by Pastor Matthew Arnold from St. Paul in Oconto Falls, WI – May 7, 2013

I’m sure that many people are thinking, “Great, a review of a tablet that’s almost a year old. What are you going to review next? An IBM Selectric?” There are tons of good reviews with the pros and cons of the hardware available via a quick Google search. This is more of a review of the device as a ministry tool over the past eight months.

I never thought I’d get a tablet. I never thought I’d want a tablet. iPads are too big and bulky, to say nothing of expensive. Phones work fine, but most of them are quite small for reading. Smartphones mean a data package which I will rarely use but will still cost me an arm and a leg. The Nexus 7 seemed to be a good compromise. It’s bigger than a phone, but not as big as an iPad. I can go back to a “dumb” phone and lose the expensive and ill-used data package. Also unlike an iPad, I wouldn’t have to sell my firstborn to afford one.

Let’s just say that the guy who didn’t want a tablet suddenly doesn’t want to be without his Nexus 7.

Not a Desktop Replacement

I do not envision the Nexus 7 as a desktop replacement. I can’t imagine writing a sermon on one (I need the reassuring click on my IBM Model M keyboard). There are some times that I just need the real estate on my wide-screen monitor. The Nexus 7 is a very nice compliment to my Slackware Linux-powered desktop—and more portable to boot.

How I Use It

The number one thing I use my Nexus 7 for is personal information management (PIM). A pastor’s schedule is very fluid. It is hard, if not impossible, to keep it all in your head. My calendar syncs with Google so I have it wherever I need it. It blasts an alarm at me 45 minutes ahead of any meeting as a reminder. I use the excellent Business Calender widgets to present the information in an agenda view on my main home screen. All of my contacts also sync with Google. That’s very important in a society where people seem to have more phone numbers than they have hot dinners. A to-do list is just as important. For that I rely on Astrid. I use Catch for note keeping. Finally, I use AndiCar to keep track of my mileage and other car expenses. I can’t forget Swiftkey—the keyboard that makes entering all this data a breeze. It’s amazing (and almost creepy) how quickly it learned my writing style.

What I really love about my Nexus 7 is that it is about the perfect size for reading, roughly the same size as a paperback novel. I’m not squinting like I used to when I tried to read on my phone, but it is easier to handle than a full-sized tablet.

I use Olive Tree’s Bible Study app for daily Bible reading, sermon preparation, Bible classes, etc. I do all of my weekly text studies on it. I take notes with it at conferences or seminars. I also have Logos’ Bible app so I can instantly access the Luther’s Works, the WLQ, and several of the Sermon Studies books.

I also use Google Play’s Books app and the Kindle app. Both are useful. If a particular book is cheaper from one service, I will buy it there. I’ve got the newer translation of Walther’s Law and Gospel on Kindle. My only gripe with the Kindle app is that it takes over the device’s brightness control. Even at its lowest setting, it is too bright for me to read in bed in the dark.

Then, of course, there are all the Internet apps. Gmail is much easier to use on a tablet than on a phone. I mainly use Firefox for web browsing. I’ve Skyped a couple of times with my son who is at Luther Prep. Then there’s multimedia apps like Netflix, NHL GameCenter, and iHeartRadio. I like being able to watch hockey wherever there is wifi.

I probably don’t need to go into detail on the games that are available. I tend to prefer games that I can pick up, play for a few minutes, and put back down again, instead of ones that require a lot of involvement.

The Good and Bad of Being a Nexus Device

The Nexus devices are basically Google’s attempt to show hardware developers their vision for the platform. They get the latest and greatest versions of Android right away. This I’ve found to be a double-edged sword. It’s great not to have to wait months on end for an update to be available for your device. Unfortunately you can also become an unwitting beta-tester. The upgrade to 4.2 caused random reboots. That was a pain for me, but it was even worse for people with Nexus phones that could cut out mid-call. 4.2.2 finally fixed that.

One place where I have seen a lot of improvement over the past eight months is in the quantity and quality of Android tablet apps. Things were pretty sparse when the Nexus 7 first came out. I have to believe that the Nexus 7 was Google’s way of “encouraging” developers to produce tablet apps. Now very few apps are nothing more than blown-up phone versions. Google can’t be making much money on these things, but they bought themselves a thriving tablet ecosystem.

One nice thing about a Nexus device is that they are simple to root. I rooted mine so that I could use an USB OTG cable to access thumb drives. I also rooted it so I can run Titanium Backup and make sure that everything is backed up properly. It is almost impossible to brick one of these things. Even if you have major problems, you can download the stock device images from Google, flash it, and get your device back. Don’t ask me how I know that. Rooting will, of course, void your warranty so take that into consideration.

In Summary

I’ve been using electronic devices in the ministry since the first PDAs. I went from a Handspring Visor, to a Palm Tungsten E, to a Palm TX, to an HTC Desire, and now to a Nexus 7. All of those tools have been invaluable to my ministry. One device keeps my schedule, allows me to access the web, and puts literally hundreds of theological works at my fingertips. In a pinch, I can even play a round or two of Euchre. The Nexus 7 is affordable, the right size, and powerful enough to do what I need to do.

I originally bought the 16G version and then sold it and bought the 32G version. Get the most memory that you can afford. Apps and media are only getting bigger. More memory will extend the lifespan of the device dramatically without jacking up the price too much. If you absolutely need cellular data access, there is a 3G-compatible version available.

Certainly, something like the iPad Mini would do something similar, albeit at a higher price. My technological issue with the iDevices is that they don’t play nicely with my Linux-based desktop. Android IS Linux, so there’s no problem there. If you normally use a Mac, that wouldn’t be an issue.