Google went out of its way to show the results of its Project Butter UI enhancements in Android 4.1. They used side-by-side footage shot from extremely high frame-capture cameras, discussed some of the technical aspects of what they improved (buffering, v-sync, and lots of other vid-wonk stuff), and hammered home the point that Android keeps a steady 60 frames per second (Kevin Marks explains a good deal of the minutiae on This Week in Google). But that’s all pointless until you get your hands on it, drag things around, open and close things, and see how it holds up to your always surprisingly short attention span.
Having used the Nexus 7 quite a few times per day for four days, I will say that, whatever combination of processor, memory, software, buffering, and blah blah blah is baked into this device, it freaking works. I’ve spent years working with Android devices of every stripe, since the first commercial release of the G1. I know what lag feels like. I know what it’s like to arrive back at the home screen and wait, with a sigh, for your icons, widgets, and the screen controls themselves to be redrawn. I have experience the feeling of a tiny tragedy when something that is supposed to appear as an impressive animation—a blurred dash, a telescoping ring, a supposedly intuitive finger gesture—turns out instead as an inadvertent reminder of the limits of multi-party device design.
I have experienced that kind of micro-disappointment very, very rarely on the 7, and the experience with all the other Android UI elements has led me toward disbelief. So much disbelief, in fact, I used a third-generation iPad for a side-by-side comparison, and I rediscovered some inherent lag in iPad operations that now I wish I could forget. I’m not saying the 7 necessarily beats the iPad on this score, but that, side by side, I’m starting to realize how much certain interface actions just have some inherent lag, perhaps so the user doesn’t feel something has passed them by.
Android’s openness pays off
One valid complaint about the iPad is its openness to non-Apple-sold media. Amazon, Google, or any other company is barred from selling its own music, movies, or other competing wares through Apple devices, to say nothing of their own apps. The Nexus 7 is integral’s to Google’s increased emphasis on all the things you can buy and stream from the Play Store. You see it in the naturally limited storage space, the “Your Library” widgets, and the more-than-likely subsidized $200 price. But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be a Google device, through and through.