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Nexus 7 Review

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Introduction

The fact that I like Android has certainly not been a closely kept secret. As an operating system, it’s functional, highly customizable and an all-around great smartphone and tablet OS. I’ve owned a couple of Android tablets over the years, namely the HP Touchpad, Viewsonic G-Tablet and Amazon Kindle Fire but my latest one (all the others have been sold off) is undoubtedly the best.

After the Amazon Kindle Fire showed me the virtues of an inexpensive 7” tablet, I decided to get the 16GB version of the Google Nexus 7 to replace the HP Touchpad, which I liked and was certainly a fine tablet in its own right (once Android was installed on it) but it wasn’t officially supported, what with WebOS being…you know, dead and HP’s having stepped out of the tablet game. What support it did have was from the hacking community on forums like XDA and while wishing absolutely no disrespect to those guys, as they were plenty awesome with the support, it’s just not the same as having the backing from a large manufacturer to keep the tablet updated and smooth out the kinks (of which there were many).

And who better to support an Android tablet than Google itself?

Hardware/Specs

The Nexus 7 is the result of a collaboration between Google and ASUS to create a budget tablet that doesn’t skimp on the power to get there. Starting at $200, less than half the price of the entry-level iPad (not Mini), I’d say they hit that mark quite well. The Nexus 7 sports a 7” 1280 x 800 IPS display and features a front facing camera, microphone, headphone jack and a standard micro USB port. Under the hood, you’ll find an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core CPU and 1GB of RAM, 16 or 32GB of storage not to mention Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 support (and 3G if you’re willing to pony up some extra cash).

For a $200 tablet, these are some impressive specs but one key feature the Nexus 7 does lack is a Micro-SD expansion slot. This appears to be something of a luxury in tablets these days and that’s rather disappointing. Personally, 16GB is fine for my uses but the option to expand the storage is always a good thing, especially given how cheap Micro-SD cards are these days. Unfortunate but that’s the kind of tradeoff one has to consider when buying a budget tablet.

Other than that, I’m perfectly happy with the Nexus 7’s specs. The lack of a rear facing camera isn’t even close to a big deal to me because I consider the notion of taking pictures with a tablet incredibly silly. The screen’s pixel density isn’t up there with “retina” displays like the one on my iPhone 4S and my Aunt’s iPad but never did I feel like the screen itself was subpar. And while this wasn’t a problem for me, the Nexus 7 lacks a micro-HDMI port. Hardly a deal breaker in my book but worth mentioning all the same.

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Design

The hardware itself is competent in terms of design. The screen is bright, vibrant and colorful, has good viewing angles and is a pleasure to view media on. Blacks aren’t as deep as I’d like but overall contrast, brightness, color depth and the like were good. It’s certainly miles ahead of, say the Viewsonic G-Tablet (although that’s not really a feat) and a good bit ahead of the Touchpad’s larger but lower resolution screen.

Along the right side of the device is a power/sleep button and a volume rocker. Around the rim of the device is a silver painted plastic bar, framing the screen and though plastic, doesn’t feel cheap. The back of the device, embossed with Nexus and ASUS logos is covered in a leathery feeling soft-touch covering which makes the tablet very easy to hold. I’ve heard the inspiration for the backing of the Nexus 7 came from Steve McQueen driving gloves. While I can’t vouch for that, it certainly feels nice to hold. Better than a pure aluminum backing or…plastic.

Overall, this is a solidly designed tablet, one that, despite its budget pricing, doesn’t feel like a budget device. It has a solid, weighty – but not heavy – feeling in the hand, making it feel a good bit more expensive than it actually is. It’s easy to hold in one hand and makes for a pleasant reading experience, be it web sites or ebooks.

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Performance

The Nexus 7 is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip, which allows it to run at a steady pace across the board in pretty much any scenario. The UI was fairly snappy and responsive, rarely lagging for more than a second or two in my experience.

It benchmarks well and its gaming performance has been good so far in my tests. Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the most taxing of all the games I’ve played, ran smoothly. The tablet gets pretty warm to the touch but not unbearably hot while playing games which is expected and happens with just about every tablet I’ve used. Battery life was quite good, lasting about two days of solid use in my completely unscientific tests.

Really, what can I say about the Nexus 7’s performance? It stands out by not standing out. It’s easy to use, the UI is clean and functional (though I carried over the Nova Launcher Prime app I’d been using on my Touchpad) and hiccups are few and far between, especially on 4.2.2.

Since this is Google’s tablet, it receives updates day and date with release. While many manufacturers are struggling to roll out upgrades to Jelly Bean from Ice Cream Sandwich for their range of Android devices, the Nexus 7 and its kin are always up to date with the latest and greatest of Google’s operating system, with all the latest tweaks in tow.

It must be noted that this can be a blessing and a curse, as there have been a couple of the more incremental updates that have come with a set of issues. Running 4.2.1, the lag appeared more frequently and lasted slightly longer in practice, not to mention some battery drain issues, such as losing a great deal of charge overnight. 4.2.2 fixed these issues but it was rather disconcerting that Google’s own tablet wasn’t free of bugs. Though, to be fair, glitches are par for the course with just about every piece of technology so perhaps I’m being too hard on Google.

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Using it

The Nexus 7 was reviewed using a stock, rooted Android 4.2.2 build.

Throughout the experience, the Nexus 7 made a strong case for the place of a 7” tablet in the marketplace. Though its forbears, the Amazon Kindle Fire and Samsung Galaxy Tab may have been the first to try to take over the small tablet space, the Nexus 7 is, even now, probably the best small tablet you can get for the price.

It works. It runs just about any app you can think of smoothly and relatively speedily. Just about anything you can think of, from office applications to games to e-book readers work well on the Nexus 7. It has quickly become my favorite platform for web browsing, game playing, e-book reading, YouTube viewing and catching up on news when I’m away from my PC. I’ve long held the belief that tablets are the ultimate media consumption devices and the Nexus 7 is a great example of a tablet that does that while balancing

It balances portability with screen real estate quite well and is quite the acceptable compromise between 10” tablets and sub 5” displays in today’s smartphones. Rarely did I find myself wishing I had a bigger screen to work with but when I did, it was usually for the sake of magazines and digital comic books. Google’s magazine app has built-in text-only mode for easier reading but that strips away the art design that make magazines so appealing in the first place. In that respect, an iPad sized display would be better suited for magazine reading but the experience on the Nexus 7 wasn’t especially terrible and should work for many people.

The main issue I have with the Nexus 7 is that it just doesn’t have the same kind of developer support that Apple’s stable of iOS devices do. My current cell phone is an iPhone 4S and looking through its app store, while there’s a bunch of crap to be found, there are also a number of truly excellent apps that I would love to see on my Nexus 7. I don’t know what can be done by Google aside from a more aggressive marketing campaign to get this tablet into more users’ hands to entice developers or perhaps finding a way to cut down on Android fragmentation (though I don’t see how they can, with so many Android handset and tablet manufacturers). As it stands, the iPad is the clear winner in the tablet market in terms of sheer number and variety of apps, especially those optimized specifically for the iPad.

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Conclusion

The Google Nexus 7 is proof that one doesn’t have to break the bank to get a good tablet. Amazon’s first generation Kindle Fire might have been one of the first tablets to show that one can get decent performance on a budget but the Nexus 7 is the tablet that showed that one doesn’t have to compromise for merely “decent” performance and features on a budget.

This isn’t the tablet you buy if you want something that’s going to chew through everything you throw at it with ruthless efficiency. This is the tablet you buy if you want something that doesn’t cost as much as other, larger tablets but still want something that doesn’t compromise too much performance.

Yes, the app selection isn’t up there with the iPad and the screen size makes reading things like comics and magazines rather difficult unless you like panning around the image (did I forget to mention that earlier) but nonetheless, this is a budget tablet that doesn’t feel like a budget tablet. It may not pack the power to compete with the iPad or Nexus 10 but for the price – actually, no, not just “for the price” – the Nexus 7 is an excellent, well made and well executed tablet, period.

About Justin McBride

My name is Justin McBride and I’m a guy who enjoys writing, playing games and writing about playing games. Sound lame enough yet? Well, I have other interests as well such as hanging out with friends, watching TV, going to the movies from time to time, surfing the internet, listen to good music, drive at speeds I shouldn’t be driving at and so on. The problem is, that’s all stuff everyone likes to do, so why write about it? Oh wait, seems I just did. Oops.

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