Saturday, March 16, 2013

Nexus 7 Tablet = Mighty Mini Awesomeness

Now that I've had a chance to haul the Google Nexus 7 Tablet around, run a bunch of apps on it, and put it through it's paces in and out of the classroom, count me impressed. At $200, it's a pretty good deal. The display is crisp, speed is blazing fast, and the overall feel and heft solid, comfortable, and well-made. Honestly, kinda like something Apple would make, if Apple made an Android tablet. It took a day or two for me to make the switch from iOS-to-Android environments, but really pretty intuitive once I figured out basic navigation, and a lot of it is Apple-like anyway.

One thing I LOVE about the Nexus 7 is the way it handles all things Google like a native because, well, it is, and Google is making a serious run for Ruler of the Universe. I've pretty much switched over to doing all word processing/blogging/spreadsheets/email with Google anyway, and while I would run into little glitches on the iPad in Google environments, the Nexus 7 is smooth smooth smooth. Case in point. I belong to several Google Groups from which I receive regular message digests, like the RBW or the iBOB list. and on the iPad I have to manually scroll down the list to read the messages I want. On the Nexus tablet, when I click the blue headings it automatically takes me to those messages. It's a little thing I know, but noticeable.

As for apps, I feel like I'm just scratching the surface - I haven't yet had a chance to run any apps I can't get on the iPad. Using Google Play to stream my music has been a revelation. It took, like, 3 days and nights for Google to upload my iTunes library to the cloud (for free!) but now that it's there, I can access it anywhere I've got a wireless connection, and anything I add to iTunes automatically gets added. So when I want music in my classroom, I just hook up the Nexus 7 to the speakers and roll Google Play or the KMHD app from our local jazz station.

After languishing for a couple months, I was able to drum up some enthusiasm for the Nexus 7 project I created for my class, thanks to a Valentine's week matching incentive they ran. We were fully funded on Valentine's Day, and my kids were unpacking the new tablets and bluetooth keyboards about a week later. One of the great things about the Nexus 7 that the iPad does not have, is the ability for the device owner to create up to 6 separate accounts on each tablet (One account is mine - leaving 5 on each tablet for students) So some of my students are acting as Nexus 7 test pilots in figuring out how to use them and what they can do. So far, Temple Run and Subway Surfer are hits. But next week I'm going to be a bit more insistent that they find more school-oriented apps and teach others how to use them.

With three tablets and about 55 kids (between my 2 block classes), obviously not everyone is using them. I did an initial screen by creating a list of those most committed. To get on the list, students had to bring me a signed DonorsChoose photo release (since I'd be taking their picture for part of the thank-you package). They also had to post a reply on Edmodo to the question "what would you like to use the Nexus 7 tablet for in class?" And they had to give me a handshake agreement that after creating an account and using the tablet, they would write a donor thank you letter. All three tablets are now fully booked, and in April I'll delete the accounts and move on to 15 new students.

A couple of limitations I've discovered. We've been having great success with creating presentations using Haiku Deck, an awesome app I first discovered at the IntegratED PDX conference. Unfortunately, it is currently an iPad only app. So we only have access through my iPad, or on a day when we have the iPad cart. And my new favorite photo app - Hipstamatic - isn't available as an Android app either. Which is probably OK since, to my mind, the biggest drawback to the Nexus 7, when stacked against the iPad/iPad mini, is the lack of a back camera. Honestly, the only thing you can really do with a front-facing camera like that on the Nexus 7 is take pictures of yourself or use it for FaceTime. It's awkward-to-impossible to point the front of the tablet at something and tap he screen to take a picture. And that includes using the tablet for QR scans as well. A back camera would make the Nexus 7 MUCH more versatile.

A final word of comparison. In September I started using an IPad with retina display (I'm typing this blog post on the iPad with a Zagg carbon fiber folio w/bluetooth keyboard.) In December I started using the Nexus 7. Last month I also got an iPad mini. In some ways, I think the mini is the perfect device. It runs every app I could want, is the perfect size for walking around the classroom or hauling it in my handlebar bag. and at first my wife was smitten until she started using it. "What's up with this screen? Ugh - No Likey." the resolution on the iPad mini is noticeably pixelated, especially in viewing some fonts and videos. The comparison with the retina display is pretty striking, and the Nexus 7 has much better resolution as well. Not sure how Apple will address this with round 2, but I'll be very surprised if the next iPad mini doesn't have a retina display. Still, if money was a consideration, the Nexus 7 is pretty amazing and has a lot of promise as a powerful classroom tool.