Google welcomed its first tablet to the Nexus line in mid-2012. Unfortunately, it has been very hard for us to get our hands on one, as the demand has been so high that there were only a few review models handed out in SA. This is now something interesting to look at again, as the prices have been lowered in order to accommodate the new 32GB version, meaning that the smaller storage variants are now even more attractive in terms of price than they were before. This was a huge selling point of the tablet since its launch, and Google keeps pushing the envelope to get consumers the best possible experience at unbeatable prices.
This is the first time Asus worked with Google to manufacture a Nexus device, and our first impressions are that Asus did a brilliant job.
Here are some of the key features:
- 7″ 16M-colour IPS LCD WXGA screen (1280 x 800 pixels), scratch-resistant Corning glass
- NVIDIA Tegra 3 chipset: quad-core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor; 1GB of RAM; ULP GeForce GPU
- Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, now upgradable to 4.2 Jelly Bean
- 16/32 GB of built-in memory
- 1.2 MP front-facing camera
- 4325 mAh Li-Po battery
- Incredibly attractive pricing
Sure, the device isn’t perfect and has its downsides. Not everyone likes a 7-inch screen, preferring the full sized 10-inch tablets. The WXGA resolution of the screen also might seem sub-standard in comparison to the latest smartphones, but in the 7-inch tablet market it’s still pretty good. Coming in at 216ppi, it isn’t as far off as some would think.
Even with the negatives, the Nexus 7 looks like a stellar tablet for web browsing, email, gaming and even media. If you consider that the price point, where it comes in at below R3000 for the WiFi only version and around R3500 for the 32GB + 3G version, it is much cheaper than anything else on the market, and compares favourably against all competitors when it comes to performance.
Couple the above with it being a Nexus device – where it will receive every new version of Android almost as soon as it is released – it makes it even more compelling. But, is the tablet as good as the figures suggest? Let’s take a closer look.
Design and Build
In true Google fashion, the Nexus 7 has a very clean and crisp design. It is fairly generic when compared to other Nexus devices and continues with the simplistic design methodology used in other Nexus devices.
The back of the device is quite different, though. Google chose not to put their own moniker on the back as they did with previous Nexus devices, but rather an embossed Nexus logo. The back is a dark, patterned grey plastic which is extremely durable and makes the tablet a delight to hold in one hand. It is very simple to use – even with small hands – especially when you compare it to the backs of other 7-inch tablets. It also houses the loud speaker, which we found had great audio for this kind of device.
Other than the screen, all you will find at the front is the camera which is embedded at the top, and its ambient light sensor.
On the right side of the tablet you find the power button and volume rocker. This setup is used on most Android devices these days, so it will feel welcoming to Android users. On the left there isn’t much, only the microphone and pins for dock connectivity.
The bottom of the device is where you will find the audio jack and microUSB port. The port is used for everything from charging, computer connections and USB enabled connection for a mouse and keyboard. On the top is only a second microphone pinhole.
It is a shame that it doesn’t come with a TV Out connector, and you can’t add external storage. This is again, true to previous Nexus devices.
Overall the Nexus 7 feels light enough to hold in one hand and our experience of the build has been great. It fits easily into coats, bags, purses and the like, which is why some people might prefer the 7-inch form factor the Nexus has to offer.
The Nexus 7 comes with a 4325 mAh battery. The battery life certainly does compare favourably to other devices of this size. In testing we would get about 6 hours with constant browsing, which was an impressive feat. The longevity of the battery when it comes to gaming, watching videos and using processor intensive apps will of course vary. That being said, this is all for the very active user.
For the average person, though, a lot of the tasks can fall back onto the Tegra 3’s power-sipping single core processor that comes in the chipset, what NVIDIA like to call a “companion core.” It will handle all the more less intensive tasks, like music playback, meaning the battery will last longer. It is a nice touch which does add value to a device in this price bracket.
Even when a lot of apps were opened, the life drainage from the battery did feel regular and predictable. There was never any issue with battery use, and I never found myself desperately clawing at a charger while performing a task.
The screen, as stated before, is an IPS LCD WXGA screen and has scratch resistant Corning Glass, as opposed to Gorilla Glass. This 7-inch display, with a pixel resolution of 1280 x 800, has surprisingly good colours and a sharp display. The pixel density is actually better than on an iPad Mini.
The biggest problem with it is the reflective surface and that the screen isn’t as bright as you would want it to be as is evident above. In fact, brightness display tests showed that the Nexus 7 is about as bright as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, with most other tablets scoring higher at terms of outright blacks and whites. The contrast ratio also wasn’t as good as other tablets.
Although there have been some reports of slight screen protrusion from the bezel and some dead pixels, we exhibited none of these problems. The warranty does cover these problems, anyway. At the end of the day, the screen was a little disappointing, not in picture quality, but for use in different light conditions. Indoors, it performs as well as any other 7-inch tablet.
As the Nexus 7, like any other Nexus device, is running stock Android, we thought it would be a bit redundant to talk about all the same features again. We have gone through all of them in our in-depth review of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean here. It was, in fact, the first device that was launched with Android 4.1 and that made it a big deal, of course.
The notifications, apps and widgets drawers are still the same.
Adding and using widgets themselves are like before.
Google Now is almost identical to what it was in the beginning, with the exception that there are now extra Cards to choose from.
However, the Nexus 7 was also the first device to receive the update for the latest version of Jelly Bean, Android 4.2. While most of the changes were internal in terms of how the operating system works and performs, it did add a couple of features.
- Lock Screen Widgets
We all know widgets have always been a key part of the Android experience, and one that sets it apart from other mobile operating systems. Before Android 4.2, though, those widgets were only available on one of the home screen panes. There are now many widgets users can add directly to their lock screen, like Gmail, Google Now and Calendar.
- Improved photo editing
While the Nexus 7 might not have a rear camera, that doesn’t mean it can’t edit photos (i.e. from the web or social networks). Google has added some interesting things to the photo editing on 4.2. Have you ever started editing a photo only to forget what the original looked like? Sometimes we hack at photos without remembering to keep a backup of the original, but now it isn’t needed. In Android 4.2 it only takes a gesture to reveal the original photo without losing any of the edit you have made.
- Jelly Bean Daydreams
This is a great new screen saver mode which will be activated if your device is charging or docked. It can range from photos on the device, automatically uploaded photos, news, and even Flipboard integration is included.
- Photo Sphere
Okay, so this feature won’t work on the tablet without a rear camera, but it is worth mentioning. As we have tested on our Galaxy Nexus, it allows users to take 360-degree panoramic photos, not only on the horizontal plane, but vertical as well. It uses the gyroscope built into the device to view it at any angle, which works brilliantly. You can even upload it to Google Maps.
- Multiple Users
It is now possible to have two profiles work on one device at the same time. It is very simple to switch between profiles from the lock screen or device settings. Both users can have their own home screens, settings and so forth. By dragging down from the top right you open up this capability, where you can simply click on the user displayed to change to another, after which it will go to their home screen.
Performance on the Nexus 7 is good. In fact, it is very good. We know the Tegra 3 chipset is in no sense of the word a slouch, but on the Nexus 7 it feels even quicker. This is, no doubt, because of stock Android and the performance it delivers.
General fluidness of the OS is brilliant, brought by Jelly Bean and Project Butter we first saw in Android 4.1. Apps open and close very quickly and 3D gaming worked very effectively. Games optimized for the Tegra 3 look stunning. Multi-tasking on the device was nearly instantaneous, unrivaled in the 7-inch arena.
The Nexus 7 only has one camera. It is a front-facing one coming in at 1.2 MP, and it doesn’t even have a dedicated camera app. The message is clear – and is one we actually quite like – use something else to take photos with. You probably have your smartphone in your pocket anyway. We have always found it somewhat ludicrous that people hold up their massive tablets to take photos with.
The front-facing camera can be used to take photos if you really want to, but that was not what it was intended for. The camera does well enough with video calls and you wouldn’t need anything more. Had they fitted a better camera at the front, it would have needlessly pushed up the price, so we think it was the right decision.
To put things simply, Google and Asus have done a great job. I believe that Android tablets wouldn’t be so far behind the iPad if more of them had been built like this one, and worked like this one.
Even if you are not a huge fan of stock Android, it is extremely simple to load a custom skin that might have more features. We, however, love stock Android with its beautifully clean UI and the updates that come to the device soon after release. The Nexus 7 has actually aged so well because of Android 4.2, we think it is better now than when released.
In all honesty, the Google Nexus 7 isn’t just an excellent tablet for R3000. It is an excellent tablet, period. It is powerful, very well designed, and it delivers much more functionality than I was expecting from a 7-inch tablet. It actually has the features that make it feel like a device that should be more expensive than what we can buy one for today.
The Nexus 7 simply blows any Android competition away when it comes to 7-inch tablets. Don’t think Man United vs. Wigan Athletic, think Man United vs. Notts County. Dare I say it, because of its better screen and considerably lower price, the Nexus 7 is better than the iPad Mini.