So you've picked up the new 2013 edition of the Nexus 7 tablet. Google had a sales success with the original Nexus 7 at the $200 price point, but the device didn't hold up particularly well over time. At $230 for this year's 16GB model, the entry price is higher, but you end up getting a lot more for your money. It's a great device, but prying open the box is just the start. To truly appreciate the Nexus 7's fast Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and glorious 2GB of RAM, you have to get everything set up just right.
There are some tweaks you can do to make sure the experience is the best it can possibly be, and to help familiarize you with this new tablet (in case it's your first Android device!). We're going to dig down into the inner workings of Android, get specific on hardware features, and talk about the apps you need. Read on for the 15 essential tweaks you should make on your new 2013 Nexus 7.
Clean Up Your Google Account
Even if you've been using Android for a while, buying a new device is a good excuse to get your Google account in order. Android is constantly becoming more connected to Google's cloud, so you'll thank yourself later. This all goes double if the Nexus 7 is going to be your first Android device.
First thing, create a filter in Gmail to detect those Google Play emails. You're going to be buying (and maybe even returning) a lot of apps, and you don't need a notification every time you do it. From desktop Gmail, simply add firstname.lastname@example.org as the sender for the filter, and tell Gmail to mark it as read. That way you get the receipt, but it won't bug you with a notification. You could also apply a label to make them easy to find. This has improved my quality of life dramatically.
Next, prune your contacts and get the in the right groups. Your My Contacts group is the default one shown in Android, but you can make more sub-groups for friends or coworkers that you can filter on the device. Also make sure you have your contacts' email addresses linked with all their information in Google+ (assuming they use it).
Unlock the Bootloader
One of the advantages of Nexus devices is the openness. Google doesn't really put up any roadblocks to keep you from modding the Nexus 7. Even if you're not sure that you want to root and play with custom ROMs, you might change your mind later. To do any of that, your bootloader needs to be unlocked. Unlocking the bootloader resets the device to factory defaults, so make sure to do this before you start using the device.
Unlocking the bootloader is painless. The worst part is getting the Android SDK installed, but even that isn't as terrible as it used to be. Use the SDK to install the platform tools and USB drivers, then plug in your tablet. Open a command prompt (or terminal on Mac) from the platform tools folder, which should have adb and fastboot files.
With your N7 on and plugged into your computer via USB, type "adb reboot bootloader" without the quotes. Once the bootloader screen is up, type "fastboot oem unlock." The tablet will pop up a warning that you're about to void the warranty and so on. Use the volume toggle to highlight "yes," and select it with the power button.
You don't need to be squeamish about this -- if you do need to return the Nexus 7 there is a "fastboot oem lock" command to relock the bootloader. Ah, openness.
Consider a Chromecast
Far be it for me to tell you to spend more money, but I think you should spend a little more money on a Chromecast. This is a very neat device that streams audio and video from the cloud and is controlled by mobile devices.
The Chromecast is only $35, but it is a bit hard to find right now. There is currently support for YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play Music. Developers are working with the beta API, so a ton of apps are just waiting in the wings. The Nexus 7 is an ideal device to tinker with the Chromecast because it's responsive and isn't tied to a contract.
Just grab the Chromecast app, and you'll be streaming to anything with an HDMI port in no time.
Secure Your Tablet
Your tablet is going to be a wealth of data, and you don't want someone getting into it should you leave it unattended (don't do that, though). Head into the main system settings and select the Security menu. From here, the first thing to do should be to select a more secure unlock method.
The default is Slide, which allows anyone to unlock the device. There are also pattern, PIN, and password unlock options. Face unlock still exists, but I don't think it makes as much sense for a tablet. I've always liked the pattern unlock because it offers a nice middle ground between the ease of slide-to-unlock and the high security of a password. You don't have to choose a crazy-complicated pattern, but you certainly can if you like.
Another setting you will want to checkout is the "Automatically Lock" timeout. This setting lets you decide how long after the screen goes off you want the lock setting to be imposed. Prior to that cut off, the device wakes up to the last screen it was on when the power button is pressed. 30 seconds or a minute should be fine. It's unlikely this will reduce your level of security in any real sense.
Also, consider toggling off the option for the power button in immediately lock the tablet. That way a button press uses the timeout you set above. It's convenient if you put the device to sleep, only to realize you still needed to look at something.
This last one is a quick tweak, but one that very few users think to make. In the Security menu is an option to add owner info. I always suggest Android users whose phones have this option add their email address and a contact number. If it's your phone, you'll want to use a Google Voice number, but on a tablet your regular phone number should be fine.
Input your details and check the box to have it shown on the lock screen. Now if someone does find your lost tablet, and you've secured it as above, they can still get in touch to give it back. Well, hopefully they give it back. There is no setting to ensure common human decency.
Configure Android Device Manager
Google has finally released a native security app for Android devices. The Android Device Manager was previously only available for paid Google Apps customers, but you can now access it right here. Check this service out and make sure you know how to use it in case you should ever need it.
From this page you can track and ring your Nexus 7 wherever it is. If you lose it and won't be able to recover it, the device can be remote wiped. The Android Device Manager might not be the most feature-rich security option, but it has the essentials and needs no setup.
Install Google Play All Access
The new card-based Google Music app is wonderful in a lot of ways, but one of the best things you can do for your music listening experience is to investigate Google Play All Access. The music app will start pushing it on you the first time you open it, but you get a free trial.
The coolest thing about using All Access on an Android device is that you can add songs and albums to your library and they behave exactly like tracks you uploaded. You can make playlists with them, cache them to your device, or just stream from the cloud.
All Access costs $9.99 per month (only $7.99 people that subscribed back in June), but it's a perfect service if you live a Google-centric life.
Cozy Up to Google Now
You have to opt into Google Now on each device, so feel free to get that activated right away. Google Now will use your location and account data to show you predictive searches as a series of cards.
Accessing Google Now is sometimes confusing on non-Nexus devices, but it's just a quick swipe away on the N7. Drag up from the home button, and Now will pop right up. Also in Google Now is enhanced voice search. You can tap the microphone to pull that up. Alternatively, you can just say "Google" when Now is open.
Google voice search understands a lot of natural language commands. So you can have it send emails, take notes with Keep or Evernote, and relay all sorts of information to you by voice. Try asking Google Now voice search to remind you to do something -- it's a very cool feature that will present you a notification on all your Android devices when the time comes.
Change Keyboard Settings
The stock Android keyboard has gotten a few notable updates since the last Nexus 7 came out. Swiping input was added in Android 4.2, and it's a good feature on tablets. It you didn't know it was there, you could go for a long time not noticing. The keyboard still works well for tapping input, but drawing a line through the letters in each word provides good suggestions, and I find auto-correction is solid. Make sure you give this a shot. If you don't like it, it can be disabled in the input settings so you don't accidentally activate it.
Also in the Google Keyboard settings (under Language and Input) there is an option for your personal dictionary. Make sure you manually add words you use that aren't in the default dictionary. It'll save you from innumerable auto-correct fails.
If you are prone to salty language, you might also want to turn off the option to block offensive words. With this on, the keyboard will never suggest what we all know you were trying to type.
Tweak Google Play Settings
Before we get around to loading up your new tablet with apps, you might consider checking out the Play Store settings to save yourself some time. For some reason that is beyond me, Google's default setting is to auto-add new app shortcuts to the home screen. You probably don't want that. Uncheck "Auto-add widgets" to keep that from happening.
If you have multiple Google accounts, check the account selector at the top of the settings to make sure the right account is selected for purchases. If you buy apps on the wrong account, it's going to be a pain.
These days there is no PIN lock option for Google Play, but your Google account password is utilized in a similar way. Each time you buy an app, the Play Store will ask for your account password. Additionally, you can choose to filter out mature apps. These settings also apply to in-app purchases.
Download the Essential Apps
Evernote: The Evernote app is a must have on any Android device, and it's especially cool on tablets. This app offers free cloud-synced note taking on mobile devices and the web. The UI is distinctly Evernote, but it follows the Holo design guidelines very well.
Falcon Pro: Despite its exit from Google Play, Falcon Pro is still the best Twitter client on Android. It's super-smooth, feature-rich, and looks great. You can get it for free at the officials website, but you will need a login token. Falcon Pro was removed from the Play Store by the Dev when it ran out of tokens, per Twitter's policy. Previous users will be fine, but others will need to sign up as a Twitter Dev and get a unique token for the app.
Kindle: This almost goes without saying, but make sure to grab the Kindle app. It's free and provides access to Amazon's massive book store. The N7's screen is incredibly sharp, so reading on it is a pleasure.
Netflix: When it comes to streaming video, Netflix is usually at the top of the list, but that's even more true with the N7. As of Android 4.3, the platform supports advanced DRM that allows Netflix to stream 1080p video where available. You can really take advantage of that high-res screen.
Elixir 2 Widgets: Elixir 2 is a system info app, and when paired with the widget pack, it can surface almost any piece of information you could ever need right on your home screen. Both these apps are free, but a little hard to figure out. It's worth it, though.
Solid Explorer: You will want to have a good for browser for your Android tablet, and Solid Explorer is it. This app has a robust feature set, fast UI, and it is updated frequently. Solid Explorer has a cool dual-pane interface that lets you keep multiple folders open at once. It also comes with advanced file transfer tools and root support.
Dashclock: This app ought to come bundled with Android. Dashclock is a lock screen widget that can display information from apps like Gmail, Google Calendar, and others. Third-party developers can also add support for Dashclock, and many have. This app is free.
Helium: App backup used to be horrible on Android, but no more. Now Helium makes it a snap. Just install the app, then activate it via the desktop app. Rooted users don't need the desktop. You can save app date (like saved games) to the device or the cloud. There is even direct device-to-device sync. The free app saves locally only, but the paid version is only $4.99.
Get the Essential Games
Riptide GP2: Racing suped-up jet skis sounds pretty cool, and it is. The new Riptide game has fabulous visuals and the difficulty is dead on. You have to be good, but it's not punishing. There are a plethora of race types and vehicles to earn. The game is $2.99 and there are optional in-app purchases. It really shows off the N7's hardware.
Tiny Thief: The first Android title from Rovio Stars is Tiny Thief, and it's both adorable and fun to play. In this game you tap around whimsical levels to guide the thief past danger and swipe various items. It's only $2.99 and runs great on the N7.
Epoch: This title combines simple swipe controls with stunning graphics in a post-apocalyptic shooter. You control a robot, diving for cover while shooting at the bad robots. There are a ton of weapons and upgrades to unlock, and the game continuously introduces new enemies to keep things fresh. This one is $2.99.
Rymdkapsel: This title doesn't rely on amazing visuals to hook you. Rymdkapsel uses simple geometric forms to represent a space station. You have to expand and manage the station and you defend it from attack through 28 levels of bad guys. This game is pure strategy and it's fantastic. It's $3.99.
Kingdom Rush: Tower defense games have been done a million ways, but the way Kingdom Rush does it is awesome. The balance and quality of the gameplay is second to none, and there are plenty of towers and hero units to command. For $1.99, this is a steal.
Customize Your Home and Lock Screen
So now you have a ton of things installed. How can you keep all that straight? A smart home screen layout can make your tablet more efficient for work or leisure. The central home screen should always have apps and widgets that you need to see often, but not the most important app shortcuts. The hotseat at the bottom of the screen should contain your favorite apps. I like to keep a weather widget and system info widget on my center home screen.
Consider delegating a responsibility to each screen. For example, keep your social apps and widgets on one panel. Video and audio apps could go on a different one. Perhaps devote another one to a large calendar widget and to-do management data. Also don't forget to use folders! You shouldn't have to dive into the app drawer too often. And easy way to reduce your digging is to keep all your games in one folder from the start.
The lock screen has a lot of potential to save you time in Android 4.3, as long as you use the right widgets. Make sure to give Dashclock a prominent place -- I'd say make it the default. The Gmail widget is also very useful, but a little less secure. Many Twitter clients, including Falcon Pro, have lock screen widgets. Another solid choice for the central lock screen spot is the Google Now widget. Just use the space wisely.
Root Your Tablet
This step is completely optional, but many Nexus users find rooting to be easy and fun. There are plenty of things a rooted device can that an unrooted one can't. If you're going to take this step, make sure your version of the Android SDK is up to date. You also must be unlocked (see above).
With your tablet plugged in, open a command prompt from the adb folder. Type "adb reboot bootloader" without the quotes. Once the device is done, we're going to flash the customs recovery.
Type "fastboot flash recovery RECOVERYNAME.img." This should only take a second. Now turn off the tablet, then hold the power button and volume down to access the bootloader again. Select Recovery with the volume rocker and continue with the power button.
When TWRP recovery loads, choose the Install option (by tapping, yay!) and find the SuperSU zip. Slide the icon across the screen to confirm the flash. When you see "Successful" under the console, you're done. Reboot, and you should be rooted.
Use the opportunity to make a backup from TWRP recovery. Just boot back into TWRP, and choose the backup option. If something goes wrong, you can just reflash this image to get your device back to a working state.
Take Some Screenshots
It's time to celebrate. You have tweaked your new Nexus 7 within an inch of its life. So take some screenshots of your setup and customizations. Like most Android devices, you can take a native screenshot by holding the volume down and power button.
If you have Google+ photo upload turned on, it's crazy easy to shared the screens there. Dropbox also saves your screenshots if you have automatic background uploads enabled.
Charge It with Qi
The Nexus 7 has Qi wireless charging built in -- the only tablet I'm aware of with the feature. There are plenty of Qi chargers these days if you're interested in going this route, but the stock Nexus Orb might not be the best one. The N7 only fits on that one in landscape.
Panasonic makes a charger called the TM101 that works well. You can drop the tablet anywhere on it and the charger moves the coils to the right spot. It's about $60 on Amazon.
The Anker Qi pad also gets a lot of praise. This one is a little cheaper at $50, and has a large charging sweet spot.
Whether or not you decide to go all out and buy a Qi charger, the new Nexus 7 is a killer experience. The hardware is far and away the best of any small tablet. It has successfully embarrassed Samsung's Galaxy Tab 3 line.
This is a device that's ideal for tweaking and experimentation. It has the horsepower and battery life to accommodate almost any activity. So go crazy.