Nexus 7 Review

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Google is serious about tablets. And they need to be in order to show leadership: most Android tablets that you can buy right now just aren’t compelling. They suffer from UI lag and poor hardware. Then there’s the abysmal selection of Android tablet apps. It’s not a pretty picture, and as the iPad’s market share continues to explode, drastic measures becomes neccessary.

In a move that could have vast implications on the entire tablet market, Google has partnered with Asus to release an über-affordable and plenty-powerful tablet, the Nexus 7. Like all Nexus devices, the 7 comes preloaded with a new version of Android, one that aims to do some pretty important things. We’ve got a lot to tell you about. Read on for our full review of the Nexus 7!

Video Review · Specs · Hardware ·  Jelly Bean · Performance/Battery Life · Conclusion · Scored for Me

Video Review


Specs

The Nexus 7 is equipped with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It has a 7″ IPS LCD display with a resolution of 1280×800, making for a pixel density of 214ppi (versus 169ppi on the Kindle Fire/Nook Tablet and 264ppi on the new iPad). It’s powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core 1.3GHz CPU with 1GB of RAM. You have your choice of 8GB or 16GB of storage, and there are no options to expand with microSD. For wireless connectivity you get WiFi and Bluetooth. The battery is 4325mAh and delivers around 9 hours of usage.

Hardware

The Nexus 7 from the front is non-descript. There are no brand names or logos here, which makes it easy to pick the device up from the wrong end. Really the only way to tell the top from the bottom (and thus the location of the power button) is by looking at the front-facing camera.

The front-facing camera is 1.3MP, but Google doesn’t want you to use this to take photos, as there is no camera app on the Nexus 7 (oddly). The camera works well for video chat applications such as Skype or GTalk. Up here there is also a light sensor, which we found kept the screen too dim.

This is the white Nexus 7 model that was given to atendees of Google I/O. Really, the white area is just the backing of the device, so if you don’t like the gray that everyone else gets, you can buy a white backing from a third party. Also note the exclusion of a rear-facing camera. It was likely a cost-savings measure, but we sure don’t miss it.

The backing is made from a soft-touch plastic and it has a fantastic dimpled texture, which helps to make the Nexus 7 feel great in-hand.

Oh yes, this tablet is made by Asus! Below the Asus logo is a speaker port which provided tinny sound and not enough volume. Below that is a microUSB charging port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The Nexus 7 is around 10.5mm thick. That’s actually pretty thick compared to the new iPad (9.4mm), the Galaxy Tab 7.7 (7.9mm), and the Transformer Prime (8.5mm).

Google Play now offers magazines. There’s a ton of pinching and zooming to be done if you want to see the article contents due to the screen being smaller and lower resolution than bigger (and higher-res) tablets. Fortunately, there’s a Text View button that removes all page elements and just gives you the article text.

Google Play also now has TV shows. As is the case with magazines, the selection is meager, but there are still some good choices. Here we’re watching an HD episode of Breaking Bad. Because of the screen resolution of the Nexus 7, you get black bars on the top and bottom while watching 720p content.

With a pixel density of 214, the Nexus 7’s display is reasonably sharp and crisp.  You can indeed see pixels, but only if you look closely. It’s a far cry from the clarity of the Retina display on the new iPad, but it’s much better than what is found on the Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire.

And here’s a macro shot of the Play icon. The Nexus 7’s screen has an RGB sub pixel configuration, which is better than pentile.

Contrast and color saturation on the Nexus 7 is below average. This comparison image might not be fair, since the tablet on the left has a Super AMOLED display (that’s the Galaxy Tab 7.7), but it helps to point out the relatively poor contrast and color saturation.

Jelly Bean

There’s a lot to say about Jelly Bean. If you want to see a full tour of all that Jelly Bean has to offer, be sure to look at our walkthrough of Android 4.1 on the Galaxy Nexus. For the sake of this review, we’re going to focus on three areas that impact the experience the most.

Project Butter This is Google’s codename for their “war on laginess” in Android. That is, they wanted to root out the cause (and fix!) of the screen stutters and hesitations that plague most Android devices out there. They did this with a combination of technical methods that force the UI to animate at a higher framerate, plus touch-input prioritization that give you the illusion of fluidity. What you need to know is that they won the “war”. Places like the app tray, task switcher, and Play store have become infinity faster. Alas, Butter isn’t perfect. We found some lag in the browser and in some third party apps, but that might be a symptom of us testing pre-release software. Overall, Jelly Bean is a much better experience than even Ice Cream Sandwich, and most certainly Honeycomb and below.

Notifications Developers can now tap into notifications to bring a variety of actions to the user. For example, if you miss a Skype call, the developer can opt to give you a notification that not only informs you of the missed call (as would happen anyway), but gives you a couple of options to call them back or message them back, all from the notification shade. You can expand certain notifications, like email, with a strange two-finger gesture. Sadly, you cannot choose the default behavior of notifications: they’re expanded by default.

Google Play While already leaked for all Android devices, the updated Play store now contains magazines and TV shows. Plus, it’s been updated visually to look fantastic on the Nexus 7. There are fewer places where you have a multiple-column view, allowing you to focus more so on the content rather than ancillary items.

 

In Jelly Bean, gone is the lag in the task-switcher. The animation is gone.

Google Play has been updated to include magazines and TV shows, plus it features an improved design.

Notifications are now richer, as long as developers take advantage of the new capabilities.

Performance

We’ve never been particularly blown away by the day-to-day performance of Nvidia’s Tegra 3, whether on the HTC One X or the Asus Transformer Prime. On the Nexus 7, thanks to better-tuned software with Jelly Bean, we’re happy to report that performance is exceptional, and better than any Android tablet we’ve used to date. There’s virtually no lag, whether you’re accessing the task-switcher, flipping through the program tray, or downloading content from Google Play. And gaming looks pretty impressive, too, especially if you get titles from Tegra Zone. However, most Tegra Zone games are not optimized for 1280×800 resolution, but rather they appear to max out at 1280×720 resolution. This results in some artifacting in certain titles like Shadowgun THD.

One area that the Nexus 7 exhibited underwhelming performance was in the web browser. Using Chrome (the stock browser on the Nexus 7), page load times were below average, and if you start opening a multitude of tabs, the experience becomes particularly laggy. We hope that since Chrome is fresh out of beta, there are numerous bug fixes in the works to remedy this issue. Using other third party browsers like Dolphin HD and Opera Mobile, we got better results.

Here’s a look at how the Nexus 7 did with benchmarks. Shown in parentheses is the HTC One X, which, as mentioned, also has a Tegra 3 quad-core CPU.

Quadrant: 3549 (4524)

Smartbench 2012: Productivity 3637 (4676), Games 2627 (2737)

LinPack Pro: 47.17 MFLOP, 1.78 Seconds (51.65 MFLOP, 1.62 Seconds)

Battery Life

The Nexus 7 delivers its claimed 8 hours of battery life. However, to charge from 0 to 100% takes an especially long time, often up to 7 or 8 hours. That’s odd considering that the battery on the Nexus 7 isn’t massive…at just 4325mAh.

Network Performance

The Nexus 7 relies on WiFi for all data communication. Fortunately, the WiFi radio inside the Nexus 7 performs very well. Connected to a Verizon FiOS router with speeds of 35mbps down and up, the Nexus 7 clocked speeds of around 33mbps both down and up when near the router. Impressive.

Pros

  • + Great price!
  • + Fantastic performance (most of the time)
  • + Lightweight, feels great in-hand
  • + Google Play now has a more complete offering of content

Cons

  • – Display has below-average color reproduction and contrast
  • – Light sensor keeps screen too dim
  • – Web browsing can be a bit laggy in Chrome
  • – A full charge takes 7+ hours
  • – No microSD storage
  • – No cellular data options

Purchasing/Availability

The Nexus 7 ships in mid July. It’s available from Google Play: the 8GB model costs $199 and the 16GB model costs $249.

Conclusion

We don’t agree with Google that the Nexus 7 is a no-compromise tablet. If that were true, it would have microSD expansion capability and also a cellular data option. The exclusion of these two features is peculiar: you can’t endlessly download content because of the limited 8GB or 16GB of storage, nor can you stream content from anywhere because you need to stay within reach of WiFi. Regardless, these limitations, plus the others listed above, become less of a concern when we bear in mind the breakthrough price. If you’re considering a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet…don’t: get this instead. If you’re considering an Android tablet for work, play, and everything else, the Nexus 7 is an impressively good choice.


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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.