on the couch and listening to some music from my Google Music library while browsing Reddit and my Twitter feed.  I was actually surprised by the frequency reproduction on the tablet, I found it actually tended to lean towards lower sounds though.  Volume is pretty good in a calm environment but it definitely won’t be enough for watching a movie on a long car trip even at full volume.

Speaker Grill

The speaker grill is close to the bottom edge

The speaker grill being at the bottom gave me some mixed results.  When holding the device in portrait mode my hands actually cupped over it nicely which amplified the sound, however in landscape I found more often than not I would end up covering the speakers and muffling the sound which is really a shame because that would prove to be a problem when watching movies.

Battery

I haven’t used the device long enough to make a definitive statement but so far battery life is looking very strong, I could definitely see it lasting all day for all but the heaviest usage cases.

What’s Not So Cool

Now I’ve had a lot of good things to say about this tablet but I do have a few gripes with it.  First off the lack of expandability, one of the changes that was made from the MeMo was that the MicroSD slot was removed, most argue that it’s Google’s push towards cloud storage.  For someone like me with a music library approaching 20GB and photos probably pretty close to 10GB, a maximum of 16GB of storage (~13.24GB usable) doesn’t quite cut it.  To add insult to injury Google did not enable USB mass storage over the device’s USB host, keyboards and mice work just fine but if you want to plug in a flash drive out of the box you’re out of luck.  There has been a workaround using Chainfire’s Stickmount root app but it’s less than straightforward for an average user (to be fair the functionality may not even occur to the average user).

I’ve had a few issues with the UI on certain apps, the 7″ form factor being lightly tread territory some apps just use the phone UI while others revert to tablet mode.  Some apps look great and others end up looking ridiculous but I think as more Nexus 7’s get out there this issue will start to disappear because developers will be optimizing their apps for the new design guidelines presented at Google I/O this year.

The front-facing camera is pretty poor quality, it’ll do alright for video calls but forget about taking self portraits.  Google doesn’t even have a camera launcher for you to start using the camera.  Paul O’Brien of MoDaCo has put out a camera launcher app but the results are not pretty.

Front-Facing Camera Shot

The best shot I was able to coax out the camera.

 There are a few other gripes here and there but I think I’ve already gone on too long with these first impressions and I had better stop before I end up doing the whole review right now.  First impressions though, this thing is great, albeit with a few to-be-expected compromises when it comes in at a price point starting at $200.

More to come soon!

OUYA – The $99 Android Console and Why It May Not Be So Cool

Kickstarter has been the topic of a lot of news in the past year with projects ranging from indie games, to iPod/iPhone accessories, to full out Smartwatches that run apps and link up to your smartphone by bluetooth.

The latest sensation to hit Kickstarter is a $99 Android based gaming console called OUYA (pronounced Wee-Ah).  The Kickstarter campaign started only days ago but they’ve already obliterated their $950,000 goal.  At the time of this writing they are at over $160,000 and still climbing by the minute!

OUYA Game Console

Image Courtesy of Kickstarter

What Makes This Cool?

The cool thing about this console is that it is not only running the (currently) latest hardware, a quad core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor but it has a free to play model.  All games available on the platform will be at least partially free to play.  In addition to this the developers seem to understand the core Android enthusiast demographic and have made the software totally open to tinkering, it is root ready out of the box and better yet root won’t void your warranty!  This means aspiring coders and established developers alike can toy around with everything in the software and make the machine exactly what they want.  Want to run an N64 emulator?  How about playing your classic Playstation games?  You can do it!  You’re only limited by how hard you can push the hardware and your imagination, and right now that’s looking like it’ll be pretty far.

OUYA

Image Courtesy of Kickstarter

You can get your hands on a console when it releases by pledging just $99 right now on Kickstarter, you can add a second controller to that with just an extra $30.  The release is currently projected for sometime in March 2013.

What’s Not So Cool

In other words: “Why I haven’t contributed yet”.  What I find to be the main problem with the idea (and in a way they’ve already proven me wrong) is that their core demographic is hardcore Android users it seems.  Now why is that a problem?  Android users love Android!  When you look at the device isolated it’s an amazing idea!  The problem is that most hardcore Android users already have high powered phones or tablets that are capable of running the same software and hooking up to their TV’s by HDMI plus they’ve got the added benefit of the potential to play these games on the go with mobile devices.  Now this on it’s own isn’t a big deal but when you compare it with the fact that it won’t be releasing until March of next year it becomes a problem.

By March 2013 Tegra 3 will likely be either on it’s way out or already old news and the latest and greatest games won’t run well on it anymore.  Sure anyone will tell you that $99 isn’t going to get you the latest hardware but I think a lot of people aren’t realizing that.

Another dangerous point of the OUYA is something I found as I was reading an interview with the creators.  The free games only have to have “part” of the game playable for free.  What is stopping the biggest game developers to only make a one level playable demo available for free like many have done on the Android market.  They could make the rest of the game available only via DLC.  Going from this nothing that I’ve seen so far suggests that the OUYA will be running the Android Play Store.  That means if you purchase a game on OUYA you’ll have to purchase it separately for your other devices, this could be counteracted by OUYA releasing their own app store that would be compatible with other devices though but I don’t see that happening.

Now I’m not totally condemning the OUYA, I was honestly hovering over the contribution button earlier today but I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on it.  I’ll be getting an ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity sometime shortly after it comes out and I’m having trouble finding something I can do with the OUYA that I won’t be able to replicate by plugging my Infinity in to my TV.

All this being said the nerd in me really wants to get one and I may just end up contributing tomorrow but I think it’s important to realize the potential downfalls of the project.

For more information check out OUYA on Kickstarter 

Welcome To My Brain

Hey there Android veterans and newbies alike!  I’d like to welcome you to “My Brain on Android” my newest channel for Android related content.

What To Expect

Now this blog won’t just be my sentimental thoughts on Android, nor will it be simply news.  If you wanted news there are a number of sites who can do a much greater job than me and also have a lot more power to get information faster. This blog will be primarily my thoughts and editorial on what is happening in Android right now, things that I may not be able to convey in other mediums.  You may agree with my opinions or not, they’re my opinions and I don’t force you to read them, I would however like to encourage discussion.  I don’t claim to be right about everything, nor am I the authority.  If I ever have any facts out of line please don’t hesitate to let me know.

A Brief History of my Experience with Android

I’ve been on Android since the T-Mobile G1, the very first Android device and since making the switch I’ve never looked back.  I jumped in shortly before Android 1.5 Cupcake was released, I was amazed at the concept of a Google mobile operating system.  Almost everything I use on the web these days is intertwined with Google so who better to trust with my first smartphone experience?

Google I/O 2011

Google I/O 2011

Since then I have delved deep in to the Android world and I’ve owned close to 20 devices.  I’ve explored all of what the aftermarket third party roms have to offer and I’ve tested many different apps.  I’ve gone to events like Google I/O and CES to get hands on with the latest and greatest and pick the brains of the most influential Googlers and developers alike.  In the Summer of 2011 I got a position with ASUS as a student representative focusing primarily on their Android devices. (Note: the thoughts presented in this blog do not in any way represent those of ASUS)

Vic Gundotra

Vic Gundotra VP of Engineering at Google. ‘Google I/O 2011’

More Than A Platform

All of this being said I would still have to say there is a lot that I have to learn about Android but I love getting people involved in this platform, whether it’s their first smartphone/tablet or their 10th.  If there is one thing that I know about the Android community it’s that the majority are just like that as well, Android can be so much more than a platform. I’ve found that, it, more so than any other platform has the power to bring people together.  I’ve made great friendships across the country and the world because of a common interest in Android.  For those of you who are new to this I hope that you have the same experience I did.

Contact

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter or Google+.  You’ll find those links in the sidebar on the right as well.

My name is Aiman and in reading this you are now inside my brain, watch your step because you never know what you might find!