Miskatonic University Press

My first experiences with a Nexus 7

Posted: 16 July 2012

I bought a Nexus 7, a small tablet from Google and Asus running Android 4.1. Here are a few notes about it from the point of view of an Ubuntu user.

Here’s what I do when I get something like this:

  • Plug it in.
  • Copy a Doctor Who video onto it.
  • Watch the video.

None of this worked for me right off the bat, partly due to me (from ignorance) and partly due to Google and Asus (from I don’t know what).

I ran FreeBSD for years, until a chain of events led me from my old window manager to GNOME and then to trying Ubuntu and then switching to it. The moment I’ll never forget was when I plugged my printer into my test Ubuntu box. With FreeBSD I’d spent an entire day configuring the thing and even then I couldn’t get it working with the USB cable so I had to use the parallel port. With Ubuntu, I plugged in the USB cable and it said, “I see you’ve plugged in a Brother HL-2040 printer. Would you like to print a test page?” Yes I would! And it worked. Just like normal people, who run Windows or a Mac. And when I plugged in a USB drive it automatically mounted it! I didn’t have to watch /var/log/syslog and figure out what device to mount by hand.

Perhaps I’m spoiled now, but when I plug something in, I expect things to happen. With the Nexus 7, I plugged it in and nothing happened.

Turns out it’s because Android doesn’t support USB any more so you need to use Media Transfer Protocol, which is fine if you run Windows, but I don’t, and I didn’t know anything about this until David Fiander told me. It did say something about being a media device, I admit, but I just ignored that. However, the instructions at Connect your Android Ice Cream Sandwich Phone to Ubuntu for File Access are complete and helpful (though I used /media/Nexus7 as the mount point), but the fact anything like this might be necessary is embarrassing for Ubuntu.

Other options:

  • AirDroid, an app that lets you transfer files by HTTP.
  • ADB, the Android Debug Bridge, as Dan Scott pointed out. adb push will copy files.
  • gMTP, a file manager/media client for MTP-mounted devices.

Copying a Doctor Who video over: I tried all the options except ADB, and I’ll from now on I’ll either mount the file system by hand or use gMTP. I used both to copy a video over and they were fine.

Watching the video: This was a much bigger problem than I’d expected. Out of the box, the Nexus 7 doesn’t play AVI files! I was very surprised. The previous release of Android did. Why doesn’t this? I know video containers and encodings are complicated, but I expect Google to take care of things like that for me. I installed MoboPlayer and MV Player, but they couldn’t handle the AVIs. MoboPlayer suggested some codecs it wanted to download, but it couldn’t find them in the Play Store and choked on downloading them from its own site.

Finally I installed VPlayer and bought a codec package, using the $25 in Play Store money that came with the device. Now AVIs play and there’s no annoying nagware.

This is a sad and embarrassing solution. There should be some FLOSS package that does this, and if you know how to get one working, let me know.

Other bad points:

  • There’s no SD card.
  • There’s no camera on the back.
  • I can’t do voice input into Wolfram Alpha.

Good points:

  • It’s a very nice size and it’s light but strong.
  • It’s very fast.
  • The voice search and Google Now are impressive, though Apple’s doing well with Siri being able to use Wolfram Alpha.

Knowing what I know now, would I recommend it to anyone who already owns something like an Asus Transformer Prime? Probably not. Wait for it to upgrade to Android 4.1, and carry it around in a bag or case instead of your jacket pocket.

Updated: 16 July 2012