Not only is it Google’s first own brand tablet, but it’s also the first device to ship with the new Android 4.1 Jelly Bean installed.
I’ve used this for a couple of weeks now, so this is a review and user experience rolled into one. The Nexus 7 is a budget tablet, conceived by Google and Manufactured by Asus. It’s the full, integrated, Google experience rolled up into one affordable, and portable media device. Even though it’s low in price, it’s high in tech, And it’s aiming to make a serious impact in the consumer tablet market. There are two versions of this tablet: The 8 GB (gigabyte) version costs £159 or $199 And the 16 GB (gigabyte) version costs £199 or $249. Even though some compromises have been made to keep it within this low price range, The Nexus 7 still has a solid and premium feel. Like the name suggests, it’s a 7 inch screen tablet, And it’s been designed with portability in mind. It’s slim and light, being only a little more than 1cm thick and 340 gms in weight. So it’s comfortable enough to hold in one hand for say 15 or 20 minutes at a time, and the curved corners add to the comfort of holding it. The thick bezels on either side of the screen give you enough space to rest your thumb when you hold the tablet up in portrait mode. There’s even more bezel space if you want to hold it one or two-handed in landscape mode. I can also reach around the tablet and hold it in one hand, and it’s still comfortable that way. Still, it’s a tablet and even though it’s similar in size to the e-ink based kindle keyboard, it’s nowhere near as light as that. So don’t expect to hold it up in one hand for long periods of time like you can with a kindle e-ink reader. The Nexus 7 is 12cm wide and nearly 20cm long. So, it’s not going to fit in most jeans pockets, but may fit in a large jacket pocket. Most likely you’ll need a bag for it. But with these dimensions it’s convenient enough to use on public transport and other places. The front of the tablet is full glass. It’s Corning Scratch-resistant glass, but Google’s tech specs don’t clarify whether this is actual Gorilla Glass or perhaps a cheaper alternative from Corning. The glass is optically bonded to the 7 inch IPS LCD display below, and I believe this is in order to lessen glare on the screen, and also give better contrast. The whole glass screen sits flush with the grey plastic side bezel. There are no physical buttons on the front, And all you see right at the top is the 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera and a light sensor next to it. At the top part of the tablet, there’s just a single pinhole microphone. On the left side, there’s a secondary pinhole microphone for noise cancelling, And a four pin dock connector. The only physical buttons on the tablet are on the right hand side. At the top is the power button, and below it is the volume rocker. They’re both good quality, solid buttons, But they’re quite close together, and you can’t see them when you’re holding the tablet up and using it. So you end up searching for the button with your finger, And I’ve often accidentally pressed the power button when I meant to change the volume. The back of the tablet is thick textured plastic that feels like rubber. So it’s not too slippery and feels very comfortable to hold, also it doesn’t pick up dirt or fingerprint smudges easily. You get both the Nexus and Asus logos on the back. And below the Asus logo, there’s a wide speaker grille. There’s actually two stereo speakers outputting from this. I found that my hand doesn’t fully block it whether I’m holding the tablet in portrait or landscape mode. Right at the bottom of the tablet, there’s the microUSB port and the headphone jack. I’m more used to having the headphone jack at the top of the device, But it’s placement at the bottom hasn’t proved to be a hinderance so far. The microUSB port is only for charging and data transfer; it doesn’t have a HDMI output. Other hardware omissions are: That there is no rear facing camera, And the back panel is non-removable, so you won’t be able to swap the 4325 mAh battery that’s inside. Also, there’s no microSD card slot, so internal storage is a fixed 8 GB (gigabyte) or 16 GB (gigabyte). The Nexus 7 has no LED indicators either. The nexus 7’s backlit LCD display has a HD resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels and a pixel density of 216 pixels per inch. This is actually more than the majority of 7 inch tablets available right now, which have an average pixel density of around 170 pixels per inch. It means that text and images look crisp on the Nexus 7’s screen, including small fonts on a webpage. When you first turn on the tablet and see the home screen, you get the impression that it’s dull and undersaturated from the look of the stock wallpaper and icons. But if you look at this screen display comparison of an original video and how it appears on the tablet’s screen at full brightness, you’ll notice that the Nexus 7 actually shows some colours to be slightly more saturated than the original. This is particularly so in darker areas and colours like green and deep red. However, it shows shadow areas as nearly black with no picking up on the lighter grey details inside. Oranges and yellows are not so saturated. And light colours like yellow appear so bright that a lot of fine detail is lost. Overall though, colour reproduction is fairly good. E-ink displays are really popular for reading. And I want to quickly show the Nexus 7 next to the Kindle Keyboard e-reader. The Nexus 7 is a very similar size to the Kindle Keyboard, but 93g heavier. For reading indoors, both displays are clear. The Kindle shows more contrast. But the backlighting on the Nexus 7 means you can also read in the dark with it. The Nexus 7 also has landscape orientation, if you wish to hold it that way. When outdoors, they’re both readable in shaded areas. But you can see the glare on the Nexus 7 screen in the spots where light hits it. So in bright light, outdoors, text on the Nexus 7 screen becomes barely visible, While the e-ink display on the Kindle remains sharp. Even movies are only somewhat visible in bright sunlight, Still that does highlight the major advantage the Nexus 7 has over the e-ink readers. It’s a tablet with a colour display. So you can do so much more than just reading with it. You can watch movies, play games, browse the web, read magazines and so on. And being a similar size to a Kindle e-reader certainly has advantages when it comes to portability. However, that small size also has a few drawbacks. Things are going to be small on it compared to a larger tablet. You can see how different the same magazine pages, web pages and text look on the 9.7 inch and 7 inch screens. So that’s a small compromise needed for the portability of the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 has an impressive 1.3 GHz quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor and 1 GB (gigabyte) of RAM. When you compare it’s benchmark results with some of the leading Android phones, you can see that it does quite well. GPU and browser performance, particularly, have good scores. CPU performance shows lower results, but that isn’t actually reflected in practical use. During actual use, the Nexus 7 is really responsive and fast. Swiping between home screens, opening and closing apps, the quad core CPU manages to show off the full effect of project butter. Even games are a joy to play on this 7 inch screen. I noticed no lag. And Tegra 3 enhanced games like Riptide look fantastic. There’s a rear loudspeaker grille which covers two stereo speakers. I’m not sure how much stereo effect is produced since the speakers are quite close to each other. Overall loudness is adequate, but not outstanding. You wouldn’t be able to hear it properly in a noisy area. But in those cases you’d probably prefer to use headphones anyway. One thing I noticed was that keeping the tablet on a flat surface produced better volume than when it’s propped up. And that test was done at maximum volume. 1080p HD video playback is very good. There were no skipped frames or lag. If you’re in the US and looking to recreate some of the Kindle Fire experience on your Nexus 7, Then there’s a way to install the Amazon Appstore. Type the address shown here (Amzn.to/getappstore) into your browser, And it’ll download the Amazon appstore app as a .apk file. Make sure you go into the Nexus 7 settings, security, and tick ‘unknown sources’ before installing this app. This lets you install apps from sources other than the Play store. Unfortunately, the Amazon app store doesn’t work outside of the US at the moment, unless you have a US credit card and billing address. The Nexus 7 has a 1.2 megapixel front facing camera. It’s decent quality and is really only used for video chat by applications like Skype and Google Talk. There is no rear camera, which probably won’t be missed by many on a tablet. But I think that omission also helped to keep the cost down. The Nexus 7 has the usual connectivity options like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi connection is strong and I had no problems with it. What is missing is a mobile data, 3G or 4G, connection. This is a 7 inch tablet, so portability is a big plus for it compared to larger tablets and laptops. But if you’re going to use the tablet a lot while out and about, mobile data connection may be something you’d need. An NFC chip is included, so you’ll be able to share small files with other NFC enabled devices. Having NFC also future-proofs the Nexus 7 somewhat, since we’re moving towards NFC powered payments and large file transfers. You can connect the Nexus 7 to your computer through USB. It’s recognised as a Media Transfer Protocol or MTP device. It’s automatically recognised on Windows PCs, since MTP is a Windows standard. Mac users can install an MTP agent like ‘Android File Transfer’ which is available from Android.com This then automatically launches whenever you connect the Nexus 7 to your Mac. For Linux users, the process has a few more steps. First you need to install the necessary tools. You can do this in two ways. One, using the Synaptic Package Manager, where you search for mtp, And then you need to install both mtpfs and mtp-tools. The other way is by using the following terminal command. Once you’ve done that, get the Vendor and Product ID using this command line, For product ID, replace VENDOR with PRODUCT. Next set up the rule using the Vendor and Product ID. Finally, connect the Nexus 7 and mount it using mtpfs, then you’ll be able to browse the contents. The Nexus 7 has GPS, and as you can see from the test app, the function works quite well. The 7 inch screen provides plenty of viewing space for maps. And Google Maps lets you cache an area of the map up to an approximate size of 85 MB (megabytes). However, it doesn’t download the satellite images. Since the Nexus 7 doesn’t have a mobile data connection, You’ll need wi-fi to download these maps from Google. You can use these offline maps for navigation, But if you alter your route and go a different way to the same destination, the map will only re-route if your path lies within the original downloaded area. But you’ll lose the turn-by-turn voice navigation. If you decide to go to a new destination, then you’ll need a wi-fi connection to get new driving directions. The lack of a microSD card slot means that storage on the Nexus 7 is limited to either 8 GB (gigabyte) or 16 GB (gigabyte). And actually you don’t even get that much. On the 16 GB (gigabyte) model, The operating system and pre-loaded Google apps take a bit more than 3 GB (gigabytes), Leaving only 12.97 GB (gigabyte) of user accessible space out of the box. Similarly, on the 8 GB (gigabyte) model user accessible space is just 5.62 GB (gigabytes). It’s really not much space to work with, and many people may prefer to get the 16 GB (gigabyte) version rather than the 8 GB (gigabyte) one. Also, there isn’t the option of using USB-On-The-Go to mount a USB drive. Considering all the types of media we use on our phones and tablets, like apps, games, movies, music and so on, You’d quickly find yourself running out of space. A lot of apps nowadays, especially games, need more than 1 GB (gigabyte) of space. And a couple of HD quality movies need even more. But if you’re planning to ‘live in the cloud’ and stream a movie, you’d need to have a pretty good wi-fi connection. This might be difficult to find when you’re travelling. And you’d always need a wi-fi hotspot to access any content, since the Nexus 7 doesn’t have mobile data connection. A lot of us still want off-line storage. We want our media to be on our device. We still haven’t got used to the idea that even though we payed for it, our stuff stays with the seller, in the cloud. It makes me wonder if an 8 GB (gigabyte) tablet with a microSD card slot at a slightly higher price might have been a better option? The Nexus 7 has a 4325 mAh battery, that’s non-removable. From completely empty, it takes 4 hours to fully charge. Google’s specs state that the Nexus 7 gives up to 300 hours of stand by time. From my tests, with 50 percent screen brightness, wi-fi, bluetooth, and GPS turned off, There was 4 percent battery drain in 10 minutes playing a more intensive game like Riptide. 3 percent battery drain in 10 minutes playing Temple Run. 10 minutes of web browsing, with wi-fi on of course, drained the battery by 3 percent. 10 minutes of watching a 1080p HD movie showed 2 percent battery drain. And there was only 1 percent battery drain with 10 minutes of reading an ebook. The battery icon on the notifications bar doesn’t show the percentage charge remaining. So I used an app called ‘Battery Widget’ from the Play store for this. With regular use throughout the day, browsing, watching movies, reading and so on, I managed to get around 12 hours out of a full charge. The screen used up 75 percent of the battery power. And my screen on time in this instance was over 5 and a half hours. This was with more or less constant use. With light use, you could probably get a couple of days out of it before needing to recharge. So, will the Nexus 7 triumph over all other tablets? It doesn’t really compete with the larger tablets, and I don’t think it was ever meant to. But compared to the rest of the 7 inch tablets, it’s the best one available right now, by a long way. It’s got a quad-core processor, a HD screen, And most importantly it has that ‘Google Nexus’ glamour, which means it’ll be running the latest Android well before any other tablet. But the deciding point is the price, and the Nexus 7 really wins it here. It’ll be interesting to see if other manufacturers can offer a similarly well-made tablet at such a bargain price. It could be difficult, but they do have room to improve, Since the Nexus 7 doesn’t have a microSD card slot, removable battery, or a rear camera. But purely based on specs and price, I think the Nexus 7 will be the preferred choice for anyone looking for a small tablet. It could well be more of a curiosity buy, rather than a need. Especially with large screen phones like the 5.3 inch Galaxy Note stepping into the tablet territory. It’s definitely a great budget introduction to Android for people looking for that. My only caveat would be to buy the 16 GB version rather than the 8 GB one.