Google’s powerful Nexus 10 Android tablet as a library patron’s delight: The hardware and the apps that shine on itBy David H. Rothman, Published on January 5, 2013
I drive a 1988 Honda and on the whole lead a frugal life. But I have a weakness for e-books and gizmos for reading them.
You can’t fathom technology, at the practical level for library patrons and other book-lovers, without using it. Curious where the tech is headed? Well, what costs too much now may someday be in Asian villages and on the racks at Kmart or in the hands of every high school student in Watts or Harlem.
I no longer ask for loaners of review units, though. Why worry about offending vendors? Most of my purchases end up on Craigslist or eBay in a timely way, and if I’m nimble enough I can recover 80 or 90 percent of my investment or maybe break even, particularly if I swooped in earlier at a sale. Call this a Darwinian approach: the few keepers are the “fittest” survivors, the ones I love. Some products never stand a chance. The 7.9-inch iPad mini in its current version may be an excellent machine for people not spoiled by the Retina display on the newest full-sized iPads, but I see it as overpriced despite the enthusiasm of many for its styling and feel, so I didn’t buy one in the first place.
The Nexus 10 is among the survivors. Ahead I’ll tell why I cherish it as an e-reading machine, beyond the 10-inch screen, which can easily display 500 or 600 words of text for me, and then I’ll recommend some apps for it, especially e-reading-related ones. As you can see, I’ve also included a YouTube assessment from Lisa Gade at MobileTechReview, so you have another perspective in detail as well.
Right up front, you need to know I’m a small Google shareholder. But I have never hesitated to challenge the company on such matters as the attempted Google Book Search settlement, and I also loathe the privacy abuses from Google and rivals — most recently, the obnoxious practice of scooping up photos in your collection for Google+ for the iPad, without any upload request from you, so they’re only a click or so away from “on the air.” Were it not for the lobbying operations of Google and competitors, I’m confident that the feds would be more vigilant.
No Google puffery here, then! Also, yes, my app-related recommendations for the Nexus 10 would apply to oodles of Android machines. But since many of LibraryCity’s readers are librarians without time to follow the all the nuances of the Android scene, I’ll recommend apps along with the hardware.
While the Nexus 10 isn’t an absolute bargain — not at $399 for a version with 16GB of flash memory and $499 for the 32GB one, both sold out right now at the Google Play Store although you may find them elsewhere — it is at least cheaper than the latest full-sized equivalents in the iPads world. Just keep in mind that the Android system is like a powerful but complicated library catalog or reference service. Android tablets demand more learning time, even the new models, than do the Apple equivalents. (The Nexus 10’s Android Jelly Bean 4.2 operating system is somewhat of an improvement in simplicity compared to predecessors.)
If you’re serious about e-books and other reading, however, the Nexus 10 and the smaller and cheaper Nexus 7 could be worth it, especially since one application, Moon+ Reader Pro, gives you more features than anything I’ve encountered in the iOS world even though some apps, like MegaReader, come close. An Ars Technica review of the Nexus 10 has complained that the Apple app store is richer in wares than the Nexus equivalents, and that may be true in general. But when it comes to reading apps I most enjoy, the Google world is in the same league, and my favorite text-to-speech (TTS) voice, as far as I know, isn’t even available on an e-reader for the iPad.
And now on to other reasons why the Nexus 10 appeals to me:
- The screen comes with higher resolution, 2560×1600, than even the latest iPads. Granted, the perceived difference is small, and Nexus screen is not without flaws; ahead I’ll tell you which ones. Also keep in mind that some reviewers are reporting shorter battery life because of the high-res display. I did not test for this. But my guess, based on other accounts, is that we’re probably talking about seven or eight hours. Since I read primarily when I’m not on the go, this isn’t a major factor for me.
- I enjoy prompt and almost-full access to the latest Android apps, and that includes the e-reading-related ones. Remember, the Nexus 10 is Google’s favorite right now. The Nexus runs pure Android, not mucked-up as Amazon did for its Fire series or B&N did for the nook.
- In pulling up files, in handling graphics and in other ways, the Nexus 10 is a race horse compared to most rivals. Between the 1.7Ghz dual core chip and the sharp graphics, it’s a joy to use with images of classics in Google Books. Never mind the tech gobbledygook: just know that this is one fast machine even if some say the iPad 4 is still speedier.
- The built in flash memory — 16GB standard, 32GB optional — is more than enough for voracious e-book readers who are not into fancy multimedia books and who stream rather than download large video files. That’s me. So I don’t really notice the lack of a slot to plug in memory cards even though I’d welcome one. Your needs, here and in other ways, might be rather different.
- The 10 is thin and light considering the ten-inch screen size. It’s 10.4″ x 7″ x .35″ and 1.33 pounds. No, this isn’t the Apple Mini. But it is lighter than full-grown iPads. The iPad weighs in at 1.44 pounds.
- The Nexus is pleasant to feel even if I wish it were not made of plastic and were more rugged. But then I have an Amzer case. Supposedly the Amzer products for the Nexus are drop resistant. Fingers crossed. I am going to augment the Amzer with a Zagg screen protector that I haven’t yet gotten around to installing. Would I recommend the Nexus 10 as rugged enough for library loans, with the protection in place? Only if you’re an upscale system with a loose budget and a willingness to gamble. But remember, the first Kindles started out at $400 or so—there’s hope. Perhaps the solution is to buy a Nexus 10 or two as an experiment.
- Like the recent iPads, the Nexus 10 offers voice recognition, which I find that handy for look-ups on the Web as well as for composing short emails even if accuracy isn’t as good as on my iPad 3. The Google Now search feature could be great fun for reference librarians.
Now, more about the Nexus’s screen. It’s higher and slimmer in the portrait mode than the full-sized iPads’, and that makes the Nexus better suited for e-reading for me even if some might object that it isn’t as easy to hold as it might be with another aspect ratio. At least when I’m at home, I like to see as much of a book at once as I can, and when I’m in the mood for switching to landscape and going to two columns, the Nexus will nicely accommodate me.
Alas, at least for me, the Nexus 10’s screen offers slightly inferior perceived contrast compared to that of the Kindle Fire HD series and perhaps my iPad 3. If contrast is your thing, then you might actually be better off with the 7- or 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD. I myself have gotten around the contrast problem — through such tricks as all-bold text and use of reading apps with the bolding capability. When I cannot enjoy convenient bold, I generally read with white text against a pitch-black background. Part of this could be my baby-boomer eyes. Younger readers may not notice the contrast issue as much. Still, Google would do well to care more about contrast, and I’d also welcome a warmer glow to the screen. Another shortcoming of the Nexus display, along with other extra-high-res ones, is that some apps may not display optimally on it because the type, at least the default size, is too small.
So what apps am I running on the Nexus 10? Here are just a few.
My favorite e-readers
OverDrive Media Console is the most popular app for library books despite newcomers such as—for library systems tethered to it — 3M Cloud Library. The OverDrive e-reader has come a long way. It now offers all-text bold, though it lacks the full range of font choices and customization that Moon+ Reader Pro does. Truly decent annotation and the addition of TTS capabilities and an easier-to-use DRM system than Adobe’s would help. Also check with your library to see if it has an Android variant of apps such as Boopsie, which makes it easier to search local collections for library books. If you’re lucky enough to live in Douglas County, Colorado, consider iDCL Reader and DCL to Go [Note via Jim Duncan: "This leading Colorado library is working hard to sign deals with many publishers for the rights to buy ebooks outright (the same way libraries do with physical books) and deliver those ebooks to their library customers through a streamlined online experience. DCL is part of Evoke – Creating the Future for Library E-Content]. No matter where you live, by all means poke around the Play Store for library-related software (here’s what “public library” brought up). BlueFire is another good Android e-reader for library books, and some retailers have built their stores around the company’s software.
I much prefer Moon+ Reader Pro, for nonDRMed books (alas, the overwhelming majority of library books are DRMed). It’s one of the most and maybe the most customizable reader that I’ve ever used, and it has powerful annotation capabilities, letting you consolidate and export—via email or other means—all the notes you’ve taken within a book. Moon works with text to speech engines in the $4.99 version on sale at 50 percent off through January 4 (as I recall, it doesn’t do TTS in the free version). It supports a variety of formats ranging from ePub to PDF. Also, you can use pinch movements of your finger to change the size of the type, and your fingers can also adjust the brightness on the screen. In functionality, Moon is the Android world’s closest equivalent to iOS Stanza reader, and might even be thought of as Stanza on steroids. Helpfully, Moon+ Reader Pro lets you close up spaces between paragraphs and create indents where they don’t exist.
Mantano Ebook Reader is a some slicker and simpler but less customizable version of Moon+ and also offers TTS capabilities. I just wish that Mantano gave me more font choices that actually worked with boldface. Mantano provides for Adobe DRM, but for one reason or another, at least in the past, I haven’t been able to get Mantano going with OverDrive library books. I’m certain many would recommend Aldiko, but its options are rather narrow compared to those of Moon and Mantano.
FBReader is an old favorite but not as flexible as Moon+ Reader — no double-column capabilities in FBR, for example — but it at least can do TTS.
WattPadd is notable for its social capabilities and its easy connections to user-originated content.
Yes, I can run the dumbed-down readers from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony and certain other stores, but am not happy about them. The Google Play Books reader isn’t nirvana, either, but at least is fairly well integrated with the Nexus 10 and offers TTS (for reading magazines, there’s Google Play Magazines). As for the Kindle reader for Android, it won’t even let me change type styles, just sizes. Get with it, booksellers. Develop your own original content or offer other reader-friendly services as opposed to using DRM to try to lock people in to inferior technology.
Voice for TTS
I’m in love with Amy, a voice from Ivona: a British triumph with charm, good pacing and understandability (to hear Amy, download the software from both of the just-given links). Amy is as human-like as just about any TTS voice I’ve heard. Turing’s ghost would be proud.
The Google store for now is carrying the Ivona speech engine and voices for free in beta form — let’s hope that the final versions aren’t too costly.
Beware of the security risks, but if you’re sufficiently fearless, you can install Flash (AWOL on the Nexus 10), as I discovered first-hand. Consuming Experience’s instructions for the Nexus 7 worked just great for my 10. Flash videos might not display in full size in some cases, and you might encounter other oddities, but this is still better than no Flash at all. Of course, my real fantasy is that Web developers will finally drive a stake through the vampire’s heart so we can all go Flashless without missing out on anything.
Somehow the navigation structure of Chrome, the built-in browser, doesn’t make me as comfortable as that of the Boat browser. Boat also is faster and offers such features as white against dark (what’s more, I’m not even sure if Chrome works with Flash). The one difficulty I’ve encountered is in downloading files—I just plug the URL into Chrome, and everything was fine.
A negative is that I can’t synchronize my Boat bookmarks with the Chrome ones on my desktops and elsewhere. But since my mobile site preferences aren’t the same as for the desktops, I’m actually better off this one, even though, I’m quite aware of Chrome’s ability to set up mobile-only bookmarks.
Opera is worth a shot, though nowadays I favor Boat.
My favorites are World Newspapers and the New York Times for Android, which can do TTS and display the NYT’s blogs. I actually like the latter app better than I do the iOS version. On the negative, the amazing Zite news app isn’t available for the Nexus 10 right now.
Also consider Pulse News for following your favorite RSS feeds and the [Open in new window] Press reader (used with Google Reader) for following oodles of them. News 360 might likewise intrigue you if you’re a news-junkie.
Reading and sending to Instapaper
Transferring files among machines
I favor Dropbox, because it works so well and on so many different machines and can help me recover stuff I might accidentally delete.
Converting nonDRMed e-books on my desktop for the Nexus 10
Like so much of the world, I’m a huge fan of Calibre, which I’ve set up to write to and read from a Dropbox folder. If you’re outside the U.S., check your country’s laws. You may be able to legally use a DRM-removal plug-in with Calibre.
I’m using HootSuite, which works with Twitter and Facebook, to keep up on book-related topics and others. I also have installed the official Facebook app and an app for Google+ — which, by the way, is a hangout for many tech-oriented librarians.
OK, those are my own app choices of possible interest to existing and prospective Nexus 10 owners. What are yours?
And do you agree with my overall enthusiasm for the 10 hardware — especially if prices come down, which I suspect they will in time (at least for equivalent models)?
Related: The Digital Reader’s guidance for new Android users — links to past posts on the topic. If you ended up with a Fire rather than a Nexus, check out my LibraryCity post headlined How I turned my Kindle Fire HD from a cash register and billboard into a good machine for an e-book lover. Also see TeleRead’s links to Android, Nexus and Kindle tips.
YouTube links: Google Nexus 10 Review.
Editor's note - this article was re-published with the author's permission, from his blog, Library City.