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.