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Kate kate_nepveu
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epic Nexus 7 post

I've been meaning to write up my new tablet, the Nexus 7, since shortly after I got it for Christmas. I'm bumping it up the queue now because at Lunacon I said that I think it ought to be the default for someone who wants an electronic device to read books on. There are sound reasons you might want E Ink, but absent those I think people should go for the general-purpose tablet rather than a Nook or Kindle device.

This is, as far as I'm aware, the 7" tablet with the best hardware out there. The screen is gorgeous, it's fast and responsive, and it runs the latest version of Android (which automatically updates). I love the built-in swipe typing, which is practically magic, and the N7 in portrait orientation is just the right width to make that really comfortable. The only minor flaw is that its camera is front-facing, meant for Skype etc. (which I haven't had occasion to try yet), and so it's very difficult to use for anything else. I've taken it on a couple of trips now as a netbook substitute (with a Bluetooth keyboard), and it's been great; the only ordinary things it hasn't been able to do are a few things in WordPress.

As for reading, here's why I think it actually should be the default choice for that purpose: the available apps mean that you can get books from anywhere and extensively customize your reading experience; together with the screen, that means the N7 can be very versatile, simple, and comfortable to read with.

Here are the reasons to get an E Ink reader:

  • You need something less expensive.
  • You don't mind getting all your books from one store and just want as straightforward an experience as possible.
  • You need something very physically light (this is why I'm keeping my Sony ereader).
  • You have determined through experience that E Ink is easier on your eyes (though certain features of the N7 make it more pleasant to read from than a computer screen for me).
  • You need to be able to go more than a day's use without charging.

(Reading outside is no longer an issue, the N7 is bright enough to read in daylight.)

Here are the reasons I like reading on the N7:

It's much easier for me to get a book to look the way I want. That is, I can tell Calibre to use a particular font, justification, line spacing, etc., and then I can reconvert the files to apply those styles—but sometimes it doesn't work and I have to manually tweak the file. Whereas when I tell FBReader to override an ebook's formatting and apply its own style preferences, it does consistently work, and I don't have to take any intermediate steps.

In terms of visual comfort, I can also tell FBReader to use the background color and font of my choice. (I did have to load the font on myself, but I didn't have to reflash the entire operating system to be able to do so, the way I did for the Sony.) And, as I said, the N7 is more than bright enough to read outside, and the screen is super.

I can also read sequential art on the N7, which surprised me because I thought it would be too small, but the screen is so good that it works just fine: I've read some Marvel digital comics on it, plus, in a glorious and ill-advised binge, the entire run to date of Gunnerkrigg Court (I made an offline archive for my own use, and then bought a T-shirt to make up for not reading it online with ads).

But the N7 is too heavy for me to read one-handed, so I still do prefer to do extended reading on my Sony. On the flip side, E Ink gets sluggish in the cold, so during the last two and a half months I've been using the N7 to read on the walk to and from my work parking garage; FBReader lets me turn pages through the volume buttons on the side, which works just fine with gloves on.

In any event, even if you buy all your books from B&N or Amazon (or Kobo, I guess), you can still do that through the N7 (Nook app, Kindle app, Kobo app). That is, you're not locked into Google's Play store, you can get books on sale from Amazon or whatnot and immediately read them on the N7.

Useful apps for reading:

  • I like FBReader, as I said. Also popular are Cool Reader (which has better annotation options) and Moon+ Reader (which syncs reading place between devices). This is a matter of fiddly personal preference.
  • A Comic Viewer, because I found the controls on Comic Rack incomprehensible.
  • Lux Auto Brightness: among other things, this allows much darker screens than the default, such that I don't bother with the "night" setting when I'm reading in the dark.
  • Juice Defender Plus: can automatically turn off WiFi when using certain apps, such as your ebook reader.
  • Calibre Companion: if you are regularly changing tags in Calibre to update custom lists on your device, then you want this. If you don't, you don't. (See the bottom of this post.)

Great Big List o' Apps

Here's basically every app I have on the N7 currently, organized by the folders I keep them in:

Utilities

  • Camera Launcher: self-explanatory.
  • Advanced Task Killer: haven't needed it, but good to have around.
  • Brightest Flashlight Free: self-explanatory (make sure to add it to Lux's "sleep" list).
  • Dropbox: allows downloads of selected files, uploads; integrates very nicely with the overall system.
  • KeePassDroid: works really well with KeePass, the database for which I keep in Dropbox.
  • Juice Defender Plus: as mentioned above, allows you to configure connectivity for specific apps; also allows background data sync on a limited schedule, night mode.
  • Lux Auto Brightness: as mentioned above, a much better automatic brightness utility than what's included; also includes night mode, which like fLux reduces the blue in the screen.
  • Nexus Media Importer: take this plus a USB OTG cable and you can download files off a USB-connected drive.
  • ES FIle Explorer File Manager: weirdly, this version of Android does not have a file manager installed by default. This one allows browsing the local area network.

Social/Communication: your standard ones, I'm not going to bother to link: GMail, Google Reader (sigh), Google Plus, Google Talk; Facebook, TweetDeck, NY Times, Skype. Though I think some of the Google ones you do have to install on your own.

Travel: also standard: Maps, Navigation (I have location-based services turned off by default, as I don't need GPS while reading or playing games!), Local, Guidebook (for cons schedules, sometimes).

External Brain

  • Flick Note: straightforward text editor, syncs with Simplenote.
  • Remember the Milk: tasks and to-do lists.
  • Documents to Go: theoretically this edits Microsoft Office documents; I haven't used it much yet, but it seems a bit awkward (need to go through a menu to italicize, for instance). I got it cheap.
  • Handwriting: I don't use this much, but sometimes you just need to scribble something down quick.
  • Plus Google Drive and my credit union's app.

Entertainment

Games

  • Flow Free: puzzle game, connect dots while not crossing lines and using up all empty space.
  • Dungelot: stripped-down Roguelike, extremely addictive.
  • Puzzle Retreat: puzzle game, slide ice blocks over each other to fill up all spaces, very nicely designed.
  • Angry Birds: what? I mostly missed it when it was new.
  • Little Things Forever: straight-up hidden object game.
  • Jewels: Bejeweled clone.
  • 100 Floors: room escape game.
  • Endless Escape: ditto, not much played yet.
  • Enigmatis: PC-style hidden object/adventure hybrid. One of the few I found with graphics that were translated well to the tablet format. Too much backtracking, terrible character animations (I leave sound off almost always so I have no idea about the voice acting), and silly boo! moments, but good hidden object scenes and reasonable puzzles.
  • Abyss, Nightmare Adventures: similar to above, not played yet.
  • The Tiny Bang Story: not played yet, reviewed as Samorost or Machinarium meets hidden object game.

SteelyKid: a whole lot of Dr Panda apps and intellijoy connect-the-dot and puzzle apps.

Final notes:

I like this cover (don't get this one, it started coming apart after a month), this Bluetooth keyboard (picked because it was in Staples when I needed one and had comfortable keys, unlike the Microsoft keyboard also there), and this travel charger (though it does not play nice with my Sony ereader, unlike the included N7 charger).

The manual fails to tell you the critical piece of information that you can paste text into an empty text field by a long press on that field.

If you're moving files onto the N7 by plugging the USB cable into your computer, the N7 has to be awake and not in the lock screen to start.

I was going to do a screenshot of my home page, but I would have had to fuzz out so much it wasn't worth it. I have: a Weather Channel widget with the forecast; GMail and Google Calendar widgets showing my inbox and schedule for the next few days; three Remember the Milk widgets (one showing current/upcoming stuff, one showing (sigh) overdue stuff, one linking straight to my shopping list); and a whole lot of folders for apps.

What else would you like to know?

Digression regarding Calibre Companion

I use tags to keep track of unread books of different types, which is only useful if I can then change those tags and have them reflected on my device. But Calibre keeps your changes to tags in a metadata file on your computer, not in the .epub (or whatever) file of the actual ebook. So if you want changes to your tags (and other metadata, I think) to be reflected on your device, you need to either (1) properly sync with Calibre, which plugging the N7's cable in will not do, but which Calibre Companion will or (2) "polish" the book to refresh the metadata in the file itself and then send that file to your device, which is a pain.

Calibre Companion lets you either connect the N7 to Calibre as a device through WiFi, so that you then hit "send to device" on your new books and so forth from your computer, or as a content server, so you can browse Calibre from the N7 and download things that way. (Of course you need to have Calibre open at the time for either.)

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