Nexus 7 Review: Why I Bought And Then Returned It

Since its introduction two years ago the iPad has reigned as the undisputed king of tablets. There have been a few contenders (Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab) but none have come close to shaking the iPad from its lofty perch.

Until Google's Nexus 7.

Announced last month, the Nexus 7 quickly caught my attention and fancies. An Android tablet comparable to an iPad? Amazing!

For a week I hemmed and hawed, debating amongst myself and friends if I should purchase the tablet.

At the end of my deliberations I caved and purchased the Nexus 7.

For a month I used and played with the device.

After that month I ended up returning the Nexus 7.

What follows are the reasons I had to buy the Nexus 7, and the reasons I arrived at that caused me to return it.

Reasons I Bought the Nexus 7

The Form Factor

Small enough to fit in my hand? Check.

Light enough to hold for long reading stints? Check.

A 7" tablet seemed like the size I had long been waiting for. A perfect size to compliment my iPhone and my iPad.

Jelly Bean

Jelly Bean has been the first Android OS that I've felt can be favorably compared to iOS (in terms of UI and UX).

I was lucky enough to see first hand the speed and responsiveness changes between Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) and Jelly Bean (4.1).

Two friends of mine have the Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone, one with ICS installed and the other Jelly Bean. When we put them side by side I was amazed at the huge difference in performance. Quite frankly Jelly Bean blew ICS out of the water: all touch events were quicker, and all animations and transitions were as smooth as butter (wink wink, nudge nudge at Project Butter).

So smooth were the animations on Jelly Bean that I immediately felt that the UI experience on Android was at long last comparable to iOS.

For so long it irked me to no end how jittery simple transitions were on Android. With Jelly Bean that was no longer the case.

To Keep Up To Date With Android

For over two years I have been laser focused on the iOS ecosystem. This had the obvious side effect of losing track of Android trends, both as a user and as a developer.

My hope was that through buying the Nexus 7 I would be able to keep myself in the Android loop of 'what's happening'. I'd be able to know of hot new Android-only apps and be a better informed consumer and developer.

To Share

Living with my girlfriend there are times that I'll be on the couch with my iPad and she'll be there next to me with her MacBook Pro. It didn't really feel fair to me that she'd have to hold her heavy laptop while I was enjoying the levity of my iPad.

It was my hope that we'd be able to share the Nexus 7 - each of us using a tablet while we lounged. We'd be one of the trendiest couples this side of our apartment.

Reasons I Returned the Nexus 7

The Form Factor

7" is a good size however I didn't see drastic improvement over the 10" of my iPad. In fact I found a few negatives.

For one, when I browsed the internet there was less screen real estate to look around. I wound up panning a whole lot more on the Nexus 7 than I expected, causing me to find web browsing more of a chore than a joy.

The length-wide bevel of the Nexus 7 is quite narrow. As such when I held the Nexus 7 with one hand I found my fingers curling over the sides and inadvertently making touches on the screen. That got annoying very quickly. I would be reading a book and clutch the tablet with one hand only to find myself 5 pages ahead due to unintended touches of the screen.

Also I found the weight of the Nexus 7 to be a smidge heavier than I would have liked. Compared to a Kindle (the non-fire variety) the Nexus 7 was noticeably less enjoyable to hold in one hand for long reading stints. This is undoubtably a nitpick, but one I encountered nonetheless.

Jelly Bean

Jelly Bean is by far the best Android OS ever released - however iOS still reigns supreme (in terms of UI / UX).

Although the amount of jitter and lag during transitions and animations is drastically less in Jelly Bean than in ICS, there's an overall sense of disharmony throughout the Android OS that does not exist in iOS.

For one the new software buttons at the bottom of the Nexus 7 were awkward to get used to. They would hide while using certain apps, causing my ability to predict how to use them to be difficult.

The new app specific back button (found on the top left of apps that support that feature) was at odds with the global back button. I found it hard to keep their similar functionality consistent in my head, causing wrong touches and confusion while using the Nexus 7.

The Pains of Supporting Two Mobile Ecosystems

There is both a cognitive and financial cost associated with fully supporting two mobile ecosystems. A cost that I found I wasn't prepared to pay.

Cognitively it is difficult to switch between Android and iOS. Although they both have similar ways of performing actions there are enough differences that I would find myself performing Android-like actions on my iPad and iPad-like actions on my Android (two gestures I greatly missed on the Nexus 7: tap to scroll to top, and the five-finger pinch to go back to the home screen).

I love being efficient in my use of technology, and when I found myself slowing down due to switching OS I was not happy.

The financial cost of supporting both Android and iOS tie directly into the fact that I can't simply buy the ad-free version of Angry Birds. I have to buy the ad-free version of Angry Birds for iOS, and then the ad-free version of Angry Birds for Android. There's not much that can help this situation, but it was one I found irritating.

The sunk-cost theory is completely in effect here. And I am very much sunk in iOS apps.

Also the only good cloud-synching technology available across Android and iOS is Dropbox. Dropbox is great, however I've already begun to enjoy the benefits of iCloud. Sitting down to write this blog post on my Mac and then being able to open it without pain on my iPad is awesome.

The cost to switch all my cloud-synching usage over to Dropbox would have been a big change that I did not want to do.

Can't Use a Tablet to Develop for a Phone

The title pretty much says it all. I bought the Nexus 7 with lofty hopes of eventually using this stock-version of Android to develop phone applications. However that would have been like painting a mural and expecting it to look exactly the same on a 10" canvas. It is not a simple translation.

iPhone 5 and iPad Mini Rumors

I'm not going to lie, the influx of iPad Mini rumors did influence my decision to return the Nexus 7.

I fully expect to upgrade to the next iPhone when it is released and to hear that a Nexus 7 sized iPad is in the works convinced me to wait.

It's Hard To Share a Mobile Device

I was expecting it would be easy to share the Nexus 7. When I used the tablet I'd use the Facebook app for my account, when my girlfriend used the tablet she'd use the Facebook app for her account.

The reality is that it's a pain in the ass to log someone else out of an app and then log yourself in.

It got to the point that I no longer wanted to take the effort to log myself into the Facebook app - I let my girlfriend stay logged in.

This quickly progressed to the point that my girlfriend was logged in as herself in all the apps, and I was logged in as myself on all the apps on my iPad.

This made sharing the Nexus 7 and iPad near impossible.

I used to not understand the need for system-wide user accounts on iOS or Android. I do now.

Conclusion

If I had to simply answer why I returned my Nexus 7 I suppose my answer would be: because I like iOS more.

By themselves, none of the reasons I outlined were deal-breakers. However when I took the sum it was enough to convince me that the Nexus 7 was not right for me.

If I used Android as my primary phone then the Nexus 7 would have been a blessing. An amazing tablet that fit perfectly alongside my phone.

Yet as it stands I'm an iPhone user. To make my iPhone and iPad work alongside the Nexus 7 was too expensive - cognitively and financially. Each of those reasons just as important as the other.

If you primarily use Android as your smartphone and are looking for a tablet then the Nexus 7 is a no-brainer.

If you primarily use an iPhone as your smartphone and don't have an iPad then the Nexus 7 is a solid cheaper alternative. You'll encounter the same issues I faced however you won't already own the solution. The solution being an iPad.