Until recently the tablet market has been dominated by high end Apple iPads, but $500 is still a lot of money for a tablet. On the other end of the tablet market are more cost conscious tablets that have the trade-offs needed to hit the price point. What’s a tablet buyer to do? Google is coming to the rescue with the Nexus 7. It’s Google’s attempt to shake up the tablet market with a low cost high quality tablet. The Nexus 7 gives users a nVidia quad core processor, a great IPS screen, a very portable 7” form factor, long battery life and Jelly Bean, the latest version of Android that runs buttery smooth on the Nexus 7. You get all this for the low-low price of $200. They’re practically giving it away, but is it too good to be true? What follows is an examination of the Nexus 7 from a tablet newbie’s perspective, this would be me, that will hopefully give readers some insight into whether the Nexus 7 makes a good fit for them and maybe a chuckle or two.
Here are the Nexus 7 specifications:
Model: Nexus 7
CPU: nVidia Tegra 3 Quad Core
Storage: 16GB or 32GB
LCD: 7” 1280×800 IPS(400 Nits)
Network: WiFi, Bluetooth and HSPA+(AT&T) on Select 32GB Models
Camera: 1.2MP Front Facing
Dimensions: 7.8(H), 4.7”(W), .4”(D)
Weight: 12 Oz
OS: Android Jelly Bean
MSRP: 16GB $200, 32GB $250 and 32GB with HSPA+ $299
Why a Tablet and Buying
I’m sure this isn’t the first tablet review you’ve read. Most reviews tend to focus on the hardware, design, usage, etc, which we certainly will too, but since this is my personal tablet, I thought spending some time on why and how I bought might be useful for readers or at least interesting anyway. I contemplated getting a tablet ever since Apple released the original iPad in 2010. I had an iPhone at the time and liked iOS, but I already owned a very good 12” ThinkPad X200 ultraportable notebook that offered me better performance and more functionality. Sure, the iPad would convenient for surfing and media consumption, but $500 entry price seemed a bit steep. Plus, the 10” form factor seemed too close to my ThinkPad in size to be able differentiate itself enough from a notebook to warrant spending the money.
What turned the tide you ask? A number of factors came into play. Lately when bringing my laptop somewhere I’ve found myself doing light tasks like surfing, typing out an email/forum post or watching videos. While my phone is great for music, the screen is too small for extended Internet usage. My laptop, even at 12”, isn’t as easy to whip out to check scores, watch a movie trailer or send a text as a tablet. Even reading a book before bed or playing a game seemed like it would be easier on a tablet. I found myself wanting another device between my phone and laptop that provided a better viewing experience, but was more portable. A 7” tablet seemed to be the perfect solution to my problem, not too big or too small. The other main factor was cost. If I’m going to have a third mobile device, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it. My interest was piqued when the $200 Nexus was released this summer, but 8GB was a bit too small, but I decided to look in earnest for a tablet.
Once I decided to get a tablet, I had to decide which one to get. The Microsoft Surface certainly seemed interesting. Given that it’s got an optional keyboard, it would alleviate a tablet’s biggest perceived weakness for dedicated notebook users like myself, lack of a keyboard. Like the iPad, it’s expensive asking price, $600 for a Surface with keyboard, is too costly to offer value. When I started seriously looking at tablets this summer, the iPad Mini marketing juggernaut was in full force. I decided to wait for the release of the Mini in hopes that Apple would get closer to the Nexus in price. Had they done so, say $250, I might have gone that way as I have some software from when I had the iPhone that I could have used on the Mini, but it wasn’t meant to be. Around the time of the Mini’s release, Google upped the base Nexus to 16GB at the same $200 price they had been asking for the 8GB version. The Nexus seemed the best blend of specs and cost, which pushed me over the edge to get one.
I had planned to buy the Nexus directly from Google, but there was a kink in the system. Google charges buyers $14 for two day shipping. After poking around I found there was no way out of paying the extra charge even though I was perfectly content to wait a few extra days and save the $14. At this point I decided to look for other options. I Googled the Nexus 7, I know ironic isn’t it, and found they were selling them at at Wal-mart for the same price. I paid with Paypal and picked it up the next day. I did not open it right away as I had to go to work after picking it up. I wish I had as when I opened I found the seal on the Nexus had been broken, which meant someone wasn’t happy with it and returned it, which Wal-mart neglected to mention. I did email Wal-mart and they called me to offer a new one, but the tablet didn’t seem any worse for the wear and I’m one of the few Americans who doesn’t live within 30 minutes of a Wal-mart. It didn’t seem worth it to spend the $6 in gas to get a new one.
The packing on the Nexus 7 was fairly minimal. When you open the box, the Nexus 7 is wrapped in plastic. The USB cord and power adapter reside underneath. There’s also a warranty card in there, but nothing else. The manual is installed on the Nexus 7 itself.
Design and Hardware
It’s flat and covered in glass. Doesn’t that pretty much describe every tablet? Despite its modest sticker price, there’s nothing that feels bargain basement about the Nexus 7. It starts with the rear of the Nexus 7. It’s covered in a black dimpled rubber coating that gives the Nexus 7 a sure grip and feels luxurious. As I mentioned the surface is covered in glass, black being the only color choice at the moment, and at the top of the screen resides the 1.2MP camera, which takes a fairly decent picture and should allow for some skyping. There’s about a half an inch bezel on the sides on the Nexus 7, and about an inch on top and bottom that make the Nexus very easy to hold without blocking the screen. The Nexus 7 uses a 16:10 aspect ratio screen and is a little over 4” wide. It fits perfectly in the palm of your hand, which is helpful when typing one-handed. I would think the Mini at over an inch wider will not be so convenient. The more narrow screen also allows the Nexus to easily slide into my front pants pocket, whether wearing jeans or dress pants. It’s just 12 ounces in weight, which makes it far more portable than any notebook I’ve seen or used. It’s much more convenient to take to work than my notebook. The volume and power buttons are located on the sides on the Nexus 7. They’re black like the rest of the Nexus 7. It makes them difficult to find in in the dark. Perhaps making them a different color or perhaps glow in the dark would help with the usability. A button on the front would have been more helpful, but perhaps Google didn’t want to hear from Apple’s lawyers. All Nexus 7 models have WLAN and Bluetooth, both of which worked well. If you have an AT&T data plan and are willing to spend $50 more, you get the Nexus with WWAN. It doesn’t look like other carriers are an option at the moment.
To get to the $200 price point, some sacrifices had to be made. You don’t get a rear facing camera, which isn’t a critical to me, but could be a deal breaker for some. There’s no SD card slot on the Nexus, which would allow for storage expansion. I suspect by the time all the apps, music and videos are loaded to the Nexus, some buyers will find the 16GB offered on the base model a bit limiting. I saw the 32GB model on sale for only $30 more a week after I purchased mine of course. I kind of wished I had waited. There’s no video out for hooking up to the TV. The only ports on the Nexus are the headphone, and USB port for charging and uploading.
Screen and Audio
The Nexus 7 comes with a 7” 1280×800 IPS LCD. The pixel density is 216 PPI. Having used higher pixel density laptops, I was concerned getting a screen with such a high pixel density would make it harder to use for extended periods, but my distress was unfounded. When using the Nexus 7 I find that I hold it closer to my face than I would a notebook, which makes it easier on the eyes. Even when holding the Nexus 7 at arm’s length I found it to be very readable, but prefer it a little closer. The screen on the Nexus 7 is covered in Gorilla Glass, which is both good and bad. The Gorilla Glass protects the screen very well, but comes at the cost of fingerprints and reflectivity. The screen is a fingerprint magnet, though they are easily cleaned off. The reflectivity of the screen is probably the bigger annoyance. If there’s a light source nearby, expect to see your face. Being that it is an IPS screen and looks good at any angle, I could usually tilt it to minimize the glare. The screen is rated at 400 nits and that makes it very usable outdoors except in direct sunlight. Again, outdoors you get glare because of the glass, but I could usually find a spot where it looked good.
The screen on the Nexus 7 is fantastic, but given that it’s an IPS screen, that’s not newsworthy. I don’t have an iPad or Kindle laying around to compare it to, but it holds up well sitting next to my IPS equipped ThinkPad X220i. Contrast is high on the screen. Colors are rich and pop off the screen, which means photos and movies look dynamite. The wide viewing angles mean the Nexus looks great at any angle and it helps offset the glare produced by the glass. Because of the high pixel density of the screen, when reading text it appears crisp and clear.
Given that the Nexus is so small one would expect a subpar audio experience from it. While it’ll never blow you away with the sound quality, it will certainly suffice for video, games or listening to some music. You’ll of course do better with some headphones, which Google does not provide with the Nexus 7.
Performance, Storage and Android
The Nexus 7 has the nVidia Tegra 3 quad core ARM CPU, which is fairly impressive since most 7” tablets I’ve seen use a dual core CPU and even a lot of 10” tablets still use dual core CPUs. The Nexus 7 also comes with 1GB of internal system memory. In addition to the memory, the Nexus 7 comes in 16GB and 32GB flavors for storage. I opted for the 16GB option to keep the price down. There’s a little over 13GB of space left on the Nexus 7 after accounting for Android. It dropped to 10GB after dumping my Mp3s on there. If are going to install a lot of apps, you should probably get the 32GB. Performance on the Nexus 7 is top-notch. Boot time is about 15 seconds, which is faster than my notebook. In doing my homework for the review, I saw users complain about the earlier versions of Android being slow, but the Nexus 7 always seemed very fast to me, whether flicking through menus, opening apps or doing more demanding tasks like watching video.
The Nexus 7 comes with the latest version of Andriod – Jelly Bean. One nice perk to getting a Google made tablet, actually it’s made by Asus, is you’ll always get the updates right away. There’s no need to wait for carriers to optimize the device for their network, which sometimes doesn’t happen. I’ve already had a couple in the month I’ve had the device. I have limited experience using Android with that being my original Galaxy phone. I liked the phone and Android, but the battery life was terrible. Thankfully, it was put through the washing machine fairly early on so I could sell it and buy something else. One clever feature of Android is if you’ve got a bunch of links grouped closely on a page, Chrome will pop up a magnified version of the links that makes them easier to press. One displeasing attribute is that the screen does not rotate by default. You have to turn that on, which took me a while to figure out. I’m sort of a generalist. Most of the things I do are non-techy so any of the mobile operating systems will do, be it Andriod, iOS, Windows 8 Mobile, etc.
When you buy a tablet, you’re not just getting a tablet, but a whole platform to buy content. Apple has iTunes, Android has Google Play and Windows has their Marketplace. I purchased a few books and games, and one movie relatively painlessly once giving them my credit card. The depth and breadth of the offerings is quite staggering. One or the other might have an exclusive on a particular item, which might sway a fan, but I would think there’s enough content there to last someone a long, long time. Price may be a factor. With the Marketplace on my Windows Mobile phone, I did notice a few items seemed higher priced than on iTunes, but on balance, there’s a ton of choices and most buyers should be able to find something they like.
The Nexus 7 uses a lithium-ion battery. It is rated at 300 hours of standby time, nine and a half hours of regular usage, and nine hours of HD video playback. To test the battery on the Nexus 7 I charged it fully, set the screen to half and started using it with WiFi on. I was doing typical tablet usage like surfing, watching videos, reading books and playing games, which is mostly what I plan to do with my tablet. Using those setting I’m getting a solid nine hours of battery lifeon the Nexus 7. That’s probably four times the amount I actually need. My only complaint about the battery life on the Nexus 7 is the power button. When I put the Nexus 7 into my pocket, which the Nexus 7 was made to do, the power button has a light touch. It likes to turn itself on while in my pocket. I suppose I could put it in some sort of case, but that would make it harder to put in my pocket.
Call me a skeptic about tablets when they were first released a few years ago, but the Nexus 7 has changed my mind for the better about tablets. Google has done an amazing job of packing in the goodies at a really, really good price. For $200 you get a very well made tablet. With the quad core CPU and latest version Android, Jelly Bean, performance on the Nexus 7 never leaves you wanting for more. The screen is downright gorgeous. Videos and pictures look great. Text is sharp and easy to read. With its smaller form factor, the Nexus easily slides into your pocket or purse and with nine hours of battery life, you should be good to go all day. If you’re a hardcore tablet user the lack of better storage options and rear facing might give you pause, but if you’re a tablet newbie like myself and want an option that’s easy on the wallet to dip your toe in the tablet waters, then the Google Nexus 7 makes an excellent choice and terrific stocking stuffer too.