Google’s Nexus 7 tablet is not exactly a surprise. Nor is the fact that I’m able to work on a review of the product just hours after the device was announced. For years now, Google has had the uncanny habit of not only making big announcements at its I/O events, but then immediately sharing what it has shown off with developers and members of the press.
This year was over the top. Not only did Google hand out its new, 7-inch, $199 Nexus 7 tablet, but it also introduced a new version of Android (4.1) called Jelly Bean, upgraded its flagship phone, and… rolled out the Nexus Q. Perhaps the most odd of all, the Q is a spherical media player / amp which functions as a wired audio and video output for all of your Google content. But the main course is obviously the tablet — a stock Google experience with a price point clearly meant to put a hurt on Amazon’s Kindle Fire, and sway potential buyers of Apple’s lower-end iPad 2. Android as a tablet platform has stumbled thus far — can Google finally begin to make an impact in an increasingly crowded market? Read on for my full review to find out.
I’ve been salivating at the thought of getting a Nexus 7 for quite some time, as I really just wanted to test out Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Do you remember when the 3DFX Voodoo Banshee video card came out, and it arrived with Half-Life: Day One? I was one of those people that literally rang every single retailer in my state (this was really pre-Internet) to get my hands on it. When I want something, I want it bad. This is how I felt with the Nexus 7.
I didn’t want a review sample of the Nexus 7, I wanted my own, so I purchased one last week and I have been having the time of my life since. ASUS worked very closely with Google on the Nexus 7, as Google wanted to get a tablet onto the market that could chomp into the sales of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, at the $199 range. What most people didn’t expect is that it would hit the market sporting specs better than tablets priced over $500. It was also a surprise that this cheap $199 tablet featured Google’s latest OS, Android 4.1 ‘Jelly Bean’. Jelly Bean really is the star of the Nexus 7 show, and I’ve come to absolutely fall in love with the deliciously-named OS since. Jelly Bean has a bunch of new features built-in, as well as the usual fixes and improvements. We cover the important parts of it from a technical and software point of view.
For a $200 tablet, the Asus-made Nexus 7 is impressively built and styled. Like most other tablets, what you mainly see is a glossy, black-bezeled display. In this case, that display is ringed by a matte silver band which looks like metal, but is a rigid plastic. Around back, the device is covered in a soft-touch, dimpled material which has the feel of taut leather. Amusingly, Android design chief Matias Duarte told me that the idea was to mimic “Steve McQueen style” driving gloves — and the effect is definitely there. On the bottom ridge of the device is a Micro USB port and on the right side (in portrait mode) you’ll find the volume rocker and sleep / power button. On the left edge, there are surface “pogo plug” connectors for a dock, and on the front of the Nexus there’s a small camera embedded in the upper bezel. The tablet weighs 0.74 pounds (compared with the Kindle Fire’s 0.9 pounds), is 0.41 inches thick (the new iPad is 0.37 inches), and measures 7.8 inches tall by 4.7 inches wide.
It feels good to hold in your hands. That soft backing strikes me as decidedly different than other tablets in its class, and seems far more smudge resistant than something like the Fire. The bezel on the front looks a bit too large for the screen size, though when reading a book I found the extra real estate helpful because I had something to grip (in fact, Duarte told me that the design was intentional, not a victim of cheap parts). There are a few very minor build issues, like the fact that the display can give a little and cause the LCD to ripple if you really press hard against the screen, but most users will never press hard enough to notice. In all, I’m impressed by what Asus and Google have done with the Nexus 7. It’s a classy, well-made product from a design standpoint. It may not be the most original, thinnest, or lightest tablet on the market, but it’s certainly a respectable and refined entrant to the race. Bottom line — this is a much better feeling and looking tablet than anything else in its price range.
Inside the Nexus 7 you’ll find a quad-core Tegra 3 CPU clocked to 1.15GHz on four cores (or 1.3 GHz when running on just one), 1GB of RAM, and 8GB, 16GB or 32 GB of onboard storage (that extra storage will cost you an additional $50). Sorry, active downloaders — there’s no microSD slot here. In fact, the Nexus 7’s back panel is not removable at all. The device also packs in Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, and has a GPS chip, NFC, gyroscope, compass, and accelerometer. It’s also got a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, as well as a speaker embedded around the back of the device, and what appear to be a pair (there are two identical holes) of built-in microphones.
That camera isn’t really useful for anything but Google+ Hangouts and the like — though it certainly gets the job done. If you’re one of those people who likes to snap pics with their tablet — first, shame on you. Second, you’re probably out of luck here. There’s no camera app on the device. You can find a third-party replacement, and I did get one to work, but most of the popular camera apps don’t even show up in the Play Store.
There’s no 3G or 4G data service onboard, and the storage limitation might be vexing to some users, but there’s also little to complain about for a tablet at this price. In terms of sheer specs, there’s nothing here to prevent the Nexus 7 from being every bit as useful and usable as its bigger counterparts and competition — even the iPad.
Performance on the Nexus 7 was zippy. Snappy. Buttery, if you will. We already know that the Tegra 3 chipset is no slouch, and it felt particularly slouch-free on this tablet. General OS performance was excellent — helped undoubtedly by Android 4.1 and its “Project Butter” initiative which is said to vastly improve touch response and smoothness in Android. Apps were also quick to open and close, and speedy in use. In particular, 3D gaming that was optimized for the Tegra chipset looked stunning and held steady frame rates, and basic tasks like multitasking were nearly instantaneous. I do have some minor gripes about some of the scrolling action I saw. I think in an attempt to smooth out and stabilize the performance of Android, Google may have created some very minor “snap back” issues when scrolling around quickly. To my eyes, this is definitely a software problem, but I didn’t see similar issues on the Galaxy Nexus with Jelly Bean, so this will remain a question mark. Simply put, sometimes when you’re scrolling quickly (say, on the homescreen), the scroll will not follow your finger, and instead snap back the page to the one you were trying to move away from. I only saw this crop up occasionally when I was moving around at speed, so I don’t think most users will notice or care. It’s a nitpick… but that’s what I get paid to do.
ASUS’ Nexus 7 sports NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 processor, which is a quad-core chip clocking in at 1.3GHz. Going between apps, and general multi-tasking just feels fluid. I have experienced no slowdown in my testing with the unit; it performs like a champion. Jelly Bean and Project Butter – Apart from both of these names sounding absolutely delicious and making me want to go and eat some jelly beans and buttered popcorn, there’s some intelligent design behind these technologies. One of the main components that make the Nexus 7′s performance feel great is the above-mentioned Project Butter. Project Butter is a name Google have adopted for tuning Jelly Bean’s internals, which render apps, touchscreen processing and more, to run at 60Hz. The OS also uses triple buffering; making sure that there is a new frame ready for the upcoming display refresh. This doesn’t translate into things feeling twice as fast, but it just makes things ultra-smooth. I’m guessing this is where Google adopted the “Project Butter” naming from.
Google and ASUS worked together closely with this, and it was rumored that ASUS worked at close to cost price to deliver the Nexus 7 at this price. Other manufacturers don’t have this type of relationship with Google, but maybe they should be making some more calls, and ordering some more drinks for those who have relationships with anyone who has the power to get a cheap, fast, but great quality tablet to the market. The Nexus 7 has now replaced my third-generation iPad as my at-home tablet. I use it to do everything when I’m at home instead of using my smartphone. It’s just big enough to feel like a perfectly-sized tablet, but not too big to feel like I’m holding a portable computer. If you’re impressed with how the iPad feels with its weight, and size, but feel like it’s too big, check out the Nexus 7. If you think your iPad is fine with weight and size, I offer the same advice; check out the Nexus 7. It will really change your mind of how great a tablet can be at not only $199, but running on Android.
Most people who have tablets, have an iPad. Google know this, and this is most likely why they’ve pushed the Nexus 7 onto the market with ASUS. I think we’re going to see a new beginning for Android, instead of the fragmented life it doesn’t enjoy today. The included front-facing camera is barely worth mentioning, firstly because of its low-quality, secondly, because taking photos with a tablet is beyond annoying most of the time in this smartphone-heavy world, and thirdly it’s front-facing and nearly impossible to take videos, or pictures with – apart from self-portraits. ASUS and Google sweeten the already great deal on the Nexus 7 by throwing in $25 worth of Play store credit that you can spend on anything you want. Some great apps or games can be had for nothing, which is a bonus. When turning the tablet on, I did not expect that whatsoever, not at the price I paid for it. Considering that $500+ tablets don’t give you $25 (or more) credit on the Play store, or Apple’s iTunes Store, it really is a nice bonus. Not only that, but you get a copy of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, too. If you haven’t bought yourself a tablet yet, and want to dive into the tablet world, the Nexus 7 is the perfect choice for you. If you already have a tablet, and want to check out Jelly Bean, or want to sport a second, smaller tablet, the Nexus 7 is still an amazing buy. I now use the Nexus 7 over my third-gen iPad, as Jelly Bean and its associated technologies (Project Butter) are just so amazing, I am now virtually Nexus 7-exclusive, it’s that good. Don’t just walk out and get a Nexus 7, run, run like the wind. Touchscreen responsiveness is something that is quite important to any touch-based device, obviously, and thanks to Project Butter and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean; responsiveness has never been better. This also goes hand-in-hand with NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 SoC, which drops the clock speeds on its CPU cores depending on the activity of the device; Jelly Bean takes over as soon as it detects contact with the touchscreen. Thanks to the increased updating on the screen of 60 times per second, as soon as your finger even gently caresses the screen, it starts inputting the data and you see this as the reaction on the tablet is nearly instantaneous.
Google Nexus 7 by Asus: 32GB & 3G versions announced
It was anticipated since the launch of the original WiFi-only model and following on from a slew of Google announcements yesterday, the Nexus 7 tablet is now hitting the market with 32GB of storage and 3G wireless connectivity for the first time. Despite Hurricane Sandy putting a stop to Google’s festivities in their New York based ‘playground’, the company still went ahead and introduced (officially at least) three key now Google products. The new larger capacity Nexus 7 sat alongside a new LG Nexus 4 smartphone and a new, larger 10-inch Samsung-made tablet which we learnt previously was the Google Nexus 10. Aside from the new added storage and connectivity, the Nexus 7, along with its two new Nexus counterparts is one of the first devices to debut ‘a new flavour of Jelly Bean’ – Android 4.2. The additions are important despite what the minor numerical jump suggests and address shortcomings some users might have perceived when comparing the Nexus 7 directly to the likes of Amazon’s Kindle Fire or Nook’s HD tablets.
Android 4.2 brings things such as new user spaces, so that multiple users can set up the same tablet differently, gesture typing: which allows users to type whilst dragging their fingers across the keyboard akin to Swype or SwiftKey Flow and existing features likes Google Now are said to have been enhanced to. Part of the appeal, with regards to the WiFi-only Nexus 7 was its pricing, and despite the addition hardware, the new 32GB, 3G Nexus 7 continues that trend. In fact, this 32GB option replaces that of the existing 16GB model, maintaining a £199 price tag, which based on our opinions of the device, make it one of the best examples of value for money in the mobile space. The addition of 3G into the mix then ups the price to £239, whilst the 16GB WiFi-only model now drops down in price to just £159. The tablet is available now and Asus say that it’s available from retailers across the nation, such as: PC World, Currys, Comet, Carphone Warehouse, Ebuyer, HMV, Tesco, John Lewis, Littlewoods, Argos, ASDA, GAME and Sainsburys.