Up until now, the tablet revolution has passed me by. Before the iPad, tablets were clunky, chunky and unappealing. The iPad changed all that, but I personally did not see the appeal of what amounted to an oversized iPhone.
More recently, I have come to wonder if I am missing something. I needed a replacement for my rusty old Asus Eee PC running on Windows XP. A tablet seems like an ideal replacement.
For a while, I seriously considered buying a Microsoft Surface. I like the look of it, and although the reviews have been mixed, it is easy to put that down to the radical redesign unsettling users familiar with the old ways of Windows. From people whose views I trust, I’d heard good things about the Surface.
I was particularly attracted to the Surface because I want to do work on it. I don’t just want to watch videos and post the odd tweet. I want my tablet to be a productivity device. Not many tablets are designed for that. So the fact that the Surface is a closer relative to desktop PCs, comes with Office and has a keyboard as standard, all attracted me to it.
But then I tried one out in a shop. It was quite a brief play around. It was nice enough, but I felt underwhelmed. Then there was the price. If the Surface was £350, I would have gone for it. But at north of £500 (particularly with the type cover, as a tactile keyboard is a must for me), it was difficult to justify.
The alternative for me was the Nexus 10. It cost just over £300. I bought a bluetooth keyboard cover for about £30. So price-wise, the Nexus 10 knocks the Surface out of the park. But what about in terms of quality?
I’ll lay my cards on the table here. I am a Google fan. I think Android is great. So it’s no surprise that one of the big draws of the Nexus 10 is that it is a Google–Android device through and through.
I have come to use the iPad a bit because I need to at work. But I would not use it as a personal device. I see why iOS appeals to some people, and I was an iPhone user for two years. But after switching to Android, I see no reason to go back to iOS.
The Nexus 10 has latest version of Android. It isn’t bogged down with horrible tweaks like Samsung’s TouchWiz. It is the pure Android tablet.
The immobile mobile device
Android is only as good as far as it goes though. It sings in a mobile context. But a ten inch tablet is only nominally mobile. I can’t pop this in my pocket. I won’t be pulling this out on the go. I will primarily use it for quickly browsing the web at home when my desktop computer isn’t on. When I’m away from home I’ll use it in a similar way to a laptop — not in my hand, but on a desk.
I was eagerly looking forward to using Google Now, which is not available on my ageing Samsung Galaxy S II with four months left on its contract. But Google Now is obviously designed for mobile, making heavy use of location data. Given that I primarily use my Nexus 10 at home, all Google Now usually displays is the weather where I am (which I can see through my window) and my next calendar appointment (which I can see in my calendar).
In that case, opting for an Android device may have been the wrong choice. Because try as you might to use a Nexus 10 like a laptop, you keep on being plunged back into a world designed for mobile, but one stretched out onto a ten inch screen.
Granted, this is not necessarily a flaw with Android or the Nexus 10 itself. Android’s developers have put a lot of work into making the user interface work well across a wide variety of devices.
Developers need to shape up
But many app and website developers have not put the same care and attention into their designs. I visit websites on the Nexus 10 hoping to get a desktop-like experience. Time and again I am instead presented with an ill thought out, restrictive ‘mobile’ design.
One of the worst offenders is Facebook. Their apps — on both iOS and Android — have always been awful. On the Nexus 10, at the landscape orientation the tablet was optimised for, the Facebook app is an unmitigated disaster.
Clearly, Facebook have put no thought or planning into how this app would behave on anything other than a four inch screen in portrait orientation. All images unthinkingly display at the full width of the screen, even if that makes it too high for the height of the screen.
Using the Facebook app on the Nexus 10 feels like having a book pushed against your face. Yet the text is minuscule. With huge images and tiny text, the Facebook app is a very disjointed and downright uncomfortable experience.
It’s all very well to grumble about Android fragmentation, but the diversity of Android is its true strength. The world would be a pretty dull place if we walked around with cloned Apple devices. A badly designed website optimised for one single screen size is the result of laziness, not device fragmentation.
One Google app that is not well designed is Chrome. This is frustrating for two reasons.
- It is absolutely the most essential app on the tablet.
- Chrome is such a great product on other devices.
Chrome on the Nexus 10 feels like it is trying too hard to be like the desktop version, and absolutely is not optimised for touch.
The close tab and new tab buttons are both tiny, and to make matters worse they are right next to each other. This replicates the user interface of the desktop version of Chrome. It is all very well in that context when you have the fine control offered by a mouse. But ‘fat fingers’ mean that touch is very, very different.
Placing these two buttons right next to each other is frustrating in the extreme, especially given that they do the complete opposite to each other. I have lost count of the amount of times I have accidentally closed a tab when I wanted to open a new one, or opened a new tab when I wanted to close one.
This design violates Android’s own development guidelines, which state: “your targets will never be smaller than the minimum recommended target size of 7mm”. So I find it difficult to understand how this truly facepalm design decision on a high-profile Google product made it live.
I bought the Poetic KeyBook, which was £30. You do get what you pay for. The keyboard feels plasticky, and the faux leather casing is not to my taste. However, given what it does, it is well worth the price. It enables me to type. It enables the tablet to stand up. It brings the Nexus 10 closer to being the laptop-like device I was hoping for.
In summary, I am enjoying my Nexus 10. It is a seriously impressive piece of kit. It is nice to use it for superficial web browsing on the sofa while watching TV, or in the kitchen while making dinner.
But I’m struggling with the oxymoronic nature of using a mobile operating system on a device that is not really mobile. It is not quite the best of both worlds I was hoping for. Perhaps I did not really want a tablet after all.