Nexus 7

It seems like everyone has a tablet nowadays and I’ve been wondering about buying one for a while, except that I’m not a fan of a certain manufacturer and my budget was a measly £200 plus a few quid for a case.

I didn’t need bells and whistles. And I really don’t give a rat’s about branding. I think I probably suffer from a mild case of Pollardian brand aversion.

The tablet had to be lightweight with a detachable keyboard and a case. I’m certainly not a frequent flyer, but it’s always a pain having to worry about the weight of my hand luggage when I get to an airport and it would be nice to have something to write on when I’m out and about that didn’t need to be carried around in a rucksack.

I needed DropBox with offline syncing and the ability to edit Word documents for my writing. Nice-to-haves included BBC iPlayer and Spotify as well as web browsing and Facebook at home. I’d still be carrying around my trusty HTC Desire HD for photos, email, GPS and web access on-the-hoof.

So along came the Nexus 7. This was about a month ago when the Nexus was just released and it’s taken a while for peripherals to become available, but I’ve finally finished off my rig with a case and keyboard and a few choice apps. Here’s a little of what I’ve discovered through the process. Feel free to leave your own comments, especially if you have any of your own tips . . .

1. Cost

Nexus (16Gb model): £200 from Tesco

Case + keyboard (IVSO® model): £22.95 from Amazon.co.uk

I had to shop around to find the Nexus at the time but I’m sure there are plenty more in the market now, probably at a lower price, and I hear rumours of a 32Gb model coming along so you might want to wait for one of those.

2. Weight

Basic Nexus: .75lb / 500g

Nexus with case/keyboard: 1.5lb / 700g

Pretty good compared with my 5lb laptop. A number of airlines seem to be doing away with weight limits for hand luggage, but I certainly won’t have problems with this in future. Without the case, the Nexus fits into my inside jacket; with the case, it’s a bit too large.

3. Case

I had my doubts over a case/keyboard combo that cost only £22.95, but it seems to be holding up.

There’s a flip-out stand at the back that looks a little fragile but works well enough. The strap to keep the case closed is also fiddly enough not to bother with most of the time — it might have benefited from a small magnetic clasp here, but I don’t know whether this would have interfered with the magnet in the case that automatically turns the screen on and off when it’s opened and closed. Smart!

4. Keyboard

There’s no getting away from the fact that this keyboard is small. You won’t be challenging your WPM record and if you have a serious case of sausage fingers you might be better off sticking to screen input.

I found it perfect for what I wanted which was editing and note-taking. At home I use a Razer Black Widow Ultimate for gaming and writing — and I’ll still be using that when I want to smash out some serious word-count.

Bonding via Bluetooth is a doddle with no apps required. My Nexus prompted me to type what looked like a randomly generated four-digit PIN into the keyboard and then I was hooked up.

I’m not entirely convinced about the keyboard battery at the moment, but it needs more testing. I’ve had a couple of issues with connectivity which I’d put down to leaving the keyboard turned on and draining the battery, but yesterday morning I tried toggling the Nexus Bluetooth off and on again and it solved the problem (no re-bonding required).

4. Screen Rotation

The Nexus suffers from a lack of support for the home screen being rotated into landscape mode. A major problem with any keyboard and case that I was likely to buy.

There was a solution just a quick Google away with the Ultimate Rotation Control app, a worthwhile investment of £1.69 of the free £15 Play voucher that I received when I registered my Nexus. Once installed it runs in the background with no configuration required.

5. DropBox & DropSync

I love DropBox and of course there’s a droid app, but it’s limited with a lack of support for offline syncing. Everything is downloaded on-demand, albeit with some caching, but not enough for what I needed. I guess this is because most Android devices up to now have had a limited amount of storage space. But I have 16Gb of storage on the Nexus, more than enough for the Gig of files that I have sitting around in Dropbox.

Yet again a quick Google search turned up DropSync, a free app which allows me to pick a Dropbox folder to sync to a local folder on my Nexus.

Another great app which does exactly what it says on the tin. I may even have to spend some of my remaining Play voucher to buy the  pro version just to say ‘thanks’.

6. Word Documents

There are plenty of Android apps available for editing Office documents and I’m still to find one that supports Comments, but I’m currently using Kingston Office and it’s working pretty well.

The app has a familiar Office feel to it so I can just crack on with what’s important: which is writing and editing.

7. File Explorer

I’ve installed ES File Explorer for file handling. With DropSync automatically syncing my DropBox files to the ‘documents’ folder on my device, I’ve found this the easiest method for navigating around my 1.0Gb+ of files.

Clicking on a file gives me a choice of which corresponding app to launch.

8. Word Comments

As I’ve already mentioned, accessing Comments in Word documents on a droid device seems to be a challenge — if you know otherwise, please drop a comment in at the end of this blog post.

For now I’m saving a PDF copy via my home computer into DropBox and once it’s synced down to my Nexus the default viewer does a great job of displaying the comments. Not a perfect solution, but good enough for now.

9. BBC iPlayer

When I bought my Nexus, BBC iPlayer didn’t seem to be supported on Android 4.0 (Icecream Sandwich), but I managed to get it working easily enough by following the instructions given here and here.

Looks like iPlayer is now fully supported, but if you have problems you can always click-click those links.

10. Screenshots

The screenshots featured here were all taken on my Nexus without any additional apps. Not sure if this is supported in earlier versions of Android, but with 4.0 you just hold the power and volume down buttons at the same time and you’ll see a brief animation as the picture is taken. Thanks to Chris Hoffman for this tip via 6 Ways To Take Screenshots On Android.

Field test!

Last night I took my Nexus along to the Manchester Speculative Fiction writing group. Our writing group works a little differently to most in that we use DropBox to distribute work prior to each meeting where we then discuss the various merits of each piece. I usually take along paper marked-up copies of the various pieces of work being discussed, but this time I took along my Nexus with the files stored inside my synced-up DropBox.

I packed a spare power lead, just in case, but I really didn’t need it. Before the meeting I spent a little over an hour in Common grabbing some food and having another quick scan through my marked-up copies. My Nexus was powered on pretty much all of the time–just power-saving itself off when I had my hands full of grub. I then went over the road to MadLab for the meeting itself and spent another two-and-a-half hours connected to the WiFi as well as having the Bluetooth keyboard running and the battery didn’t seem to drop much. It’s now the evening of the following day, I haven’t bothered to plug my Nexus into charge and the battery is still at 63%. No idea about the keyboard as it doesn’t have an indicator, but it still has charge and just worked fine when I tested it.

DropSync kicked off by itself around half an hour ago. I’ve knocked down the frequency of the DropSync syncing to once per 24 hours, but I might ramp it up again now that I know the battery is holding out. So my Nexus DropBox is up to date with all the file archiving that I carried out first thing on my home computer. Great!

Summary

Well I won’t be writing any full length novels on my Nexus, but it rocks for portability, battery and convenience. Perfect for editing and future writing group meetings.

That’s it! If you have any feedback or Nexus tips of your own please feel free to add them to the comments section.

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