Review: Google Nexus 7 – the tablet to rule them all

Technology-wise, yesterday was a great day. First, my Samsung Galaxy SII finally got the Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade Sprint had teased for weeks. But, and possibly more importantly, my Nexus 7 arrived.

The Hardware

The Nexus 7, the latest Android tablet from Google and Asus, is a 7″ tablet with a quad-core processor, the newest Jelly Bean version of Android, and a slick design. The form factor is wonderfully solid and polished. Amazingly, there are only three buttons and one port on the device. I love the micro USB port for charging and connecting since it’s the new standard (so I have a dozen such cables). The power button and two volume control buttons are the only interruptions in the sleek exterior.
The tablet has a nice heft; it almost seems a bit heavy for its size. The textured and rubberized back and rounded edges make it easy to hold in one hand for long periods, something I’m likely to do as I plan to use this in place of my current e-readers (Nook Color and Kindle 3). However, while the left/right bezel is a great width for holding the device (without pressing the screen), the top/bottom bezels are bigger than I’d prefer. A recent teardown seems to indicate that the extra space is used to house the camera and speaker components, but I wonder if they plan to shave off some millimeters in height for the 2nd gen.

The 7″ screen is simply gorgeous, with rich colors and textures coming through on both photos and videos. The video playback improvements touted by “Project Butter” are evident in the first ten minutes of the free Transformers preloaded on the device. I’m a bit concerned that I can’t find any confirmation (or denial) that Asus used Gorilla Glass on this. I hope the answer is yes, since the only available cover (from Google) wasn’t to my liking, so my tablet is currently unprotected.
I’m still torn whether a 7″ or 10″ screen is better for productivity. The 7″ is perfect for consumption of many types of media: ebooks, videos, and web sites. I still contend that the 10″ screens are better for content creation (blogging/writing, video/photo editing) and viewing large color documents (like graphic novels). But if any device could change my mind, it’s this one.

Jelly Bean

But I practically ignored the physical aspects of the tablet once I turned it on. The speed and fluidity that I’m able to navigate the Nexus 7 is nothing less than stunning. Seriously, this thing is wicked fast.

I’m a previous owner of Google’s former “reference” tablet model, the Motorola Xoom Wi-fi (which was so heavy I hardly ever used it) and the current owner of a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (still running Honeycomb), a Nook Color (rooted and running CM7 Gingerbread). With ICS now on my phone, I’ve experienced nearly every version of Android (my previous phone came with Donut, upgraded to Eclair, then I rooted it with Froyo).

With Jelly Bean, Android has finally reached the pinnacle of user experience. Between the hardware and the OS improvements, the Nexus 7 offers an unmatched user experience.

One of my favorite features of the Nexus 7 is the fact that it’s a Nexus device, which means no waiting for a manufacturer to release OS updates. In less than a day, a system update was already pushed to my device. Having a direct connection to Google for updates is going to spoil me for all devices (mostly Samsung) I own.

Early Observations and Tips

After linking my Google account and syncing, I delved into some of the preloaded apps. Launching Gmail, I was dismayed to find that I couldn’t rotate the tablet to landscape mode. I then realized I couldn’t rotate the home screen, either. Thankfully, a quick Google search turned up the solution:

“If you notice that the device isn’t rotating, feel free to pull the notification bar down and hit the rectangular icon with the two arrows around it. Actually, if it’s not rotating, it’s probably showing up as a lock with two arrows around it. In order to get your device to rotate, it needs to have the box with arrows”

Once turned on, any app that I previously used in landscape mode worked perfectly. I think it’s a mistake that Google decided to disable that by default.

Interestingly, all Google apps (Gmail, Chrome, etc.) are “pre foldered” and the folder is located in the Favorites tray, a quick-launch bar of icons at the bottom of the screen. Placing additional app icons on the home screen is the same as in previous versions of Android, but I found that my longstanding habit of long-pressing the home screen to add a widget no longer works. Since there was no menu option or “more” button, another Google search provided the answer: turns out there’s a “widget” screen on the app drawer. I’ll get used to this – and I already prefer it – but as I now have a phone on Ice Cream Sandwich and a tablet on Honeycomb, going between UI differences will be a challenge.

Had I taken a moment to step back from my excitement, I might have even found Google’s helpful (and free) Nexus 7 User Guide in the Play store. Already, I’ve found the answers to my previous questions as well as a wealth of knowledge about the device and OS which would have required serendipitous discovery.

Essential Apps and Features

While Jelly Bean’s stock keyboard is usable (and fast on the Nexus 7!), I still prefer the alternate Swype keyboard, so I downloaded that from the site. Thankfully, it works flawlessly with the new OS.

The built-in Google voice search is, quite simply, amazing. It’s like being on Star Trek. Merely saying “Google” triggers the search to wait for your voice input.

I’ve only briefly explored new Jelly Bean features like Face Unlock and Google Now (which offers real-time information based on your geolocation), but I plan to dig into it more in the coming days.

For now, I heartily recommend this tablet to anyone looking for a small form-factor Android tablet at an amazing price point.

Bait & switch: Microsoft’s free new (lame) cybersecurity ebook for teens

Microsoft, you disappoint me.

I was very excited to come across this post from Lifehacker today announcing a Microsoft’s free cybersecurity ebook. Hooked by the cover graphics (admit it, you are, too!) and reading that it was geared for teens, I quickly followed the link to see how I could begin to share this resource to all my friends and colleagues.

Too bad it was a massive bait-and-switch.

You see, while the cover shows a nicely drawn comic – seemingly promising the same inside the book – the book itself is pages….and pages…and pages….

…of TEXT.

Sure, there’s an occasional sketch thrown in, but I think Microsoft missed a huge opportunity to reach their target audience. Instead of using an engaging comic book (sorry, “graphic novel”) format, they defaulted to what so many critics of PowerPoint bemoan: a mind-numbing enormous tome consisting of text and bullets.

Admittedly, I’ve only skimmed the first chapter, but even that leads me to the conclusion that it’s written for someone with very limited web experience and enjoys reading endless pages of text combined with what seems to be a fairly condescending storyline.

If it isn’t obvious by now, I won’t be sharing this resource beyond this post.

If you happen to like the ebook, however, I’d like to know why in the comments!

The best systems are simple [TED video]

Simplicity is something we desperately yearn for in areas from data visualization to technology. Yet these very areas often stray into more complex waters, becoming less usable the further they go. George Whitesides, who has a background in chemistry and various other sciences, seems uniquely qualified to help us find a definition of “simplicity” in this TED talk.

If you don’t have 18 minutes to spare, then skip to the 7:30 mark and watch until about 15:30. Whitesides explains how an ideas as simple as a wall switch was used to create the transistor. Many transistors put together created the integrated circuit. Many integrated circuits helped create the computer chip which ultimately evolved into what we know as the Internet and cell phones. Which means a concept as simple as a wall switch was built upon to allow people in the most remote areas of the world to have access to people and information around the globe at their fingertips.

Improve Firefox’s spell check feature

One of my favorite features in Firefox is the built-in spell checker. Two recent tips I learned are worth noting to improve the power of this feature.

Change the way misspelled words appear.

The default red squiggly underline for misspelled words is often too subtle for me. So I really like this tip, courtesy of downloadsquad. To change the indicator to something more obvious like a solid double-underline or

  1. Type about:config in the Firefox address bar. If it pops up an alert, tell it that you know what you’re doing and proceed.
  2. Search for ui.SpellCheckerUnderlineStyle. If you find anything, skip to step 4. If your system is like mine, you found nothing. That means you have to add this configuration value. Right-click any where in the whitespace of the window and select New > Integer.
  3. Enter ui.SpellCheckerUnderlineStyle to create a setting by this name.
  4. Set the value of this setting to one of several options: 0 for no highlighting, 1 for a dotted line, 2 for long dots, 3 for a single straight line, 4 for a double underline, and 5 for a squiggly line (the default).

This setting doesn’t require restarting Firefox. It’s effective immediately, so open another tab and test each style to see what looks best.

Remove mistakenly added words from the Firefox dictionary.

I frequently customize the Firefox dictionary by adding new words that I know are spelled correctly but aren’t in the default word list. This is as easy as right-clicking on a word flagged as misspelled and choosing “Add to Dictionary.” Unfortunately, sometimes I do this too quickly and add a word I shouldn’t have. Thankfully, Lifehacker published instructions on how to remove misspelled words from your Firefox dictionary:

  1. Open your application data folder. On XP or Vista, go to your Start menu and hit Run (or just press Windows-R) and paste in %APPDATA%MozillaFirefoxProfiles; on your Mac, navigate to ~/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles.
  2. Find your profile folder, which by default should look something like something.default.
  3. Inside your profile folder, find the file called persdict.dat and open it up in a text editor.
  4. Find the misspelling, delete it, and save the file.