An Edu Review of the Nexus 7

As a fan of Apple's minimalistic packaging,
Google did a great job with the
presentation of the Nexus 7
So what is a self-proclaimed Apple fanboy doing purchasing a new Google Nexus 7 (Google Nexus 7 Black Wi-Fi 16GB Tablet - NEXUS7ASUS1B16 (Google Affiliate Ad)? Curiosity, for the most part. See, there's been a lot of hype about the Nexus 7 and its potential (like every other new product, it seems) to "disrupt the educational market." Hype aside, but given the price tag, I was very interested about two things: the 7" form factor as a primary device (for students) and how well the Nexus 7 could handle the tasks that a typical student taking part in Operation LAPIS would need it do. As we move to a BYOD policy this upcoming year, if the Nexus 7 fits the criteria, the $199 price tag could be a very attractive solution for parents and students alike.

The 7" Form Factor and Screen

Lots of space for icons and informative
widgets on the home screen
The size of the Nexus 7 is no foreign entity to me. I have a plain vanilla Kindle that I've come to adore for reading. Previously I was using my iPad as my primary eBook reader but now that has been almost completely supplanted by the Kindle. The Nexus 7 fits very comfortably in one hand. The textured back makes a good surface to grip and for general browsing or reading, one handed operation is perfectly natural.

The screen, at 800x1280 pixels, is crisp and bright. Because most 7" tablets have a lower resolution, it certainly feels like there is a lot more screen space with the Nexus 7. Many complaints from professional reviewers have centered around the quality of blacks on the screen, especially when viewing movies. To tell you the truth, I generally keep my devices at low brightness to preserve battery life and so I haven't found the black level to be worthy of complaint.

Outside, I found that with the brightness turned up, the screen was very usable. This is a positive thing for students thinking about using the device on campus in areas other than the classroom.

The on-screen keyboard is good, but I find it slightly less accurate than the iPad. I'd imagine this is on account of the screen size although subjectively I might argue that my iPhone feels more accurate as well. For teenagers with smaller (and slightly thinner) fingers, the keyboard might feel a bit more natural. I've also found the predictive typing to be less accurate than on my iPad, especially with my frequent misspellings.

Focus: Google Drive Integration

One of the largest complaints that I have about the iPad is how poorly Google has developed the mobile application of Docs. The document text editor (even in Chrome) is poor at best and the spreadsheet editing feels very antiquated for 2012 going on 2013. Google Drive (the app) on the Android platform is thankfully slightly more advanced than it's iOS counterpart.

There's a number of rich formatting options, including colored text and colored highlights - something students need, especially in the documents which serve as their virtual 'workbook' of sorts. 

It is also very easy to cut and paste text from Chrome into a document in the Drive app. For the most part, formatting is preserved with two major exceptions. First, tables are still not support within the mobile editing interface, even within the Google Drive app. This is unfortunately problematic from my point of view since tables allow for neat formatting of various things, especially in language instruction. Second, in-document comments (one of Google Docs most amazing features) appear to be inaccessible.

Spreadsheets, unfortunately, still haven't received any kind of interface overhaul. Even within the Google Drive app, you still have a line-by-line editor. This is a bit unwieldy from a student's point of view, especially since the collection mechanic is housed within their Operative Dossier (a specially constructed Google spreadsheet.)

I know that Google has recently acquired the company behind the QuickOffice app and I hope that over the course of the next year, they will improve the mobile interface for the various Docs components. Until then, the experience is slightly cumbersome for students to manipulate anything more than a simple document or spreadsheet. I'd also like to see them figure out how to improve the ability to read (and respond to) comments within the mobile experience. 

However, one positive change is that docs opened within the Google Drive interface will show you live editing from additional users. This is an incredibly important feature with so much of Operation LAPIS being focused on collaborative learning.

The Edmodo App

So much wasted space.
This is a short section. The Edmodo app, unfortunately, is designed for Android phones, not the tablet. As a result, you have a lot of wasted space and a very limited feature set. The iPad version basically wraps the normal web interface in a frame. Hopefully the wonderful folks over at Edmodo will develop a tablet specific app which will leverage the form factor in a more advanced manner.

Fortunately Chrome on the Nexus 7 is a full featured browser and the standard Edmodo interface runs fairly well, albeit a bit slow, inside of it. With pinch and zoom (wait, is that an infringement now?) it is easy to navigate around the various sections and zoom in on posts and discussions. With the impending launch of the Edmodo redesign/overhaul, I'm eager to see how the mobile experience changes. Hopefully there will be a speed and responsiveness increase.

In addition, for an instructor, the LAPIS Console app (which is located in the Edmodo app store in order to post the immersion sequences) works just fine in Chrome on the Nexus, including the edit function before posting. There's plenty of space to zoom in without obstructing a wider view of the material. It's responsive and just as snappy as it is on a desktop browser.

The CODEX inside of Chrome

Speaking of Chrome, how does the rest of the LAPIS experience play out on this 7" tablet? Surprisingly well. Again, on account of the pixel count, you end up with a lot of visible space on the screen. The rollover tooltips work like a charm, text is crisp and clean, and even the integrated Google Maps portions load without a hitch. Overall the mobile implementation of Chrome is almost as good as the desktop version. This is true on the iOS version as well.

 Other Thoughts:

The tight integration of Google's core services into the device is outstanding, especially GMail, Calendar, and Google Talk. I especially like the automatic download and update feature for keeping apps at their latest version in the most unobtrusive way possible.

The battery is solid and a student could expect (with conservative management of the screen brightness) to easily get through the day on a single charge. Most of the "must have" apps on my iPad are available in the Google Play store which is great to see if you are platform agnostic, but not fully committed to a pure web-based environment for your students.

The native display mode is portrait and the Nexus 7 is clearly designed with this layout in mind. In fact, it took me an embarrassingly (for me) extended period of time to figure out how to disable the screen lock and rotate it to landscape mode. I did find, however, that the Nexus 7 felt a bit unnatural to hold in landscape mode (unlike the iPad) and I've mainly found myself using it in portrait like I would my Kindle or iPhone.
The lack of a rear camera may be a turn off for some educational settings. Given the improvement to apps like Evernote, I think the lack of a rear camera may be an unfortunate oversight on the part of the design team, especially since the rumored iPad Mini is all but assured to have that rear camera. While the full sized iPad is a bit unwieldy to use as a camera, the Nexus 7 would fit the bill just fine.

The Bottom Line:

I didn't expect to like the Nexus 7 as much as I do. This has proven to me that the 7" tablet form factor, if done right, is a force to be reckoned with -- especially at this price point. The screen, speed, battery life, and tight Google integration are all big selling points in my eyes. The web experience is almost as good as it is on my iPad at a fraction of the size, weight, and cost. However, if the rumored iPad Mini does hit the $249 price point (as many predict it will, although for my part I think $299 is far more likely), the Nexus 7 fame could be short lived.

As I mentioned above, Google still needs to do some work on it's mobile implementation of Google Docs. This one area holds me back from fully embracing the Nexus 7 as a top tier device for students and parents to consider. If Google can find a way to make that experience work better, the Nexus 7 becomes a homerun in terms of features for the price. Without that, though, it's tough to argue that a $199 (or $249) Google Nexus 7 is a better option than, say, an Asus Netbook or something similar.

If a student has access to a traditional computer at home for some of the more complex tasks (which is how I feel about the iPad), I think the Nexus 7 is, with only slightly reservation, something that I could recommend at this point in time.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)