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Summary:

Can you live a happy “Google” life in iOS? Now more than ever, the answer is yes. For that reason, and because I get a superset of content options in iOS not found on other platforms, I sold the Nexus 7 for an iPad Air.

ipad air lightness

Given that I gravitate towards Android phones and tablets, it’s surprising that I recently sold my Nexus 7 tablet and replaced it with an iPad Air. I did so for a few reasons, but perhaps the biggest one is this: You can be a pretty happy user of Google services on iOS.

Google has long supported iOS with its own apps, so that aspect isn’t new. Since late last year, the company has made a big push to improve the Google experience on Apple devices, however, to the point where I can actually use them effectively without using Android.

iPad air pics

Note, that I’m not saying iOS is better than Android — or vice versa, for that matter — I simply explored this option and found it to be beneficial to my needs. I still have a Moto X handset and an old Google Nexus 10 tablet to keep up with Android. And while I really liked my Nexus 7 — I actually sold an iPad mini to buy it — the new iPad Air design tempted me. So I took the bait.

Google’s Gmail for iOS has improved over time and I still have full support for Labels on iOS. I find the the Google+ app better on iOS than on Android, although I can’t put my finger on why; it’s something about the usability that puts it over the top. Google Maps is a downloadable option on iOS, of course, and I still prefer it, even though Apple Maps is far better than when it first launched. Many of Google’s apps can open other Google apps on iOS now as well.

While Chrome for iOS isn’t allowed to use the same fast Nitro Javascript engine as Safari, it’s plenty fast enough for me to use while also keeping the benefit of my synced passwords and the open tabs on all other devices running Chrome.

Oh, and that “touchless control” for Google Now that I absolutely love on my Moto X? Google is nearly there with the latest version of Google Search for iOS. You have to have the app open but simply saying “OK Google” offers the exact same Google Now experience. And it’s actually faster on the iPad Air than it is on any of my Android devices; even the Nexus 5.

ipad air google now

Of course, there’s an obvious question here: Why bother with iOS if Android provides all of the same Google service support with an experience at least as good as on iOS? I came up with two reasons, and both were instrumental in my choice.

First is the hardware. I’m very impressed with how Apple has matured the iPad since 2010. The new iPad Air is extremely light for having a 9.7-inch display. It’s just 0.25 pounds heavier than the new iPad mini, and for that reason, I chose the Air over the mini, even though I tend to prefer smaller tablets. I feel like I can still take the tablet anywhere — even if it doesn’t fit in my jacket pocket — because of the weight reduction. And I’d rather have the larger screen which makes productivity a smidge easier. Adding a nearly full-sized Bluetooth keyboard helps too.

zagg folio

I can’t say the same about the current Nexus 10; it’s not a tablet I’d take everywhere with me. And while I rarely was without the Nexus 7 wherever I went in the past few months, it was too small for me to be very productive.

The second reason has to do with content. No other major tablet has the content options of an iPad; the rest all have at least one or two limitations, if not more. I used to get around those with multiple devices, but that’s costly and ineffective. So what are the limitations that influenced me?

Google’s done a great job with its Google Play store buildup over time. And because I have a Chromebook, I do purchase movies and television shows from Google. I can’t, however, get Amazon Instant Video on an Android tablet or phone. And that’s a big source of content that we use in our home. My wife has an Amazon Kindle Fire so she obviously gets Amazon video content, but that tablet has its own limitations; namely the full complement of apps that other Android devices have.

For all the valid talk about Apple’s walled garden, there’s something to be said about that garden: It’s filled with everything you could want. Amazon Instant Video? Yup, it’s there. So is Google Play content if you know where to look and don’t mind a streaming-only limitation: All purchased movies and television shows are available in the YouTube app when you sign in. Essentially, by moving to an iPad Air, I have a superset of content that I didn’t have before.

ipad air youtube purchases

I’ll be the first to admit: If you want a pure Google experience, an Android device — likely a Nexus one at that — is probably your best choice. And I’ll still use the Nexus 10 when I want or need that experience. But Google has actually improved the experience of its services on iOS to a point where it’s a pretty viable option as well. So for now, I’ll live with a foot in both camps when it comes to my tablet experience.

  1. Kevin, I absolutely agree with most of your assertions here, but I think that iOS’s lackluster sharing integration is a big disadvantage when comparing the iPad to the Nexus 7. I’m surprised you didn’t point that out.

    As a user of both iOS and Android, I can tell you that in Android, sharing is a far smoother, nearly universal experience; you tap the share icon from any app, and can share the currently displayed content with any *other* app. It’s borderline seamless. Compare that to sharing from app to app in iOS, and you’ll see what a chore Apple makes it.

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    1. Vin, without a doubt, sharing is MUCH better on Android; thanks for pointing that out.

      But even this has been improved. Since I use Chrome on the iPad, there’s a Share button for every web page in the Settings. From here, I can share to Twitter, FB, Mail and G+, which covers most of my personal sharing habits.

      And copying any URL (even in Safari) to the clipboard makes it automatically available in the G+ app for iOS. The app will take a copied URL and make it easily available for posting.

      Ideal? Nope. But better than it was.

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      1. Maybe that’s my problem; I’ve been doggedly using Safari on iOS, since I know it’s not possible to make anything else the *default* browser.

        I’ll give Chrome on my iPad 2 a shot, and see if that facilitates sharing a bit easier for me. (I’m usually just sharing to G+, Gmail, Twitter, and Pocket… and sometimes App.net.)

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        1. I thought you guys were talking about sharing device to device like pics, audio, or documents. To share to social media iOS is complete. Even collaboration apps are awesome on iOS , using Quip right now and I love it on iPhone & iPad have a friend on web and android collaborating. I order me a retina iPad mini with a Logitech folio keyboard ;)

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  2. Kevin:

    I’m about to buy either the Air or the new Mini. I wasn’t clear from your post if you chose to buy the Air over the new Mini, e.g., the one that either or is just about to ship?

    Buzz

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    1. Hey Buzz, long time no talk! Hope all is well. I opted for the larger iPad Air because it’s just a little heavier than the Air, still very portable and my aging eyes do better with the bigger screen.

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  3. And don’t forget one other little thing. If you live outside of the US, getting the best driod tablets is a real pain compared to just going to apple.com/NZ for me.
    Oh, and you want to buy video content outside the USA? Hahahahahah. I use plex, then it’s my content, streamed from my server, in my house. 8) luckily plex clients available for all sorts of platforms. So for me it’s the ease of purchase, quality of the hardware and long battery life keep me coming back to apple tablets.

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  4. Knock $100 off and many android fans would say the same. Also, though it never gets mentioned, walk into a store and you’ll find 100s of accessories for it. The same can’t be said about many competitors.

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  5. At one point of time Google said that Android was just a hobby, or rather a platform to sell its search/advertising service in a more effective way – in which case it makes perfect sense for Google to improve the iOS experience of its services. As long as Google’s search/advertising is sold, it’s all good – even if people are getting it on an iOS device.

    Having said that, Google has changed over the last couple of years. Not only is Android a major business area for Google, but it has stake in the selling of physical handsets as well (the Nexus series). It’s a tricky situation for Google in my opinion, maintaining the right balance between improving its services on other platforms to sell its core business, and improving its services to a point at which Android users are dumping their Android devices to enjoy this improved service on other platforms.

    http://www.apppli.com

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  6. I love my new IPad Air. I had found myself gravitating to my Mini, in spite of the fact that it has a non-Retina display, because of the lightness, and portability factor. Now the iPad Air has solved all that, being almost as light as the Mini, and with a much reduced over-all dimension. I wonder if this won’t result, over time, in a resurgence of the iPad over the iPad mini, and provide a boost to Apple profits as a result. Apple’s entire ecosystem is becoming more and more a significant factor in my decision making. In fact the decision is coming down to one decision only, Apple or not, and the answer for me is very clearly Apple.

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  7. Nikhil Silveira Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    Thanks for your review. I’ve been debating between getting a Nexus 7 2013 & iPad Air — speed (more RAM) vs screen real estate.
    Viewing content is a deciding factor for me, and yours is one of the few reviews that focuses on content as opposed to specs. Thanks to that, I’m gravitating towards the Air now :P .

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