Google’s Nexus 7 tablet made its debut at Google I/O back in June, however units have just begun hitting the hands of consumers across the world. This new $199 7-inch tablet brings with it the newest iteration of Android, version 4.1 Jelly Bean, which manages to pack in some incredible features. While previous Android tablets have been wildly unsuccessful, Google is breathing new life into the tablet arena. The company is pushing the Nexus 7 as a media consumption device which slots it in between direct competitors like the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. With the iPad dominating, can Google really capture a share of an already crowded market? Read on to find out.
Don’t underestimate the power of this 7-inch beast. Under the hood is Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 processor clocked at 1.15GHz, with a power-saving option to switch to one core at 1.3GHz, and 1GB of RAM. The device comes with two storage options: 8GB and 16GB. Unfortunately, there is no Micro SD slot, so consumers will be limited to the factory-installed storage. Users also get the usual array of wireless networking options and sensors, including Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, GPS, NFC, a gyroscope, accelerometer and compass. There’s a 1.2-megapixel camera on the front for video chat, as well as a speaker on the rear of the device near the bottom.
Interestingly, the front-facing camera is really only accessible through Google+ hangouts or other video services like Tango. There isn’t a dedicated camera app to take pictures with, so photo-savvy users are out of luck.
The Nexus 7 sports a 7-inch 1280 x 800 (216 ppi) HD display layered with Corning Gorilla Glass. It’s an IPS panel, so colors look vibrant and accurate, very similar to the third-generation iPad. Because of this, text is extremely easy to read. Furthermore, the tablet offers wide viewing angles, though I tend to only use the device looking dead-on. While the Nexus 7′s display isn’t necessarily as good as the iPad, it isn’t too far behind.
Hardware and Design
For a low-budget tablet, the Nexus 7 offers superior styling and build quality with an emphasis on comfortability and portability. It measures in at 0.41 inches thick and weighs just 0.74 pounds. That’s .16 pounds lighter than Amazon’s Kindle Fire. The front of the device is glossy with a black bezel surrounding the display. On the edge of the tablet is a silver band which looks like metal but is actually a tough plastic. The rear is a soft, black, dimpled material which gives the tablet a premium feel and makes it extremely comfortable to hold.
On the right edge of the device you’ll find the power button and volume rocker, with both a Micro USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. Users also get a 4-pin “pogo-plug” connector on the left side for use with a highly anticipated docking station. While it may not be the thinnest or lightest tablet on the market, it is by far the most respectable tablet in its class.
Software and Performance
Of course Google couldn’t unveil a Nexus device without a new version of Android to go with it, so naturally the Nexus 7 ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on-board. The new software brings numerous enhancements and fresh features. The most notable of which is Project Butter: an attempt to smooth out the overall UI. Android has suffered from lag issues in the past, but in Jelly Bean animations actually perform as they were intended. In fact, the guys in Mountain View designed a brand-new triple buffering system which caches previous sessions and allows the CPU, GPU and display to operate simultaneously, using the same resources. In turn, this creates a fluid and buttery smooth experience.
The new system is so responsive to touch that it can actually anticipate where a user’s finger is going to land and pre-load any animations it may need to display when the touch input is made. Before, devices have been prone to software limitations, but Project Butter allows Android to take full advantage of the hardware it’s running on. However, in our testing we found that occasionally when scrolling through pages or menus, the device will “snap” back. You’ll move your finger one way and the page will bounce back to the previous one. It seems to have something to do with the enhanced touch response, but it doesn’t happen frequently and is something that only occurs when moving around at ultra high speeds.
The folks from Mountain View are touting their new Google Now service as one of the primary new additions to Jelly Bean. No, it isn’t Google’s version of Siri. Although it can accomplish many of the same things as Apple’s virtual voice assistant, Google Now is deeply integrated into the OS and does different things in different ways. In fact, Google Now constantly learns about a user through their daily routine. The sites you look at, the videos you watch, the weather you ask for and the appointments on your calendar are all taken into account to provide you with better, more accurate search results.
The service works by generating “cards”, no doubt taken from Matias Duarte’s days at Palm. You can launch the platform directly from the lockscreen and it will display information that it believes is relevant to you based on your location and usual activities. For example, if you’re headed to work in the morning, Google Now will alert you if there is a traffic jam or construction taking place on your normal route and find you alternate directions. It’ll even let you know what time you should leave to assure that you get to your job on time.
Google Now integrates Voice search, which gives users an easier way to discover content they want. Simply ask a question like, “what is the tallest building in the world?”, and the service will give the answer and even show you a picture of the Burj Khalifa.
In our testing, we found the device to offer decent battery life. On a single charge with constant web-surfing and video, I managed to squeeze out 8 hours. Keep in mind that your experience may vary considering the Tegra 3′s ability to switch to its companion core when doing less CPU-intensive tasks like listening to music. Essentially, it offers the kind of battery life you would expect from a tablet this size. I never found myself searching for a power outlet while putting it to the test.
There are a few issues that Google needs to take into account. Most notably, is the lack of tablet-specific apps on the Play Store. The company has taken a step in the right direction with the addition of Magazines, TV shows and Movies, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Unless you’re an e-book junkie, the Nexus 7 is superior in every way to offerings from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. By collaborating, Google and Asus have achieved the impossible: a well-built, fully functional $200 tablet. It isn’t just a good tablet for its price range, either — the solid build quality makes it feel more expensive than it really is. In fact, the Nexus 7 could easily fight for the money of a potential buyer of Apple’s $399 iPad 2.
In short, the Nexus 7 is the best Android tablet to hit the market, ever.