When tablets first came to my notice with the much-hyped launch of the iPad I didn’t take much notice as they didn’t seem to offer anything that made them preferable to the netbook I already owned for general travel while they were too big and heavy for carrying in a pack. Smaller tablets appeared but the few I gave a cursory glance to didn’t seem to offer much. (By the way, I still find using ‘tablet’ this way feels wrong – in my head tablets are bloody great Biblical stones or tiny medicinal pellets – put tablet in a search engine though and the results are all for the computer version).
Then Google launched the Nexus 7, which garnered rave reviews and looked far superior to other small tablets. As it sounded like it had possibilities, in a fit of acquisitiveness I bought one. At first, playing with it at home it seemed just that - a toy. Fun to use but not offering anything that my other collection of electronic devices didn’t already provide. I couldn’t work out just where it fitted and certainly had no thoughts of taking it out in the hills.
Soon though I began to see its potential. The Nexus 7 has a GPS receiver and I noticed that it picked up signals quickly even indoors. Maybe with proper topographic maps it could be useful outdoors? I discovered that the excellent ViewRanger software with Ordnance Survey maps, which has all the capabilities of a standalone GPS and which I already used on my smartphone, was available for the Nexus 7. I loaded it and was immediately delighted by the clarity and the extra area shown by the larger screen compared with the phone – 15 x 9.4cms as opposed to 8 x 5cms.
It was time to take the Nexus 7 for a walk. Some form of protection was needed though. I already had an Aquapac Whanganui waterproof case for my Kindle e-reader and found that this fitted and that I could operate the Nexus 7 and see the screen clearly through it. Turning off the wi-fi, which I had learnt could quickly drain the battery, I put the Nexus 7 in the top of my pack, set ViewRanger to record my route and set off on a six hour walk. Would the battery last was the big question. It did. In fact there was 72% charge left. I was astonished. My smartphone battery just lasts 6-7 hours when recording a route. The Nexus 7 looked like it would last around three times as long. This needed checking so I took it for another walk, this time 61/4 hours long. Charge left: 67%. Now normally I don’t leave my GPS on all day. I just switch it on when I want to check my position, using a paper map the rest of the time. Used like this the Nexus 7 battery could last weeks.
Isn’t it heavy for a GPS though? Not as much as you’d think. It weighs 340 grams. The Satmap Active 10, the best standalone GPS I’ve used, weighs 231 grams but has a screen smaller than the one on my smartphone. The Nexus 7 is much more than a GPS of course and all its other functions can be used anywhere there’s wi-fi (on multi-day journeys the charging cable could be sent ahead or even carried – with travel plug it weighs 84 grams). Compared with the smartphone I’ve found typing on the Nexus 7 easy and web pages look so much better at the larger size. It can be a music player too and an e-reader. Download books and music and the wi-fi can be switched off for these too. The screen isn’t matt like the Kindle though and so is hard to see in bright sunlight.
Compared to my smartphone, netbook and PC the Nexus 7 is very fast. I’m impressed with the Android software, even if it does have the silly name of Jelly Bean, and the Nexus 7 is now my first choice for browsing the web and social networking. Would I take it on a long walk? Probably not. The Kindle is a better e-reader, my smartphone an adequate GPS and their combined weight is 313 grams. But I’ll certainly carry it on day hikes and weekend trips.