One of the most common discussion questions I come across when browsing various Android forums is “do you regret purchasing your Nexus 7 [or other commonly used Android tablet]?” Another is “I just bought a Nexus 7; what do I do with it?” When you read these questions, you may be tempted to respond by asking, “Well, if you had no use for a tablet or were unsure of what to do with it, then why did you buy it in the first place?” This seems like a valid question.
Or at least I thought it did; then I started to think about it a little more.
I remember being extremely excited by the announcement of the Nexus 7 because I had waited patiently for over a year to pull the trigger on purchasing an Android tablet and I was thrilled that Google had finally released one. I ordered one almost immediately after they went on sale, only to wait upwards of 3 weeks to actually receive it; but once I did, I used it and played with it nonstop. I tried apps, played games, and marveled at the beauty of stock Android on a quality, well-made device.
But after a while, I simply stopped using my Nexus 7. I had it, it was there, I could use it whenever I wanted. But I just stopped. And I didn’t know why.
So over the past couple of months, I started examining the role of a tablet in my daily life. I had my Galaxy Nexus, a phone with a reasonably sized screen, which I used on the way to, during, and on the way home from work. When I arrived at home, I either continued using my phone or started using my laptop. At night, if it was close to me, I would use my Nexus 7 in bed to read or play a game before falling asleep. Needless to say, I felt compelled to discover more reasons to use it.
After a time of reflecting thoughtfully on the tablet’s potential use cases and exploring those use cases in different scenarios, I am happy to offer you a list of the top uses for the Nexus 7 and other similar tablets. Alternatively, this is a list of the top reasons NOT to regret your tablet purchase. However you choose to look at it, I hope it helps you.
I will provide full disclosure though before delving into this list of use cases: I still use my Nexus 7 in a manner consistent with the one I described earlier. I use it a little bit here and there and mostly just for a few minutes before bed. But I am alright with that. I have come to realize that I appreciate my Nexus 7 for what it is more than what it can do for me. Android enthusiasts such as myself are strange in that regard; sometimes we just like to tinker with and explore Android as an operating system and ecosystem to learn more about it.
However, if you are a normal individual who demands a more apparent value from the products you purchase, then read on to see how you can use your tablet to its fullest.
1. Alarm Clock/Digital Picture Frame
Depending on whether the manufacturer of your particular device or an ambitious third-party manufacturer has created a handy docking accessory, your tablet running Android 4.2.x can act as a dedicated alarm clock/digital picture frame. Of course, the alarm clock feature is not dependent upon the OS version of your device (as long as it has some sort of clock application); rather the 4.2.x requirement is for the newly implemented Daydream feature that allows your idle device to display photos from your personal albums for the viewing pleasure of whoever happens to be walking by or staring incessantly at your device. While using your tablet in this manner is not the most exciting of options, the alarm clock/digital picture frame capabilities do seem beneficial for when you do not wish to actively use the device as a tablet. And with a combination like the relatively inexpensive Nexus 7 and its simple docking accessory, this scenario sounds like it may be more commonplace as time goes on.
These days, most every major bank in the country has a mobile application available for use of their services on the go. Likewise, many major credit card companies have also created apps for their customer bases to avoid using their poorly optimized websites in a mobile browser. But even if your service provider does not have any apps on the market, several other developers have created finance management apps that help you to manage spending, saving, and budgeting. One app I like in particular is Mint, an app I have mentioned before coincidentally in my somewhat recent State of the Apps 2013. I encourage you to read my more detailed overview of it there if you have the time, but either way, try it out; Mint is certainly a pleasure to use. And as mobile banking and finance management continue to grow, you will continue to see more quality applications that take advantage of that larger tablet real estate to show you numbers in a beautiful and meaningful way.
As a proponent of cool projects like turning your tablet into a phone with setups involving Google Voice and GrooVe IP (and similar apps), I encourage the use of tablets as communication devices. Though typing on touchscreens leaves something to be desired for walls of text, doing so to send text messages or write emails is definitely something I do on occasion. Moreover, the offering of social networking apps on Android continues to grow and improve all the time. In particular, Google+ has built-in video chatting via its Hangout feature, which is similar to Skype in some respects. Speaking of Skype, the product has an official app on the Play Store, but I wonder how long Microsoft will maintain and improve it now that it has acquired Skype to integrate into its own products and services. Nevertheless, a tablet as a communication device makes a lot of sense: it’s portable, generally light-weight, and flexible enough to offer numerous text, voice, and video options for whatever scenario you could imagine.
“So you want to be an Android developer?” Boy, do I! I sincerely do, but I have yet to start down that path. Truly, being an Android developer can mean two different things: you can work on the Android OS itself or create a derivative version with additional features, like the CyanogenMod Team, for example; or you can develop applications for Android. Some day I want to do both. In the meantime, I have satiated my desire to tinker with Android in the way developers do by customizing my experience using the fruits of their labor; and by that I mean I use the resources provided by the OS developers to root and install custom ROMs on my device. While this section may not be for the casual Android users among us, the process is truly not that hard for many devices, especially the Nexus 7, which is in essence a device made for developers. In fact, I wrote a how-to guide on it a little while back; for the Nexus 7 specifically, I highly recommend reading that and my post about the top reasons to root if you would like to learn more about rooting and ROMs. Speaking of flashing new operating system versions on devices, anyone try Ubunto OS yet?
Gaming is probably one of the first uses people try when they purchase a new tablet. As I mentioned above, I did a lot of gaming initially after purchasing my Nexus 7, and while the experience may seem shallow at first with games that seem to be aimed more at phone users, tablets offer gaming opportunities unparalleled on devices other than dedicated gaming consoles. Sure, you can get your fill of Angry Birds and Temple Run, but you can also enjoy some more robust titles, especially if you care to revisit some older console games via emulation. Playing Mario Kart 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on my Nexus 7 using an emulator was one of the coolest experiences I had when I first started to game on my tablet. And the experience is made even cooler by the fact that Android tablets like the Nexus 7 generally support controllers like the one made for Xbox 360 natively via a USB OTG cable, meaning you can control games that take advantage of such alternative input devices even while playing out and about. And as game developers look to create even deeper gaming experiences for devices like the Android-based Ouya console, Android gaming will only continue to improve.
6. Music Entertainment
Another option that would benefit from a docking accessory plus a set of quality speakers, music entertainment is a fine use for tablets. Even if you do not have such a setup, devices in the 7-8 inch range especially feel comfortable to hold while listening to music; when I do use my Nexus 7, I find myself in bed browsing my regular sites with headphones in and blasting some good tunes. And the Play Store has numerous sources for music, including the old-fashioned album or single stores, like Google Play Music and Amazon mp3; streaming services, like Pandora and Spotify; and radio apps like iHeart. As I have said before, I much prefer buying my music so I know I will have access to it for as long as I can burn it to physical media, but the plethora of options ensures that you can discover music no matter what your preference.
To me, tablets have yet to cross the threshold into being full-blown productivity devices, but that certainly does not mean that developers have made no effort to provide users with quality alternatives to their desktop counterparts. A while back, I wrote a fairly comprehensive list of the top productivity apps for Android generally and mostly every one (with the exception of one that utilizes a back-facing camera) works well, if not better, on a tablet. I recommend reading it to see how you can best use your tablet to track and accomplish work-related tasks.
If I were ordering this list of use cases starting with the most obvious one as opposed to alphabetically, reading would undoubtedly be at the top. Tablets, which often feature a slate-like form factor that does not feel unlike a book when held in the hands, were, in some respects, built for reading. Granted you probably would prefer reading lengthier pieces on a device the size of the Nexus 7 rather than one the size of its big brother Nexus 10; but no matter the size of the screen of your tablet, reading figures to be a large part of your experience, whether you choose to tackle a full-sized novel or a news article or even an email from a friend. For dedicated book reading, you would be hard pressed to find a better app than Amazon’s Kindle app. For news articles, I recently wrote about the Google-Reader-powered Press, which beautifully renders text from the entries in your RSS feed in its own in-app browser. And for the young and the young at heart, many comics apps, like Comics by Comixology, exist on the Play Store for your reading pleasure. Despite the obvious nature of such a use case, you can never read too much, and doing so on a tablet with so many resources available gives you good reason to read more.
While purchasing a tablet for the purpose of having a new interface and resource for shopping and therefore continuing to purchase items may be detrimental to your wallet, you can hardly argue against the fun in doing it. As retailers expand more and more into the mobile space, they develop dedicated apps to aid you in completing your neverending quest to buy more stuff. As if it were not ubiquitous enough as it is, Amazon provides a quality mobile app in which you can purchase items just as easily if you were using its desktop web client. And as strange as it may sound, when I want to check out some auctions on ebay, I shoot for the app instead of logging on to my laptop. The design and functionality of the app is so well executed that I truly find it a joy to use. Hopefully I can keep my mouth shut about it though; if developers discover that they can create more shopping apps that illicit genuine pleasure from their mere use, our wallets are in deeper trouble than I thought (good thing we have those banking and finance apps!).
10. Video Entertainment
Perhaps the most obvious use case for tablets after reading, video entertainment is a logical extension of using a device of considerable size. More screen real estate equates to a more enjoyable picture experience and the Android scene has no shortage of video content applications for our consumption. Crackle, Netflix, Plex, YouTube, and Streamie TV (an option superior to the garbage official app from Twitch TV), and others provide the means to watch professionally-created and user-generated video entertainment. And for those lucky enough to own devices that feature some sort of external video output like micro HDMI or similar, connecting tablets to a larger display like a computer monitor or television can result in some quality picture time.
And that does it for the top uses for the Nexus 7 and other Android tablets. If you have any questions about specific applications might be best for each use case or suggestions about additional use cases, please let me know in the comments. And as always, if you have any other categories you would like us to tackle, any apps you would like us to review, or any lessons about Android you would like to learn, please let us know those in the comments too. Thank you for reading!
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