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In Praise of 7” October 23, 2012

Posted by gordonwatts in Uncategorized.

I have lots of posts I’d like to write, but I have no time. I swear! Unless external events force my hand. In this case, I suppose I should be writing about the apparent crazy conviction of the geologists who failed to predict a deadly earth quake in Italy (really not possible), or science policy of the USA’s presidential candidates (wish I had a nice link).

But in this case, I want to talk about tech. I’ve been using a small, 7” tablet for over a year now. My first was the B&N Nook Tablet that was a gift about a year ago. At the time it was the best for the low price on the market – beating the Fire easily on tech grounds (longer battery life, lighter, thinner, and it had an SD slot for expanded memory). This year when everyone had announced their tablets I decided to upgrade to the Google Nexus 7.

My path to these and how I use them today is perhaps a little odd. It was completely motivated by the New Yorker and the Economist. I receive both magazines (thanks Dad, Uncle Steve!!) and love them. However, I can never keep up. When I go on long plane flights I would stash 10 issues or so of each in my bag and carry them across the Atlantic to CERN or where ever I was traveling. And often I would carry 9 issues back. You know how heavy & fat those are? Yes. 1st world problem.

The nook was fantastic in solving this. And if I was away for more than a week I could still get new issues. I soon installed a few other apps – like a PDF reader. Suddenly I was no longer printing out lecture notes for my class – I’d load them onto the nook and bring them with me that way. I could keep the full quarter of lecture notes with me at all times for when a student would ask me something! I try to keep up on blogs, and I managed to side-load gReader before B&N locked down the nook. I soon was putting comments in papers and talks then I had to review – very comfortable sitting on the couch with this thing!

As the new crop of tablets showed up I started looking for something that was faster. And perhaps with a more modern web browser. The main thing that drove this was viewing my class notes in the PDF viewer – sometimes a 5 second lag would interfere with my lecture when I was trying to look up something I’d written quickly. Amazon’s HD Fire and B&N’s new nooks were pretty disappointing, and so I went with the Nexus 7. The performance is great. But there was something else I’d not expected.

I know this is a duh for most people: but the importance of a well stocked app store. Wow. Now the Nexus 7 is very integrated into my workday. I used it constantly! My todo lists, some of my lab notebooks, reading and marking up papers and talks, all that is done on thins thing now. B&N’s app store is ok, but nothing like the Google app store – pretty much whatever I want is there, and with Google’s free $25 for the app store to spend with the purchase of the Next 7, I’ve not actually had to spend a cent… and having now owned this thing for about a month my app purchasing has pretty much dropped off to zero. Basically, all I take back and forth to work now are my reading glasses and the Nexus 7 (it was the same with the tablet). I put Dropbox on it, and… well, it is all there.

I have a few complaints. About the hardware – the 16 GB version is barely enough – because I want to be able to load it up with TV/Movies/DVD’s for my long flights. For everything else (music included) the 16 GB is plenty. I think I can connect a USB key to the device, but it was very nice having all that extra space in the nook tablet with its SD slot. The battery life is worse than the nook – it will make it only through two days of heavy use. The nook tablet would good 3 or 4 (but I didn’t use it nearly as much, so this might not be a fair comparison). This guy has NFC, which if I understand the tech right, should be so much better than Bluetooth – so I’m eager to try that out… when I get other devices that support it.

The rest of the complaints I have are due to software and thus can be easily updated. For example, Microsoft’s OneNote app for android doesn’t display handwriting. Smile Many of my logbooks contain handwriting. Also the email app is really awful (seriously??) – though I should add it is serviceable for quick checks, triage, and reading. The only other mobile smart-device I own is a Windows Phone 7.5 – and the design and how the interface flows on android isn’t as nice or as integrated, but with Android 4.1 Google has done a great job. SkyDrive, which I like a lot better than dropbox, is on Android, but it doesn’t support in-place-editing (i.e. open a PDF file, annotate it, have it put back up to the cloud). With 7 GB free (25 because I was an early adopter), I’d drop dropbox if SkyDrive supported this on Android.

If you are still reading. I’m sure you know what triggered this post: Apple’s rumored 7” tablet that will be announced tomorrow. If you are locked into the Apple eco-system, and your work load looks anything like mine, you should get it. Otherwise, go with the Nexus 7” (at $250).

My wife has an older iPad, and I’ve played around with other iPad’s – for whatever reason, people don’t seem to carry them around to meetings, etc., very often. And I see people using them, but often not reading papers, etc. – but propped up on the stand and watching a movie. Also, the 10” form factor makes it very difficult to hold the tablet in your hand and thumb type: you need very big hands. For this sort of task, the 7” is perfect.

That isn’t to say that the 10” form factor isn’t great in itself. Microsoft with its W8 release is going to have a bunch of these tablets – and I can’t wait to buy one. Of course, for those of you who know me, my requirements are going to be a little weird: it must have an active digitizer. This is what allows you to write with a pen (as on my Tablet PC’s). Then I can finally get rid of the Tablet PC which is a compromise, and I can carry something optimized for each task: the 7” for quick work and reading, the 10” for a lab notebook, and a ultra-portable for the real work. Wait. Am I going to carry three now? Arrgh! What am I doing!?!?



1. Ron - October 23, 2012

“the 10” form factor makes it very difficult to hold the tablet in your hand and thumb type: you need very big hands.”

Gordon, that’s not true. You can split the keyboard into two small halves, one along each edge, and then easily type with thumbs. Plus, splitting is easy. You just pull the keyboard apart, in effect. I do it all the time.

2. gordonwatts - October 24, 2012

Yes, the split keyboard, thanks, Ron. I’d forgotten about that. I still find it harder to use than the unsplit keyboard on the 7″ – I think the reason is partly the weight. But thanks for reminding me of that.

3. gordonwatts - October 24, 2012

Ugh. I just noticed! There are ads on this now!! And what is worse, when I log in as myself, they remove the ad’s. 😦 😦

4. Jonathan Thornburg - January 21, 2013

Re ads: The Adblock Plus plugin for Firefox does a *very* good job of removing (more accurately, persuading Firefox not to display) ads. Using it (with the “don’t even show non-intrusive ads” checkbox checked), I probably see under one web ad/month.

5. Cheryl - February 14, 2013

Got any specific game apps you’d recommend that a 9 year old could play that would teach, without realizing, basic engineer and physics lessons? Maybe in the course of building fun things? He’d be using a mini iPad. // I have a Nexus 7 I really enjoy. Still trying to figure out offline use for writing docs, etc. I’m new to Androids but I like them so far.

6. cudmore - August 9, 2013

Hi Gordon, Finally got to this post and with good timing. I have been eyeing up the new Nexus 7 LTE (out soon) and will probably get one. Still don’t have a smart phone and like it that way, I hope the Nexus 7″ is good for all the stuff you mentioned at work and reading but also on weekend trips to organize and use maps/GPS. Oh, too many electronics.

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