Nexus 7 - Mobile Productivity Tool for Lawyers
It is no secret that there are many more legal-specific apps for the iPad than for Android tablets. Some of the best iPad apps have no equivalent in the Android ecosystem. However, there are solid Android apps for crucial tasks like PDF review and annotation, PDF creation, document creation and editing, note taking, legal research, file synchronization, and remote access and control. These apps installed on a good Android tablet, along with a couple of well-chosen accessories, will provide a mobile lawyer with a useful productivity tool (if still not as useful as the iPad – whether full-size or Mini).
The Android tablet that is the focus of this article is the Google Nexus 7 made by Asus. It is widely hailed as the first truly competitive Android tablet. It blends quality hardware with the pleasingly smooth Jelly Bean version of Android. These combine to produce a user experience that rivals that of the iPad. Its primary failing (other than the lack of legal-specific apps designed for Android tablets) may be battery life at about 2 hours less than the iPad Mini.
The Nexus 7 running Jelly Bean operates as smoothly as my iPad Mini or iPad 2. The touch screen is responsive. The resolution is not quite “Retina” class like the third and fourth generation iPads, but it is sharper than the first two iPads and the iPad Mini. Although both the Nexus 7 and the iPad Mini are nominally 7 inch tablets, the iPad Mini’s screen is noticeably larger at an actual measurement of just under 8 inches. Most of that size is the greater width of the screen when in portrait orientation (or height when in landscape orientation). The narrower Nexus 7 is easier to hold in one hand than the Mini, which is important for this class of device. It is also more likely to fit the inside pocket of a man’s suit jacket, another important advantage.
I am not going to address basic functions such as email, contacts, calendar, and web browsing. I use the native apps that come pre-installed with the Android operating system on the Nexus 7 for those functions. They work well. Chrome is a very good web browser, and if you also use it on your desktop, your bookmarks and other settings can sync to the Android version on the Nexus 7. I have both a Gmail account and a Microsoft Exchange account set up to use the standard Email app (bypassing the Gmail-specific app) so I can see all of my email (Gmail and Exchange) in a single app the way I do in the Mail app on my iPad. Both accounts also sync with the native Calendar and People (contacts) apps. I’ve found no reason to “upgrade” from these apps to something else for these basic, but essential, functions.
The first productivity task when using any mobile device is finding a way to get your case files onto the device. I prefer SugarSync for file synchronization on my iPad, and I see no reason not to use the Android version as well. SugarSync for Android isn’t quite as easy to use as the iOS version, but file syncs are fast and reliable. An entire case file syncs over to my Nexus 7 in a few seconds. What I really like about SugarSync is not so much its mobile apps, but the way it works on my desktop computer to select files available for remote syncing. It is a “sync in place” system where I don’t need to move files to a “Dropbox” or other designated folder to make them available to my mobile devices or other computers. Instead, after installing the SugarSync program on my desktop PC, I just right click on a file or folder in Windows Explorer and choose the option to add it to SugarSync. Simple and effective. The price is very reasonable as well. Just $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year to select up to 30 GB of files for syncing.
Once your files are on your Nexus 7, how to do you work with them? Many of the apps that are useful on the iPad have Android versions. For example, Documents to Go ($14.99 for full version) is a safe choice on both iOS and Android. I’ve been using Documents to Go since it was first introduced for the Palm platform a couple of decades ago. There are many other office suites available for Android, but I decided to stick with what I know works well. It lets me view and edit Word documents preserving all but the most esoteric formatting. I can also create new Word documents with the app. There are also view, create, and edit functions for Excel and PowerPoint files and a view only option for PDFs.
PDF review and annotation remains a primary lawyer productivity function on any tablet. My favorite iPad app for this purpose, iAnnotatePDF, is now available in an Android version at no charge (during the introductory period). Unfortunately, it is not as refined as the iOS version and lacks its huge feature set. Hopefully its developer, Branchfire, will continue to improve it. Instead, I recommend either ezPDF Reader ($3.99) or RepliGo PDF Reader ($2.99) on the Nexus 7. I have both installed on my Nexus 7, but I prefer ezPDF Reader for its user interface and its wider range of options and settings. ezPDF Reader has a free Google Drive plug in that allows direct access to any documents stored on your Google Drive. There is also direct access to your files stored with Dropbox.
If I need to create PDF files on my Nexus 7, I use Adobe CreatePDF. It is a $9.99 app that lets me convert any document on my device to PDF. The app searches for all documents and photos on my Nexus 7 that can be converted to PDF. I just select the one I want and the app does the rest – creating a PDF that I can email to a client, co-counsel, opposing counsel, or efile with a court. This functionality is useful when you have created a Word document on your Nexus 7 using an app such as Documents to Go, but prefer to email a harder-to-edit PDF copy.
One of the benefits of a small tablet (smaller than the standard 10 inch form factor) is that you are more likely to have it with you when you need to take notes. A tablet and either a portable keyboard or a stylus, along with the right app, can be a useful note taking combination. My app of choice is Writepad Stylus. This 99 cent app handles both stylus typed input (on screen or external keyboard). When done, you can export your notes to PDF format (my preference) by installing the free PDF Exporter app.
My stylus of choice remains the Wacom Bamboo Stylus Solo which I first used with my iPad 2 almost two years ago. It works equally well with the Nexus 7. Although you can use any portable Bluetooth keyboard with the Nexus 7, most are larger than the Nexus 7’s small form factor, adding unwanted bulk to your mobile kit. An attractive option is the generic keyboard available from many vendors on Amazon for $20 to $25 that matches the Nexus 7’s size and design. The keys are small and you wouldn’t want to type a brief on it, but I got used to it quickly and it works well for note taking, email, correspondence, and document editing. When not in use, it clips onto the Nexus 7 as a front cover to protect the screen. It works much like the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad, but at a fraction of the price.
For legal research, free is good. Free and comprehensive is better. The same Fastcase app that is so useful on the iPad has an Android version that works on the Nexus 7. The app offers free access to case law for all 50 states and access to statutes for most states and the federal government. The downside is that while you can save cases and statutes within the app, you can’t export the cases or copy and paste text from them into other documents. However, if you are a desktop Fastcase subscriber because you pay for it ($65 or $95 per month depending on plan) or get it free with your state or local Bar membership, you can sync your mobile search results with the Fastcase desktop application. Cases can be printed/saved in the desktop application.
For those times when you need to connect to your desktop or notebook computer back at the office to run software not available on a mobile device, you need a remote access and control app. I use LogMeIn Ignition on my iPad and, as luck would have it, there is an Android version of the app. It costs $29.99, making it one of the more expensive apps in the Google Play store. Still, it is secure, fast, and reliable. I consider it money well spent for the ability to access your office computer via your Nexus 7. Obviously, displaying your full-sized office desktop on a 7 inch screen makes navigation and running programs a bit harder. But with care, you can do anything from your Nexus 7 that you could do while sitting at your desk in the office. Beware of less expensive or free remote access and control apps. Many do not encrypt the data that is sent between your mobile device and the host computer.
Overall, among smaller tablets, I still favor the iPad Mini as a lawyer’s mobile productivity tool. The much better selection of legal-specific apps is the primary reason. I also like the Mini’s slightly larger screen and somewhat better battery life. Still, the Nexus 7 is a worthy competitor for those who won’t buy anything Apple or who are heavily invested in the Android ecosystem. For the most part, apps that run on my Android phone will also run on the Nexus 7. Buying them once allows me to install them on all of my Android devices.
But there are not yet a lot of Android apps specifically designed for a tablet-sized screen. Phone apps on the Nexus 7 are not optimized for the greater screen space. Despite these shortcomings, if you have a Nexus 7 and want to make it a decent productivity tool for your practice, these apps and accessories will help.
- Scott Bassett, Esq., Senior Editor, Affinity Publications