The Google Nexus 7 – a backpacking essential?

Since the Kindle arrived in the UK, it seems more and more people are taking them backpacking with them… after all, it’s generally lighter than a paperback book, reads as easily, and you can have several books stored on the device, so you can choose from several books to read. It’s pretty much a guaranteed win for those with a Kindle, really!

Up until this week, my Kindle went with me for every single backpacking trip, for all of the reasons mentioned above. Now, though, it has become all kinds of obsolete.

On Thursday, a brand new Google Nexus 7 arrived on my doorstep, and it became immediately apparent that it would be more useful in the outdoors than the Kindle.

Why?, I hear you ask!

Well, it all comes down to the colour screen and the apps.

With it’s 7″ screen and small form factor, it’s not overly large. The photo below shows it next to my Kindle 3… not a massive difference, really!

Kindle 3 Vs Nexus 7

On my scales, including its Aquapac waterproof case, it weighs in at 394g. OK, it’s not exactly ultralight, but when compared to the Kindle, at 283g, it’s not too bad.

Now down to the real beauty of the device… believe it or not, as a naturalist (no, not naturist… I’m not the naked rambler! 😉 ), I’ve been looking for something like this for years… something that I can use for colour books.

Basically, the idea occurred to me when the Kindle was released in the UK, that a colour version would be able to store all of my field guides, so that I could have ID guides for absolutely everything in one portable device. Colour e-ink was just going to be too expensive, so a tablet seems like the sensible choice. I got myself an iPad, but it was just too heavy, too big and just too clumsy… then Google announced the Nexus 7. A portable, lightweight tablet, that wasn’t gonna break the bank. I knew straight away, this was the one for me!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. First of all, a lot of the good field guides are not available in eBook format, and after speaking to British Wildlife Publishing on Thursday, sadly, may not be. They advise that the costs and licensing implications makes eBook versions of their guides impractical. It’s a bit of a shame, as most of my favorite field guides are made by them.

There are ebooks out there, though, which are of use. When I got the Nexus 7, it came with £15 worth of Play Store credit, which I immediately put to good use, by downloading the following ebooks:

Wild Flowers
Collins Gem Birds
Collins Gem Insects
Collins Gem Trees
This gives me a reasonable selection of content, so that I should be able to identify most of the common species I might see when out backpacking.
They’ll do until I can go through the laborious process of scanning some of my own field guides in, and then creating PDF versions of them.

The Ptarmigan, from Collins Gem Birds

That’s not all, though!

As it’s a tablet, rather than an eBook reader, for all those nights you’re stuck in the tent, bored out your skull, while it chucks it down outside… there’s games, movies and music, too!

What more could you possibly want???

Did I hear you say mapping?

Oh yeah, that’s right… we’ve got us a fully fledged Android tablet here, with a GPS chip set, so all those mapping apps with offline viewing… yeah, we’re talking to you Viewranger and Memory-Map, work a treat, too!

The Tarmachan Ridge, using Memory-Map

And let’s not forget the old WordPress and Blogger apps, allowing you to write a local draft of your blog while out and about (to then upload when home and add photos to – as I’m doing right now!)

WordPress app in action

The downsides

OK, there’s always some… perfection hasn’t quite been created yet…

It’s Wi-Fi only, so even if you’ve got the best signal in the world, there’s no WiFi hotspots at the top of a Munro! (Unless there’s one accessible from The Cairnwell or Carn Aosda, but since those are the least exciting hills in the whole world, we’ll safely write that off!). Admittedly, if you’ve got a mobile which is capable of creating a portable hotspot, that negates the issue entirely.

It’s got an advertised battery life in the region of 8-10 hours of video, 10-12 hours of book reading, so, assuming 2 hours use a day while backpacking, you’re talking about 4 days use. I’ve not really had a chance to confirm how long it lasts, in the two days I’ve had it…

It only comes in 8Gb or 16Gb format, with no option for expandable memory. It does limit, to a certain extent, the amount you can put on it. The maps for Memory Map are 2Gb in themselves! (For full GB OS Landranger maps)


I do think this has the potential to be one of the most useful tools for backpackers and naturalists. Sure, it has its limitations, but considering what it can do, I think it’s fair to overlook those. It’s certainly not something I’ll be leaving behind when I’m out backpacking!

I will point out that if you don’t live in the UK, there may be other options available to you in the same sort of price range, such as the Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet. Also, if you’re willing to pay more, there’s the Samsung Galaxy 7.7, and if you believe rumors, Apple are planning on jumping on the small form factor tablet bandwagon with some sort of mini iPad… at this moment in time, though, the Nexus 7 has easily the best performance for its price range.

13 thoughts on “The Google Nexus 7 – a backpacking essential?”

  1. Got the N7 as well and am very pleased with it. Bluetooth tethering to an Android phone is very straightforward, extending the battery life even further by allowing the WiFi and NFC to be turned off yet maintaining the (tethered) internet connection when needed.

  2. I’ve got mine to use as an electronic map, but hadn’t thought of using it for field guides. The main drawback I discovered on the hill is that it’s not as visible as I’d like in bright sunlight. Not that we get much of that!

    I also do like Tim above and connect to Wi-Fi via my mobile so lack of 3g isn’t an issue. One data contract is more than enough!

    1. Agreed re sunlight. Its the one advantage e-ink has over a standard LED screen. From a field guide perspective, I tend to take photos of plants in the field, then use the Nexus to ID them in the tent, where the glare isn’t an issue.

  3. After having read Chris’s review and now yours, it seems like an ideal backpacking blogging tool. Is it possible to transfer pictures from your phone to the N7 and incorporate them into LIveWriter to post to your blog, using your phone as the transmitter?

    1. Hi Alan,

      What I tend to do is simply email myself the photos from my phone, which I can then pick up and save on the Nexus… then, using the default WordPress app, can easily insert them into the blog (if I remember rightly, I wrote the post above entirely on the Nexus using the WordPress app, by using this method)

      Chris’s blog post was great… been meaning to link to it from this one, as I’ve still not tried testing it for navigation myself!

      Hope that helps


  4. Quick question for you – what size/version of the Aquapac do you use for your Nexus 7? The link from Chris T’s blog on this topic is to the Medium Whanganui, but looking at Amazon etc. everyone seems to be trying to sell the large version as appropriate for this device. Thanks.

    1. Like Chris, I use the Medium… it’s pretty much a perfect fit.

      I reckon some sites are recommending the large as other 7″ tablets (Kindle Fire, for example) are quite a bit wider, and would struggle to fit into the medium.

    1. Yeah… wouldn’t say no to the increase to 32Gb, either!

      Hard to justify, though… particularly as can use my phone as a wireless hotspot.

  5. Would look long and hard at the Nooks HD and HD+
    There only fault is that you have to side load the google market, but it takes an sd card so can carry more.
    Charging carry a battery back up.
    I think the big thing going for the nexus is at this price you could afford two set ups, the normal world and the outdoor, which you sort of have to do with non-sd card set ups.
    Why do the people who make this stuff not sit down with the people who buy it or more importantly do not. It a lot like fleeces, I keep having to buy comprise stuff because they do not make what I want, and I cannot be the only person who wants a chest pocket, especially in a 3 in 1 jacket.

    1. If you’re fussy for SD card slot, you’d be fine with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7″ (which, coincidentally, I got free with my NX1000 purchase, and gave to Janie… I still prefer the Nexus)
      There are plenty of options out there, in terms of which tablet to get (yes, the iPad mini is even an option!), but I definitely think that whichever small form factor tablet you have, they’re an invaluable tool on the hills!

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