Nexus 7: The Software

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: December 20, 2012

Here’s the thing: I don’t see a clear advantage between Android and iOS.

Sure, the buttons may be in different places, and settings and menus may be handled in different ways, but in general they work the same way and, I find, the latest iterations of each are stable, speedy, and slick. Android may offer a few extra features like animated wallpapers and widgets, but those are going to come down to personal preference.

The Nexus does offer more flexibility in security and locking. The tablet can be encrypted, for example, which I don’t believe is possible on iOS. A simple slide unlock is the default, but users can also substitute facial recognition, PIN unlock, password unlock, or a pattern unlock. There’s even a setting to require blinking during facial recognition to prevent someone from using a photograph to unlock a device.

Furthermore, I like that Android now offers multiple accounts on one device. If I hand my children my iPad, they have access to all of my data and access to all of my apps. With the Nexus 7, I was able to create a second profile for my oldest son. It created a bare-bones profile, and he then entered his school-provided Google account information to set up his own account and even install his own apps (those already existing on the tablet were not re-downloaded, just made available to his account). I can see this being an advantage in an education setting where devices may be shared between multiple students in a classroom.

In terms of straight-up usability, however, I like both. I have yet to find an important (to me) core app that isn’t available on both devices. Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, a good RSS reader, and social networking tools are all working just fine for me on Android. All of my reading has gone digital, and I find myself able to go back and forth between devices without any problems.

Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7 is also my first exposure to Google Now:

Google Now is the Android answer to personal assistant’s like Apple’s Siri, and it’s worked well for what I’ve used it for. However, it’s a good example of where Google’s cloud-centralized information can really shine. When I search a location in Google Maps while logged in to my Google account in Chrome on a desktop, that search appeared in Google Now on the tablet and I was told how long it would take me to get there. My Chrome browsing data also appears to sync to Chrome on the tablet, which has been handy when I needed to find a website I’d previously visited. Even my bookmarks are all available in both locations without my having to do anything more than simply logging in to the tablet. If a student forgets or loses his Android tablet, or he neglects to charge it, he can feasibly log in to his Google account on Chrome on a school computer and have access to his data.

My Nexus 7 updated itself to Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, moments after I took it out of the box. Unlike with my Android smart phone, I’m not having to wait until my carrier and handset manufacturer get around to providing an update (assuming they provide one at all). Also, where the three Android phones I’ve had experience with (an HTC Desire, Motorola Electrify, and my wife’s Samsung Acclaim) have all faced a number of strange glitches, memory issues, and spontaneous reboots, the Nexus 7 has been near flawless.

The first problem I ran into was a strange crash. The screen went black except for some random, colorful streaks flying around, and it made a high-pitched squeal in the speakers. A Google search showed this is a common problem, and a hard reset by holding down the power button for thirty seconds resolved it. The problem hasn’t recurred since that first time, and that was shortly after the initial update.

The second problem is the Wi-Fi issue I mentioned in my Nexus 7 hardware review. It seems to only happen when moving from one network to another (not a different AP, but a whole different network), and again, turning Wi-Fi off and back on solves the problem. Hopefully a future patch or update will fix it for good.

Beyond that, things have been smooth. The facial recognition works better and faster than I expected, and I was surprised it didn’t care when I put my glasses on (and when it fails it goes into a PIN unlock immediately). There is a slight pause when changing from one profile to the other, but not so long that it gets irritating. The device does appear to keep working more in the background while not in use, which could contribute to the perceived idle battery drain.

So what all can I actually do with it? I’ll address that in the next review post.

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