Why Apple was right criticising the Nexus 7 browsing experience (and how to fix that)

In the iPad Mini presentation, Apple compared the browsing experience of the Nexus 7 and the new iPad mini. Of course, the iPad came out favourably in the comparison. And, of course, the outcry about the comparison was big, because Apple failed to mention screen resolution.

Resolution is very important, but still, they had a point. This is what landscape browsing on the Nexus 7 is like:

15xu4o5_medium

The Nexus 7 has a nice resolution of 1280x800, but of the 800 vertical pixels, 64 are lost to the onscreen buttons, 32 are lost to the top status bar, and 117 are used up by Chrome's, well er... chrome. This makes for a total vertical loss of 213 pixels, and that is a lot. More than a quarter of the 800 pixels are lost, and we end up with a meager 587.

In portrait mode, the situation is better. Because of the 16:10 aspect ratio, now we have a lot of horizontal space and end up with 1067 of a total of 1280 pixels for browsing. Still, losing 117 pixels to Chrome is a bitter pill to swallow.

Here's the full table:

NEXUS7, bottom: 64, top: 32, chrome: 117, total loss: 213
//total
1280x800 = 1.024.000 pixels / 800 vertical pixels
//landscape browsing
1280x587 = 751.360 pixels / 587 vertical pixels
//portrait browsing
800x1067 = 853.600 pixels / 1067 vertical pixels

Let's compare this to the iPad mini or iPad 2:

IPAD, top: 20, safari: 58, total vertical loss: 78
//total
1024x768 = 786.432 pixels / 768 vertical pixels
//landscape browsing
1024x690 = 706.560 pixels / 690 vertical pixels
//portrait browsing
768x946 = 726.528 pixels / 946 vertical pixels

No soft buttons on the bottom stealing space, a slimmer top bar, and a slimmer Safari means the iPad uses 690 of it's 768 vertical pixels for browsing. So even though it started out with less pixels, it uses a higher percentage of them to display webpages. When I use a browser, that's the primary use case I want fulfilled.

There are two easy ways to fix this:

- Hide the Chrome user interface when not using it. The Android stock browser on the Galaxy Nexus and older devices already does a superb job here, so I doubt this feature will be missing from Chrome much longer. Or, at least I hope so. This change brings 117 free vertical pixels for browsing.

- Keep the soft buttons on the side of the device, like a phone. This costs some horizontal real estate, but we have 1280 pixels there, which leaves us with 1216 and is still plenty. This would lead to 651 pixels with Chrome shown, which is pretty close to the iPad. Even better, this leads to 768 pixels when Chrome is hidden, which is equivalent to the iPad displaying the website full screen, which will never happen. So yeah, take that, iPad! ;-)

Unfortunately, when we look at the Nexus 10, the chances of this happening are slim to none. In the name of uniformity, the 10" tablet interface was changed to the phone interface with two bars, and the soft buttons act like on the Nexus 7, always being on the bottom edge. On the Nexus 10, this might be ok, because it still has lots of room. On the Nexus 7, as demonstrated, this is fatal.

Anyway, I doubt the buttons on the Nexus 7 will ever stay where they are in portrait mode, or be configurable in either position. I might be wrong, seeing the recent changes to the Nexus 7 with the landscape homescreen, which I think was largely due to user feedback. If anyone can recommend a custom ROM or hack to make this happen, please leave a comment.

Here's the full table for the new, improved Nexus 7 GUI:

NEXUS7NEW, bottom: 64/0, top: 32, side: 0/64, chrome: 117/0,
total vertical loss: 32/96/149/213
//total
1280x800 = 1.024.000 pixels / 800 vertical pixels
//landscape browsing
1216x651 = 791.616 pixels / 651 vertical pixels
//landscape browsing with no chrome
1216x768 = 933.888 pixels / 768 vertical pixels
//portrait browsing
800x1067 = 853.600 pixels / 1067 vertical pixels
//portrait browsing with no chrome
800x1184 = 947.200 pixels / 1184 vertical pixels

Here are two screenshots from the Galaxy Nexus with the stock browser, to give you an idea how the Nexus 7 could look with these changes:

Zm1nwx_medium

2u5te2x_medium

What do you think?