A Kindle Fire Fan’s First Impressions of the Nexus 7

This is one gorgeous slab of gadget. Right out of the box, the Google Nexus 7 seemed like a new breed of 7-inch cat. Slim, smart, with a soft back, and just slightly lighter than the Kindle Fire. I knew it would be like this. The Fire was introduced almost 10 months ago, and it’s had a good run. I love mine. I like reading books on it, as well as magazines and newspapers. When I’m in Cambridge, where I work out in the mornings in the basement on a cross-trainer, I love watching free Prime Instant Videos on it. I have grown fond of the simple carousel interface based on Android 2.3, aka Gingerbread. I spin that baby right to what I want. I know how to get to the home screen and how to move on to the goodies.

The Nexus is snappy, but at this point I find the navigation to be complicated, too much like a computer. The Fire’s user interface seems more playful and unassuming. I’ve been poking around on the Nexus most of the afternoon, and here are a few of my early discoveries:

1. I love the fact that I can set my own photo up as the lock screen, as shown in the photo of the Nexus, above. The Fire comes pre-loaded with a lot of pretty photos, but they were taken by strangers.

2. I was glad to find Kindle for Android in the Google Play App store, and it was easy to link the Nexus with my Amazon account and download books to it from my Kindle archive. No problem there.

3. Same with Netflix.

4. HBO Go’s app doesn’t work with the Nexus, but I can’t get it to work on my Kindle Fire, either.

5. I love love love the built-in Navigation app on the Nexus. It understood my spoken destination on the first try, and the woman-robot’s turn-by-turn voice is pleasing enough, and understandable. The graphics are spectacular, especially in the Satellite layer. This feature is a home run.

6. Since I use Google Mail for my main email accounts, reading email on the Nexus feels like a family affair – cleaner and easier to use than the default mail app on the Fire.

7. I poked around some in the Google Play Store, mainly for apps. In addition to the Kindle and Netflix apps, I found Mint, Pandora, and Flipboard. All worked just a little bit faster on the Nexus. The clearest example of the speed advantage, I found, is Flipboard. When you flip upward on a Flipboard screen on the Nexus, there is absolutely no delay in your finger’s movement and the movement of the screen. On the Fire, there is the tiniest bit of a lag.

8. The speaker on the Nexus gives a fuller sound than the Fire’s, and the Nexus has physical volume buttons on the side. On the Fire, you have to use on-screen settings to change the volume.

9. The Skype app on the Nexus works okay, but you’ll never confuse the quality of your video image with that of even the iPad 2, nevermind the latest generation iPad. When I set up a test video call between the Nexus and Darlene’s iPad 2, I saw a great image of myself on the Nexus from her iPad, but the one broadcast from the Nexus to her iPad was pale in color and blurry by comparison. Still, the Nexus has a camera and a microphone, and the Fire doesn’t, so this is a big advantage for the Nexus.

I will stop here with specific comparisons that I did with the Nexus and say that I certainly hope the next version of the Fire will neutralize these hardware advantages. I can read my Kindle books on the Nexus, but Amazon in these past 10 months has got me hooked into the Prime garden of delights, so I’m an unlikely convert to Google Play for videos and TV shows, nevermind music.

If I were brand new to tablets, this newcomer would be very alluring, but I would certainly wait to see what Amazon has up its seven-inch sleeve before making a decision. And of course there may well be an Apple iPad Mini to turn this into a wild three-way race, maybe by the end of the year. That’s all speculation.

What we know now for sure is that there is an impressive new competitor to the Kindle Fire in town, and it makes a great first impression.


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Comments 11

  1. tom lichty wrote:

    Thanks for the review, Len. I’m waiting for the Fire2 too. But here’s the operative question: are you going to keep it?

    Posted 18 Jul 2012 at 9:44 pm
  2. Mark Pierce wrote:

    Thanks Len! I’m thrilled that there is a new alternative. I listened to MacBreak Weekly today and Andy Ihnatko, usually such an IOS apologist, couldn’t say enough good things about the Nexus. Isn’t it interesting that there is such a new market for a 7 inch market? One that didn’t even exist a year ago. Now potentially 3 solid competitors.

    Posted 18 Jul 2012 at 9:52 pm
  3. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Probably not, Tom. Especially when the Kindle Fire 2 arrives, the Nexus is headed to eBay. I’ll enjoy learning about it in the meantime, though.

    Posted 18 Jul 2012 at 9:53 pm
  4. Rob Siders wrote:

    Great review. My imrpessions out of the box were similar: great looking device and while slightly larger than Kindle Fire, the Nexus doesn’t feel as chunky. I think Jellybean, the latest Android OS is nice and snappy, but I think it’s still behind iOS in terms of its usability. And, you’re right, Android still feels a lot like using a computer.

    I think the problems with this device and also Google are many. Kindle Fire and iPad succeed because of how tightly integrated the media consumption is. Apple has done a remarkable job in fostering a development community that makes the best apps. Hands down. Even in cases where an app exists for both iOS and Android, the iOS version is almost always better.

    On the other side is Kindle Fire, which shows that it was made by a business that understands retailing and customers. The seamless way that device has everything up front, directing you to buy and consume at Amazon is really its strength. Yes, it’s an Android device. But the way its been integrated into the Amazon ecosystem is head-and-shoulders the thing that makes it win the 7-inch tablet war. The Nook Color and Nook Tablet, nice devices in their own right, miss the mark because B&N really hasn’t figured out how to do what Amazon does and probably won’t.

    And this is also where I think Google struggles. First, I think that Android apps are the weakest link in the chain. As I mentioned above, on the whole they’re pretty terrible. Second, but most importantly, I think Google’s mobile software products — like many of its desktop software products (looking at you Google Books) — are made by software developers rather than by product designers.

    I’ll hang onto my Nexus so I can test my work on it. But were it not for that… probably not.

    Posted 18 Jul 2012 at 10:34 pm
  5. Humphrey wrote:

    Thanks for your review, Len. Enjoyed reading your thoughts and it will be interesting to see what Amazon has under wraps for the Kindle Fire 2. I’m an iPad user, but it’s interesting to see what others are developing. I know I’m in the minority on this one but I am predicting no iPad mini coming from Apple. Time will tell!

    Posted 19 Jul 2012 at 9:33 am
  6. Blue Elly wrote:

    Hi Len. How did you manage to change the image on your lock screen please? I agree with you about using your own images. I wonder if Fire 2 will have a rear facing camera. That’s something I think I would like although the general view is that a tablet only needs the rear facing one for Skype etc.

    Posted 19 Jul 2012 at 4:49 pm
  7. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Under settings on the Nexus, I went to Device->Display->Wallpaper->Gallery and found several photos that are somehow part of my Google account. I may have uploaded them to Google Plus as an experiment. I chose one of those photos, and an option came up for cropping it so I could see what would show up on the lock screen in both horizontal and vertical orientation. Then clicked OK. If you don’t have any photos in the Gallery, I’m not sure how you would add them.

    Posted 19 Jul 2012 at 5:57 pm
  8. Blue Elly wrote:

    Thanks Len. I too have pictures in my Gallery. Think I’ve uploaded them via Picasa at some point. I’d changed my home screen wallpaper using the method you described but it didn’t occur to me it would work on the lock screen. Thanks again.

    Posted 19 Jul 2012 at 6:13 pm
  9. Tom Welch wrote:

    Yes! @ Google, the geeks are in charge.

    Posted 21 Jul 2012 at 7:27 pm
  10. LCaution wrote:

    The Fire was/is my first tablet, and Amazon got me with the price point and free month of Prime. (As a long-time Amazon customer, I had never seen any need to pay $80/year for free 2-day shipping on some items.)

    Without Prime, I’d say $200 for a tablet is the most I’d be willing to spend. I’m at the computer and on the net about 8-10 hrs./day. It is a workplace, not a fun place. But the Fire gave me the luxury of quick lookups (Google, Wiki) at times when it would take 10 mins. to get to the net after cold-starting the computer. And I discovered a world of blogs, internet radio, and free e-books. (Did I mention this was also my first e-reader purchase?)

    For those purposes, $200 is a good deal. For iPad prices, I want the capabilities and configurability of an ultrabook.

    But Prime was a revelation. The free TV & movies, free apps, and library option won me over. So Amazon has got a new Prime customer.

    And that is, I think, where Google (and even Apple) fall down. For the consumer, the non-nerd, who can’t afford to own the latest version of every tech gadget on the market, Amazon’s infrastructure is simply superior. Pixel counts, OS and chip speed come in a weak second.

    (I do think the Fire designers were nuts to place the USB & power connections at the bottom – even though most everything works find when you turn the Fire upside down – and the lack of an external power button has bothered me way, way, way more than I expected.)

    Posted 28 Jul 2012 at 4:13 pm
  11. Daniel Stack wrote:

    I recently purchased the Nexus 7. In most ways it is superior to the Kindle Fire. This is especially true in that I use gmail and Google Calendar a lot and it of course naturally integrates well with those.

    Kindle Fire gets the nod in the way it is embedded into the Amazon infrastructure. I’ve got a ton of ebooks, videos, and music from Amazon. While the ebooks and music can be handled by the Nexus the ability to download videos onto the Fire is a very nice touch.

    Where I think Amazon needs to go with their next Fire release is…
    1. Microphone and speech – as the review mentioned, the speech recognition on the Nexus is quite good and it is the first time I can actually expect my speech to be reliably handled.

    2. Overall hardware improvements.

    3. 16 GB or larger storage

    4. Open up to Play store.

    I’m guessing the 1st three will be done. I’d be somewhat surprised if they did the 4th but I know it’d make my life a lot easier to be able use the gmail, Google Calendar and Talk apps. Also be nice to use Dropbox without sideloading…

    Posted 31 Jul 2012 at 12:50 pm