I’m no Amish. I sit here surrounded by technology. However, I’m beginning to think about technology more in terms of whether it can improve my life—which is, as I understand it, the basis of the Amish engagement with technology. It’s difficult to strike a balance: technology can drive changes in lifestyle, and they’re not always benign. At the same time, technology can have a positive impact, and I’ve found the Nexus 7 fits that category for me.
It was the impact of computers on my leisure time that led me to buy a tablet. I sit at a desk much of the day, and I don’t want to do the same all night. I’d found that I was using my mobile phone a lot to avoid this, but that such a small device was frustrating. I’d soon end up at the computer, and sitting at a 24” glowing rectangle is really no way to get ready for sleep. I found myself distracted and ended up staying up too late night after night.
I would never have bought an iPad: too bulky, too heavy, and too Apple. (I really don’t like their walled ecosystem, nor their proprietary connectors and protocols and—more practically—the result that it’s hard to use their products with Linux.) I didn’t see anything compelling from other makers, either: the HP Touchpad died before it was born, the BlackBerry tablet seems like a cruel joke, and most of the Android tablets suffered with value-subtracting manufacturer customisations, lacklustre hardware, and poor access to updates.
The Nexus 7 was the first tablet that really seemed viable to me. 7” is a good form factor. It has a beautiful screen. It’s well put together. Granted, it’s not the watchmaker assembly standard of Apple’s products, but it feels reasonably solid, and the composites used have appealing tactile qualities. And it’s cheap! The basic model is £159.
In fact, the £159 8 GB model isn’t readily available except online, for an extra delivery charge of £15, so I went for the 16 GB version, which I could buy round the corner for £199 with no shipping costs.
So far, I’ve had it for three or four weeks, and its doing exactly what I wanted: letting me communicate and seek information away from a computer. I frequently spend entire evenings without even turning my computer on. If that sounds like a banal achievement, it’s nonetheless an improvement in my quality of life, and it’s made it a lot easier to get to bed on time.
There are limitations: some (though relatively few) websites don’t work well, and I miss the extensibility of desktop browsers—especially when it comes to advertising. At the moment, I’m using an ad-blocking proxy on my home server to make the web tolerable. As a little computer, though, the Nexus is really competent. It feels responsive and smooth, and most of the oddities in earlier versions of Android have been rationalised.
Just in case you think it’s only good for passive activities, I’m sitting on the sofa writing this on the Nexus 7. It’s something of a challenge to type with only two thumbs, but predictive completion makes it easier than you’d think. It’s also lot nicer to type on a 7” tablet than a 3” phone.
I’m also beginning to realise that the age of the laptop is probably coming to an end. You can buy a device that’s more portable, with better battery life and a nicer screen, for half the price. With the right software and peripherals (like a keyboard), I could do almost all my work on this hardware. It certainly seems fast enough.