Tossability. This is probably not a specific quality you look for in technology. It’s not very important for a lot of things — HDTVs, for instance. And hasn’t been for other things, like your computer, even if you’ve occasionally wanted to chuck it out a window.
This, though, is perhaps the defining characteristic of a 7-inch tablet. It is the reason to buy one. It marks a profoundly different way to treat high technology: Long too expensive and too fragile to manhandle like everyday objects — books and magazines — it’s a full computer that you can toss onto couches from across the room, fling into bags loaded with minefields of deadly objects like keys. It’s something that Google touches on in this ad for the Nexus 7, though it doesn’t explicitly reference — you wouldn’t take an iPad into the woods, would you?
Tossability is a complex-but-intuitive metric — something you just feel at a gut level. Kind of like pornography. But breaking it apart, it’s a particular combination of size, weight, materials, density, build quality, and price.
Counter-intuitively, an iPad isn’t super tossable, unless it’s carefully swaddled in protective armor. The screen is too large and the device is too thin (this may be the only time anybody calls the iPad “too thin,” ever), making the 9.7-inch expanse of glass seem eminently fragile, a vast plane wide open to deathblows. The aluminum scratches. Just as crucially, an iPad is at least $400 and every additional dollar in the pricepoint reduces tossability.
This is what makes the Nexus 7 killer, and what I’ve found to be the biggest difference between it and an iPad: It’s the first full tablet that’s both good and tossable. Despite some production issues, its high quality plastic back that won’t show dings, scratch-resistant screen and overall density means the Nexus 7 feels remarkably sturdy, like a paperback — perhaps the original tossable technology. Compared to the iPad, it has half the amount of exposed glass, weighs half as much and it’s just a hair thicker. And it’s only $200. It feels almost analog: I do things with a Nexus 7 I’d never do with an iPad, case or no case. All with out thinking about it. Leave it on a kitchen counter while I’m cooking or making juice, with oil and green goo splashing everywhere. Shove it into a bag with no case. Fling it onto my bed from across the room. It’s the first computer I’ve truly never worried about breaking.
That might not sound like a big deal, but it’s a quiet revolution of sorts. An iPad has been called a very personal computer: It’s the first computer you can take to bed with you and not feel like a failure of a human being. But the way the Nexus 7 and 7-inch tablets fit into life, real life, the messy and blunt parts of life — that’s something else entirely. It’s liberating.
And you can start see where tossability matters in other places too: An 11-inch MacBook Air is a very tossable computer, perhaps the first. (When it’s closed, obvs.) Flash storage and total lack of moving parts means there’s no hard drive or optical drive that’ll get rattled to death; the aluminum unibody and super structural integrity means it won’t bust or chip like plastic; and it’s just 2.38 pounds spread across 11 inches. It is basically a fancy frisbee. So is an entry level Kindle, with a six-inch screen and just six ounces of heft. It’s almost disposable, even, at $79. No *shshhsngsghhkAGHGHGH* sound instinctively escapes from your lips as either of them leave your hands, flying toward a coffee table or sofa, because the MacBook Air is strong and the Kindle is cheap.
They’re the beginning of realizing the promise of computers and tablets made with things like flexible displays and indestructible, beautiful materials — simple, usable computers that you actually can take anywhere on earth and do anything with. Maybe that sounds a little grandiose. But it’d be really nice to not kill an iPhone every time you dropped it, right?