Sunday, 9 December 2012

Tools: Google Nexus 7

Grad students and academics are subjected to an onslaught of new tech, but how do we know what is useful?  A few months ago, I was a semi-luddite with a fear of social media. Now, I check Twitter from my Android tablet and blog from my smart phone. I'm not an expert, but I'm happy to share my experience with different tools in the hopes that it can help someone else scoping out some new tech.

I bought a tablet in October 2012 as a computer stand-in while I was in Québec for a month without a home computer. It seemed like a cost-effective and practical solution, since I knew I'd continue to use the e-reader capabilities once I returned to Ontario. We (I consult with my spouse on all tech matters)  opted for the Google Nexus 7 mostly for its price, but also because I'm becoming brand loyal to Google, to be completely honest. I'm happy to say that I don't regret the purchase - my Nexus has been very useful for my studies.

What Is It?
When people don't know what I mean by "tablet", I say "it's an iPad, but not Apple".  One could also say that it's a big smart phone, without the actual phone capability. It's also similar to a more flexible Kindle Fire, but without the Amazon software.

The specs:
  • 7-inch HD display
  • Latest version of Android (currently Jelly Bean 4.2)
  • Quad-core processor
  • Up to 10 hours of battery
  • 1.2 megapixel camera
  • 12 oz
  • WiFi and bluetooth connectivity

Side note: LifeHacker readers recently voted Google's Nexus 7 as the most popular Android tablet. They also reviewed four other tablets, including the Nexus 7's bigger sibling, the Nexus 10.

Of course, a tablet is only as useful as the apps you put on it.  Since I'm new to the mobile device scene, I've only brushed the surface of apps. That said, my tablet is loaded with productive apps on one page and games and other time sucks on another. In fact, apps are worth they're own post, but I'll provide a list here.
"Productive" apps "Procrastination" apps

My most-used apps include:
  • Google Calendar
  • Gmail
  • Evernote
  • Twitter
  • Chrome (which comes pre-loaded and is integrated into the operating system)
  • ezPDF Reader
  • Dropbox
Some other apps I don't use quite as often:
  • Google Drive
  • Google Reader
  • QuickOffice

Nexus for Academics and PhD Students: Or... How I use my Nexus
I wished there had been a blog on this exact topic when I was deciding if I should buy a tablet/Nexus 7. So here it is: some of the ways I use my Nexus to help with my grad studies. Maybe it will help you decide if a tablet would be useful for you, or maybe you're checking out the Nexus 7 specifically.

Reading Literature: ezPDF Reader and Evernote
Reading a PDF in ezPDFReader Taking notes in Evernote

Annotating a PDF in ezPDFReader
I like to sit at my kitchen table with a giant mug of tea and read for about an hour before doing anything else. I'll pre-load some pdfs into my Dropbox at the beginning of the week so I don't need to access my computer each morning. To read PDFs, I use ezPDF Reader, which allows me to zoom, highlight, annotate, and much more.  I'll make comments within the PDF, and then save the annotated copy back into my Dropbox folder. I transfer the notes to Evernote once I'm back on my computer, since it's faster to copy and paste with an actual keyboard. If something strikes me while I'm reading that isn't terribly related to the paper, I'll switch over to the Evernote app and jot my thought down in the relevant place.

I can also read e-books that come in PDF format, such as those downloaded via my university.

Lately I've been reading a (paperback) book instead of papers, in which case I take notes directly into Evernote.

Note that there are other apps to read PDFs in, but I saw a good video on using this one and it convinced me.

Reading textbooks: Kindle app for textbooks
Tables can be problematic in Kindle books
I bought this tablet in part to replace my dead Kindle. I'm able to sync with all of my Kindle purchases via the Kindle app.  Most of my textbooks are in PDF format, but I did purchase one off Amazon. It's great to have the textbook sitting on my desk while leaving my dual computer screens available for coding. Now, because the format is a Kindle download rather than a PDF, there are some problems with displaying certain formatting like tables, although formulas and code seem to look just fine.

Formulas seem to be OK R code is fine

I have an established routine in Google Calendar, and my Nexus pops up notifications when a new event hits. I also customize and add events from my Nexus, typically while I eat breakfast. For example, my calendar currently has events called "write", but I'll edit them from my Nexus once I decide what I will be writing that day. I do the same for my snacks, which I schedule to avoid wasting time deciding what to eat.

I catch up on my Twitter feed in the morning. Most often I save tweets to my Evernote if I think I might want to blog about them later. Other times I'll send interesting articles to friends or colleagues  I less often retweet or quote others, reply to tweets, or post new tweets. Since my feed is comprised mostly of academics or science writers, my feed is filled with interesting science news, life hacks and tips, ways to be more productive, etc. In other words, it's a great resource for learning about the types of things I blog about!

Google Reader:
Google Reader
If I have some more time to kill after catching up on my Twitter feed, I'll scope out Google Reader, which has feeds from most of the ecological journals and some popular science. I'll skim the titles of articles and read the occasional abstract in Chrome if it sounds interesting. Sometimes I'll save them to Evernote to remember for later; other times I'll email myself so I can remember read the full article and/or add it to Zotero.

Evernote, my second brain:
"Anything you don't want to forget, you put in Evernote" is how I describe Evernote when asked for a 2-second pitch. From my Nexus, I primarily use Evernote to save tweets I want to blog about later, to take notes on papers, or to record ideas I come up with while not in front of a computer. I'll also use it to consult with pre-existing notes, such as my weekly to do lists. (Credit to Next Scientist for the idea of a "second brain".)

Signing documents: 
I work from my home in Ontario, but occasionally I need to sign documents for administrative purposes in Québec. ezPDF Reader makes it easy to hand-sign documents for those of us who aren't yet comfortable (or entirely familiar) with digital signatures.

Reclaiming non-productive time:
The whole point of a tablet is that it's portable. I can do most of the above activities from a waiting room or while baby-sitting my nephew.  One consideration is that the Nexus doesn't connect to the cell phone network - it's wi-fi only.  So, for example, you can't browse the web while riding the bus. Then again, if you have a smart phone that can set up a wi-fi hotspot (and you have a good data package), you're set.

Do you have a Nexus or other tablet? How do you use it for your work or studies?
Leave a comment if you have any questions.


  1. Maybe I am sold. The pdf annote feature is key, and I can't do it with the tools I have on my linux side.

    "Buy Acrobat", you say? That's crazy talk!

    1. I just noticed this post today, which lists one for Macs. The comments section might hold something useful in the future:

    2. I'm thinking of buying this but still need some comparison with the 10 inch tablet. Have you used one? is it better experience ?

    3. I haven't! I haven't even seen the 10 inch version, to be honest. Based on my experience with this one and my rather larger Kindle, I'd assume that the larger Nexus will be easier to use for browsing web pages that don't have mobile versions and for tasks that require substantial typing/text input. However, the physical size of the tablet will be a drawback if you're looking for portability. I like the small size of my 7" one and I find it perfect for reading PDFs or Kindle books. I do have difficulty inputting substantial amounts of text, but that could be my own lack of skills with a touchscreen.

    4. PIGL -- I'm sure you know this by now (it's a year later!), but Acrobat Reader now has annotations built in for free. So... maybe that's another option!

      Nicole -- Thanks for the nice review of the Nexus 7. I'm struggling with the 10" vs 7"... but I'm not confident Google will be bringing out a fresh Nexus 10 anytime soon (or ever again?). There's also the thought of an 8" or 9" tablet... (I think there are some Google Play versions of 8" or 9" tablets that would be almost Nexus devices) I'm also worried that there will be a Nexus 7 (2014) edition released in the first half of next year. :-\

      Anyway, your review is still very helpful. Thanks.

    5. By the way, has your Nexus 7 received all the updates up through 4.4.x?

  2. Found a online store for Chinese tablet with retina display and quad core with only $250, no bluetooth only wifi but could be added with 3g modem dongle. I'm seriously considering to buy this. I'm not a spambot or e-bot, just share an info, what do you think ?