Aug 28, 2012 (07:08 AM EDT)
Google Nexus 7: A Work Tablet?
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
I recently wrote about how to turn a Kindle Fire into a "real" Android tablet and using Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 for work-related tasks. So how does Google's first Android tablet, the Asus-manufactured Nexus 7, compare to these other 7-inch tablets as a work slate? I decided to find out.
(click images to enlarge)
In BYTE's first look at the Nexus 7, Todd Ogasawara called it the best Android tablet that he'd used so far. This review dives more deeply into the tablet's Android 4.1 Jelly Bean user interface and functionality, and covers some useful apps for system customization and management, productivity, and more.
Three 7-Inch Choices: Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, Galaxy Tab 2 7.0
It's easy to see from the photo below that the Nexus 7 and the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, its closest competitor, are much svelter than the Kindle Fire.
Top to bottom: Nexus 7, Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, Kindle Fire
But how do the tablets stack up otherwise? The table below compares the key specs of all three 7-inch tablets. Later in this review we'll zero in on the Nexus 7 vs. the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, arguably the best two 7-inch tablets available today.
The specs alone tell us two things: the Kindle Fire is due for a hardware and software refresh; and the Nexus 7 and Galaxy 2 7.0 are fairly evenly matched, each with its pluses and minuses (more on that later).
Quick tour: Nexus 7
When it's first turned on, the Nexus 7 guides you through a few simple configuration steps, after which you'll arrive at the tablet's two default home screens (shown below).
Tapping the widget in the middle of the dock at the bottom edge of either home screen switches the display to the all-apps and all-widgets view. The far left screenshot below shows icons for each of the 28 apps that were preinstalled on my Nexus 7. The other two screenshots show 12 of the tablet's 26 preinstalled widgets.
At this point, you can customize the home screens; add and remove app icons and widgets; create folders containing multiple app icons; and modify the home screen and lock screen backgrounds if you like. The first thing I always do is literally sweep the slate clean, by wiping away all the default app icons and widgets from the home screens. I then install my favorite home screen wallpaper and sideload a dozen-or-so system management apps.
This next group of screenshots demonstrates the Nexus 7's built-in folder creation capability. You can create folders by dragging one app icon onto another. The method and results are similar to creating folders on the iPad, except the Nexus 7 has round, transparent folders containing overlapping stacks of icons.
Despite the avant-garde look of Nexus 7 folders, I prefer creating customized folders and app icons using the third-party Folder Organizer app. In addition to letting you assign custom icon images to each folder, the app provides a choice of folder themes; a handy function for assigning apps to one or more folders; and a tool for backing up and restoring your custom folder settings.
Thanks to Folder Organizer, I can quickly and easily access all of the near-200 apps I've installed on my Nexus 7 with one or two taps from a single home screen. To accomplish this, I populated the main home screen with 14 category folders, labeled with upper-case letters; 14 icons for favorite apps, labeled with upper and lower case; and one widget for quick Wi-Fi access point selection. I dedicated a secondary home screen to a handful of widgets.
Here's how all that looks on my Nexus 7:
Moving files around
The Nexus 7's Android 4.1 OS offers numerous ways to move files in and out of the device. Of course, you can easily transfer files between the tablet and desktop or laptop PCs or Macs using a USB cable. Increasingly, however, I find myself using wireless, rather than wired, methods--and to or from a growing set of remote locations. These include the tablet's internal flash storage, Windows shares, other Bluetooth-enabled devices, and cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and Sugarsync.
ES File Explorer, one of my favorite free apps, merges nearly all these file transfer locations into a single wireless multiverse, as seen below.
Entering text on soft keyboards
With its bright, crisp screen, the Nexus 7 makes a super reading and viewing tool, both for work and for pleasure. But what about typing in and editing documents?
As you might expect, the relatively small onscreen keyboards of 7-inch tablets limit the speed and accuracy with which you can type and edit documents or emails. However, there are several ways to circumvent this problem on the Nexus 7.
Numerous soft-keyboard alternatives to the standard Android onscreen keyboard are available from Google's Android Market. Of those, my favorite is the Hacker's Keyboard (second row below, left image). It adds cursor keys, an escape key, function keys, a numeric keypad, and more.
Another way to enter text is via the Google Voice Typing mode, which works surprisingly well. You launch the mode by tapping the microphone icon in the bottom row of the onscreen keyboard, or via the search widget at the top of the tablet's home screens. Speak slowly and clearly, and it can really speed up your text entry on the tablet. Google Voice Typing currently responds to a few spoken punctuation commands as well. It can understand comma, period, exclamation mark, question mark, and colon. But check your results closely because sometimes it makes mistakes.
Although Google Voice Typing works fairly well, you'll probably find that a Bluetooth keyboard such as the one shown below is the fastest and most accurate way to enter text.
Doing "real work" on the Nexus 7
Obviously the Nexus 7 is a great device for browsing the Web, watching videos, playing music, and reading ebooks. But can you do enough "real work" on it to justify your company buying you one?
In addition to Android apps for email, contacts, calendar, and communications that are preinstalled or that you can add, there are several other third-party productivity apps available that offer Microsoft Office-like features, including compatibility with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint file formats. One real plus with these apps is that they let you use either internal storage or cloud services as the source and destination for files, so transferring or syncing your work among your tablet, laptop, and desktop computers is easy.
Let's take a quick look at six Android productivity apps available for the Nexus 7:
This $15 Android app lets you create and edit documents in Word, Powerpoint, and Excel formats. You can try this app for seven days using a free, fully-functional trial version, so you'll have plenty of time to find out whether it's worth purchasing.
Quickoffice Pro HD
Unfortunately, there's no free-trial version of this $20 Office-style app, although as with all apps purchased in the Google Android Market you can cancel your purchase within 15 minutes for a full refund. One potential advantage of QuickOffice is that it's also available for iOS. Another is that Google recently acquired Quickoffice, so it could be moving toward a phase of rapid evolution.
Below, I created some simple Powerpoint slides and spreadsheets using Quickoffice.
Unfortunately, Quickoffice can't create charts from spreadsheet data. I used OfficeSuite Pro to add a chart to a spreadsheet that QuickOffice created (below).
This Office-style app is currently free in Google's Android Market. Like the paid office suites above, Kingsoft Office is useful for creating and editing MS Office-compatible text, spreadsheet, and presentation documents. One unfortunate drawback is that its top-of-screen menu fonts and widgets are small and lack contrast, making the app somewhat tedious to use, at least initially. Still, the app does offer extensive text document-editing capabilities, plus the ability to create spreadsheets and presentations, all at a price that's hard to resist.
In addition to providing Dropbox-like cloud storage and sharing services, the free Google Drive app lets you view and edit text and spreadsheet Google Documents on the Nexus 7.
This useful mobile productivity app, currently priced at $25 in Google's Android Market, lets you access remote Windows or Mac desktops and even run desktop programs remotely. The screenshots below show the Nexus 7 being used to create an Open Office spreadsheet and browse the Web in Firefox on a remote Windows 7 desktop.
Autodesk's free SketchBook Mobile app is a nifty painting and drawing tool. Using it, you can create mixed text/graphics images that can be embedded in presentations and other documents.
What about having fun?
We thought you'd never ask! When you're tired of using the Nexus 7 for catching up on work email and preparing proposal and presentation drafts, you can kick back:
To see me using the Nexus 7 for all these enjoyable pursuits, check out the comprehensive Google Nexus 7 screenshot tour on my blog. One big disappointment, though: Google has removed Adobe Flash support from Android starting with version 4.1, although there might be ways to circumvent that restriction.
The bottom line
Can you be productive using the Nexus 7? It depends on the work. If you need to crank out richly-formatted text, presentation, and spreadsheet documents, it would be challenging even on a 10-inch tablet because Android productivity apps aren't quite there yet. On the other hand, with the aid of Google Voice Typing and perhaps a Bluetooth keyboard, you certainly can create relatively lengthy text documents fairly easily. And the Nexus 7 is great for viewing documents, websites, and other forms of content; in fact, the ability to hold it in one hand comfortably gives it the edge over a heavier 10-inch tablet in many situations.
What about Samsung's similarly-priced Galaxy Tab 2 7.0? If the Nexus 7's lack of a camera doesn't bother you (it is possible to take low-res snapshots, thanks to a third-party app), the Nexus 7 outperforms the Samsung tablet in nearly every respect. Check out all its advantages.
Google's first Android tablet, with its quad-core processor, latest Android operating system, hi-res 1280x800 screen, and compact size, offers the best bang for the buck of any tablet available today.
Price: $199.99 (8GB flash) or $249.99 (16GB flash)