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Julie’s gadget diary – Back from vacation, how did the Nexus 7 work out as my laptop replacement?

on October 14, 2013 8:43 pm

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Last week I was down on Sanibel Island, Florida for vacation. I had the bright idea that I would leave my 13″ Macbook Air at home and use my shiny new Nexus 7 (2013) Android LTE tablet as a laptop replacement. For those of you who are regulars here, you may remember a similar scenario three years ago where the destination was also Sanibel Island and the idea at that time was to use an iPad as my laptop. The experiment wasn’t too successful back then, but I had high hopes that the Nexus would have a completely different result. Did it? Keep reading to find out.

The original idea was to leave the laptop at home so I wouldn’t be tempted to do a lot of Gadgeteer work while I was supposed to be relaxing. At first, I was just going to take the Nexus tablet and that’s it. But it didn’t take any time at all before my gadgeteer brain had shifted into making the tablet into a full fledged laptop. It wasn’t hard to make the leap in that direction because I had received 2 Bluetooth keyboards for review not long before the trip. Bluetooth keyboard + Nexus tablet = a pseudo laptop right? Not quite. I needed a mouse too and ended grabbing a really old Bluetake Bluetooth mouse from a drawer the morning we were set to leave. Add in the LG G2 Android smartphone review device that I planned to use as a camera, and I was all set for the trip.

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What about a weight comparison? My 13″ Macbook Air with charger weighs in at 3 pounds 6 ounces and the Nexus, Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, charger and a stylus weigh 2 pounds lighter. Nice!

When we got to our destination, I found that we had a great WiFi signal, so I turned off LTE to save my data. At first everything worked out really well. I used the tablet to look up places to eat on the island, used Feedly to read my favorite RSS feeds and caught up with emails that had come in since leaving Indiana. The trouble started one afternoon when Jeanne was down on the beach collecting shells for 9000th time and I had decided to stay in the condo to work on one of the Bluetooth keyboard reviews.

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I had the Minisuit Nexus 7 keyboard case and the iwerkz Universal Foldable Bluetooth keyboard and both worked just fine on their own. It’s when I also tried to pair the Bluetooth mouse that I started having issues. The Bluetake mouse wouldn’t work at all. The Nexus saw it, but it would never pair. I figured it had to be due to its age, so the next day I sweet talked Jeanne into driving back to Fort Myers to the nearest Best Buy so I could buy another Bluetooth mouse. This one didn’t have any problems pairing with the Nexus, but using it was jerky and erratic. Grrrrrrr! Not only that, but when both the mouse and a keyboard were paired with the Nexus, the keyboard would have a problem with repeating keys. I became really frustrated and did a little googling only to find that a LOT of people are having these types of issues with the Nexus 7. The problem seems to be an interference between Bluetooth and WiFi. Turning off WiFi solved the problem immediately and allowed both the mouse and keyboard to behave normally. Yay – sorta.

With the mouse and keyboard combo issue solved, I was able to do “real work” now. That means I could use the Chrome browser to login to The Gadgeteer WordPress dashboard and work on reviews, moderate comments etc. It did work pretty well, but the display on the Nexus is obviously smaller than a laptop, so it sometimes (all the time) felt really cramped. I found I was scrolling up and down way more than I do on my Macbook Air.

Getting images that I’d taken with the LG G2 phone into a review wasn’t always the easiest either. I have all my Android devices set to automatically sync any photos that I take to my Google+ account. So that means that on all of my Android devices I have access to all the photos. I figured I would be able to upload those photos right into WordPress on The Gadgeteer. No go. I had to download the images to the tablet first and then upload them into WordPress. It was doable, but adding an extra step to something that should be quick and simple tends to annoy me.

When I was using the Nexus to read news feeds, emails, books, watch Hulu, or surf the web, it worked great. It was only when I tried to use it to work on reviews and do Gadgeteer work where it became more difficult than necessary. Although I could make it work, it took too much effort and became frustrating, which isn’t something you want to be while on vacation.

In preparation for writing this post, I went back and read the one from 2010 where I tried to turn the iPad into a laptop. At end of that post I wrote:

I still love my iPad for emailing, game playing and web surfing, but I will most likely bring a real laptop with me on my next trip. What started as an experiment to lighten my gear load, ended up causing me to carry more items (iPad, mouse, keyboard) and have more frustration than if I would have just brought my Macbook Pro with me in the first place. Live and learn.

I obviously didn’t live and learn after that experience, but it finally sunk in this time. Really. No more trying to turn a device into something it isn’t. I learned my lesson – finally. :)

On the way to the airport for our return flight, we stopped at an Apple store so I could see what the 11″ Macbook Air would be like compared to my 13″ version. My current MBA is 3yrs old now, so I’m considering updating it before the end of the year. I think I’ll probably stick with the 13″ because the size has been perfect for me, but I keep thinking about the smaller one, but since this would be my one and only computer that I use for everything, I’m leery of  going smaller. Has anyone downsized and regretted it?

Comments

  1. 1
    Jared says:

    Rumor has it that Apple will be releasing a 12″ retina MacBook in a new form factor next year. The weight will rival the current MBAs. Wait a year if you can.

  2. 2
    Rob O. says:

    I still don’t get why none of the Bluetooth keyboard makers have integrated a notebook-style touchpad.That would negate the need for the added bulk and complexity of a Bluetooth mouse.

  3. 3
    James Chi says:

    The biggest thing I miss is the built-in sd card reader. Otherwise I’m happier with the smaller, lighter package.

  4. 4
    James Chi says:

    @Rob O. I don’t get why you need the mouse in the first place (much less a touchpad). Can’t you just use the touch screen? Does the mouse expose any additional functionality?

  5. 5
    ButchV says:

    It makes me wonder then – what is the point of those laptops/laptop replacements that run strictly android? Would they still be viable replacements to laptops for getting “work” done?

  6. 6
    C2 says:

    I treasure my 11″ MBA. I have a 13″ macbook that I rarely use. Have had it for 2 years now. The rumoured 12″ retina MBA sounds cool, might me be worth waiting for. I’ll probably upgrade then.

  7. 7
    uccoffee says:

    If there’s problem with bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse, there are always wired keyboard and mouse :) or use other kind of wireless keyboard and mouse!

    how about using the android to remote access via something like splastop , VNC or RDP ?

    Then you will get a full windows or OSX experience on your tablet :)
    But that means you need to keep the home computer turn on (or allow remote on ) and a reliable internet :)

  8. 8
    Jake says:

    I carry a Toshiba ultraportable day to day and don’t think I could go any smaller or I would be too hunched over after a long period of time. I’d say 13.3″ is just right.

  9. 9
    Virtuous says:

    My Microsoft Surface RT is a good laptop replacement. My iPad and bluetooth keyboard less so. The Surface screen is only 10.6 inches. If I had a MBA I wouldn’t try to use a tablet for work tasks.

  10. 10
    Michael says:

    I’ve got the same question as James. Why the need for a mouse ? I use my iPad mini and Logitech ultrathin keyboard cover as a pseudo laptop a lot and never felt the need for a mouse. I just touch the screen. The combination is tedious for complicated work though. Partly that’s the iPads lack of a file structure which I try to solve by keeping everything on Dropbox.

    My wife went for the 11″ MBA and I went for the 13″ MBA. My eyes are worse than hers and she is a lot smaller than me so it was a reasonable compromise for both of us for different reasons. The 11″ is amazingly small and light for a “real” computer.

  11. 11

    @Jared & C2 there’s nothing pushing me to upgrade my current 13″ MBA. It’s still works fine. The battery life isn’t quite what it used to be since it’s 3yrs old, but otherwise it’s fine and I can wait. But if Apple would release a 13″ MBA with a Retina display right now, I’d plunk my cash down without even thinking.

    @Rob O. I totally agree.

    @James Chi A touch screen is fine when you’re holding a tablet, but using it while it’s on a stand and propped up at an angle isn’t the easiest. Also editing images (one of my main tasks) just feels easier with a mouse.

    @uccoffee Using VNC would be an interesting option to try. But I’m not sure it would work that well on the small Nexus display. Also I think I would need a really good broadband pipe on both ends. I only have a T1 at home.

    @Jake What screen size is your Toshiba? What does it weigh?

  12. 12
    Neal says:

    I love my MBA 11. I originally had gone with the 13 but returned it in favor for the 11. The screen size and keyboard is still very much workable, and I simply like the weight and size of the 11. You do forfeit the SD card reader, but it’s easy to pick up an adapter for when you need to move files of a card. Currently trying out a nexus 7 myself, and loved reading your experiment. My biggest struggle is finding a good email reader to handle my multiple email accounts and be as friendly as my emails on my iphone or ipad. Good luck on your decision, and hope that come the 22nd, they announce something that fits your need.

  13. 13

    @Neal fingers crossed!

  14. 14
    Lynn Lopez says:

    I finally broke down and bought the new 13in Macbook Air over the summer. I took it on a 10 day vacation where it was pretty flawless. I only had to charge it twice and I even got to where I did not miss my external mouse. That is a miracle for me.

    The hardest thing about using the device is that I am a full time windows user and the switching back and forth for my personal time kills me. I still do not like how Apple handles some of their keyboard commands at all.

    Another reason I bought the MBA was to use for my all day photography shoots. I am able to use it over a 10 hour day and not have to worry about battery life. I also got caught in a rainstorm and it was a lot more weather proof than some of my co worker’s laptops and I had no issues with the mousepad and areas next to the pad getting wet. So now I no longer need to carry a huge extension cable or charger with me on these events.

  15. 15

    @Lynn the 10-12hr battery life for the 13″ sounds very appealing to me. My 13″ is only getting about 3.5 hrs these days.

  16. 16
    Anthony says:

    Tablets are still great for consumption – still not there for creation, IMO. For travel, I just can’t beat the MB Air 11. It is by far my favorite companion. Its not much bigger than an ipad and is extremely functional

  17. 17
    Rob O. says:

    I’ve found that once you prop up a tablet in a vertical orientation to work with a keyboard, the touch screen feature becomes much less ergonomic and tiresome. Once you’ve attempted to turn your tablet into a notebook, you need a pointing device – either a notebook-style touchpad or a mouse – if you’re going to do any real amount of work.

    But I still say that tablets are mostly a media consumption gadget and not well-suited for doing the real-world work tasks most of us do. Tablets are glossy and sleek and fun and oh-so-hip, but not especially productive.

  18. 18
    jhon says:

    I’ve used my ipad as a laptop replacement for work. What I do is I VPN to my employer’s network, RDP to my workstation and POOF, I’ve got a full blown PC. Decent screen refresh rate, too.

    No mouse is an annoyance I can live with and in a pinch, I use my iphone as a “logitech” mouse remotely as well when I NEED a mouse like device (there is an app for that, surprisingly enough — look up touch mouse server).

  19. 19
    Jake says:

    @julie- I carry a Toshiba portege R700 from early 2011. Core i5, and an SSD. Weighs 3.3lbs and gets a good 7 hours of battery life as long as you’re not too taxing on the graphics or CPU.

  20. 20

    Sad to hear about your mobile experience. I have ditched my laptop in favor of a Nexus 10 tablet and have never looked back. I have a MS BT Kybd connected and a old MS foldable mouse connected via an OTG cable – eliminates the problems you encountered. I also have a Micro HDMI to HDMI/VGA converter cable to let me connect to larger screens. TeamViewer gets me back to my home machine if necessary but so far, I have little need to be tethered. I also carry a small extension cord to handle all the wall warts and USB chargers that come into play after a full day of work on the road.

    The biggest irritation I have encountered is trying to work with PowerPoint on my tablet. There really is no Android equivalent that supports all the functions within PPT. I have 3 different apps and each supports different PPT features. Depending on what I need to display, I select the appropriate Android app. This is really the main use for TeamViewer – remotely modifying PPT files.

    My back has never felt better.

  21. 21

    @Marvin I think at least a 10″ screen would be more comfortable for real work. 7″ was very cramped for me. I could make do with using OTG for a mouse, so I think the only frustration left would be trying do stuff in WordPress, and even that can be done, it just takes more effort.

  22. 22
    Forrester says:

    So Julie, are you considering returning the Nexus 7 altogether, or just not trying to use it as a laptop replacement?

  23. 23
    tosh says:

    Okay, quite the lame review. Hardly any good info here, more yacking about Mac air book then anything. We get it…. Apple apple apple¡

  24. 24

    @Forrester I’m going to keep the Nexus 7 and hope they solve the Bluetooth / WiFi conflicts. I carry it with me in my gear bag every day and can use it in case I need to access the Gadgeteer’s servers if it goes down. I can’t do that from the computers at my day job because they block SSH connections outside the firewall.

  25. 25

    @tosh it wasn’t a review… you obviously didn’t really read it.

  26. 26
    GUY M says:

    As a iPad and mac user I am very intrigued by the Surface RT. I would be very interested to hear your views of comparing the usability of that with any ipad / android tablet. I am inclined to think the other press outlets have not got the point about the Surface and would value your views on this.

  27. 27

    @GUY M I’ve yet to get my hands on a Surface RT device. I’d love to try one out.

  28. 28
    David Lection says:

    Hi Julie,

    I appreciated this review. I did similar things on a cruise recently, and I had better results. In my case however, I brought the MBPro with me and never cracked the case, using the Nexus 7 for all my email, Facebook, etc. One thing I had along that helped was a USB OTG card reader, so I could transfer pictures from my camera to my Nexus 7 via the SD card and reader.

    I think we will soon see a generation of tablets with built in projectors. If a device like this can also keep the weight down, then perhaps that will solve the small display issue in most cases.

  29. 29

    @David If I had taken a regular camera and an OTG card reader I would have had better results. But next time I’ll just take an MBA or some other ultra light laptop.

  30. 30
    David Lection says:

    Hi Julie, No worries, although the thought of 1.6 pounds vs 3.56 pounds is compelling. My takeaway from this thread is to be on the lookout for the 12″ Apple notebook computer … This could be the best of all worlds, especially with a retina display .. But I have faith Apple won’t make it the ultimate, as that would eliminate a lot of iPad and other low end Macbook sales…. IMHO

  31. 31

    @David very true. I don’t feel compelled to buy anything at the moment because my next trip isn’t till next May.

  32. 32
    Thomas says:

    I also have a Nexus 2013. At first I ran into the same issues with trying to use it as a laptop type device. The bluetooth issue was my downfall also. But a friend of mine had returned from Japan recently and brought me the greatest bluetooth keyboard ever. It is no bigger than the normal travel type keyboards, but this one has a mouse that comes with it and they work perfectly. But even better is the built in SD card reader, headphone and speaker ports on the back of the keyboard, all operating thru the bluetooth keyboard. This has turned the Nexus, for me, into a very important tool that is very versatile. The ability to expand the memory is huge for me. Unfortunately I cannot find a brand name for this keyboard to order anotherone. My friend says it was picked up at a local street market vendor……if anyone has this, please tell me where you got it.

  33. 33

    @Thomas if you ever figure out the brand, let me know. It sounds like a great accessory!

  34. 34
    Nook says:

    Julie,
    good report, and I’m relieved to see that your experience was much the same as mine. I’ve tried using various tablets as a laptop replacement (iPads and Androids alike) and always found that they’re great for consuming content (surfing the web, reading RSS and email, watching videos etc) but seriously hamper productive content creation.
    So whenever I’m on an extended trip where I need to get productive work done, I’ve found that need a laptop. Most of what I do requires nothing more than Office, email and a browser, so I don’t need a power machine.
    In fact last year I went and simply bought a refurbished 2008 (!!!) Thinkpad X61s for business trips. It’s small enough to fit on those fold-down tables in planes and trains, has a 12″ matte display, an SD card reader and an excellent keyboard (I’m an avid touch typist). It’s not powerful, but once it’s booted it chugs along quite reliably.
    And unlike a Macbook it’s old and cheap enough I can let it sit unattended while I’m getting another coffee.
    There you are: Work done, and a lot of money saved for fun gadgets.

  35. 35
    fadil says:

    I wouldn’t switch to my nexus 7 for all my computing needs. It does what its meant to do perfectly but I am planning on trying to switch to a Chromebook exclusively.

  36. 36
    John Ason says:

    Julie,
    Use my iPad3 in a ClamCase Pro case as a laptop and it meets many of my needs. My real workhorse is still a 13″ Dell Laptop PC. I would downsize only if the keyboard is tested by you. I found the Clamcase very good most of the time but I enjoy the slightly larger 13″ keyboard when I have to write white papers, probably similar to your review length. Bottom line is how comfortable you are with different size keyboards. FumbleFingersJohn

  37. 37
    Joey Archer says:

    Julie….I have felt like this with the iPad and the Nexus. Then I tried a surface and my life was changed. The surface is truly a production device where most (if not all) tablets are entertainment devices not production devices. If you haven’t, I would suggest trying out a surface. I originally had the surface RT but not being able to use Chrome made me sell it. Surface Pro 2 next for me ;)

  38. 38
    Phil says:

    Julie, you said the Nexus 7 2013 has replaced your Ipad Mini. Do you have a review of the 2013 unit where you talk about that? I have a Mini and the promise of LTE on the Nexus is tempting. It seems to have a great screen too. I’d appreciate any comparison comments you have on the two and what tips the scales in favor of the Nexus 7.

  39. 39

    @Phil I haven’t written a review of the Nexus 7 2013. I switched from the iPad mini to the Nexus for several reasons.
    1. I prefer Android to iOS right now.
    2. I like being able to pair a keyboard

      and

    mouse to an Android device to make it into a pseudo laptop (even though it never seems to work out for me like I think it will).
    3. NFC and wireless charging.

    The Nexus 7 2013 does have some problems though, so I can’t really recommend it at this time. Hopefully firmware updates will fix them.

  40. 40
    Steve says:

    I own a Nexus 7 AND a Surface RT. In my travels (literally and figuratively) I’ve found the Nexus 7 to be be perfectly sized for travel. My biggest complaints with the Nexus? No slot for a MicroSD card. No LTE/4G/3G capability, at least not in my neck of the woods (I live in Canada). And I agree, the screen real estate on the Nexus is a tad small for getting serious work done. Battery life in use is so-so unless you avoid using Wi-Fi.

    The Surface RT has a lot more screen real estate, and it’s much better suited for getting work done, especially considering that it comes bundled with Office 2013. Also on the plus side, is the fact that it has a full-size USB port and HDMI out.

    On the other hand, the Surface RT has a funky, proprietary power connector that forces you to be near an AC outlet to be able to charge the device. Unless, that is, you want to shell out $35.00 for a third party adaptor cable and $160.00 or so for a compatible external battery. The Surface RT is sensitive and needs a certain current in order to be able to function with an external back-up battery. Battery life with just the built-in battery is disappointingly short. Alas, there’s no 3G/4G/LTE available, either.

    I’m also less than enthused about the Surface’s 16:9 aspect ratio screen. I think a tablet that’s going to double as a laptop, really needs a 4:3 aspect ratio, since this is what most full-scale laptops have. The Surface 2 RT and Pro models seem to solve some of the first generation’s problems, but not the funky power adaptor. At least screen resolution is a bit better, but for all the incremental improvements offered, the Surface tablets are still somewhat overpriced. $449 for the Surface RT 2 doesn’t even get you a keyboard. That kind of money will get you a fairly competent laptop. $100 more gets you a laptop that enters ultrabook territory.

    So now I’m looking at selling my Surface RT and casting about for a tablet that has a 4:3 aspect ratio display, a microSD card slot, 4G (or at least 3G) capability, decent battery life, standard power connections (i.e. 3.5mm plug or micro USB) and runs Windows 8. Sony’s new Vaio Tap 11 looks like it will fill the bill, but it lacks the Surface RT’s physical build quality and is quite expensive.

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