Product Type: Google Tablet PCs / eBook Readers
Newest Review: ... the most obvious design trade-offs to keep the price below $200. With the 2013 Nexus 7 my opinion has completely changed. The device is ... more
Android's Very Own Official Hardware At Last
Google Nexus 7
Member Name: Nibelung
Google Nexus 7
Date: 08/10/12, updated on 18/10/12 (46 review reads)
Advantages: Good pocketable size, well built, fast processor and smooth operation. Not an iPad!
Disadvantages: No memory upgrades possible
The new Kindle Fire, Amazon's attempt to combine an Android-based tablet with an e-reader was launched with quite a fanfare. However, what they forgot to tell us (well they would, wouldn't they?) was that Google, instigators of the Android system had put their name on an Asus-built tablet, calling it The Nexus. It soon becomes obvious why they didn't want to mention it. The Nexus had a faster processor, a better screen (although Kindle then riposted with an HD version), a non-hobbled version of Android, more memory and all for around the same sort of 'sub £200' price range. Oh yes, and it runs the Kindle application anyway, as well as having a GPS capability without the need for adapters or access to a smart-phone.
The Google Nexus isn't the only budget tablet vying for supremacy of the 7" non-iPad tablet market, witness the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, also at a similar price. The 'Sammy's' a nicely-made bit of kit, somewhat reminiscent of a smaller iPad, but like the Kindle Fire, lacks the processor power and ultimate screen definition of the Nexus. The Nexus also trumps the Samsung by running an even newer version of Android 4.0 called Jelly Bean (damn - just when I'd gotten used to Ice Cream Sandwich - who the hell thinks this stuff up?)
This isn't my first tablet, my wife and I having tried out a pair of Arnovas by Archos. These were fine up to a limit but a trifle too non-standard for me, involving a lot of keeping ears to forums to find out such things as why Skype Video doesn't work until you revert to an older version of the app and how to get a bog-standard set of Google Apps including the Market, now Play, instead of the limited offering from Arnova themselves. Other niggles presented themselves, like BBC iPlayer not working properly and when you did follow the BBC app's prompts to update to the latest version of Adobe Flash Player, two things happened.
1. It made no difference and
2. Internet browsing stopped working until Adobe Player was removed.
(Incidentally, it appears that the whole iPlayer issue is being addressed by the Beeb, who are working on a self-contained 'app' that will have its own built-in movie player rather than depend on a third party, Adobe having seemingly washed their hands of Android versions starting with 4.0.)
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
This time round I wanted something a bit more mainstream, and where better to start than with something built to Google's own specification?
It goes without saying that Google Play, the new name for the Android Market, HAS heard of it - type-approval or at least type-recognition being critical to giving access to the maximum number of known-to-work applications, although applications specific to tablets are still a little too thin on the ground for some people's liking. This was the main gripe with the Arnovas. Google Play had never heard of them, and logging into the Google web-site showed them as 'the phone last used on Thursday' instead of being identified by name. Therefore there was no way of assessing if an 'app' would run on them.
What's in the box? The tablet, a charger and a detachable lead also serving as the USB cable, a warranty document and a quick start guide.
Out of the box, the Nexus is one of those black glossy seamless affairs that just shrieks 'dust magnet!' at you, but then they all seem to be like that. Factor in the frequent need to touch the screen and it takes about 10 seconds to look like it's been used for hours already. From an angle, with the light in the right direction you can see a matrix of fingerprints where nearly every icon had been tapped. The effect is a little like looking at Elton John's hair-transplant before it 'took root'.
There's not much wrong with the Nexus' build-quality even though satin-finished metals do not figure in the equation so iPad devotes can feel smug............well, until they see the price they can.
It has a sleek flat front screen with no actual push-able buttons, being covered in what's known as Gorilla Glass by Corning. The rear panel, and therefore the bit likely to be in your hand is a sort of mottle-finished rubberised plastic with a reassuring feel. Yes it's all plastic but by no means cheap and nasty feeling.
The actual on/off button along with volume up/down buttons are just about the only tactile controls, and the edges of the casing are suitably un-assailed by apertures, with the exception of the combined micro-USB charging and data socket and headphone jack. Unfortunately this lack of other slots also means that its memory can't be upgraded with cheap micro-SD cards, so that's why I lashed out the extra dough for the 16 gigabyte version in the first place. Those who want to take 2-week's worth of action HD movies with them on holiday may want to look elsewhere.
The Nexus has settled for a 7" 16:9 screen format, somewhat like the size of a Kindle, and also like the Kindle, its native orientation is 'portrait'. That's not to say that 'landscape' isn't possible. In fact, thanks to the usual movement sensors, it can handle apps that want to work round that way - it's just that its home screen is always portrait (as are apps like BBC News).
Glossy black? Oblong with rounded corners? Isn't it time that Apple tried suing them? Oh no I just remembered, it doesn't have any buttons on the front panel. Maybe if Apple builds a 7-incher with no buttons, Samsung could counter-claim.
Like all Android-based devices, you really need a Google account to make the best of them. However, you wouldn't get far with an iPad without an iTunes account, so no change there!
Refreshingly there's a 106-page manual provided as a Play Book file along with a few sample titles. You can also download this as a .pdf file from the Google web site should you choose to print it. This is easily the largest set of instructions I've ever had for any PC but can be printed out onto a mere 27 sheets of A4, thanks to still being legible with four pages per sheet. Of course, what it is, in effect, is the manual for using Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, with all the bits relating to phone use taken out! The Nexus itself is just the 'carrier' of the system, which to my mind is how it should be. The Arnovas are a little more non-standard with a sheaf of their own oddities to find out about, sometimes the hard way.
This machine comes pre-loaded with the basics that you'd expect, like the means to play music, watch movies etc.
Of course, you aren't just stuck with the software it came with, and after a short pause to log onto my home wi-fi and re-create my Google account, most of the apps that I'd already downloaded to my HTC phones and my Arnova tablet just sort of appeared as if by magic. Google Play keeps a record of what you've had, which is important if there are any you paid for! Some of course are no use on anything but a phone and can be discarded.
WORKING WITH IT
Thanks to its quad-core processor, boot-up is commendably fast, say in just over 30 seconds from cold. Of course, it's a lot faster, nearing instantaneous, coming out of slumber, and this seems to be the fate of most tablets, since battery life whilst resting can be several days. Hand movements (known as 'gestures', which I find mildly amusing) are acted on immediately and scrolling of the screen is smooth. Screen contrast is good, and those with black edges almost seem to blend in with the surround.
The GPS seems quick off the mark in securing satellites, even having a lie-in ten feet from a bedroom window - better in fact than my purpose-built Garmin. Using an app like NavFree, which comes complete with all maps for the country you are in (and any others you've got file space for), means that you can use this as a 'proper' sat-nav when away from a data connection, unlike a lot of smart phones which load the next 'chunk' of map as you fall off the edge of one page and all at the expense of your data allowance! This is particularly noteworthy when abroad and dreading your bill when you get home!
Build quality - this feels how a 7" iPad should feel if they made one. Being a 7" job, it's much more pocketable than the Apple which I find from experience of using someone else's, leaves me with aching fingers from trying to hold it in one hand. If something is that heavy and needs to be sat on your lap then a netbook with a proper keyboard might work better for you. Plastic it might be, but nothing creaks!
The NFC feature should prove useful once more smart-phones and the like also sport the feature, allowing data to be traded and synced across from one to the other.
The inclusion of GPS makes its use as a proper sat-nav quite practicable although a bit big for the average car dashboard! Having said that, I've just been in a minicab where the driver was using an iPad as its sat-nav.
The lack of an SD-card slot means that the memory you buy is the memory you're stuck with. (See update)
The home screen has no way to make it 'landscape'. (See update)
Still not as good an e-reader as a proper one with its 'e-ink' screen, but any tablet with a backlit screen could have this complaint levelled at it.
There is no initial means of running BBC iPlayer as neither this nor the requisite Adobe Flash Player apps show up as compatible at Google Play (previously Android Market). This can be overcome by 'side-loading' the apps from a download source on your PC and installing them manually (it works!). It might be a good idea making 'Airdroid' the first app you acquire as this allows wi-fi access to all the Nexus' files from your PC without using the minute USB lead, and also lets you install an app on the Nexus from a file location on your PC.
The whole feel of the Android system is somewhat more 'viral' and maverick than the tightly strapped-down iTunes regime, but therein are its charms and its annoyances to be found in equal amounts.
There's no rearward facing camera, but having noticed how silly iPad (and other large tablet) owners look holding up their devices to take pictures or worse, movies, I'm not sure I care.
I've owned an Android tablet of one make or another for over a year now and never once have I thought "If only it had a decent camera on the back".
Don't rely on any old USB charger. Such is the current capacity needed (around 2 amps) that plugging it into a PC will only stop the battery discharging until you put it to sleep and then it starts to charge. Best stick to the specific charger they supply, after all you can still connect to a PC via the wi-fi using Airdroid.
Unless you really have to protect it with a password, pattern or PIN when bringing it out of slumber, I'd give this extra security layer a miss (you can even use face-recognition). The machine has no obvious means of performing a hard reset (i.e. no hole to stick a pin into) so if you were to lock it up and then let it 'go to sleep' who knows how you'd fix it? At the very least, you'd have to wait a very long time for the battery to 'die'.
Screen 7" 1280x800 HD display (216 ppi), Back-lit IPS display covered with scratch-resistant Corning glass.
1.2MP Front-facing camera
Size 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm, Weight 340g
Cordless Interfaces - Wireless WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth
Memory 8 or 16 GB internal storage (not upgradable)
1 GB RAM
USB Micro USB
Battery 4325 mAh (up to 8 hours of active use)
OS Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
CPU Quad-core Tegra 3 processor
Features - Microphone, NFC (Android Beam), Accelerometer, GPS, Magnetometer, Gyroscope
The bog-standard retail price of the 16 gbyte version is currently £199, but I found a seller on Amazon quoting it for £10 less, and having a £47 credit at Amazon helped sweeten the pill. You can buy direct from the Google.co.uk web site.
Summary: Quad-core processor, 7 inch screen Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) tablet. Specify 8 or 16 gbytes of memor.
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