have bought a Google-branded ASUS device. It’s nice, but also not nice, depending on how one assesses it. As a technology rights person, it spooks me. The device is a privacy bomb. Everyone here ought to know that I’m a huge Android proponent and I wrote thousands of articles about it, tweeted about it nearly 10,000 times, and owned some Android-based gear before. On three separate occasions Google also tried hiring me, so my attitude towards Google is everything but negative. When it comes to privacy, it’s another matter altogether.
Like the Creative kit I bought on the very same day, this tablet works perfectly well out of the box. No complaints about the packaging, the components, etc. I love the USB charger. the tablet’s materials, the speed (essential for the decent voice recognition), and the screen, even though it takes a while getting used to, having moved from tablets twice this size.
To precede this informal review with a few words, all my complaints are about lock-down and spying. “Good hardware, ultra-crap privacy” is how I would summarise it. And this is where Google pushes computing. Subsidized hardware in exchange for lock-in is the business model.
The good points about this tablet are numerous. Good camera, quad-core processor with a nice package that’s metallic and quite light overall are only some of the many selling points.
The bad points are that it is too small (I prefer my other tablet, a 10.1-inch tablet), too limited, and also not so perfectly put together. No camera application installed by default to utilise the camera, which is a massive mistake. Development options are not present in Settings. Rooting not welcomed or made simple, either. But these are side issues.
Privacy is a total nightmare, trying to grab hold of the user’s identity all the time. Identify is demanded from the user even when not required, e.g. when going to native E-mail and even when opening a browser or trying to watch the image/video gallery. The purpose of this device is merely to drive data, traffic, and money to Google, thus it must be subsidised accordingly. Fair enough, but at what cost? Sure, Google uses this as a business recruiter without much pretense. The privacy issue has no excuses though. The first thing the tablet tries to do when switched on is insist very strongly on finding a wireless connection. it’s hard to even start using the tablet without completing this stage.
Google Play’s insistence on having a GMail account it also noteworthy. Google is making it hard to supply fake details. A real name is needed, but fake one can be given if one tries hard enough to find anonymity. Many widgets that give away location and such stuff by default make it easier for Google to guess who’s who. The insistence on geo-tracking is scary, but not as scary as remote backup of all the data, even private stuff (history on the Web, bookmarks, geo-location upon surfing, etc.). It is much worse than in my 4.0 tablet where these settings were inside the browser where toggling off was still needed. Well, now the browser reports clicks over the address bar, to name just one issue. The platform does not provide privacy at all. It is a lesson in how to get it all wrong on privacy.
Every Google Nexus 7 review should focus on privacy issues because that is what subsidies the hardware. The Nexus 7 has amazing hardware, but it’s extremely locked down such that not even development is available in it. It’s just a Google absorption vehicle. Chromebook Pixel must be similar, but it can boot into Ubuntu and Linux Mint, just like a real laptop, at least giving the option to everyone, so I recommended it today to someone who had planned to buy a MacBook Pro.
To summary, let it be repeated. The Nexus7 is SHOCKINGLY privacy-infringing in every conceivable way (more than I could ever imagine). It is not for everyone. I mean, a Google Plus account, which has absolutely nothing to do with the process followed in setting up Google Play, is being almost force-fed. The Nexus 7 has grotesque behaviour of tying. Want to install new software? Must open a GMail account, pushed to open G+ account too. The Nexus 7 can hardly even be started (from boxed state) without a wireless connection. I had to opt out from 10+ spying features one by one. Want to issue a voice command in Nexus7 ? Google will record everything. Open Gallery? Linked to Google cloud by default. Google even insists on remotely-controlled backup of entire tablet, not just bookmarks, history, photos, addresses… which is just shocking.
Google taught me how deep a privacy intrusion can get. And Nexus is where it all happens. Now I just try to undo the damage Google has done to a ‘vanilla’ Android installation. At least the hardware was cheap for its worth!