It has been anticipated for some time now, but Google finally released their own Nexus branded tablet. Google chose not to try to go head to head with Apple, instead contracting with Asus on a 7 inch tablet that more directly competes with the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Galaxy Tab 7, and even to a lesser extent the Motorola Xyboard 8.2. But can the Nexus 7 compete and make a full Android tablet interesting and desired in a way no other has yet done?
With pricing that starts at $199, it immediately blows the Galaxy Tab and the Xyboard out of the water, and sets it sights squarely on the Kindle Fire. The Fire is the only tablet that has really garnered any real market share, but as I noted in my review of the Fire, it is a highly skinned, not really customize-able (without hacking) fork of Android, to a point that you really can’t tell that it is an Android tablet to begin with. It also lacks the microphone and camera necessary for things like VoIP calls.
If you only use case for a tablet is reading books, possibly watching a movie or listening to music, then the Kindle Fire is an excellent tablet for the neophyte that wants to consume media, possibly play some games and maybe check some e-mail. But if you want to do more, then the Nexus 7 is the way to go.
The Power to get things done.
I try not to get all big on specs as it makes people’s eyes glaze over, so I will keep this short and sweet and tell you only what you really need and want to know. Yes, it is a powerhouse that runs as quickly as you want it to without lag and delay. Now some of that has to do with the latest version of Android (code name Jelly Bean), but we will come back to that. Just know that the Nexus 7 can keep up with what you want it to do. The only real decision you will have to make is whether you want the 8GB or 16GB version. Since there is no way to add additional storage to this device, for the additional $50.
Much has been made if you look at the techie blogs about two things. The fact that it doesn’t have an SD Card (as I mentioned previously, there is an 8GB and 16GB model), and that there is no rear facing camera. It would have been nice if there was external storage available, but I suspect it would have forced the device to be thicker and heavier than it is now. With many things these days being stored in the cloud, I don’t feel like I am pressed for storage space on this device. Do you really need a hundred thousand song library of music available to you offline at all times? And as for the rear facing camera… I have one on my Xoom, and I have used it exactly twice… both, just to test the functionality. I have seen people at my daughter’s recitals and events use an iPad to take pictures, and let me tell you…. You look like an IDIOT when you do that. Just stop it.
Look and Feel
There is no two ways about it, the Nexus 7 looks sharp, and even people who have seen me with it are surprised that it is an Android product because they are used to seeing Android tablets that don’t look quite as sleek as an iPad, but you give up nothing in style with the Nexus 7. But that is only part of the equation, the other part is how it feels in your hand, and here is where the Nexus 7 excels over everybody else. At 7″ as Kindle Fire owners (and the few Galaxy Tab7 owners there are) know, weight is a big factor in how comfortable a tablet is to use over a length of time when holding a device for reading, browsing, etc. It just feels good, it feels comfortable in your hand, and the light weight and compact size makes it much better for reading than an iPad or any larger tablet for that matter.
Display and Sound
OK, it feels good, it is priced well, but how good is the display? The 1280 x 800 display is sharp, colorful and bright. Is it a “retina display” like the iPad… no, nor does it need to be. The picture and display is beautiful, has good viewing angles and that is really all that matters. Rember that iPad costs considerably more… and I seriously doubt you can tell the difference.
Sound is, like on all tablets, adequate but nothing worth getting excited over. Both speakers are on the same side of the unit, so it is easy to muffle the sound, and some music is tinny, but really if you are using this with sound (like watching a movie), you are more than likely going to do so with a decent set of headphones, so really the speaker is of limited importance.
I mentioned earlier on about how smooth the Nexus 7 runs, and part of this is because of the latest version of Android. Version 4.1 (also known as Jelly Bean), included the updates that were codenamed “Butter.” The intention of this project was to bring Android up to par with iOS on how smoothly the device transitioned from screen to screen, from app to app, etc. And it does it. And does it well. Android 4.1.x is buttery smooth.
The other Jelly Bean item that is drool worthy is the new Google Now, which is Google’s answer to Siri and probably one of the most overlooked features is that Voice dictation in Jelly Bean can now be done OFFLINE, meaning it doesn’t have to send the file to the server, to decode it and then send it back, the conversion to text is done right on the device, meaning you can use it when you don’t have a connection, and more importantly, it is FASTER, whether you have a connection or not.
The Not so Good
Of course, needless to say, there is no product out there on the market that is perfect… at any price point, and one that comes in at $199 is certainly going to have some tradeoffs.
Now I covered some of them already, though they aren’t that big a deal for most, but still if you are looking for these features, you may be disappointed. Things such as the lack of external storage, or the lack of a rear facing camera. Also, Adobe has abandoned mobile Flash as of Jelly Bean, so no Flash in the browser.
Google also made some, what I think are some odd design choices with this tablet as well. Now, maybe it is because I have used a 10″ tablet, but I found it a bit odd that Google opted to move the notification area to the top on this tablet (as opposed to the bottom right corner on the 10″ tablets), as well as choosing the default mode of the tablet to be portrait instead of landscape.
But honestly, that is about all I could come up with, was being picky with things like that to complain about. For all the compromise you expect from a price point this low, the Nexus 7 really has very little in the way of compromises that you have to live with. The only real drawback, is that with the 7″ size, I consider this an accessory, whereas the 10″ tablets can basically replace a notebook (or at least a netbook) for short periods of time, I wouldn’t want to have to live on the smaller screen when doing productivity work for an extended period of time. The power is there, but the screen size makes that a little tougher when dealing with large documents.
Unless you really need the hand holding and shelf metaphor (not that there is anything wrong with that), or you are using Amazon Prime Video (Prime requires Flash), at this point, there is little reason to look at any other tablet. Now, things may change later this year when presumably Amazon refreshes the Kindle Fire with a new version, but as of right now, there are few things you can get in the tech world that are as good a bargain as Nexus 7.