Well, the year is off to an interesting start, technologically speaking. Oh, not for everyone. I know everyone is looking forward to this year’s crop of flagship phones, whose primary distinguishing feature is that they’re larger than last year’s models. But that’s not really interesting in any sense of the word. My year has started interestingly in the sense of the Chinese curse.
On the sixth, the second hard drive in my Windows computer died. It wasn’t really a big deal. The only things on that drive were my iTunes library, which can easily be recreated, and a staging area that I used for holding backups until an automated routine moved them to the network server in the middle of the night. So I figured I’d ignore it while I worked on more critical matters–my current writing project and, of course, taking pictures of Sachiko.
On the tenth, the primary hard drive died. Normally, I would have jumped on the problem. One drive dying is likely random chance. Two drives dying this close together could be a sign of an underlying problem: overheating, motherboard dying (it’s of the right age that it could have bad capacitors), or some variety of malware. Normally I’d have had the machine open within minutes, but I’ve been dealing with an unrelated problem.
At least, I assume it’s unrelated. On the ninth, about ten hours before the second hard drive went down, my beloved Nexus 7 passed away. According to the autopsy, the flash storage bit the dust. So that makes three drives–on two separate machines that have never been connected–failing in less than a week. Disturbing.
I use the Windows machine a couple of times a week. The Nexus 7 I use several hours every day. It’s my ebook reader, my news reader, and the home of the few games I actually play. Having it out of commission was a serious block to my normal routine. Of course, the first thing I did was a deep dig into the Web to see if it was recoverable. Short answer: no. Longer answer: there are some recoverable failures with similar symptoms to the storage failure, but the flash storage is soldered to the motherboard and can only be replaced by swapping out the entire board.
I called Google’s hardware support to confirm my diagnosis. Kudos to “Dan,” who didn’t read from a script or have me repeat tests I had already done. He asked a few questions to confirm that I had actually done what I said I had, suggested one test I hadn’t tried, and when that failed, he confirmed that my tablet was pining for the fjords.
Since I bought the Nexus 7 in mid-2013–on the first day they were available, in fact–it was long out of warranty. Waiting weeks for a repair at a cost higher than what I paid for the tablet was a non-starter. Google doesn’t sell the Nexus 7 anymore. Getting a new one would mean buying on eBay or from a closeout seller*. Again, not really a path I felt comfortable about with my daily routine on the line.
* I’ve had mixed results with Tiger Direct and similar sellers. Sometimes they’re great; sometimes their inventory is wishful thinking; sometimes the inventory is fine, but their shipper employs snails–not snail-mail, actual snails.
I considered a non-Nexus tablet, but I’m not fond of the UI changes they layer on top of stock Android, and I really don’t want a device cluttered up with their add-on software. Space is tight, and I see no reason to sacrifice space to software I don’t use.
Google offers two choices: the Nexus 6 and the Nexus 9. The N6 is a phone, and I don’t need a second phone, thanks–and, all jokes about phablets aside, IMNSHO, a six-inch screen is a little too small for extended reading.
So that left the Nexus 9. Yes, I got one. I was concerned about the size and weight, and that is a bit of a problem. Reading on the N7 felt a lot like reading a mass-market paperback. Reading on the N9 feels more like reading a trade paperback*. The N7 fits in a jacket pocket–even some generous pants pockets–even with a cover. The N9 isn’t going in the pocket of any garment I’ve ever owned or would be willing to wear.
* Which is still better than reading on an iPad. It’s not just a matter of weight: even with an iPad Air, the sheer size of the screen makes it feel like a hardback psychologically. That’s a bit of a barrier for me. Reading a hardback has mental overtones of studying, rather than reading for pleasure. (Am I the only person who feels that way? Surely not.)
The N9 is fast, yes. The screen is gorgeous, I’ll admit. The N7’s screen was too small for watching videos comfortably, but the N9 is–just barely–large enough to make it work. I’m not sure it’ll unseat the iPad as my portable video player, but it might. On the downside, it is too heavy to hold unsupported for long stretches of time. I wouldn’t want to use it standing on BART. The “double-tap the screen to wake it up” feature is handy, but very easy to trigger accidentally when picking it up or putting it down. Once the case I’ve ordered arrives, accidental double-taps shouldn’t be as much of an issue, and the case* will double as a stand so I don’t have to hold the darn thing all the time.
* I favor the origami-style cases from roocase. They don’t add too much weight to the device, they give a reasonable amount of protection, and–most importantly for me–they work as stands in both portrait and landscape modes.
Once I’ve finished migrating to the N9, I’m sure I’ll be just as happy with it as I was with the N7. But note those key words: “finished migrating”. I got the tablet on Saturday. Today is Tuesday, and I’m still setting it up. Google has made some design decisions for Android that limit users’ control of their data, and that’s a big problem.
Tune in on Thursday for the second part of the story, in which I explain why Google needs to be turned over someone’s knee.