I’ve been meaning for weeks to do a proper review of the Nexus 7 as a classroom device. Mine has seen reasonably consistent use in the classroom this semester– just in somewhat specific, ancillary roles. This has made me hesitant to write down my reflections, since the picture won’t be very comprehensive.
But you know what? The Nexus 7 has found its niche in my classroom, even if I don’t go all-out by making it the focus of my tech inventory. One device doesn’t need to do everything, even if it could.
Why the Nexus 7?
There are plenty of 7-inch tablets on the market. So what sets the Nexus 7 apart?
- Incredible performance and value, period. The Nexus 7 is rated the overall “Best Buy” among smaller tablets by Consumer Reports. Its overall score of 81/100 cracks the ceiling of 7″ tablet ratings, surpassing the iPad Mini’s score of 79/100. With its current-generation quad-core Krait 300 processor and its 2 GB of DDR3L RAM, the Nexus 7 handles computationally-intensive programs and multitasking better than almost any other tablet in existence, regardless of form factor. Its supplemental quad-core Adreno 320 graphics chip runs laps around every graphically-intensive Android program. And for all that, the price tag for the 16 GB model Nexus 7 is $229. For comparison, the 16 GB model of Apple’s next-generation iPad Mini will cost $399 when it’s released.
- The crispest retina display on the tablet market. The Nexus 7 has a truly world-class display, running at a native resolution of 1920 x 1200 with excellent contrast ratio and color gamut. That’s a higher, crisper resolution than an HD plasma television shrunk down to seven inches. It’s difficult to communicate just how incredible this display resolution is, but here’s a practical example: if you play a DVD-quality movie on the Nexus 7, it has to be blown up to about 300% of its original size to fill the screen. If you instead played it at 100% of its native resolution- with every tiniest visual detail still faithfully reproduced- it would only take up 15% of the Nexus 7’s screen real estate, barely larger than a postage stamp, and leave 85% of the screen empty. Not even a Blu-Ray quality movie can completely fill the Nexus 7’s screen at its native resolution– though it comes much closer, at 90% of the screen filled.
A “pure” Android experience. Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX provides similar performance to the Nexus 7 at an identical price. The biggest difference is that the Nexus 7 runs a pure, unmodified version of the latest release of the Android operating system, whereas the Kindle Fire HDX runs Amazon’s proprietary and heavily-modified fork of Android called “Fire OS.” By all accounts, Fire OS is a great “consumer-grade” OS for browsing your media library and consuming content, but stock Android gives you the same full-featured environment which professional tablets use.
- Incredibly robust wireless connectivity. With its dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi radio, my Nexus 7 gets significantly better WiFi reception than any other device I own, including my laptop and my smartphone. I get a usable signal from my office when I’m sitting in the restaurant across the street.
Whether for use inside or outside of the classroom, the Nexus 7 is the best general-purpose 7″ tablet on the market right now– and it also manages to be one of the very cheapest, too. It’s a no-brainer.
But what about actual classroom use?
What I use the Nexus 7 for in class:
- A clock, timer, or simple “second screen.” This is hardly a glorious duty, but the Nexus 7 makes one heck of a clock or timer. With my protective case, I can prop the tablet up on any flat surface, turning it into a highly-visible clock for students during timed activities.
- Taking attendance. I use the excellent Engrade.com to take attendance (see the photo at the top of this post). To be honest, their mobile website is pretty sparse, and the full website works poorly on a touchscreen device. Even so, Engrade works well enough on a tablet for simple attendance logging. Using the Nexus 7 means I’m not tethered to the desk while taking attendance. I’ve been working on my classroom presence and body language, and the Nexus 7 definitely helps me stay up and moving while my students are trickling into the classroom.
- Light web usage. The Nexus 7 is great for running quick web searches or showing resources to individual students while away from the laptop. On a couple of occasions, I’ve also handed the tablet off to a group of students so that they could make direct use of an online resource like the Longman Dictionary.
What I haven’t used the Nexus 7 for, but could:
- Taking photos or videorecording. Honestly, my smartphone just does a better job here. The camera itself is a bit better, and thanks to the 64GB MicroSD card I installed in my phone, it has twice as much storage for big files like videos. The phone is also physically easier to use as a camera than the tablet is. But none of these are actual dealbreakers; the Nexus 7 would make for a perfectly usable camera if I didn’t have a superior alternative already sitting in my pocket.
- Projecting materials to the classroom monitor. The main issues here are that I haven’t bothered to spend the money on the HDMI adapter, and there’s already a dedicated laptop installed in my classroom, anyway! If I still had to carry my own laptop around from room to room and between work and home, I would definitely feel more motivated to try switching over to the Nexus 7 as a presentation device, but our classroom laptops now obviate this need. Even so, it would be great to be able to switch back and forth between projecting the screen of the classroom laptop and the screen of my Nexus 7. I could seamlessly switch from a PowerPoint over to a YouTube video, for example, by just toggling the input selector on the media cabinet. But I haven’t felt sufficiently motivated to trial this kind of dual-device setup.
- Using the Nexus 7 as a mobile workstation. It would be simple to pair the Nexus 7 with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse set, prop it up on its protective case, and use it like a touchscreen laptop. But I haven’t done it. My institution has plenty of desktops and laptops already, so I don’t feel any need to invest in such extra equipment. And it’s undeniable that the 7″ screen becomes a liability when you’re sitting as far away from it as you would from a laptop.
The bottom line:
The Nexus 7 is a truly excellent piece of equipment when it comes to doing everything a tablet should be able to do. Plus, if you’re willing to pick up the peripheral accessories necessary, it can do almost anything a classroom laptop can do, including providing a keyboard-and-mouse interface and connecting to a classroom projector or monitor.
I love mine and use it every day in the classroom– I just don’t go out of my way to make it replace devices that are already fulfilling certain needs just fine. My smartphone serves admirably as a camera, and my classroom podium laptop is already set up as a full-size presentation device, so there’s no need to shoehorn the Nexus 7 into those roles, even if it’s capable of handling them.