Want a tablet without having to spend over $300 dollars? At Google I/O 2012, Google launched the Nexus 7 tablet by Asus. This tablet featured a 7-inch screen, a Nvidia Tegra 3 chip (1.2 GHz quad-core processor with a low power companion core and 12-core GPU), and the new Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean”. But perhaps the best feature of this new tablet was its price tag of $199, allowing it to compete directly with the Amazon Kindle Fire.
But should you buy the Nexus 7? Does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out.
Note: This was independently purchased and was not provided as a review unit. It should also be noted that I own an iPad 2 and while I’ve used many Android devices in the past, this is the first Android device I’ve actually owned and used extensively.
Table of Contents
Like the Galaxy Nexus, the front of the Nexus 7 has no hardware buttons. There is a 1.2 MP camera at the top. The display is covered with Corning Fit Glass, which is not Gorilla Glass. Google just refers to it as “Scratch-resistant Corning glass”.
The right side contains the power/sleep button and volume button. These are the only hardware buttons found on the device.
The bottom contains a 3.5mm headphone jack and micro USB port.
The back is made of a rubberized black material with a light stippled pattern. This material provides a good grip for the user’s hand, making the tablet very comfortable to hold (without a case). Unlike other tablets, a back camera has been omitted, which can be a problem for some, but you really shouldn’t be using a tablet to take photos anyway.
The Nexus 7 also supports a magnetic sleep-wake feature, similar to the iPad. However, the official case on Google Play does not support this feature, possibly to avoid legal issues with Apple. Many cases on Amazon do support it though, such as the one that I purchased.
Unlike almost all other Android devices, there are no video output ports or micro-SD card slot.
The Nexus 7 features an HD IPS display with a resolution of 1280 by 800 (216 ppi). This is the resolution many larger 10 inch tablets use, which means on a smaller screen, text and other content on the Nexus 7 look very sharp. It’s not a Retina display, but it’s close enough. It won’t give you the rich levels of black you get with AMOLED screens, although most users might not even notice a difference.
Like almost all tablets, the screen is very glossy and can be difficult to read under bright lighting.
The Nexus 7 comes with either 8 GB or 16 GB of flash storage. Google charges a $50 premium for the 16 GB model, which is a lot more than the storage actually costs, but is similar to what other companies do.
It should be noted that formatting and Android itself will take up over 2 GB of storage, leaving only 5.92 GB of storage space. This is before the storage space used by preinstalled apps (Gmail, Maps, Chrome, etc…). The free Google Play content Google gives (Transformers movie, magazines, and books) are all streamed from the cloud so they do not take up storage space.
Unlike almost all Android devices out there, a micro SD slot has been omitted, so there is no expandable memory, which is extremely unfortunate and could be a huge deal breaker for many. One of the biggest criticisms of the Kindle Fire was its lack of expandable storage and Asus/Google also decided against adding it. Google probably chose to leave this out to emphasize cloud storage and to make people spend extra for the 16 GB model. Rooted tablets can use USB-To-Go for movies, music, and books.
Before you purchase the cheaper 8 GB model, consider what your needs for the tablet are. If you intend to play many HD games or want to store a lot of your media directly on the device, you may want to spend the extra $50 for the 16 GB model. I personally went with the 8 GB model because most of my content is already on cloud services, such as Dropbox and Google Music. I only intend to use the built-in storage for apps and e-books.
The Nexus 7 is Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) only. There is no model that can connect to 3G/4G cellular networks. Unless you can tether a connection from your phone, this limits the tablet’s capabilities on the go, especially as a device designed for Google services. For example, the Nexus 7 can be used for turn-by-turn navigation, but even though maps can be downloaded for offline use, calculating (and recalculating) directions requires connecting to Google’s servers.
The tablet also supports Bluetooth 3.0 and NFC/Android Beam.
Charging and connection to a computer is made through a provided micro USB cable.
Software and Interface
The Nexus 7 comes preinstalled with Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean”. This release brings several tweaks to the operating system, most notably “Project Butter”.
Being a Nexus device, the Nexus 7 runs vanilla Android, without any skins. Like many, I’m not really a fan of many of the custom skins device manufacturers like to use. Furthermore, because this is one of Google’s flagship devices (and Wi-Fi only), it is likely going to be one of the first to receive the next major Android updates.
Rather than use the tablet-optimized widescreen home screen introduced with Honeycomb (Android 3.0), the Nexus 7 uses an expanded version of a phone’s homescreen. This unfortunately means that the home screens are also locked to portrait mode. This can be changed with Ultimate Rotation Control.
The software determines the interface based on screen density and it is possible to switch to the regular tablet interface by editing a file (root required).
On the bottom of all screens are three touch buttons (along with a Settings button on the right when needed): Back, Home, and Recent Apps. The Recent Apps button lets you easily switch between and close running apps. Simply swipe an app’s thumbnail to close it.
Android 4.1 also includes Google Now, a personalized search application that displays relevant information such as schedules, weather, traffic conditions, and more based on what you search. It will then save your most frequent searches and automatically present you with updated information based on the time, your location, etc… This works better if the device is constantly connected to the internet. It is powered by Knowledge Graph and is considered to be Google’s response to Apple’s Siri. Google’s voice sounds a lot more natural and less robotic than Siri. To start Google Now, simply swipe up from the bottom toolbar (or use the Google search bar widget or Google Search app).
The new Android release brings improvements to notifications as well. If the app supports it, notifications can be expanded to show more info or buttons to perform actions using two finger gestures.
The default Android browser is now Google Chrome.
Adobe gave up on Flash on mobile devices and as of 4.1 Jelly Bean, Android no longer supports Flash. It still is possible to get Flash on this device, but I don’t need it.
Android still suffers from a lack of apps that adapt to larger screens with tablet-optimized UIs, although since this is a 7-inch tablet, most apps will still look great. A notable exception is the Speedtest.net app, which is currently (v2.0.9) clearly designed for one specific resolution, as apps are for iOS. Hopefully, the popularity of the Nexus 7 and other similarly priced tablets will encourage developers to add tablet-optimized UIs to their apps.
The Nexus 7 is powered by a Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC, featuring a 1.2 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor (up to 1.3 GHz in single core mode) and a 12-core GPU. This is slower than the 1.4 GHz processor found in tablets like the Asus Transformer Pad Prime (TF201), but its more than enough for this 7-inch tablet.
Users of iOS, including myself, are often disappointed by the lag affecting many Android devices. However, thanks to Jelly Bean (combined with the Tegra 3 chip), the infamous lag that has affected many older Android devices is pretty much gone. Google posted a slow-motion video demonstrating how Jelly Bean runs faster and smoother.
I was very impressed by the Nexus 7′s performance. I did not notice any significant lag anywhere on the homescreens and in Google’s official apps. Animations, transitions, and apps all run very smoothly; as smoothly as they do in iOS. Most third party apps work very well also, however there are some apps that just don’t work well on this device (some just aren’t compatible and won’t install though). One example is the popular Asphalt 7: Heat racing game (one of my favorites from iOS), which suffers from some performance issues in its current version (1.0.0).
Apps and games can take advantage of Tegra 3′s graphics capabilities with various special effects.
The Nexus 7 has a 4325 mAh battery, which Google claims should last up to 8 hours (active use) on a single charge. I’ve been able to get about 7 hours of active use throughout the day. This includes browsing the web, playing some games (including graphically intensive ones like Riptide GP and Dead Trigger), and reading books.
Android provides useful battery stats, including the percentage of the battery is being used by each application and the battery level history. This can be useful for identifying battery-hungry apps.
Travel and Size
The 7-inch size makes it perfect for traveling. Unlike larger 10-inch tablets, its easy to hold it with one hand for extended periods of time. This can be especially useful for reading e-books, although a larger tablet has the clear advantage for watching movies.
Since I mostly plan to use my tablet while on-the-go, I prefer the Nexus 7′s size over my iPad’s 10-inch size.
Overall, I am very satisfied with my purchase. The Nexus 7 is definitely the best 7-inch tablet currently on the market and its features for the price can rival even the larger tablets. My main complaint is the lack of a memory expansion port.
While the screen size difference prevents this from being an iPad killer, I have been using my Nexus 7 for about two weeks now and it has officially replaced my iPad as my main tablet.
Google and Asus have done a great job with this tablet and with a price tag of $199, it could attract a lot of people who never owned a tablet before. It is well worth the price and if you’re looking to purchase a tablet, I would definitely recommend considering the Nexus 7.
Google is also including $25 credit to spend in the Google Play store, the Transformers: Dark of the Moon movie (streamed from Google Play), and various magazines/books from Google Play with all devices.
Note that in the upcoming several weeks, Amazon is expected to launch a second-generation Kindle Fire, Apple might be launching a 7-inch iPad, and Windows 8 tablets are being launched. You might want to wait before purchasing to see what new products the next few months will bring.
What do you think of the Nexus 7? Are you planning on purchasing one? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.