5 little fixes that would make the 2013 Nexus 7 (almost) perfect

The new Nexus 7 is good. Really good. But with these tweaks, says Mark Payton, it could be a monster

If you’re reading this a couple of days after it was written (Sunday, 11 August), you have a mere 16 days until the new Google Nexus 7 tablet goes on sale in the UK. 

And if we have you pinned correctly, you’re either convinced that the Nexus 7 2 will deserve your £199 or £239 (16GB/32GB), or you’ve decided to wait for the revamped iPad mini on September 10, complete with its long-awaited Retina screen and iOS 7. 

Or perhaps, like me, you’ve decided to drive a stake into the heart of your crumbling bank balance and go for both. 

I’ve now used a new Nexus 7 for two weeks, having persuaded an American friend to FedEx it across the Atlantic on the day it went on sale.

Now, you may already know that we love the Nexus 7 2 from our full review. If you watch, read or play media more than you do create it, we reckon it has today’s iPad mini beaten (check its placing in our latest tablet Top 10).

But although the new Nexus is frighteningly good for the money, two weeks with the baby tablet have revealed that it’s not without its foibles. 

Here are my respectful suggestions for five little fixes that would take the Nexus 7 2 from magnificent seven to, er, seventh heaven.

1. If Apple has a solution for Greasy Screen Syndrome, why hasn't Google?

Oh, but the Google Nexus 7's 1920x1200 display is beautiful, alright: vivid, comically sharp, and devoutly honest to the images it displays. But in the first 10 minutes of swiping and tapping, your luscious 323-ppi screen will be caked in a thin film of human grease.

You’re left either wiping the screen on your trousers every 15 minutes, carrying around a micro-fibre cloth (who does that?), or learning to live with the ugly, distracting smears. OK, in some light conditions you may not notice the oily noise - but I don't seem to live in those conditions.

It may well be that manufacturing the Nexus 7 32GB for £110 less than an iPad mini with the same storage meant sacrificing the anti-gunk coating for the 7in screen. But if they’d asked me, I would have happily told them that I would have paid an extra £20 or £30 for a constantly clear view of those pristine pixels. 

Next time, Google (or Asus), just ask.

2. Someone, please, pay tribute to the iPad’s Smart Cover for the Nexus 7

Steve Jobs insisted that the iPad’s Smart Cover was, in many ways, as much a source of Apple pride as the iPad itself. He was right. The magnetic, flip-over cover added almost no bulk to the tablet, but made it into a perfectly workable ad hoc laptop. And it came in pink.

In fact, you could go as far as to say that Apple’s iPad would not be the megastar it is today without that oh-so-clever cover.

Admittedly, it’s early days for the new Google tablet, but protective cases for the Nexus 7 2 are nowhere near as transformational. Yes, there are wrap-around-and-stand-up third party cases for the device, but most look like they add more bulk than I’m willing to stomach (and isn’t the whole charm of the new Nexus its light, 290gm body?).

UPDATE: ...and on the very evening that this little tale goes live, Google makes the official Nexus 7 2 sleeve available in the US Google Play Store for $30. And no, it doesn't transform into a stand. 

UPDATE II: At last, an official Asus case that looks far more functional than their official Nexus 7 Travel Case - but for now, we can only find it for sale in the USA.

3. For the love of god, move the power and volume buttons

A whole fortnight with my US-imported Nexus 7 has made not one shred of difference - the power button steadfastly refuses to be where my fingers want it to be. 

Instead, I’ve grown accustomed to the routine of feeling along the right-hand edge for a raised surface to press, or else quickly turning the tablet to check where the button is. 

Somehow, Asus managed to position it at the precise angle and prominence from the bevel to make a quick stab at the button almost impossible. The same goes for the volume buttons; I’ll regularly raise the noise a level, while endeavouring to flick the display to standby.

I’ve got together with the entire Stuff industrial design team (they have years of hard-earned experience between them), and we’ve concluded that there are only two places for a power button. 

Place One is on the top right of the device. If it’s a smartphone, it’s where your left-hand index finger naturally goes. And if it’s a tablet, it’s perfect for your right-hand index digit. Place Two is half-way down the side of the device - but only if it’s a smartphone (take a bow, Nexus 4).

The new Nexus 7 opts for neither, instead choosing a position on the top-right of the device (in portrait) that seems precisely engineered to be annoying. It probably wasn't. Just give it a little more thought next time, OK, Google?

More after the break...

4. Forget the ethics: bribe those app developers

This isn’t a Nexus 7 issue. It’s an Android tablet issue. 

Yes, the Android Market (nee Google Play) has utterly transformed itself in the last 18 months. Android smartphone users can now look their gloating iPhone counterparts in the eye - thanks to some serious effort on Google’s part in issuing good app design guidelines, most popular apps are as pretty and useful in Google Play guise as they are in Apple’s App Store. In fact, the best Holo-themed apps are arguably better than their iOS brethren (cue a stream of abuse from the Cupertino faithful).

But in truth, the revolution in Android app design has been limited to smartphones. The Google tablet owner is still left either trawling the Play Store for optimised apps (yes, there’s a dedicated tablet section in the Play Store, but it’s hardly uplifting), or squinting at cut-for-smartphone user interfaces scaled up for tablet rendering.

Take Twitter. The official Twitter app is perfectly usable and reasonably attractive on the new Nexus 7. And independent Twitter clients such as Plume run and work well on the 7in screen. But the fact is that the iOS store has a wealth of powerful, tablet-optimised Twitter clients to choose from, while in Play you have a handful. You’ll go on the same frustrating journey if you try and find a truly tablet-ised Facebook app

Us? Given the stakes (global domination of advertising and media, no less), we’d form an App Black Ops team that would either bribe the world’s most talented app teams until they converted to the Android tablet cause, or threaten them with sustained violence to their comic book collections until they converted to the Android tablet cause. Either would work.

5. Keep cooking up Android, then cook it some more

It’s another grumble that isn’t specific to the Nexus 7, but it will affect owners of the new Google tablet all the same.

Ice Cream Sandwich and then Jelly Bean were both seismic leaps for the Android operating system. What was ugly and sluggish became glamorous and fast. So you can forgive the Google team entertaining a switch to steady-as-she-goes mode - why make another sudden leap, only to alienate a growing new base of users who were falling in love with your handiwork?

That conservatism would be fine, were it not for the fact that my iPad mini running the beta 5 of iOS 7 is beginning to look awesome. With each update to iOS 7, Jonny Ive’s re-rendering of iOS is making more and more sense. Even the settings screens, which were just plain horrible in the first release, are now tight and attractive. iOS 7 is growing muscle by the day.

Of course, as an owner of a new Nexus 7 running stock Android, you’ll get updates to your toy weeks (or even months) before your Samsung-owning cousins. But I have a hunch that the final release of iOS 7 may just make stock Android look a little bleak. In which case, Key Lime Pie (the much-vaunted 5.0 update to Google’s OS) can’t come soon enough.

Are you listening, Google?

So there you have it, Google: the new Nexus 7 may just be cheap enough and good enough to prevent the imminent iPad mini 2.0 from being the obvious choice that it was otherwise guaranteed to be. And if you’ve read this far, you’ll know that your new tablet is only a few tweaks from invincibility. 

But if, like so many, you’ve skipped the body of this story and gone straight to the verdict, here are those Nexus tweaks again. 

Start by releasing a version costing £20-odd more with a smear-resistant screen, re-positioned buttons, and a case that’s as brilliant as the iPad’s Smart Cover, but isn’t the iPad’s Smart Cover. While you’re at it, have a team kidnap a clique of the world’s best Android app developers and show them the error of their foolish ways.

Oh, and lastly, do make sure that Key Lime Pie is the mobile operating system to end them all, and not another v0.1 nudge forward. Other than that, carry on as you are.

UPDATE: During our fortnight of heavy-duty use, we didn't bump into any issues with the Nexus 7's responsiveness. But there are now reports filtering through from owners that the 7 2 has a touchscreen bug. Google has acknowledged the issue, and says that the Android team is 'looking into it'.  Watch this space. 

Comments

jhiggins73: thanks for the comments.

My references to Twitter and Facebook were nothing to do with prettiness: I just wish both apps would make better use of the screen estate - especially in landscape, where both could easily include a menu. Plume frankly shows Twitter how it should be done.

Agreed, the power button is a pain. But why oh why do people constantly compare every tech device to the Apple variety - yes the Apple devices look cool and generally perform smoothly, but at what cost?

Apple's hardware pricing is ridiculous, their business methodology is that users pay, pay, pay and then pay some more! The Nexus is a brilliant piece of kit: had it come originally with double the RAM then there would be nothing to touch it - the display is perfect (let's be honest, real world usability shows no difference to the iPad). Coupled with the quad core processor, it's a perfect setup.

If you really want to compare then take a look at cost of ownership over a period of say 3 months! Android isn't perfect, but it's getting there, it's not as polished as iOS but it's getting there. Can you read books on it - yes; can you communicate with it effectively - yes; is it a good media player - yes.

The Nexus is brilliant, the wish list for me would be more RAM (already addressed in v.2) and a microSD slot (one of those things that EVERY tablet other than the Nexus and the iPad have). IMHO, the let down is Android, but again, it's getting there and it's perfectly useable.

Remember, the tablet shouldn't be a desktop pc replacement, it should be a compliment to your pc. Mobile computing simply cannot compete with the sheer speed of a desktop nor can they be upgraded easily!

Amazing how opinion differs.

I also hate the location of the power and volume.  When I'm in bed listening to a podcast and want to turn up or down I often press the on/off switch instead.

Some of these are silly:

-no, the only places for a power switch are not the top right corner and in the middle. Not everyone uses a tablet in portrait mode so the top right corner button isn't always ideal. In fact their hand may brush across it on a smaller tablet like this if they use the tablet with the right side on the bottom. If you use the N7 in landscape with the left side being on the bottom then the power button is in a good spot for your index finger to touch. If you use the right side on the bottom then the switch isn't in a good spot. Basically, there is no perect spot for a power button on a tablet.

I am getting so sick of people going on and on about the apps. I have an ipad and I have the original Nexus 7. The way you people in the media go on about it you'd think nothing looks good on the N7 when I have yet to run into ONE APP out of over 150 that doesn't look fine on it. I will state I don't waste my time with useless crap like Twitter and Facebook so I couldn't care less if they may look snazzier on an ipad/ipad mini. To each their own but if people are buying tablets just to waste their time on Facebook and Twitter then they are crazy.

I don't know if the ipad mini got some coating on the glass or if this new Nexus 7 is different from mine but I don't notice any major oil build up and I rarely clean the glass. It's no different or better than what I have seen on my ipad and from using an ipad 2. Maybe I just don't have oily skin.

I do like the ipad smart cover and it was a great idea. For me though I'd like to have my whole tablet covered and not just the screen so the slim fit cases you can get are a solid option. The added weight is a bit of a downer though so your point with the weight is valid.

It sounds like you are saying Google needs to make Android look flashier because you like the look of iOS 7. Maybe I'm in the minority but I look for functionality first in my os rather than how it looks. I have no idea of all the iOS 7 features being added but I do know of many that were trumpeted by Apple and they're merely features Android has had for at least a year. Playing catch-up to me is not worth praising yet the media will keep doing it when it comes to Apple because of how much in love they are with Apple.

Anyone who thinks that is a joke needs to only go read articles from the media and they'll see how everything Apple adds after Android gets gushed on while the people ignore the same features were already in Android. Notifications pulldown, settings pulldown menu, real mulitasking. All stuff that's been in Android since last year or longer but when iOS 7 hits these features will be said to be exampes of Apple innovation. 

Another thing is you can go download third party launchers with Android and customize the look to how you want. You can also go download many apps which add to the customization which you can't on Apple. Examples? Third party keyboard apps like Swift Key and Swype....or use widgets.

I guess though that's silly since they actually add REAL functionality to the tablet rather than just make it look prettier ala your Twitter/Facebook complaint.

 

I'm afaid I coudn't disagree more with the placement of the power button being wrong (unless of course it's massively different from that of the original N7).

When I have mine in two hands, the button is right by my right index finger, when in one hand (which I hold round the back), it's just by my left index finger, and when holding in landscape - again, just by me left index!

But then I have quite large hands...

Nexus 7 'Smart Cover' http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008NMCPTQ

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