So, here’s the thing about that Nexus 7

December 1st, 2012  |  Published in mac and iphone, tech

I think I’m probably going to have to own my last post because, you know, we’re not big on memory holes around here. And in my own defense, I meant every word when I wrote it because at the time I was comparing that Nexus 7 to some phantom device I hadn’t really held or tried out or, alternately, my iPad 3. It didn’t seem fair to compare it to the iPad 3, both because the iPad 3 is uncomfortably heavy for my main use cases (reading on the Max, reading in bed) and because the iPad 3s bigness and heaviness comes from the things that make it much, much better than a Nexus 7 for the cases in which I’d used it up to becoming a commuter (as a curiously smooth and low-functioning laptop).

I’d planned to sell the iPad 3 once I was convinced I’d keep the Nexus 7 around. So last week I found myself sitting in a Starbucks up in the Pearl District while a pair of nice but suspicious ladies made me connect to assorted networks and load web pages and generally demonstrate that I was not trying to sell them an iPad case stuffed full of nuts, bolts and wood shavings (which once happened to me while stationed in Korea, except not with an iPad—they didn’t exist yet—but a power amplifier for a radio set, apparently because a Korean depot-level tech decided the guts of an FM radio power amplifier would do him more good than they would my retrans team).

I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining about the ladies. They were nice enough and they were much better to deal with than the people who wrote me for two days straight asking if I wanted to trade my iPad for a hulled kayak, a mostly dry and ungnawed box of Life magazines from 1982, or $50. They were far nicer than the person who wrote me at two in the morning with the simple message “oh you fucking dirty scammer.” And they were less alarming than the elderly gentleman who attached a 1600×1200 picture of his smiling, stubbly face and a message that read:

$$$ how do I call !!! $$$

Eventually the ladies were satisfied, so I initiated a wipe of the device that took an awkwardly long amount of time I filled pointing out the nice features of the case I was throwing in. The transaction concluded and me with some time on my hands, I wandered down to Pioneer Courthouse Square, and then into Pioneer Place, and then into the Pioneer Place Apple Store, where what I really wanted to see was the new iMacs (not there yet) and the newest 11″ MacBook Airs (because I’m a curious soul).

My mood, on entering the store, was a little melancholy. How friendly would the greeters be, I wondered, if they knew what I’d just done? And how would I feel, looking at the new iMac and latest MacBook Air, knowing that the Nexus 7 had shaken my faith in Apple just enough to be thinking the old heresy, that life with a machine I crafted myself, like a dwarvish smith, would perhaps break through the gray sameness of life in my 40s and allow me to stand a bit straighter and meet others with the fell gleam in my eye of a full-on mithril plated nerd? These are the thoughts a technical writer who works in the corner of a pod full of competent, opinionated developers. They aren’t really worthy thoughts. But sometimes, after you’ve just gotten done being scolded for leaving trailing whitespace in a trivial docs commit, or you’ve forgotten that Ubuntu—the training wheels distribution—lets you assign arbitrary ports to sshd with no hassles while CentOS—the training wheels distribution for grownups—has iptables up and running at install, you imagine assorted geek-flavored Charles Atlas outcomes that will allow you to start socking the bullies.

I worked through those feelings in the time it took to mutter “I’m good, just looking” at the greeters, then I brushed past the iPad mini display, not even intending to stop and look because what was the point? I’d forsaken that path. But in that moment, one of the people holding an iPad mini put it down and the person who seemed to be looking at everything but the mini to keep from seeming like they really, really wanted to hold the mini while it was being held by someone else was looking away. So I picked it up.

My main thought was “is the display as bad as everybody claims?” so I opened up Flipboard, which doesn’t have many meaningful or constructive design opinions in its pretty little head but does have nice typography. Before I could consider the display, I noticed how quickly Flipboard opened at all. Just *pop* and there it was. That was nice. I remembered when I finally found a working Nexus 7 at a Fred Meyer and how I actually rebooted it because it was running so slow and I’d just subconsciously made the excuse that it had probably been handled all day and who knew what state it was in. Maybe Flipboard had recently been open already, so that’s not a scientific observation, but it’s not like I was even making some list … I was just curious about the display and noticed. Even when an app is up and the cache is warm, the Nexus 7 doesn’t seem quite as responsive. You get used to it, then you notice when something else isn’t like it.

So I flipped around in Flipboard and thought “this display is not that bad, and it’s very bright.”

I closed Flipboard and opened Safari (also *pop* and then *swoosh* when I loaded Google news), and then I just bounced around, opening things and switching between apps and noticing that the mini was very nimble and smooth and its extra size compared to the Nexus 7 (it’s .6″ wider) didn’t render it impossible to hold (which is something reviewers who have felt hard pressed to notice something have fixated on, saying that only people with giant hands could hope to hold a mini and then noting how tragic that is because their giant hands will then crush the wafer-thin device and leave them weeping and smashing SWAT teams as they blunder down the street wishing they’d bought a Nexus).

At that point, the person who’d been pretending to not stare at the person who had held the mini before me had dropped all pretense of not staring. He wanted to get at that fucking mini. So I put it down and looked at him and sort of raised my eyebrows with a Spockian “hmmm” and walked back out of the store.

By the time I deposited my iPad money and got back to the office, my thoughts had largely taken shape: I was pretty sure I liked the mini better than I did my Nexus 7. It felt faster, all the iPad apps I knew would be on it, and it was lighter and thinner. The display wasn’t as nice, but it wasn’t horrible, either. At the same time, there was probably no getting a mini any time soon. The Apple store website said they were two weeks out. A few weeks earlier, when I’d been researching small tablets, I’d asked an Apple Store lady how they were selling she told me there were lines outside the store each morning. Then she shared a little trick about scoring a mini I’d filed away more as a curiosity of Apple’s ingenious ability to sell a thing it has in stock yet also render than thing unattainable: Going to the Apple Store website at 10 p.m. (no earlier, certainly not much later) would reveal whether minis might not be in stock for pickup the next day. All I had to do was put one in my shopping cart then step all the way through to just before checkout. I asked her why people would queue for something they could just order online the night before and pick up at their leisure. She shrugged and smiled in a knowing way that kept things on this side of respectful, but only barely. Looking back, I have labeled her The Naughty Apple Store Lady.

That trick was on my mind a little on the way back to the office, but I was mostly telling myself that by the time I could just go buy a mini or just put a mini in my shopping cart at the Apple Store site, I’d be over the whole thing and happily entrenched in the Nexus. Heck, I told myself, maybe I’d even build that Linux box and forget all about it!

But that night, in bed with the Nexus, after the last email was read, the last Pocket item checked off, I thought about the trick and wondered if it was true. So I opened up Chrome and browsed to the Apple Store and put a mini in the cart. Then I visited my cart. In the split second before the page loaded, did I see the twinkle in the eye of the Naughty Apple Store Lady? I think I must have, but I couldn’t swear to it now, and either way I was definitely remembering her barely respectful smile as the Apple Store cart page told me I could have a mini held for me for pickup, and that was that. I was down there at lunch the next day.

What can I tell you about the thing? It’s smoother than the Nexus 7 for the things I use it for (page scrolling, especially, is comparatively amazing, but the apps in general are just better put together) and the battery life is great. It’s a much more familiar experience, and after over two years of using an iPad, that counts for something. It handles just fine one-handed on the Max and it’s far more comfortable for the ways I use it than the iPad 3 was. It cost more than the Nexus 7, but I think it was worth it.

Now to endure a few more days of

$$$ how do I call !!! $$$

and offers of slightly rusty but functional bicycles in trade for my Nexus 7.

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