Sunday, October 27, 2013

My new “do everything” smart device– the Google Nexus 7

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Engadget Review of the Google Nexus 7 2013 Tablet

When I began researching my phone and internet options for my upcoming winter travels to Mexico, I found a confusing and bewildering array of options that were either outdated technology, required multiple solutions/devices/plans, or were overpriced and limited to just one country or the other.

While traveling in Mexico, I had just a few simple tech needs:

  • Share internet bandwidth from a single cellular data plan across multiple devices (phone, tablet, laptop)
  • Make/receive a few text messages or VOIP phone or Skype video calls if needed (using a wired or Bluetooth headset)
  • GPS navigation & maps (with or without a cell connection)
  • a Spanish-English translation app (again, on or offline)
  • Preview photos of the day (without having to squint to see them on the back of my camera)
  • Listen to internet radio stations or my own music library
  • Read eBooks, magazines, blogs & web news (while sitting on the beach!)
  • Jot down handwritten notes with a pen stylus (I like being paperless!). 

Most importantly, I didn’t want to have to buy new devices that I’d only be able to use in Mexico—if I needed to buy something new, I wanted to be able to use it in just about any country I might travel to.

Well, fortunately, I’ve found such a singular “do it all” wonder -- the Google Nexus 7 2013 LTE tablet. 

At only $349 for a 32GB tablet, it’s cheaper than most “unlocked” LTE/GSM smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy series or Apple’s iPhone.

Unlocked phones/tablets allow you to keep your same device and just swap out a small SIM card whenever you wish to change cell carriers (like when going from the US to Mexico).  These SIM cards usually come with prepaid plans, so you only need to pay for the day/week/month and amount of bandwidth you need—no contracts required!

When I go to Mexico, I’ll plan to use the Telcel “Amiga” prepaid data plan.  Here in the U.S., since I already have a data contract with Verizon for my Mifi, I’ve just moved the SIM card from the Mifi and popped it into the Nexus 7.  No additional activation/changes with Verizon needed!

The $349 LTE Nexus 7 is also significantly cheaper than it’s newest competitor, the new iPad Mini Retina LTE just announced this week (a 32GB iPad Mini LTE costs an eye-popping $629 --  almost twice the price of the Nexus!).

For nearly $300 more, you’d think the new iPad Mini Retina would blow the doors off the humble Nexus 7 with added features and performance..but it just doesn’t!  Sure, it beats the Nexus in a couple of areas, but they are surprisingly few:

  • it gives10 hrs of battery life vs. Nexus’ 8-9 hrs,
  • a 7.9” wider screen vs. the Nexus’ narrower 7”, and
  • it supports more legacy 2G/3G cellular networks than Nexus’ GSM-only legacy networks (so, if 2G or 3G Verizon and Sprint are necessary in your new small tablet and you don’t already have a Mifi or USB stick, the Mini Retina will be your ticket).

Besides that, the Nexus 7 is very much equal to the more expensive iPad Mini Retina.  Both tablets have:

  • High resolution screens that make text easier to read and photos/videos more “crisp” and colorful.  (Both tablets have resolutions exceeding 320 ppi).
  • Truly “unlocked” LTE cellular.  Both tablets can accept SIM cards from dozens of cell carriers around the world.  No need to buy additional tablets or phones when going to a different country—just buy a SIM card from the carrier you want and pop it into your tablet!  Yes, there are a few caveats to ensure your tablet supports the carrier’s specific frequency range, and that you buy the properly sized SIM card for your tablet (the Nexus uses a micro SIM; iPad mini uses a nano SIM).
  • Both LTE tablets offer “wireless hotspot” functionality to share the device’s internet signal with other devices (such as your laptop or phone).
  • Nearly identical tech specs – very similar weight and thinness, both have dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, front and rear cameras, speakers and mic, and other tech performance features.  Both are solid, well-built devices.
  • The Nexus 7 offers similar cases and accessories as the iPad Mini.  For instance, I’m using this really neat cover from Poetic that mimic’s Apple’s smart cover so that the tablet turns on/off automatically when I open or close the case cover.  Cool!

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But here’s where I like the Nexus 7 better:

  • Offline (downloadable) Google Maps and Google Translate.  This is HUGE when traveling to a foreign country where you might not know if/where cell coverage is present.
  • Android’s voice assistant is noticeably faster and more useful than Apple’s Siri.  I loved Siri when it first debuted a few years ago.  The wise-crack jokes, and the novelty of being able to ask a question and get an spoken answer.  But Siri seems to rely much more on network connectivity, and that connectivity can often be dog slow or non-existent.  Google’s voice assistant seems to have quite a bit more intelligence cached right into the device, so it’s responses are often nearly instantaneous and network bottlenecks seem much less of an issue.  While Siri might be great for a high-powered business executive checking appointments, creating new reminders and the like, Google’s voice assistant seems much more useful when actually out and about traveling—“where’s the closest Police Station or Hospital?” “what does ____ mean in English?” “ how much is ___ pesos in US Dollars?” “How many miles is ____ kilometers?” Google’s superior search engine and mapping win out here every time!
  • A number of anecdotal reports say that Android GPS seems to often be more accurate when offline than Apple GPS.  Not sure if that will be true with the new iPad Mini, but it likely will be as Apple made no announcements of any improvements here.
  • I like the narrower 7” screen of the Nexus.  It’s easier to hold in one hand and easier to slide into my purse or backpack.
  • I also like the fact that just about any generic micro USB cable/adapter will charge the Nexus.  No need for proprietary, overpriced Lightening cables!
  • And last but not least, Nexus 7 is already shipping!  The new iPad Mini Retina won’t be out until November and, likely too late before I leave for Mexico.

Now, to be clear, I’ve been a faithful iOS and App Store devotee for years now.  Apple’s operating system is still a bit more refined and more “comfortable” than Android, the iPad still feels more responsive and accurate to handwriting apps with a stylus, and the App Store has millions of additional apps (many specifically designed for tablets) that the Google Play Store.  But, when comparing all the more popular major apps, you’ll find them on both platforms.  So, yes, the App Store may have 3,000 more “fart” apps than Android, but of the dozen or so “fart” apps on the Play Store, one should suit your needs just fine Smile

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I’m now using the Nexus versus my older iPad 2 (which now always feels too big and cumbersome), or my iPhone 4S (which I only seem to use for phone calls now, as it’s screen feels just way too small and difficult to use for apps compared to the Nexus).

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This little Nexus is just right!

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great write up. I have owned and used Apple stuff for a long time but my phone (ATT) is now up for renewal. I've held out, going month to month until I decide which direction I will go next. I'm currently in Indiana but plan on doing most of my traveling in the western states, so that sounds like Verizon as a change. I really like your information and opens up some more options.

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    1. I recently changed my iPhone 4S from a Verizon contract to a prepaid month-by-month plan (also with Verizon). Only $60/mo for unlim voice/text + 2GB data. It only does 3G (no blazing fast 4G), but that's ok since if I ever need 4G LTE data, I can just wifi it to my Verizon data SIM card (either via my Mifi or this new Nexus 7 in hotspot sharing mode). I hope I never have to do another contract again as there seems to be great new deals popping up all the time between the various carriers. So, I'm starting to think unlocked devices w/ whatever SIM card is giving you the best deal at the moment might be the new way to go!

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  2. Lynne, thanks so much for a review that makes the pros and cons understandable to the less technically inclined. I was surprised, however, about your use of Verizon for a hotspot -- I read great things about Mellinicom (spelling?) which uses Verizon's network for certain devices but costs so much less. I'm an Apple user for years, but when I go to fulltime vandwelling next year, I will be reviewing what you wrote here.

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    1. Since I've still been house-bound this year, I've still been using my Comcast cable broadband for more of my Internet needs. I bought an LTE Mifi last year just 1 month before Millenicom started selling them, so I got roped into a 2-year contract with Verizon for 5GB of data per month. When I go to Mexico this winter, I'll put both on suspension, and when I return to Chicago to move out of my house in the spring, I'll then buy a Millenicom Verizon plan and use my Verizon data plan as extra bandwidth when needed. It's probably a good idea to have a prepaid month-by-month data plan as a backup to Millenicom anyway seeing as their monthly caps can sometimes cut you off with little warning with no way to buy additional GB's as needed if you happen to go over your limit. See you on the road next year!

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  3. Lynne, you sure do your homework! I was particularly struck that Google's tablet would offer superior OFFline mapping capabilty.

    FYI, when I got an iPad mini this spring I opted for ATT wireless. Hotspot capability requires the $50/5GB plan. So far $30/3GB has been more than enough for me so I continue to tether my phone to the laptop on Sprint or Verizon when needed. The tablet displaced my laptop for most of my online business. The laptop form factor works better for most of my offline tasks. It's interesting how things affinitized that way.

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    1. Wow, I didn't realize ATT would not let you hotspot a mini unless you're on the bigger plan. Wonder if they're doing that with the Nexus too? So far, with my rogue Verizon SIM card in the Nexus I've not had any of the the stock Android features "handcuffed" the way Verizon typically loves to do that sort of thing. Kinda silly that they still won't activate a brand new SIM/plan in one of these tablets, yet pull a SIM out of an existing Verizon LTE device and pop it into the Nexus and Verizon seems totally fine with that. Shrug!

      I still like to use my laptop more for anything I'm typing/writing or any photo editing, but I agree that for most anything else, I use my tablets (reading, handwriting, surfing the web, etc).

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  4. Hi Lynne, thank you for this review. Can you tell me about the camera/picture quality, and sending ease on the Nexus compared to the IPad Mini.

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    1. I don't have the mini, so can't compare side-by-side, but some reviews I've read online say the images produced by the newests iPhones & iPads are a bit better than those produced by the Nexus. The Nexus, however, has more robust sharing and can seem to do it with much fewer taps than iOS. As a photo buff, I always still carry a real camera with me (either my Canon s100 point-and-shoot or one of my Canon dSLRs-- no phone or tablet can come close to matching the sharpness, color saturation, or low-light sensitivity of a true camera. Although, if a phone/tablet is the only camera you have, it certainly can be sufficient in many situations, particularly in bright daylight.

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  5. Oh, I have the same model and I'm quite raving about it as of the moment. I was quite hesitant to get one at first but when I bought one, the convenience brought my this device is definitely remarkable. - Betty

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  6. Hello, my name is Morgan & I am getting ready to go full time RVing in a couple of weeks. I have researched lots of things RV for the past year or so and just received my new N7 32 LTE Unlocked which sounds like the unit you also have. I am a retired engineer, run several websites and hand code them myself, write music and operate my own 24 Track Pro Grade Recording Studio but when it comes to the new tech.. I'm a dam rookie! As you say, so many choices for plans and devices these days.
    OK here’s my question: I am still without a sim card for the N7 and wonder which way to turn. I have an old iPhone 3G which I still love and have been an ATT customer for years. I have a “no contract” $55.00 per month Unlimited Talk Time deal with ATT on that sim card and since iPhones use the Mini Sim as do the N7’s, wondered if I can swap the sim from the iPhone to the N7 and get unlimited bandwidth? I’m pretty sure I already have the answer to this question but it was worth asking you.
    The “unlimited” deal I have is for “talk time.” The Safari Internet available on the iPhone is probably limited in some way right? If not, would then the Chrome work?

    I should mention that I am heading out to the Quartzsite, Blythe, Parker, Havasu desert areas and understand that Verizon is the best signal out there.

    Love your website and would like to stay in touch and link you to mine.
    Meanwhile, here are the sites I’m using these days :::
    http://12gaugemusic.com/
    http://www.rollingwest.com/
    http://truckchef.com/

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    1. Congrats on your new Nexus 7 LTE. Mine did great in Mexico and has yet to meet a SIM card it didn't like. Here in the US, I've used the SIM from my Verizon Mifi in the Nexus 7 just fine when I'm in 4G/LTE territory (for Verizon 3G, however, the Nexus doesn't work as it does not have the 3G CDMA radio receivers). Since you've got ATT, your SIM should work just fine for both 4G/LTE or 3G/Edge signals. Just pop the SIM out of your iPhone and into the Nexus. Not sure what kind of data plan you might have-- I'd suggest contacting AT&T and also signing up for web access to your account so you can compare your data usage there to what the Nexus shows you. Regardless of which mobile browser you use (Safari or Chrome), it will all likely count against your monthly data usage. Since you can also do wireless hotspot sharing (your Nexus can share it's internet signal wirelessly with your laptop, iPhone in wifi mode, etc), but do watch your data usage carefully the first month or two as laptops tend to load bigger web pages, play more videos/ads, do auto-backups to iCloud, etc that can burn through a small cellular data plan (ie. 2GB or less) in no time!

      Thanks for the web site links-- I'll check them out soon!

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    2. Thanks for the great response. I'm so busy right now with installing Tie Downs on my truck and lugging stuff to that awful storage area that my brand new N7 is still in the box sitting on my desk. At some point, I'll have to go down to my local ATT Store and a friend told me that T-Mobile was very N7 savvy but for some reason, I don't have a great feeling about them. The main thing I want is unlimited on both my iPhone and on the web. Of course, I would think that should all come from the same carrier. I love my Netflix movies & they tell me this is a bandwidth monster. I'll find a way to put it all together as my launch date which is now March 25th. draws nearer. I will update you and maintain contact. I should add that my adventure journal will be on RollingWest.com

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  7. Hey Millie, this is Margo how ya' doin? I'm Morgan's canine companion and I'll be on the road in our new (1995) Lance Camper if he ever gets it on that truck of ours!!! I'm a Lab Dog too! I'm a very large 100 Lb. Black Lab and they tell me my Mom had a wild night with a Wolf stud back in 2005! I think it may be true cus' I have a huge head with fierce looking dark eyes and a shotgun bark when my nose alerts me!!!
    Got any pointers about the RV life for us dogs? You see, my Dad owned a beautiful and secluded 4 acres here in the East County hills in San Diego until that horrible bank decided to sell it to some stranger for a fraction of what he owed! So I've never really used the leash until here lately. Pop tells me that where we're goin' it's a must have item for my safety but he promised to head straight for the nearest Colorado River Dog Beach and we love the water don't we now!!? Ohh, here's an idea.. Let me see if I can get my Pop to post my picture so you can check me out. He keeps tellin' everyone that I'm part Black Lab and part Rhinoceros but whatever I am, you will fall in love with me... Love, Margo

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  8. OK I thought about what you suggest regarding switching my sim from the iPhone to the new N7 but I need my phone to work as I no longer have a land line...(who does?)

    Then I found this article ::: http://forums.att.com/t5/forums/forumtopicprintpage/board-id/Android/message-id/48378/print-single-message/false/page/1

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