I'm Drew Breunig and I obsess about technology, media, language, and culture. I live in New York, studied anthropology, and work at PlaceIQ.

On Android & the Nexus 7

At the beginning of January I purchased a Nexus 7, partially because I wasn’t eager to spend on a non-Retina iPad Mini and partially because my lack of Android fluency was beginning to become a liability in my work.

After nearly a month, here’s what I think of Android:

Tablet screens are made for widgets.

A phone’s smaller screen is really ideal for one function at a time, which means the optimal home screen should present you with any many paths to functions as possible. On the iPhone, iOS’s grid system works well in this respect1. But the additional real estate on a tablet allows for widgets while still providing a sufficient number of shortcuts to apps. Seeing your schedule, a few headlines, and the weather on launch is great. As is having a search box to dive into. The iPad’s grid layout suffers because it assumes a greater screen size doesn’t change the home screen’s use case.

Most Android apps are horrendously ugly.

There is a huge opportunity for Android developers to hook up with talented designers and take over lucrative categories. To illustrate, here is a screenshot of what is widely regarded as the best Android Twitter client, Falcon Pro:


It appears the Android App ecosystem is governed by the tastes of tweakers, rather than everyday users. For those who haven’t experienced the Play store yet, please note: relatively speaking, Falcon Pro is showing admirable restraint. Other Twitter clients on Google Play are more likely to feature customizable scrollview background images than responsive design (Falcon Pro, while ugly, is relatively responsive.)

If we take the Google Play store as a representation of Android culture, we might assume that goal of apps is user empowerment not utility. Hence searches like this one:

Battery Drain

Android users want more battery stats on their screen but they’re generally sacrificing battery to do so.

The fact that the Google Play store is so heavily influenced by this relatively small group of tweakers must contribute to the discrepancy between iOS and Android device usage, as discussed on Branch recently. If provided with apps that appeal to their tastes and needs, I’d wager the bulk of Android users would use their devices more frequently, in more varied ways, and even pay for applications more often. It’s a pity the fashions of modder forums are felt strongly in the Android ecosystem, and that Google doesn’t better encourage and feature developers outside this niche.

Android’s scrolling animations are horrible.

Scrolling in Chrome stutters like sliding sheets of sandpaper. The stickiness of the physics hinders every web app and native application. It’s no wonder that some of the most polished Android apps avoid scrolling at all costs, embracing pagination. Feedly, Currents, and Flipboard have huge fan bases on Android and I’m sure it’s partially because of the pagination in their apps. Even Tumblr’s app, which is head and shoulders above the pack, stutters and sticks due to scroll. Facebook’s in the same boat and Instapaper was nearly unusable until a recent version added pagination.

Scrolling is a major problem that Google should be fixing now2. It affects every app and every website.

But: I’m happy with the device (or rather: appliance).

The Nexus 7 is capable, has a crisp display, and app support is almost there for most everything I did on my iPad. Support for Google accounts (which for me is work as well as personal) is fantastic. As a subway reading device the Nexus 7 is great.

The danger, for both Google and the user, is that after the grueling task of finding the apps to address my needs I stopped looking. Finding good apps in the store is so painful that I have little incentive to change my habits once they’re working. After just one month, the Nexus 7 became a reading and basic web appliance for me. I’m not pushing it, I’m not browsing the store, and I’m not wondering if it might handle tasks that I’m performing elsewhere.

I’m in a rut. A contented rut, but a rut nonetheless.

If Google wants people to use their devices more often and for more tasks, they need to facilitate exploration and discovery better. Unfortunately for them, discovery in Android cannot be fixed by a redesign of the Play store’s UI. It can only be fixed by raising the overall quality of apps so users don’t sour on the exploration experience during the set up phase.

  1. Though it is getting creaky. Folders are a solution that should have been dropped two OSes ago. 

  2. This is a fantastic explanation for Android’s scrolling problems

12 notesShowHide

  1. jishhd said: Chrome has been known to be generally pretty laggy on the N7, but Project Butter (introduced in 4.1 Jelly Bean) pretty much brought all framerates for animations up to the speed of iOS and Windows Phones. (Your linked article was before JB launched)
  2. vincekg reblogged this from dbreunig and added:
    Agreed with dbreunig’s assessment of Nexus7. Surprised he was able to get a screenshot. It’s a pain.
  3. dbreunig posted this