How Google’s Nexus 7 exposes the big myth about Android tablets

by Doug Drinkwater

August 22 2013

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.


The iPad’s all about the user experience, Windows 8 tablets are great for enterprise security and software compatibility and Android slates are just so affordable. Actually hold up – that last assertion might not really be true.

Before I walk straight into hate from Twitter trolls and Android fanboys, perhaps I should emphasize that I have no particular allegiance to one operating system or another.

I own a Windows PC and a Windows Phone, which are both pretty good. I had a fantastic Android phone, have an appalling Android tablet and an iPad which I really rate highly.

But I have an issue with “budget” Android tablets, and that is they really aren't as affordable as they might appear. Let me explain.

Android tablets age faster than iPads

There is a tendency among tech reviewers, and I include myself in this, to see the specs and the price of an Android tablet and highlight it as a good deal. That is especially true of $99 tablets like Asus’ MemoPad HD or models from Acer, Hisense, Idolian and others.

But this perception of “value” really needs to be looked over. Take the first-generation Nexus 7, for example, which was superseded by the new model at the end of last month.

The original Nexus 7 was generally well-rated. It had a relatively powerful processor, a decent screen, a premium build and it ran the latest iteration of Android (which is no surprise seeing as how Google essentially uses the Nexus family to show OEM partners how Android devices should be made).

The price wasn’t bad too, starting at $199 and going up to $229, both of which are within shouting distance of Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

But then that value doesn’t look so great when it comes to longevity. Many original Nexus 7 owners complained that the Nexus 7 slowed down as it filled with storage or even when it updated to Android 4.2. Others reported a slow-down after syncing on Google Currents, the news aggregating app.

Dustin Early of Android Community recently detailed how his Nexus 7 went from his best tablet to his worst in 12 months, while TabTimes contributing editor Derek Walter saw “significant slowdown after 8 months”.

Why was this? Put simply, it was the way the tablet's low-level software wrote information onto the Flash storage, and this often caused the tablet to fill up -- and slow down -- pretty quickly. Thankfully, the support for TRIM in Android 4.3 has now apparently solved that problem on original Nexus 7s (providing they've updated to Android 4.3).

So a $200 tablet lasted around 8 months. That’s $25 a month, which also works out the same for my $100 Android tablet, which I stopped using after about four months.

On the basis that my $399 16GB iPad 2 has lasted for almost two years without fault (approximately $18 per month), I’d say that Android tablets may not be so valuable after all.

(Are you an Android tablet user? Sign up for our free TabTimes for Android newsletter for news, apps, and useful productivity tips)

Android owners may not be using their tablets

But a failed promise of affordability is not Android’s only problem. The frantic updating of operating systems, a lack of quality tablet apps – something Google has at least acknowledged – and distribution are also causes for concern.

I am particularly interested in the cycle of Android operating systems. Android moves quicker than iOS (Google updated to Android 4.1 in June 2012 and 4.2 to November, with 4.3 available only 8 months later, while iOS 7 is likely to launch one year after iOS 6), but it still feels odd that Sony feels the need to reassure owners of the Xperia Tablet Z – which only launched in 2013 – that Android 4.3 will be coming to the device.

Then there are the endless updates. The new Nexus 7 received two minor updates even before launch.

So with Android tablets quickly running older software, running slower and perhaps not as affordable as first thought, should we be surprised at Google’s claim of 70 million tablet activations?

Well, quickly frankly no, because -- however attractive the price -- it’s debatable how many of these users are actually using their device.

Enders Analysis consultant Benedict Evans recently penned an intriguing analysis on this by querying why, despite Android head Sundar Pichai claiming that one in two tablets are Android, the iPad continues to dominate for mobile browsing and mobile commerce.

He concluded that people may simply not be using their Android tablets.

“There are three possible interpretations of this: These tablets are being bought in emerging markets (but not China, since Chinese devices generally aren't activated and so won't be in these numbers) and not using western sites. They're being bought in developed markets and being used much less, or not at all.

“They're being bought and not used for the internet - they're cheap kids' tablets, baby monitors, points of sale devices...”

To summarize, don't be misled by those eye-catching prices and tales of growing Android market share. The issue with Android tablets is quality and not quantity (something Google has publicly acknowledged) and that's unlikely to change unless Google itself can prove that the Nexus 7 is a device for the long-term.

(For news and trends about Android tablets, bookmark TabTimes.com/android)

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.

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Comments

 
  • Doug
    1 year 1 month ago
    Thanks, taking a look now. D
  • djm7541
    1 year 1 month ago

    Here's an article from March 2009, about SSDs, and the "trim" command. It's really worth a read, if you want to understand the "trim" command, and SSD / flash storage slowdown:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/2738/4

  • djm7541
    1 year 1 month ago

    SSD owners had this same "slowdown" issue, and the "trim" command resolved the issue, forever.

  • Doug
    1 year 1 month ago
    @djm7541 -- depends what you mean by this "stuff".
  • djm7541
    1 year 1 month ago

    You write about the trim command, "there's no telling for how long". That is to say, for how long the trim command will resolve the problem. With these words, you show all your cards, and reveal that you don't know much about this stuff.

  • stimulatingpix
    1 year 1 month ago

    While iTunes is installing !!!
    I have just read that if you copy a file to the iPad, and it is used by more than one application, then the iPad keeps a copy for each application.
    Please tell me I have got this wrong as well !!!

  • stimulatingpix
    1 year 1 month ago

    @JohnNM
    I hoped some one would pick me up on this
    You are absolutely right I have no idea how an iPad works.
    Back in December 2010 I read somewhere that to transfers files from a PC to an IPad you had to use iTunes, which sounded like a tot of hassle ???

  • JohnNM
    1 year 1 month ago

    @stimulatingpix
    Just shows your lack of understading of how the iPad works.

    The iPad does come with a USB connection, you know, the same cable also used for charging. If you want to copy your photos over USB you can easily use iTunes or one of the many applications that transfer content to iOS like iExplorer, there's even open source implementations.

    You don't need WiFi for that at all.

  • martin42
    1 year 1 month ago

    My Nexus started to slow down after 6 months. I reset it to factory settings and was good to go again. My settings and apps were backed up with Google so this was no inconvenience at all. I don't feel this has impacted it's value at all.

  • stimulatingpix
    1 year 1 month ago

    It is a worrying thought, but if the 1st generation iPad was fitted with a USB port, I would probably be an Apple fan boy now !!!

  • stimulatingpix
    1 year 1 month ago

    How to copy your pictures from a Windows PC to your iPad

    Well use iTunes, it is magic !!!

    Well actually it is not magic, it uses your mobile or WiFi network.

    So if you have 1000 jpeg’s with an approximate size of 2.5mb that is 2500mb of unnecessary network traffic. If your iPad had a USB port you could simply copy your files directly from your Windows PC.

    If you use iTunes as your music and video hub then you can expect to use a significant amount of net work traffic as these type of files are notoriously very large.

    A possible reason why iPad users have a greater percentage of mobile network usage ???

    How to reduce your mobile network usage in Android

    Having an unlimited data plan with Vodafone, I was not too concerned about the amount of mobile network traffic I was using. I was a little concerned with the inconsistency with the strength of the mobile network signal. I download Sensorly one of the many network signal apps from the Google Play Store, this showed me the strengths of all the network providers within my area. The network with the strongest signal turned out be Orange, so I thought I would give them a try. I tried to obtain a data only Sim card from Orange, but they could not do this, so I got pay as you go and topped up with £10. Without making a single phone call, I had used the £10 within 4 hours. How was this ??

    If your Android device uses a mobile network, within the Android settings you can turn on/off data access over mobile network, but this is rather a sledge hammer solution.

    Many Android applications including Facebook, Twitter, location.services, yahoo.weather and google.play.services to name a few, use background services to sync data from their servers to your device. You can selectively stop/ disable these services by using an application such as the All-in-One Toolbox which you can find on the Google Play Store.

  • stimulatingpix
    1 year 1 month ago

    I am also from the UK, I once went in to the Stretford End wearing a City scarf, but only the once.

    I should emphasise that I have no particular allegiance to one operating system or another.

    I have a Windows PC, a Vodafone, a Nikon DSLR, and I have worked with ICL’s, IBM’s and Digtial Vax.

    I also have a large photo collection and when the 1st generation iPad came out, I thought this would be a great device for viewing my photos. However after some research it seemed that the syncing my photos, between a Windows PC and an iPad with or without iTunes would be troublesome.

    Apple has been very successful with the iRange, but it is not the perfect solution for everyone.

    In December 2010 I purchased a Samsung Galaxy Tab for the princely sum of £299. The iPad would have set me back £599. Using the Tab, I could copy my files directly from my PC to the external micro SD card. I could also take my unlimited data only sim card from Vodafone and use it in the Tab. The Tab could then be used as a wireless hotspot where I could connect up to 5 devices.

    Other aspects of the Tab where not quite as satisfactory, such as the lack of applications in the Android market, and the poor battery life.

    I had daily use of my Tab for over two years, with the occasional crash, but unfortunately no update from Froyo by Samsung. So in January 2013, I decided to try the Google Nexus 7 WiFi /16gb, with the prospect of receiving new builds of the Android platform.

    I admire what Google have done with Android, the fact that it is open source, and can be used over a wide range of devices, not just phones and tablets, but cameras, arduino devices and even windows PC’s can run Android.

    Android is not just an operating system but a platform to develop applications using Java. It is by no means perfect. I have developed a number of applications using Eclipse, which is adequate for Java, but lacks design and resource management tools.

    iPad users do not use mobile networks

    I presume you never connect your iPad to the Internet, for in your simple cost benefit analysis, you do not seem to have any mobile network costs.

    Using a similar analysis I have used my Samsung Galaxy Tab ( cost £299) for 32 months, so my monthly costs are £9.30. And I have used my Google Nexus 7 ( cost £159) for 8 months, the monthly cost being £20.

    I still use my Tab as a WiFi hotspot and when driving as a Sat Nav using Google maps. I have removed the social and media applications, which I now use on my Nexus 7.

    The fact that a new Nexus device has been released does not render my existing Nexus 7 useless.
    I am in my 8th month of usage, and I have not noticed any performance degradation. I recently received the update to Android Jelly Bean V4.3, which was installed over the air with no problems. I do not see any need to dash over to the Play store to get the latest Nexus 7 for a few more pixels.

    Now when I do get to the Play store, I find there are a wide range of applications, which I can install, many of which are free, and I have yet to find a use case where there is not a suitable application available.

    I am also pleased that Google do not limit their updates to Android to an annual update, because as a software developer I know there are bugs to fix, and if the software is being used new features to implement.

    I have also discovered that mobile devices are not the best tools for displaying the best of your photos, the good old printed photo album still has it uses. On a mobile device people tend to quickly flick threw images, when using the photo album they seem to spend more time looking at a printed image.

    So if I had bought an iPad in December 2010, how old would it be? And what is the big myth about Android Tablets?

    As a consumer I am interested in cost, quality and functionality and for me the Google Nexus 7 ticks all the boxes. I do not care which manufacturer sells the most tablets.

  • TheRealCBONE
    1 year 1 month ago

    Why aren't there more (real, not snarky douchebag-style) comments on the differences in iStuff users and non-iStuff users? By and large iStuff users tend to mush their device (iPhone, iPad, iPod) into as many nooks and crannies as they possibly can whether it is the best suited or not. Other device users don't. My mother-in-law would sit with her iPad mini she got for free, trying (it was painful to watch) to do her usual internet routines on it instead, not 20 seconds away from her desktop.

    I have had Windows tablets, iPads, iPhones, Android phones and tablets, and Amazon tablets. The ones that were really catered to (internet-wise) were the iDevices. You would get a different site on the iPhone/iPad than on other devices. It was really annoying that there wouldn't be a mobile site rather than an iPhone site. If there was a mobile site, it was garbage from the flip phone days. Even now, I still get the ad/image/video filled desktop version of many sites the first go.

  • Doug
    1 year 1 month ago
    Interesting, thanks for the info. Playing devil's advocate for a second, I've never had to reset iPad to regain core functionality and I guess time will tell if the Nexus 7 2013 is still a usable device in 12-18 months' time. My thinking is that it probably will be (what with the TRIM update and generally better specs). For the sake of tablet diversity and the general health of the Android tablet market, I certainly hope so.
  • bwooster
    1 year 1 month ago

    Last post.

    I googled, and learned the nexus can be reset, and will upgrade to 4.3, which will address the memory issue. That should restore core functionality.

  • bwooster
    1 year 1 month ago

    Did not see your reply, sorry. Is it not possible to return core functionality to the nexus by resetting it?

  • bwooster
    1 year 1 month ago

    Doing the math a different way - if you bought 2 nexuses back to back, you'd spend $400 and they would last 16 months, based on whatever reason you have for using them only 8 months apiece. If the ipad average price was $18 a month, that means you've used it 22 months so far. So owning one ipad for $400 is more cost effective than owning 2 nexuses.

    Except that it would seem simple to reset the nexus, and thus the 8 month lifespan seems arbitrary.

  • Doug
    1 year 1 month ago
    Some good points, bwooster. But to clarify, my argument is not that the Nexus 7 should be of equal value to the iPad. As you say, you get more when you pay more. My point, moreover, is that the perception of the Nexus 7 (and other Android tablets) being great value is perhaps misplaced, especially when you compare the price tag to the life span. Using the Chevy/Mercedes example, you may expect the latter to offer greater speed, comfort and style, but would expect both to retain their core functionality over a reasonable period of time.
  • bwooster
    1 year 1 month ago

    You paid double the price for your ipad 2 vs. the nexus. The cost per month difference is $7 vs. a $200 premium for the ipad 2. So for the ipad2 to be equally affordable, it would have to last 29 months. That's a long time in tech-world.

    You don't really explain why you only used the nexus for 8 months. Couldn't you have wiped it and re-loaded your apps, settings, and then it would have run good as new. Couldn't you have returned it under the 12 month warranty if it did not function properly?

    I think that expecting an android device to be the equal of an ipad, when it costs half as much, is foolish. I don't see any myth here. A chevy is more affordable than a mercedes. A whopper is more affordable than filet mignon. It's not a surprise to anyone that you generally get more when you spend more.

  • Doug
    1 year 1 month ago
    ...Unlikely, I live in the U.K... ;)
  • stimulatingpix
    1 year 2 months ago

    It has been very warm today, maybe your brain cell burnt out

  • stimulatingpix
    1 year 2 months ago

    Or preferably an axe.

    Hate from my gn7

  • stimulatingpix
    1 year 2 months ago

    The slate between your ears

  • Integr8
    1 year 2 months ago

    This analysis lines up with my own experience I used my ipad 2 often during the day until I gave it to my daughter. I purchased a 32Gb Nexus 7, but use it sparingly, mostly as an ereader. - Kindle, news, some email, and a few games. I use Windows, Mac, and Linux all for various activities and find that the Nexus has been the least useful to me. Sad.

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