By Martin Dower
Before I start the review, I’d thought I’d better point out that I am an Applephile; I extensively use their products at home and at work including a MacAir for portable work, a MacBook Pro for static work, iPhone 5 as a phone and data-tethering and an assorted selection including iMac, Apple TV and a Mac Mini server.
It’s fair to say that I have a lot of experience with Apple, but as they seemed to have lost their a lead a little I purchased a Nexus 7 (Dec 2012 version) 3 months ago for £95+VAT to evaluate their differences. An iPad Mini is over twice the price at £220+VAT, however as this is for work, a relatively small difference in real cost if you imagine getting 2 years useful life equates to less than 30p per day.
So, price is then not really the issue if you are serious about using a tablet for work, despite the £125 initial price difference.
What do I use tablets for?
Cloud-based services. Everything we do is now in the cloud so speed, availability and usability is paramount.
Convenience. When I really don’t need to pull out the MacAir plus fat charger from my bag I turn to my tablet. Needs to be fast to start, good battery life, easy to handle and readable in all sorts of different light.
Business Applications. These are at the core of how I use and access work services. Despite having a preference for using web apps, I still prefer the experience of some dedicated applications that we use for our cloud services. This includes:
- email – GMail, both personal and work accounts
- Podio – an enterprise-grade, social collaboration platform
- Zendesk – for customer services support ticket management
- Amazon AWS – server and cloud-based services management
- WordPress – for editing, adding content – a CMS
- Dropbox – file sharing
- Skype – voice communications and tele-conferencing, frequently across countries
- Highrise – for sales and customer management
- Quickbooks – for general accounting, critically the ability to quickly and easily raise and edit invoices
- Pivotal Tracker – our agile project management tool, it’s ace
- Keynote – for presentations and as a prototyping/mock-up tool
- Spotify – I love music
- Netflix – I’m a little stuck on US series at the moment, the Fringe being the current magnet
- Flipboard – a curated reader application, much like a magazine and how I access Twitter, Facebook, Google + when in “reading mode”
- Twitter – to tweet
- A web browser – either Safari or Chrome
- Navigon – replaces the crappy Sat Nav in the Range Rover with a useful tool and talks over the bluetooth link
- Instapaper – my “save it for later” application
I travel a fair amount for work, most frequently on the train to and from London (4 times a month) and use the car very little.
Initial impressions : iPad Mini
When I got the iPad Mini (a year ago) I didn’t see the point, really. I already had an iPad 1 and the new one seemed, well, pointless really. But it had the silly lightning connector that my phone had, so it started to replace the old iPad, which got handed off, first to my wife (Netflix and Facebook) and then on to my daughter who took it to Uni with her.
It didn’t take long to appreciate the smaller form factor. It was lighter, one-handed and took up a lot less space in my bag (or pocket) compared to the iPad. It’s unlikely I’ll go back to using the bigger one, just no need. In fact, the big iPad now seems pointless and very expensive. If I need the greater screen space I’ll use my Mac Air.
I was, like many, disappointed that the iPad Mini didn’t come with the “retina screen” and this is one area I felt let the iPad Mini down. I was worried about poor internal space (16gb) as everything I use comes from the cloud and keeping it light on applications kept it swift, I think.
Battery life was impressive too, it felt that it went several days without worrying about charging. Frustrating though, was it really needed the larger iCharger otherwise it took forever to charge.
All my application needs were catered for well, in fact every service we had also had a matching App and most worked really well providing functionality that largely matched the rich experience on a conventional browser window. The apps were also stable and have been upgraded in a timely fashion over the life of the device to create a rather nice environment – so much so that I prefer the experience on some applications more than the equivalent browser version (special note for Zendesk and Pivotal Tracker, both who have produced a wonderful experience much better than their website).
It’s no surprise that all the apps were available, Apple has better adoption and as we use Apple in-house there was the likelihood of 100% availability. Nonetheless, leaving no gaps in my tablet needs is a good thing.
Initial impressions : Nexus 7
Feels really nice and quality – I was staggered this cost less then £100. Most sub-£100 tablets I had seen in the past were woeful – this wasn’t. It was also my first foray into Android proper and I was impressed. It wasn’t as slick or as smooth as the iPad but close enough not to warrant any concern and if you’d never used an iPad you’d be perfectly happy with it.
I had to get used to Android but aside from the pointless default welcome screen everything worked as it should and without having to refer to online guides. What really struck me was the quality of the screen, not only was it sharper than the iPad, it has had a wider range of brightness making it more usable across a range of lighting conditions.
It also felt a little lighter than the iPad, but not enough to make a difference. And I did like the “stippled” back, it gave it a quality feels and also felt more secure in single-handed mode.
What did disappoint me initially was the width of the screen in portrait mode. The iPad Mini was a good 20% wider and taller too, if you discount the touchscreen buttons at the bottom of the Nexus 7. It still bugs me now and makes it feel closer to some of the silly outsized smartphones we’re seeing on the market at the moment. The thinness did have one advantage, it fits wonderfully in the back pocket of my jeans – the iPad Mini can’t manage that trick.
Many, but not all, of the applications were available in the (closed) Google Play store. the absence of Pivotal Tracker was a real ballache but it’s suitably niche I shouldn’t be surprised, still a pain though. Podio’s implementation was also fairly crummy and generally the Androids versions were no better than the Apples, mostly a little worse. The exception to this was Quickbooks, which is stunning on Android compared to Apple.
Out in the wild
Physical differences aside, the proof of the pudding was going to be in how often and where it got used. And applications … they’d need to work seamlessly to fulfil my “location independent” working. Both devices worked well in the wild with really only a few differences worth mentioning:
- Apps on the Android device just weren’t as slick or as available as they were on the iPad. First blood to the little Nexus 7.
- The screen on the Nexus was brilliant, noticeably better than the iPad and more usable. Not only was the resolution higher but better brightness and less smearing made it a pleasure to use. Second blood then goes to the Nexus 7
- Battery life. Oh dear, the poor old Android struggled here and was actually a game changer for me. I struggled to get past 4 usable hours (despite hints and tip from the web – thanks to @philipdelisle). The venerable old iPad absolutely murdered this and comfortably got to 8 hours doing similar task. Final blood to the iPad, and probably the killer stroke.
If you can live with a shorter battery life and appreciate the much lower cost then Android wins it due to a much nicer screen. If, on the other hand you value a smoother experience, better apps and day-long battery life then its the iPad.
Me? I’m lucky to have both, but in reality the Android stays at home, near a power source, and the iPad Mini is what I use on the move. I wanted to share this from a business perspective and not worry about HD quality for films, or games – this is an exercise in business value, from a personal point of view.
Disclaimer: This is not a technical review, it’s just my view and opinion. And I’m an Applephile so will have a tendency to appreciate the good things with the iPad Mini and criticise the comparative failings.