Since the Nexus 7 is now shipping directly from Google and the device is being sold at multiple locations as we speak, I think it’s time I share my thoughts on the device. This will not be the traditional review that you may have read ever since the device was announced a few weeks ago at Google I/O. I actually spent a fair amount of time getting to know the device and I think my experience with the device will be more similar to what you can expect when you finally get your hands on your tablet.
Ever since the Motorola XOOM was announced there’s been an outcry for Google to release an official Nexus tablet. Many Android users felt that Google needed to take the reigns and let the OEM’s know what they expects an Android tablet to be. For the longest it felt like that day would never come until the rumors started to flow all across the web. From the beginning Google was said to be in concert with ASUS to redesign the ASUS MeMo 370t and that would be the first official Nexus tablet.
Those rumors turned out to be true on a very exciting day at Google I/O 2012. The anticipation of an official announcement of this device can be felt in the line when I and thousands of Android developers was outside waiting to get in the door. The first day keynote kicked off and it seemed like the device wasn’t going to be announced and then boom, the Nexus 7 was official.
Not only was the device announced but it brought with the birth of a new version of Android. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean was introduced to the world with the Nexus 7 and the software was a perfect fit for the mini tablet device. We all watched in awe as Google demoed the new features of the device and Android 4.1 itself. That brings us to this working device review from AndroidMixer.
We were lucky enough to be invited to attend Google I/O 2012 in both of our two short years of existence. As a part of the developers pack, the Nexus 7 was one of the devices given away to attendees. I didn’t play with the device much during the show and probably was the one person there that didn’t quickly rip it out of the box and fire it up.
When I first got my hands on the device I noticed that it was in a very attractive box. The box that held the device was encased in a sleeve of sorts with an image of the tablet and surprisingly, there were no specs of the device on the rear. Instead a few of Google’s apps were highlighted mainly the Google Play Store. Since this device is almost a direct competitor to the Amazon Kindle FIRE which is more of an eBook reader than a tablet, Google reminds us that they are the home of the largest eBook store and the device out-of-the box has access to that store and millions of songs, movies and thousands of apps.
Yes, thousands of apps. If I learned one thing from attending Google I/O with all of those awesome developers it’s that EVERY app for Android can be a tablet app and a phone app. All the developer has to do is design the app right and with little extra coding and images, that app will detect the type of device it’s being displayed on and adjust the layout accordingly.
Once you slide the box out of the sleeve, you’re greeted with the box that houses the tablet. There’s even less information on this box. On the front you’ll find the Nexus logo on the lower right hand of the box and contact information for ASUS on the rear of that box. Slide the top open and you’ll see the glorious Nexus 7 just waiting to be fired up. Just under the device is yet another box with the usual paperwork, USB cable and the wall charger. The device features a microUSB port similar to that found on most new Android phones and yes, you can charge the device with your existing phone charger and you can even charge the tablet from the USB port on your computer.
Charging the device is one of the weaknesses I’ve found while using the device. It takes about 3 hours to charge a fully depleted Nexus 7 with the wall charger. From a computer, it takes about 5 hours but the ability to charge it from your computer does come in handy since the ultraportable device can be charged without being in the way of your normal use of the computer.
The Nexus 7 just feels right in the hand, it’s a nice size and it will fit easily in purses, pockets and bags. There’s a rubberized type coating on the back and the speaker is on the back as well towards the bottom. Sounds from the speaker are clear and natural but the device could benefit from having a second speaker. There’s also a noise cancellation microphone on the rear of the device along with the Nexus and ASUS logo. The power button and volume rocker can be found on the right hand side of the device. These are perfectly placed so waking the device and adjusting the level of sound of the device just feels right. The microUSB port along with the 3.5mm head jack is on the bottom. Most of us including myself would’ve loved to see ASUS place this on the top of the device. Four dock pins and yet another microphone can be found on the left side of the device. Since the Nexus 7 doesn’t have a standalone HDMI jack, we’re pretty sure that Google and ASUS will be introducing a dock that will add that feature. And since this is an ASUS product, some sort of keyboard dock could be on the way as well. As it stands today here isn’t much to choose from as far as accessories goes.
The Nexus 7 features a 7 inch IPS backlit display at 1280×800 resolution. That’s 216ppi which isn’t far off of the 264ppi of the new iPad. The screen has wide viewing areas somewhere in the range of 180 degrees and your finger glides effortlessly across the scratch resistant cornering Gorilla Glass. If you plan on using this device outside, be sure to crank up the brightness to full blast and have some type of shade in the area. While colors look crisp, video looks awesome as well as gaming, the screen isn’t a top performer in sunlight. But, the way Google redesigned the Google Magazines and Books for the device, you shouldn’t have any problem reading content outdoors.
For a device that only costs $199 for the 8GB version and $249 for the 16GB variant, Google didn’t skimp on the sensors in the device. There’s a proximity sensor, accelerometer, GPS, Wi-Fi, NFC, magnetometer, gyroscope and Bluetooth. The GPS performance of this device is excellent, check out the screen shot below and that was taken when I was standing really close to the woods. Using this device for navigation performs just as good as any phone on the market today. It locks on your position quick and it holds your location for the duration of your trip. I used the device 3 times without fault to help me get to where I was going. If you’re worried about the device losing its Wi-Fi connection, don’t be. It never dropped a signal and I only noticed signal loss when venturing around 150 feet from my router. Bluetooth performs well also as well as sending things with NFC. When I first powered on the device Google Wallet was suspiciously missing but it looks like the update to Android 4.1.1 included the app. Android 4.1.1 will be preinstalled on the device when you get yours so this is a non-issue.
I didn’t mention the camera yet because I rarely use cameras on a tablet device. You’ll notice that Google ditched the rear camera and the Nexus 7 only has a FFC. It’s a 1.2MP shooter and you can hack the device to use it as a camera. Video chatting works pretty well with the camera but photos look just as crappy as you would expect from a 1.2MP sensor. If you’re looking for a tablet to take photos with, you’d want to pass on this device. Click here to find out how you can add the camera app for taking pictures.
For a device that comes in at a girth 10.45mm thick, it doesn’t really feel like it to fat. It feels great in hand and although I’m not sure what it’s built from. It feels really solid, you can tell this is made from high quality materials. The entire device weighs just 340grams and you can comfortably hold the tablet in either landscape or portrait orientation easily during your media consumption. And speaking of media, the version given out at I/O was the 8GB model. This small storage size and the absence of a microSD card slot is a huge factor in what you can do with the device. When I first turned the tablet on there was around 4.5GB free. While the 16GB model should offer around 12GB free, that’s still a relatively low amount of space. I downloaded around 10 games and after the data for the games, the storage on the device dwindled to around 500MB. Thankfully we have the cloud, all of my music is stored on Google Music and that easily saved me around 20GB of space. I have a few videos on Dropbox and Google Drive and yes, you can stream movies from those services. The only drawback is with Google Drive, it needs to download a portion of the video to the tablet before it can stream the movie. Make sure you have at least 1GB free to play your movies. And another drawback of not having expandable storage, the video has to download from Google Drive and that takes an average of 45 minutes for 3-4GB movie.
Android 4.1 is awesome and Google Now is a great new feature and you can find out more about Jelly Bean here in the full change log and a Google Now demo has been posted here. I’m sure you’ll find the software and Google Now extremely well designed and Google Now will only get better over time as it learns your habits and displays what’s best for you and Jelly Bean is extremely fluid and fast. I haven’t experienced not one millisecond of lag as project butter really smooth’s out the UI and performance of Android 4.1. There’s a new notification pull-down that allows you preview pictures, reply to messages, return calls and more directly from the pull-down. You can even quickly access your notifications without unlocking the device.
Google generously includes $25 worth of credit in the Google Play Store and I’m sure you’ll find a few good games to put the quad-core Tegra 3 processor and its 12 core GPU to the test. Also, to help get you started with media on your device, Google gives you a free copy of Transformer Dark Side of the Moon and access to 5 magazines. There’s also a Nexus 7 Guidebook with around 100 pages to help you get to know your device.
Gaming on the device is topnotch as expected from the 1GB of RAM and the quad-core Tegra 3 processor. You’ll get all of the extra graphic features while gaming on the Nexus 7. Lighting, shades, smoke and water affects looks better than ever and you can turn up the volume to get the full effect of the sounds within the game without the speakers cracking or sounding distorted.
The best part of playing around with this device is the battery life. Google rates the slate at 9 hours of video 12.5 days of video. After the last update, I think those numbers are vastly under what this device is capable of. I easily got nearly 4 days of light use out of the tablet and around 2 days with moderate use. Once I put the device through the ringer, it still lasted around 24 hours and that awesome when you consider the fact that brightness was around 80%, Wi-Fi and GPS was constantly on an even Bluetooth was activated for a few hours. The battery did get hot after a few hours gaming once but it didn’t get to the point where I was concerned.
Whether you’re looking for a device form movies, gaming, eBooks or web browsing, the Nexus 7 can perform all of those tasks well. While the low amount of onboard storage might sway a few you from purchasing the device, I urge you to give it a shot. The cloud makes the device usable and the millions of sales from the Kindle FIRE prove that this sent really a huge factor. Coming in at just $199 for the 8GB this is a great buy and it has features and specs that rival’s device that cost double what you would pay for the Nexus. Plus, it’s a Nexus and that means it will get updates first and there’s already a huge third party development community that will surely pump out some cool new enhancements for the device. There’s already a hack that will allow you to use a USB stick for extra storage and there’s a few ROM’s out and the device hasn’t officially been released. I recommend you stop by Sam’s’ Club, GameStop, Office Depot and soon Best Buy to check one out. You won’t regret your purchase one bit.