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Hands on with the Google Nexus 7

Over the past week or so I’ve been toting a Google Nexus 7 around with me. A few isolated minutes with a device is never really enough to get a feel for it so I forced myself to carry it around and I attempted to use it for everything I would ever normally use my iPad for. In fact, I did not turn on the iPad once last week.

So, what did I think, you ask? How was it, you might be wondering? Is the Google Nexus 7 the iPad killer the hype claims it to be? Hell no. Here’s why:

As a programmer I was super jazzed about how open and componentized everything is. I find a lot of elegance in the overall architecture of Android’s “intent” and “activity” system, it appeals to me on the same level that RESTful architecture does for web applications. But, I wasn’t writing code this week, I was using a consumer device that retails for $199. While this is $300 than the cheapest iPad, it’s still not throw-away money (unless you’re Mitt Romney).

First thing I noticed was that the device is really, really snappy. In most cases the OS is extremely responsive. Some of the stock animations are just timed faster than iOS so that may give me an artificial sense of speed but still, it is a quad-core ARM and its power is nothing to sneeze at. I’ve got an animated wallpaper with configurable seasons and weather and little birds you can tap on. I enjoyed the ability to create multiple home screens in any configuration I wanted and the “widget” capabilities are simply non-existent on iOS and they are even more flexible than Windows Phone 7.5’s Live Tiles.

Most of the applications I typically use are available on Android: Sirius XM, Evernote, Hulu Plus, Safari Books, Kindle, Nook, Gmail (the Gmail app is particularly good on Android, but that should be a foregone conclusion, right?), a few of the games my step-daughter likes to play when we’re out somewhere and boredom sets in and even a few I like to play (I’m particularly fond of “Where’s my Perry”).

This is where the love affair ends. As I said, the operating system is quick, tight, responsive, great on battery, and insanely configurable (almost to its own detriment). The love affair with Android stops the second I start using apps.

Sirius XM has never worked. Not once. I get the “unfortunately, blahblah has stopped working” message for Sirius 100% of the time, Hulu over 1/3rd of the time, half the games I play, and well over half the random apps that I tried. About the only non-Google application that hasn’t failed me once is Evernote. Safari books online is an utter pile of crap on Android (admittedly, it’s only marginally less crappy on iOS).

As any mobile application developer will tell you – the device is secondary, what matters are the apps. The only thing the Nexus has that I found appealing is a more comfortable book-reading grip but if Apple ever drops a 7″ iPad on us, then Google’s “iPad killer” will be pretty darn irrelevant for the higher price point tablets.

For $200, you still absolutely cannot beat this thing. I’m used to my iPad, so I found it infuriating that stuff crashed, and stuff crashes all the time, not just periodically. But for a tablet that has a relatively stable and highly performant OS with a pretty good browsing experience and good performance from the big name app developers, it’s worth it if you don’t want to drop down $600 for an iPad.

If you’re like me and have spent any time using an iPad, then you simply won’t be able to come to terms with the shoddy workmanship of the apps in the Android ecosystem. I know some of you are going to yell at me and say that the device is new and the developers haven’t caught up to the nexus 7, but that’s also b.s. because many of the apps that crashed frequently had update messages like “updated for the new nexus 7!!”

Fragmentation across an increasingly wide spectrum of devices makes it impossible for developers to achieve ecosystem-wide reliability in a way that keeps people like me happy. Bottom line is that the Nexus 7 is a neat little gadget, but I’m not retiring my iPad for it – not now, not ever.