Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Google Tablet: Nexus 7 Ultra-Long Review from Singapore

(Note: This Review is still currently in progress and my final verdict can still be influenced by cash, stock options or other free stuff from Google if they're out there listening...)


INTRO


The (cheap) people's tablet. Until the Google Nexus 7, your main options for a sub SG$300 tablet in Singapore were limited and uninspiring. There's the ViewSonic ViewPad 7, AC Ryan Tab 7, Lenovo A1, and some other lesser-known brands (I'm trying to avoid the term "made-In-China" brand because it's racist to assume everything made in China is low-quality). All have been available in Singapore for quite some time. Samsung's Galaxy Tabs, Acer, and other Asus tablets also have a decent presence here also but no one has been able to challenge the iPad's dominance in Singapore. One of the problems is that most tablets actually cost more than the iPad, which is a death sentence when you're going up against the reigning champ, unless your product happens to be noticeably better (which it's not). In the States you can get a Galaxy Tab for around US$200 if you look online, but in Singapore, the cheapest Galaxy Tab is about US$440--over twice the price. Against the Lord of the Tablets (SG$530 for iPad2, and SG$658 for a retina iPad), you can't expect to win if you're pricing your product like a moron. If you're going to pay as much or more for another brand, why not just get the real thing? (I've complained about prices in Singapore many times before, especially cereal prices)

Well, the Nexus 7 is here, filling the gap for people who want a quality budget tablet, something smaller than an iPad (the Nexus 7  is roughly half the iPad's size), or just a respectable alternative for people who hate Apple.

It's also worth mentioning that the Blackberry Playbook has received lots of price cuts and is now actually cheaper than the Nexus 7 (Although still kinda pricey in Singapore... big surprise.) and provides more storage, a front-facing camera, micro HDMI port, and a browser that can handle flash... so it's definitely worth checking out as an alternative to the Nexus 7. My friend Vinh has been using it while he's been traveling around Asia and has been experimenting with it as his main device while on vacation.

ORDERING THE NEXUS7 FROM SINGAPORE

I ordered my Nexus 7 directly from Google for US$200 (+$14 shipping) and shipped it to Singapore through vPost for SG$22. The total was SG$288, about half the price of an iPad2. I don't know how much it will cost here, but given Singapore's track record for jacking up prices of electronics to the point of ridiculousness, I wouldn't be surprised they charge SG$1000. Just kidding, it might be more like SG$400.

***UPDATE*** : I just saw a Google Nexus 7 for sale at Suntec for SG$430So you're still better off ordering online if you can afford to wait for two weeks. 

*** UPDATE 2 (Sept 5, 2012) *** Looks like some online stores in Singapore are selling the Nexus 7 8GB online for "reasonable" (more reasonable than SG$430) prices. sgbest is selling it for SG$368. The 16GB version is also for sale at SG$400.

*** UPDATE 3 (Oct 3, 2012) *** The 16GB version of the Nexus 7 is officially coming to Singapore with a retail value of SG$400, which is SG$92 more than what it would cost in the states (US$250 ~= SG$308). There are also rumors of a 3g Nexus 7.

AND... it's out now. My recommendation is that if you care about how much electronics cost in Singapore, you should boycott it and just buy online like I did. Buying these ridiculous artificially marked-up items will only tell them that you're willing to pay more for things without question.
http://asia.cnet.com/google-nexus-7-available-in-singapore-tomorrow-62218868.htm

[Source]


DISCLAIMER (I'M BIASED)

If you're trying to figure out what biases/prejudices I hold, this is the first Android device I've ever owned (so I won't be able to give insight on how Jelly Bean differs from previous versions or compare to other budget tablets). I've used iPads and other iPhones but have never owned one. Yet I've always been envious because I don't have a 3g plan and have been using Singtel prepaid cards for all 7 years that I've lived in Singapore. My "smartphone" is an ancient Samsung Omnia that runs on Windows Mobile 6.1 (or Windows 3.1 mobile, as I like to call it). It has a sad user-interface that feels like a relic of an ancient, long-dead civilization. Not that it bothers me, though. I'm used to the love/hate relationship I have with my gadgets. I grew up using DOS/Windows for most of my life until I bought a Macbook Pro in late '07. I've also used Linux in various places like in school or work so now my hatred and love encompasses all of the major OSes. So to answer your question: am I a fanboy of either Apple or Google or Microsoft? No, I'm just a hater of all computers.

THE REVIEW


One thing about the Nexus 7 that I am really enjoying is not burning my gonads off when I put my overheating Macbook Pro on my lap anymore. Now I can just sit back and relax with my tablet which doesn't get insanely hot (yet). We're going to Vietnam over the weekend so we'll see how it holds up when we rely on it to get us around the city. I hear there're plenty of wifi hotspots everywhere in Ho Chi Minh so we should be well-connected and will give the Nexus 7 a thorough workout (That review is here). For now, here are some of my initial thoughts and first impressions...

JELLY BEAN (ANDROID 4.1+) vs Apple's IOS

If there's one thing that everyone usually agrees on, it's that Apple's user interface is the one to beat. They've constantly refined and perfected it to the point where it's so intuitive that babies, old technologically illiterate people, and Tiger Airways employees can use it without much instruction. It's known for being smooth, fast, and user-friendly. Android though? Not so much...

However, the interface on Jelly Bean is really is smooth and buttery like Apple's, not to mention very intuitive as well. There are some things that tripped me up when I first started using it and some inconsistencies and annoyances but overall it was easy to get used to and doesn't get in the way of your user experience. Apple's interface is still the slickest but Android's latest offering is almost right there with them...and autocorrect actually works on Android.

TYPICAL USAGE

Here's a comparison of how I use my old device (Samsung Omnia) versus how I use the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 isn't completely replacing my phone after all, so I'm sure it will still come in handy for certain uses.
  • Surfing/Checking mail/facebook/twitter while waiting for Carissa to finish shopping
    • Omnia: definitely was not good for surfing. It was slow and not all websites would load correctly. Streaming video is a nightmare. The wifi receptor could barely pick up wifi signals so you needed to be very close to the source.
    • Nexus7: makes surfing a pleasure. Chrome can open almost any modern website with the same experience you would have on a desktop/laptop. Much easier to setup and connect to wifi hotspots
  • Playing games while waiting for Carissa to finish shopping
    • Omnia: The only games that would run on the Omnia were Text Twister and a dice game where the only thing it did was let you shake the phone and then it rolls dice. That's it.
    • Nexus7: Games are getting more sophisticated for Android and IOS platforms so you can have anything from casual to semi-hardcore depending on how long you're waiting.
  • Take quick, random pictures of everyday stuff (usually while Carissa is shopping)
    • Omnia: The camera sucked but got the job done. Sometimes using the camera would cause Windows Mobile to slow down to a halt.
    • Nexus7: Only has a crappy front-facing camera, making it weird and awkward to take pictures of food, babies, animals, etc. It's easier to take pictures of yourself though.
  • Watching videos on the train/bus
    • Omnia: I had a system where I would download a movie, convert it for the Omnia, and watch on the way to and from work. That system worked out pretty well (for 4 years actually) until recently when the AVI format and divx codecs seem to have fallen out of favor with the video encoder gods. Now everything is in mp4 or mkv encoded with H.264 and the Omnia for whatever reason has always had trouble playing those types of movies, even after being converted with HandBrake.
    • Nexus7: So far, using MoboPlayer it has been able to handle most formats that I've thrown at it (even flv!). It's nice watching on a larger screen but the main negatives here are:
      • Tablet is bigger than the phone and is actually a little clunky to whip out and use on the train
      • Bluetooth headset audio is delayed and MoboPlayer doesn't have an option to delay the audio so I need to use wired headphones, which equals a tangled mess on public transport.
  • Listening to music on the go
    • Omnia: The size of the phone lets you keep it in your pocket while the bluetooth headset keeps everything wire-free. The media player on the omnia wasn't the greatest but it got the job done.
    • Nexus7: A little too big. Can't fit it in your pocket unless you're some kind of gangster with huge pockets for your baggy pants. You could hold it at your side like a dork or stuff it in your backpack (although it makes it inconvenient to hit the replay button on your favorite Justin Bieber song)
  • Erasing boredom while you're taking a dump
    • Omnia: perfect for sneaking into the bathroom but not much to do with it once you're there.
    • Nexus7: Can't be seen taking this with me to the bathroom...although if you can get this the bathroom with you, you'll be set and definitely won't be bored for the rest of your dump. On the other hand, where are you going to put the tablet when you need to start wiping?
  • Learning a new Language
    • Omnia: Used supermemo to learn new words and listened to language podcasts.
    • Nexus7:Still looking for a supermemo flashcard alternative that will work with Asian characters (and hopefully let me export/save my existing database of flashcards). Podcasts should be easier to stream now from this device.
    •  

GOOGLE GOOGLE GOOGLE

In case you haven't noticed. This really is a Google Tablet. From the very beginning, you need to link a Google account (nope you can't ever log out unless you completely remove your account, making many programs inoperable). From there everything you do will be carefully tracked and monitored by Google, and they will pretty much know everything about you (yes even that time you visited that midget mud-wrestling site). Sure, they say they don't use your personal information but they're already using your personal info to target you with personalized advertisements. Now they can access data about who you are, where you're from, what you did... They know where you're going, where you're coming from, what kind of weird stuff you look at on the web, what books you read, who your friends are, your pets, your embarrassing pictures and videos, etc. But I really like using this tablet so ... oh well.

SMALL STORAGE AND ALTERNATIVES

The Nexus 7's small storage space and lack of a card reader could be a big issue for many users, especially if you have the 8GB tablet. About 2GB is already being eaten up by the Android OS from the start. For those willing to do a little extra work, this problem can be alleviated if you root your device and install StickMount (free from the GooglePlay). It will let you use USB On-the-Go to connect external storage to your device through the mini-USB port. I'm pretty sure your battery life will take a hit if you're watching movies off of the mini-USB port though.

CAN YOU USE NEXUS 7 OUTSIDE OF THE US WITHOUT ANY PROBLEMS?

So far haven't had any issues with using my Nexus 7 in Singapore. I'm still able to download most things from GooglePlay. Although ebooks, magazines, and some apps like Google Voice are "Not available in your country", you can get around that by setting up a VPN like (VPN One Click or hideman) to access those blatantly discriminatory sites. However, I'm still having trouble claiming my free $25 credit for GooglePlay and the free Transformers 3 download. I bought this device directly from Google with my credit card on Google Wallet and said 'yes' when they asked me to link the device to my Google account... yet they still require me to go through some convoluted procedure in order to activate my free gifts.

GAMING: WILL TABLETS EVENTUALLY REPLACE THE PORTABLE GAMING DEVICES?

All the games I've tried so far run great on the Nexus 7. It saddens me to say this, but unless Nintendo and Sony really step up their game, dedicated portable gaming consoles like the 3DS and PS Vita will probably become a thing of the past. People seem to prefer a device that can do a little of everything (including games) rather than a dedicated gaming machine with tablet features tacked on. The price of games is a huge factor as well, considering there are tons of free games for tablets and even the ones you pay for usually cost less than $10. 3DS and PS Vita games are almost as expensive as regular console games (SG$30-$50).

Still what's available on the AppStore and GooglePlay are still nowhere near sophisticated enough to hold the attention of hardcore gamers who were brought up on console and PC games. Most of the games for tablets and phones are just ways to pass the time. They're not epic productions like Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda. However, now that you have tablets like the iPad and Nexus7 that are powerful enough for more complex games, why would you ever want to buy a 3DS or a Vita and add another device to your bag? I have a feeling developers will slowly start developing more advanced games for tablets/phones and most people will abandon their 3DS/PSVitas and save the hardcore gaming for when they go home to their PS5 or whatever. Check out this gameplay trailer for NOVA 3. If anything it's testament to the type of games that can be done on a tablet or phone.

Also, it's worth mentioning that some games still aren't available for the Nexus 7 or aren't optimized to run well on it.

3G/CONNECTIVITY OR LACK THEREOF

I think the lack of 3g will be a major factor for many Singaporeans, especially because good free wifi spots are still hard to come by even in this modern day and age. Wireless@SG is in most areas (and check out my guide to wifi in Singapore) but almost everybody (even the old people) has a 3g phone. Everyone except for me and Carissa. And Martin. But we're weirdos. Connected Singaporeans will question the usefulness of a device that isn't constantly connected. Maybe someday Google will release a 3G version but even without it,  There are plenty of cool ways to work around not having a constant internet connection...caching maps or web pages for later, using an external drive with saved music and video instead of streaming, etc, but soon you realize how handicapped the device is without an internet connection. Many useful apps are programmed to work in conjunction with the internet without a second thought given to offline users. For example, I downloaded a bunch of foreign language dictionaries and games only to discover that many of them require an internet connection just to start up.

A SCARY TECH PROBLEM: ANOMALY OR OMEN?

Hopefully this is an isolated incident and not a widespread issue, but I experienced a rather heart-stopping moment last night when my fully-charged  Nexus 7 refused to turn on. I tried everything until I found a solution on a website (couldn't even find anything in the official Nexus 7 guidebook...actually I couldn't even download the Nexus 7 guidebook--FROM THE NEXUS 7...FAIL).
You can force a hard reboot by holding down both volume buttons and pressing the power button. At least that's what worked for me.
*** UPDATE *** The Nexus 7 has refused to reawaken from standby mode on several occasions and there were a few times where I put the Nexus 7 into standby mode but it ended up turning the nexus 7 completely off. Doesn't happen too often, but enough to annoy me enough to mention it here....(for what it's worth)
***UPDATE*** apparently this happens if you have something mounted with Stickmount but you remove the drive while the tablet is asleep. However, even when not using stickmount, sometimes the screen refuses come back when awaking from sleep mode ... then after a few minutes it magically works again... usually when playing words with friends... :(



NEXUS 7 CASES IN SINGAPORE

I can't find a decent case yet in Singapore for the Nexus 7 (probably because it hasn't been released here--duhrrrr). I suppose I could try to cram it into a Kindle Fire case but that would be a travesty and an abomination. ***UPDATE*** I found a case for the nexus 7 at Suntec City Mall at one of the small shops that sells only phone and tablet cases... near the wang cafe. Smart cover case for SG$22.

SUMMARY

Pros:

  • At roughly half the size of an iPad, its perfect for sitting in a cafe, at home or somewhere comfortable. 
  • Doesn't burn your testicles off with searing heat like a laptop would
  • Android Jelly Bean is easy and fun to use
  • Good for video chatting
  • Google Chrome browser!! It's the default Nexus 7 browser and it handles most websites very well.
  • Google Maps + GPS is awesome.. GPS sometimes takes a while to get a lock on your location... once in a while it can't find you at all... but most of the time when I've needed it it has worked very well and makes you feel like you're in a videogame as you watch your position move with you on the map.

Cons:

  • The Nexus 7 is still too big to carry with you to a public bathroom without being embarrassed (people will know what you're up to unless you're hiding it in a bag, in your pants or in your shirt or something)
  • Can't log out of your Google account, which sucks because I share the tablet with my wife and now she can go back and read past emails from when I worked as a stripper in Tampa, Florida.
  • A lot of apps aren't compatible with the Nexus 7 (yet?)
  • Missing some basic functionality out of the box (not even a camera function). Luckily you can download most apps for free, like DoCoMo's Nexus 7 Camera app... why doesn't it just come installed on the tablet is what I want to know...
  • Only has a lo-res front facing camera so you can only take pictures of yourself. Taking pictures of food is embarrassing and awkward.
  • Charging time seems rather slow (especially through USB). Need to test some more.
  • Battery life isn't as good as advertised? I estimate I'd only get 7 hours of video playback from my current tests instead of the 9 promised on the website, but I think that's because I'm using an external drive when playing videos.
  • Small Storage space (although this can be alleviated by rooting the Nexus 7 and installing StickMount as mentioned above)
  • GooglePlay search sucks.
  • GooglePlay is inconsistent about letting you know which apps, books, movies, music, etc. aren't available on your device. Sometimes it will give you a warning, while other times the items just don't appear in the search results at all.
  • No 3G (Now you can get a 32GB cellular version of the Nexus 7 for US$300)
  • GoogleMaps's Android app doesn't load maps you saved on the web  (This appears to have been fixed)
  • GoogleMaps restricts downloading of maps for some countries. LAME-O
  • The screen brightness problem - not a huge issue but I do sometimes feel that really bright images and certain colors look washed out on the Nexus 7 screen. I don't notice it most of the time, though.
  • Takes almost a minute to boot up. Once you're up and running though, it's quick to go in and out of standby mode.
  • No copy and paste in Google's instant messenger app. No, really, I'm serious and I'm saying this with a completely straight face and not laughing. They forgot to include it... how many years has this app been around?? Everyone gave Apple a hard time for not having cut and paste right away, and Google should get the same treatment.
  • Seemingly random reboots or freezes coming out of standby mode. Infrequent but annoying when it does happen. No hard reset button.
  • The volume through the speakers or headphones is way too soft.... you pretty much need to be in a quiet room with the volume turned all the way up to watch video and understand the dialog. Even with headphones, a person standing next to you with their iphone speakers maxed out could easily overpower the Nexus 7 volume. Pathetic. Maybe I should try to make some DIY noise-canceling headphones.

CONCLUSION


On a scale of 1 to 166 where 2 is average, 35 is good, 153 is excellent and 101 is terrible, I give it a solid 74.555555C (give or take a couple dozen points).

Though I may have listed a bunch of negative points that make it seem like I had a horrible time with the device, and hate its guts, it's actually quite the opposite. Those are mostly little nitpicky things that will probably be fixed/addressed in time. Some things really are annoying, like how Google won't give me my free GooglePlay credit and giveaways that they promised when I bought the thing straight from their website. *UPDATE* - Google eventually gave me the $25 of GooglePlay credit but I still have yet to see my free Transformers 3 movie... but on the other hand.. it's Transformers 3 and I don't think I'll ever watch that movie again.

For anyone who needs an extremely portable, lightweight device for checking mail, surfing, and occasional gaming, at this price point it's hard to pass up the Nexus 7. It does everything it's supposed to (in style) and doesn't even try to compete on the iPad's level yet it's able to hold its own against more expensive devices. It's not likely to convert many Appleites but I expect the geek, dweeb, and nerd (gdn) community to fully embrace the Nexus 7. I know I have. Life is so much smoother with a tablet. Not necessarily the Nexus 7, but just having something to keep you connected is soooo convenient.

There's already a lot of interest in the in Singapore--just check out this hardwarezone thread. 150 pages of people talking about how to import the device into Singapore because they couldn't wait like a normal person...oh wait, that's me. Try not to read it for too long though...your head may explode from all the grammar mistakes. 

LINKS:

iPhone 3G vs Nexus 7 vs Omnia i900
Our Weekend Trip to Ho Chi Minh (with extra Nexus 7 Info)
Tablet Prices in Singapore
Guide to Free Wifi/Power Outlets in Singapore
Wireless@SG Coverage in Singapore 
Comparing Apples to Androids

2 comments:

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