From iPad to Nexus 7: The App Transition

From iPad to Nexus 7: The App Transition January 15, 2013

Now that I’m settling in with my Nexus 7, after my hefty deliberations which resulted in my recent hocking of my once-beloved iPad 3, I am now focused more on the day-to-day tasks for which this tablet is used. Some apps I became accustomed to on iOS/iPad have versions for Android/Nexus, but there can still be huge differences between platforms. And sometimes, there is no direct analog for me, and I have to hunt for a replacement. I thought it might be useful to look at some of the ways in which I’ve not had to adjust my habits, the ways in which some ports from iOS to Android do and do not work, and some options that differ entirely from iPad life.
I definitely consider the Nexus 7 more of a casual consumption device than a work machine, and that’s exactly what I wanted when I got it (in some ways, the iPad felt like “work” with it’s weight and bulk). So you’ll notice that a lot of this is about reading stuff, be it web content or books. If I wanted the Nexus to be more of a creative tool, well, I’d have bought the wrong toy — the iPad is the far better choice for getting shit done. This is to say that the concentration here is primarily on the Nexus 7 as a way to read and interact rather than as a tool for creation or work.

I’ll start with apps that I used regularly on iOS/iPad (and probably still do since I continue to use an iPhone 5 as well) and have versions on Android.

Flipboard: Easily the most successful like-for-like situation I’m having with the iOS to Android tablet transition. The Android and iOS versions of Flipboard are nearly indistinguishable in the best sense. Functionality is identical, they look exactly the same, and are even comparable in terms of smoothness of performance. Flipboard is an inspired bit of software, bringing the benefits of both curation and standalone publications into a gorgeous and highly readable package. Having it work so well on Android, and on a comfortable 7″ device no less, is great.

Instapaper: This is a very mixed situation. I absolutely prefer reading on the Nexus 7 over the 10″ iPad, regardless of the app I’m using. The Android version of Instapaper suffices, but coming from the iOS version, it feels very antiquated, like it’s several versions old. It looks like the Instapaper you know from iPad, but it doesn’t feel like it.

Here’s an example: Only yesterday the Android version gained pagination (as opposed to only being able to scroll), which for me was huge. I find scrolling to be a pain in the ass, and far less of a clean experience than paging through an article, be those page-turns animated to look like a book or not (and I kind of like that, too, for reasons I guess I have to chalk up to the comfort of familiarity). So when it was added to the Android Instapaper I was thrilled, but then found that it was very slow; a tap or swipe to turn the page would mean a delay and then a half-assed fading of one page into the next. It was actually more of a pain to have pagination enabled than not.
Oh, and you have to enable it within each individual article. There’s no global setting.

So while I prefer Instapaper as a service, the problems with its Android app are making me look elsewhere. I am trying out a couple of Instapaper clients (Instafetch Pro is the best I’ve seen, but even that is a bit sloppy), and even looking at alternate services like Readability and Pocket. Alas, the Readability Android app likewise lacks some of the polish of its iOS kin, though Pocket actually looks quite good on Android, and it even does a decent job of pagination. So perhaps I’ll migrate.

Facebook: I’ve grown to hate Facebook, but because of the social ties it allows me to maintain, and because of the nature of my job, I feel kind of stuck using it on a regular basis. Fine. The iPad version’s recent retooling was pretty successful; while not as powerful as the desktop version of the site, the app was powerful and smooth.

The Android version ought to be. I mean, it is, when it works. But for some reason the app is constantly under the impression that I have no Internet connection, and craps out. I don’t know if this is a problem with the app, with the Nexus, or what, but it’s become a real headache, and I find myself using the website more often when on the Nexus just to make sure it’s going to actually work. When it does work, however, it’s almost exactly the same as the iOS app, save for some tiny UI elements that don’t much matter.

Twitter: I miss Tweetbot, but the official Twitter app is fine. It works well, it has all necessary functionality for basic use, and it even kind of works that the app is pretty clearly designed for a phone. The Nexus 7 screen is small and narrow enough that having a phone-type interface for Twitter is not jarring.

Now, I’d really like to find a better Twitter client for this device, something akin to Tweetbot, but famously, for some reason, the options simply aren’t there. I had been mucking about with TweetCaster, but it’s clunky with UI elements that use up far too much screen real estate for a device this small.

Kindle: Mostly a disappointment. Kindle for iOS is pretty strong, though not perfect, but takes full advantage of what iOS can allow. Kindle for Android feels bare-bones, something that would allow Amazon to say, well, technically we’re on Android (which is odd considering they have an Android app store all their own, which, I know, is really for other Kindle devices). The app seems to be confused by some books’ formatting, while the iOS version seems to have no trouble with the same books, and the typeface options are nonexistent. A shame, but I also have a Kindle e-reader, so it’s not a huge deal.

Gmail: Very strong. The iOS version of the Gmail app is very nice looking, but the Android version is zippy and functional — utilitarian, but in the best sense. I enjoy doing email on my Nexus thanks to this app. (Although both iOS and Android versions have this weird quirk where a forwarded email does not include the email address of the original sender. What the hell is up with that?)

Replacement Apps

Not all the iOS apps I rely on are available on Android, so here are some of the apps I’m trying out to fill in the gaps.

RSS: On iOS and Mac I adore Reeder. Its look and its functionality are best in class. But there’s no Reeder for Android. Luckily, there are some good options. Honorable mentions go to gReader (a spartan but strong Google Reader client) and Feedly (very stylish), but right now I’m using an app called Press. Like Reeder, it has a simple and classy aesthetic, and it doesn’t overwhelm with unnecessary bells and whistles. It’s just about as good as Reeder, so I’m pretty happy here. This is important, too, because I spend a lot of time reading in my RSS client.

Browser: Where iOS stocks Safari, the Nexus stocks Chrome. Its big plus is its synchronization of bookmarks across devices (like my Mac), but weirdly does not allow bookmarklets to work, which often do in Safari. This means in particular that for any functions that I prefer using bookmarklets for (like saving to Instapaper or Pinboard or sharing to Facebook or Twitter), I’m stuck with the stock Android sharing function, which overlays a huge menu of apps to which I could send content, and which takes a few seconds to pop up. It also allows for no customization, so, for example, I can’t tell it to always include an article’s title when posting a link to Twitter. You only get the URL, and have to add anything else manually.

Beyond that, though, Chrome on Android is solid.

Word Processing: I juggled between many different options when using iOS, such as Drafts for short bits of writing, Pages for longer material that might need some formatting, QuickOffice for things that required tight Word compatibility, etc. What I like about Android on the Nexus 7 is that I almost always turn to Google Drive (aka Google Docs) for all of it. It runs more smoothly than almost any app I’ve used on Android, and it has just about all the features you’d need in a mobile document editor (other than the ability to embed links, which baffles me — come on, guys!). I don’t usually trade in presentations or spreadsheets outside of work, so I can’t speak to those, but for word processing, Google Drive is great. I’m using it right now!

Blogging: On iOS, I used a great app called Blogsy to post to whatever blog I was working on, and it was great. Not perfect, but the closest I’d found to a true WYSIWYG experience in a blog client. Not only is there no Blogsy for Android, but I’ve yet to find any blogging client worth a good god damn. There is the official WordPress client from which I can post, but it’s crappy. It only allows editing in plain text, and it has a weird way of forcing user perspective on whatever text field has the cursor. So for now, I do almost all my composing in Google Drive, but I can’t embed links there, so I have to either move it over to the WordPress app, or into the browser-based editor, which is clusterfuck on a touchscreen tablet. I need a better solution — blogging on my iPhone (using the WordPress app) is easier, and it shouldn’t be.

To read this post, it’d be understandable if you though, “Well it sounds like you liked the ipad better!” And you know, the iPad remains in many senses a superior product generally. But what I wanted was, again, something to read and browse on. For that, the Nexus 7 is still a better choice than the iPad for me (and that includes the iPad mini due to its atrocious screen). But there’s no doubt, there’s a huge gap of app quality between these two platforms.

Unless, of course, I’m missing something. If you know what I’m missing, please, do tell.

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