Editors note: Google has discontinued the 8GB version of the Nexus 7. The 16GB version now takes its place at $199 and a new 32GB model is now available for $249. Another new 32GB version with 3G HSPA+ will begin shipping on November 13 for $299. As of July 2013, the 2012 Nexus 7 reviewed here has been replaced by the 2013 version.
The Nexus 7 tablet embodies the moment when tablet buyers no longer have to compromise performance for price. No other 7-inch, $200 to $250 tablet combines this level of performance, with Android 4.1's features, in such a comfortable design.
What buyers lose with the lack of built-in expandable storage options and the omission of a back camera, they’ll gain in complete OS flexibility in a powerful and cheap tablet.
Yep, the Nexus 7 is yet another black tablet (unless you got one with a white back at Google I/O) in the long line of black tablets. Yet, it does its best to break from the cookie cutter mold of most slates. Chief among those efforts is a rubbery, leathery, grippy back texture, similar to what we saw on the Acer Iconia Tab A510, but with both "Nexus" and "Asus" embossed on it. It may not look like much, but the inclusion of this seemingly small bit of design panache makes the tablet one of the most comfortable I've ever held.
Then there's the bezel. Held in portrait, the right and left side bezels of the tablet are refreshingly thin, while the top and bottom are thicker than what I usually find on 7-inch tablets. While the thicker bezel design can be useful as a place to rest your thumbs while holding the tablet, they are a bit too thick for my taste and make the tablet feel needlessly long.
Speaking of holding, the Nexus 7 is noticeably lighter than the Kindle Fire and, thanks to its beveled bottom and painted silver trim, actually looks thinner. Or at least sleeker. There's definitely some kind of slimming illusion going on, as I wasn't the only one to think it's much skinnier than the Kindle Fire. Turns out, it is thinner, but only by 0.04 inch.
|Nexus 7||Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0||Amazon Kindle Fire|
|Weight in pounds||0.74||0.74||0.9|
|Width in inches (landscape)||7.8||7.6||7.4|
|Height in inches||4.72||4.8||4.75|
|Depth in inches||0.4||0.3||0.4|
|Side bezel width in inches (landscape)||0.8||0.76||0.78 (power button side), 0.6 opposite side|
I usually describe tablet feature placement from a landscape perspective, but given that Google changed the way the Home screen functions, I've been forced to adjust. When the Nexus 7 is held in portrait mode and viewed from the front, the 1.2-megapixel front camera sitting in the middle of the top bezel is the lone distinguishable feature. On the right edge toward the top is the power/lock button, closely followed by the volume rocker. Following the right edge down and around to the bottom reveals a headphone jack, with a Micro-USB port in the middle of bottom edge. Right above that, on the back is a horizontally aligned 2-inch-long speaker slit.
That's it, though. No memory expansion, no HDMI out, and no back camera are included. Their exclusion is likely a cost-saving measure, but also makes the tablet that much more approachable for the tablet layman.
Google Nexus 7 tips and tricks
Just how sweet is that Bean?
The Nexus 7 will be the first device to ship with the latest incarnation of the Android OS, version 4.1, also known as Jelly Bean. Though Android 4.1 on the Nexus 7 is just as customizable as previous incarnations of the OS, the way it's presented here feels much more controlled and focused, and while a bit less intimidating to the uninitiated, it also feels a bit constraining.
Part of the reason is the way the home screen now works. Well, it works the same as it does on every other Android tablet, allowing you vast customization options, but now if you turn the tablet to landscape mode the screen won't rotate. It rotates fine in apps, but as soon as you tap that home button, you're back in portrait mode. Not the biggest deal in the world, but it does contribute to a slight tinge of claustrophobia when navigating and can be quite annoying. To me, at least. Google may see it as a safety net: if you get scared or confused, just press this home button and return to the comforting bosom of the home screen in the same orientation you remember. Not a bad compromise if Google is indeed going after a mass audience with this tablet.
The dock on the bottom of the home screen is filled mostly with Google services apps like Play, Music, Books, and Magazines. There's also a folder housing Chrome -- the default browser -- as well as Google Maps, Google Plus, Gmail, and other services. Directly in the middle of the tray is the apps button. Swiping up from the home button and across the apps button takes you to Google Now, Google's new predictive personalized helper.
Google Now displays information like the current weather, local bus schedules, and nearby restaurants you may be interested in. While this can be useful on the Nexus 7 if you're near a Wi-Fi connection, it loses its appeal if you're already outside, waiting for a bus, and is much more useful on a phone.
As mentioned, there's a 1.2-megapixel camera on the front, but there's no actual camera app included. Unless Google adds one before release, it looks like video conferencing is all the camera will be used for. To which my response is, "Why even include a camera, then?" Google's response is Google Plus hangouts.
Google Play plays nicely, but not cheaply
In keeping with the "Google's gunning for the Kindle Fire" theme, Google Play has been updated to include TV shows, purchasable movies, and magazines, finally bringing the store into modern times. After browsing through a few HD and standard-definition TV shows, it appears that Google's prices for complete seasons match the prices for the same shows on iTunes. However, on the Kindle Fire, prices were routinely much cheaper compared even with the SD versions on Google Play -- though those lower prices are offset by the cost of an Amazon Prime membership.
Also, a couple of shows on Google Play like "Breaking Bad" and "Justified" currently offer only the latest season, while Amazon Instant offers the complete series; however, the complete series of other shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Parks and Recreation" are available. This is a rights issue more than anything and the catalog should hopefully improve over time.
Movies and TV shows purchased through Google Play will stream by default and you'll have to manually download them if you want them stored locally. I've been looking forward to this for a long time, and it's exciting that Android owners finally have an official, fast, and legal way of getting movies and TV shows on their devices.
Android 4.1 teaches typing
One of the purported new Android 4.1 features is improved precision when typing on the soft keyboard. After taking the Nexus 7 out of the box, I wanted to quickly put this to the test. I usually make lots of mistakes when texting on my iPhone 4 or even when testing typing precision on other tablets, so my typing skills aren't exactly legendary. However, when signing in to my Google account on the Nexus 7, I was able to type quickly, without making a single mistake.