Nexus 7 Tablet Review

Daniel Bader

July 9, 2012 9:31 pm


The excitement around a Google-released Nexus tablet has been palpable for months. Ever since Eric Schmidt told us the company would be dedicating itself to ensuring the Android tablet experience would be improved, we’ve be holding our collective breaths in hopes of being impressed.

The Nexus 7 is not entirely the tablet many were expecting, but it is certainly as good as we hoped for. At $209/259 CAD for the 8GB and 16GB versions respectively, Google has managed to fit a lot of hardware into a diminutive and comfortable piece of hardware.

But the Canadian version, as much as we’d like to claim otherwise, will be initially hobbled by an incomplete Google content experience. Is it still worth your two and a half bills, or is the iPad, even at $499, a better bet at this point?

Specs:

– Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
– 7-inch 1280×800 pixel TFT LCD display (216ppi)
– 1.3Ghz quad-core Tegra 3 processor
– 1GB DDR3 RAM, 8-16GB internal storage
– 1.2MP front-facing camera
– WiFi (b/g/n), Bluetooth 3.0, NFC
– 198.5 x 120 x 10.45 mm
– 340g

The Tablet

There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the Nexus 7, and that’s a great thing. Asus and Google didn’t try to mess with something good: they just slightly modified the existing design of the MeMo 370t, installing a lovely textured backing that grips beautifully to the palm, allowing for tremendous usability when holding the device in one hand. Note that the shipping version will have a black backing as opposed to the special Developer’s Edition version used for the review.

The power button is on the right, making it easy to press with your right thumb, while the volume rocker is on the left; both of which have great travel and feel just as good as on a device double the price. The headphone jack and microUSB port are on the bottom, which makes things slightly uncomfortable when using the device in portrait mode with buds plugged in. There is an area on the left side, near the bottom, for a landscape-oriented dock, but we haven’t heard anything pertaining to that accessory.

There are two microphones on the Nexus, allowing for more accurate input when using dictation and Google Now. Like we told you in the iFixit teardown , the tablet actually has two speaker drivers but only one grill, so separation is pretty minimal. That being said, the sound quality is some of the best I’ve heard from a portable computing device, and should provide more than enough volume and depth for your average song or movie. And if you have a Nexus Q on hand, that’s an entirely different story…

Nexus 7 has a really nice screen, too. At 1280×800 it is one of the highest-density 7-inch devices I’ve used. The display is sharp, bright and colour-accurate, though it doesn’t have the same deep blacks of Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays. For a $200 device, though, you’re not going to find a better screen on the market. Viewing angles are excellent and overall this is the best screen I’ve seen on a sub-$200 device.

Performance

This is the latest and greatest OS running the latest and greatest hardware, and it shows. There is nary a hiccup or stuttery moment to be found when scrolling through the various Jelly Bean home screens, which look and feel much like they did on Ice Cream Sandwich, but you won’t find performance like this on any other Android tablet.

Like it did with the OMAP 4460 on the Galaxy Nexus, Google has used the Tegra 3 as its reference chipset for Jelly Bean tablets. Not only are there many games and apps optimized for Nvidia’s silicon, but vendors are going to be able to use Google’s optimizations when branching Jelly Bean for their own existing devices. This bodes well for the future of the platform.

I had the (mostly) displeasure of using an Amazon Kindle Fire when it debuted last year. The performance differences are night and day between it and the Nexus 7. There is no doubt that Google is stretching its margins as thin as possible to win market share, but in the end consumers are going to see some pretty amazing results from the Nexus. If Android tablets had performed this well when Honeycomb was released, the tablet platform never would have earned the scorn it rightfully deserved.

Most existing phone apps look fine on the Nexus 7, but it’s in the games department that the tablet really shines. The sharp screen and quad-core silicon makes for a consistently good experience, and that you can play games like Riptide GP optimized for Tegra 3 is an added bonus.

Software

Oh, Jelly Bean. What was expected to be a just a decimal has turned out to be so much more. At its core, the ROM that ships with the Nexus 7 looks and feels largely like what you’d find on a Galaxy Nexus, just a little wider. Instead of four icon docks there are six, but the centre-aligned app drawer button stays intact (much to the chagrin of some of my peers who wanted the Nexus 7 to follow traditional ICS tablet dimensions).

Google hedged its bets in the correct way by fashioning the Nexus into a 7-inch slate. Not only is the market segment underserved, but the screen size, even at a high resolution of 1280×800, allows traditional phone apps to scale up gracefully (most of the time). Tablet-specific apps, however, still look and feel great, and with the expansion of the SDK and a number of APIs in the latest version, building universal apps optimized for tablets should be a cinch for developers.

What’s missing for Canadians is the content. While Americans gain access to movie purchases, TV rentals and purchases, magazine purchases in addition to the Play Music store and Play Books, Canadians are left largely cold. Since the launch of the Play Store, we have yet to gain access to anything resembling a full assortment of content. While Canadians still have movie rentals, book purchases and, of course, hundreds of thousands of apps, there is no doubt that you’re missing out on much of what makes the tablet great. Sure, the iPad is more than double the price of the 8GB version of the Nexus 7, but at least you can buy movies, TV shows, music, books and magazines on the device itself. As a Canadian, one has to rely on external resources such as 7Digital for music and sideloading movies and TV shows from other portals. Not an ideal experience.

Best and Worst

The Nexus 7 is a fantastic eReader. The textured backing makes it ideal to hold in one hand, and the sharp screen makes text look as close to paper as you’re going to find on a tablet in this class. Gaming, too, is absolutely ideal — I played through arcade titles like GTA III and Max Payne, and casual options like Gyro and Drop7 — and each one was a pleasure to go through. Unlike other categories, there is no shortage of tablet-optimized games on Android. You can also use a mouse and keyboard using the tablet’s USB host feature.

Media watching also comes across really nicely on the tablet, and sound from either the headphone jack or the back speakers are fantastic, but there are limitations: there does not seem to be any HDMI compatibility through the device’s microUSB port, nor can you attach an external hard drive to expand the tablet’s 8-16GB storage. This really limits not only the amount of movie, television and music content you can store on the device, but precludes using it as a de facto media centre like some people use the iPad. Hopefully Google will sort these issues out with a software update, but don’t buy the Nexus 7 expecting to attach it to your television.

I’m not concerned that the Nexus 7 omits a back camera, since use them for practical purposes; the front camera works really well for video conferencing. From Skype to Google Talk video, connecting over a WiFi network was easy and quality was generally good.

Browsing was another area I found to be superior to most other tablets. The potent combination of Google Chrome, which comes standard on Jelly Bean, a fast quad-core processor, and software optimizations on Jelly Bean, means that web pages, formatted for either mobile or desktop screens, look great and load quickly.

Battery Life

The 4325mAh battery inside the Nexus 7 is heavily optimized and Google claims nine hours of continuous movie playback, similar to that of the new iPad. In our tests I found the device to last just under nine hours of looping video at 60% brightness.

Based on “normal” usage, the Nexus 7 lasted nearly four days before it hit the red. This hews pretty closely to the rest of the high-end tablet market and considering the size of the battery I was very happy with the results.

Conclusion

The Nexus 7 is a wonderful tablet for Americans, and a great one for everyone else. The limitations are built in and therefore impossible to avoid, and as the country physically closest to the U.S. it’s hard to feel somehow taken for a ride. Its saving grace, however, is the price — despite the lack of content services, which will hopefully come to Canada at some point — the Nexus 7 is still the best low-cost tablet for Canadians. Compared to other choices, such as the $249 8GB Samsung Galaxy Tab 2.0, the Nexus 7 is the obvious choice.

More exciting than the tablet itself is the prospect of Google taking more control over its ecosystem. This is the first tablet that ships with Jelly Bean, and will be in the initial run for future software releases. Google’s Nexus products tend to age more gracefully than their carrier-sold equivalents because of a thriving developer community and software that has been designed specifically for the hardware. If you’re looking for your first tablet, or a cheap portable alternative to the iPad, the Nexus 7 is, even in its slightly limited Canadian form, your best bet.

  • candy287

    1st~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  • candy287

    if only it has a memory card insert then im all on it.

  • josh

    i ordered one from play store…cant wait till it arrives!

  • Eric V.

    Bought an iPad last week and love it.

    Would have jumped for joy if I could have bought this instead but the software I need just doesn’t exist for Android.

    I had an Android phone for a while and actually got rid of it. Android feels too much like a “me too” OS.

    • Olivier

      i agree

    • Theywillbepissed

      ….Okay I’ll bite. How does it feel like a “me too” os?

    • idonkey

      You could have bought 3 of these tablet and still have spare change to buy a spandex and go to Startbuck to join the idonkeys.

    • d3v14n7

      Considering all the new technology that is going into Android phones rather than the iPhone, how is Android a “me too” OS?

  • Olivier

    I prefer to pay more to have a really OS that improve instead of copying

    • idonkey

      You should stop wearing spandex and don’t spend too much time at Startbuck in order to see the REAL world.

    • d3v14n7

      Please tell me what ICS or Jelly Bean copied from iOS, and be specific…

      The only copying I see is iOS playing catchup and ripping off Android’s features for the past 2+ years, yet still lagging far behind Android… All while Apple is trying to get every Android device banned because they simply cannot compete with Android on an equal playing field in the smartphone market (and soon the tablet market as well) anymore.

  • MrMarvelous

    Great review, I might buy one of these
    …go hand in hand with my Galaxy Nexus

  • Tom

    We knew that “the content experience” would be hobbled – that’s how it is in Canada.

  • northy

    copy huh,,

    notification,, android

    twitter integration,,, android

    tabs in browser,,, android

    camera button on unlock,, android

    OTA sync,, android

    i message,, android,, via google talk

    so who is copying who,,,

    • Gus

      You’re right, none of those things existed elsewhere before Android.

    • Rawrr

      Don’t forget face unlock, which apple tried to patent.. lolol -_-“

    • John

      Android may do it first but Apple does it right!

    • Grenade

      Definitely didnt come first on a iOS device.

  • Mikey

    I don’t get it, why would I buy this if I could buy the Kindle Fire for the same price?

  • AhCup

    Poor soul, don’t know what they pay more actually is a copy as well.

  • Tom

    Again regarding content. Keep in mind that it is an open ecosystem: Google is not putting up gates and demanding 30% from other content sources.

    So, the lack of Google sourced content becomes less of an issue, as the Nexus is just as good a platform for e.g. the Kobo e-books, or any other source you might want.

  • Dukey

    “The 4325mAh battery inside the Nexus 7 is heavily optimized”
    How would it be optimized? AFAIK, it’s just a battery. It delivers energy.

  • Chris Manchur

    @Mikey, if you actually looked at the specifications of the Fire, the Nexus 7 completely outranks it, and actually beats most of the other Android tablets out there. If I didn’t buy the Transformer Prime, I definitely would have this right now. Google is on the verge of dominating the mobile market, and I can’t wait until the next OS! (btw the Galaxy Nexus is back up for sale, get one while it’s hot)

  • arcsvibe

    Looks really interesting! I have to say that Google is really stepping it up with their OS.

  • Marc

    Just waiting for this to land in stores at Best Buy. Got some birthday gift cards burning a hole in my pocket.

  • lisztomania

    Android OS, especially the one on ice cream sandwich is far from iOS. everything about it is just different, so I dont know why people are calling this a “copy”. for instance, I cant multitask on iOS, customize with widgets, get a custom keyboard etc. far from a copy. A lot of critics who are Apple lovers actually love Nexus 7. Fanboys will be fan boys and always dismiss anything not made by Apple as inferior, even if some features are superior (youtube Google Voice vs. Siri)than some features of iOS. I’m very excited to get this tablet, especially after seeing videos of Google now online. I hope they can figure out something for the content limitations for Canadians.

    • KOMODOGOGO

      I am not when the last time you picked up an Iphone was, but multitasking has been around for a couple of years, as well, I am pretty sure you can get different keyboards when jailbroken.

    • Justin

      Exactly – you have to be jailbroken on an iPhone to get a custom keyboard. With an Android, that’s not necessary. That’s a major benefit of android – most things you can do without being rooted (the equivalent of jailbroken for Android).

      In addition to this, it’s a more open software, and you can do more with it. That’s why developers like it more. There may be more phones to have to optimize for, but Google doesn’t take as much out of their profits for their product as does Apple.

  • handheldaddict.blogspot.com

    How much user available space is there? And is there a dedicated partition for apps?

    No expandable storage would be less of an issue if this tablet was offered in 32gb, 16gb might be ok, depends on how much of that space is available.

    • Justin

      Available user space is approximately 5.6 GB for the 8GB version, and I’m betting its about 13.5-14GB for the 16GB – I’ll find out when I get mine, though!

  • steph.

    @KOMODOGOGO…after making a comment like that shows that you don’t know what true multitasking is.

  • Bryan

    I bought one too to go along with my Nexus, looks like they’ve done a solid job. I wonder when they’ll be able to bring more Play Store content to Canada to compete with the likes of Itunes?

  • Mischa Price

    hmm so koobo vox sales are probably going to drop down to about nothing unless they refresh it with mulicore cpu and ics or jellybean and more tablet functionality

  • ActivesiN

    I ordered mine on launch day, I can’t wait to play with my new toy!

  • Darryl

    I love everything about this tablet but memory! I had the 16gb playbook and had to sell it immediately and buy the 64gb. There’s just nothing you can do with 16gb (or 11gb after the OS) I don’t want to sit at home with a tablet, I have my laptop or desktop for that. I want to be mobile and that means being able to store media content ON the device. Streaming music is fine (if you’re at starbucks or using your phone as a wifi hotspot) but streaming your home movie collection?
    Google really should’ve put an SD card reader in this or came out with a 32/64gb version. This is the only reason why I won’t be buying one!

    • Derek

      Darryl, I have no problem streaming my music, books and videos from home. This is exactly why I opted to get an 8GB version as opposed to the 16GB.

  • J

    According to staples & futureshop & bestbuy, it seems canada will only get a brown version, not black/dark gray. Canadian google play orders might be the only way to get a black version, unless those will all be brown? The brown version is fine, no complaints, i just prefer black =)

    • Raya

      I can’t decide if I should pre-order from staples or pay more for the google black. Will the 8GB even be available to Canadians? Or will all Canadians be getting brown ones? I’m wondering if it’s gonna be hard to buy it when it hits the shelves..

  • Simian

    I think the only media option I’m sort of missing is TV option. The rest is covered by existing services like Google Music, RDIO, Netflix, etc. So far no regret in my pre-order.

    • mike

      likewise!!

  • J

    -maybe someday they’ll make some sort of NFC portable hard drive to solve limited storage, but doubtful since google wants us in the cloud
    -according to pocket-lint, asus is making an audio dock to use & charge nexus7 in landscape mode. If only it had a storage feature, but unlikely.

  • EddieWinslow

    I could be wrong, but the lack of play store content is greatly hindered in Canada due to the “big 3″ being in the CRTC’s pockets. Look at the difference in Netflix alone. These guys would lose money on their VOD services or mobile TV subscriptions hence them going to the CRTC to greatly cripple any outside service for media.

  • ih8reno

    Looks nice, but will have to play with it beforehand…plus i have too much electronics already lol

  • Adam

    I’m definitely gonna pick one up. Absolutely the best bang for your buck. Especially with vanilla Android on it, I am very excited to get me one of these!

  • Pook

    Regardless of workarounds, this is one crippled device, due to the lack of storage, either internal or external. And for that I think the market should boycot this POS to send a clear message that customers are not gullible i****s that throw money indiscriminately for their favourite brands.

    Seriously, and it’s been said by so many, using cloud solutions in Canada is not viable due to bandwith restrictions. Got an unlimited data package on your LTE mobile? Got unlimited internet at home? Live at Starbucks or McD’s? Got time to wait for streaming buffers? If not, how can you be OK with ‘the cloud’????? (don’t answer that if you’re a student and pay through the nose for your unlimited wireless on campus) :o)

  • Doofus

    No external memory!?!

    I will wait for the Memo to br released, unless another product overshawdos it befor it comes out.

  • abc123

    Pre-ordered one on the day it was announced.

    Lack of content is not a major thing for me.
    1. Telus Optik TV on-demand app from play store.
    2. Crackle
    3. Netflix
    4. Al-jezeera
    5. Revision 3

    What bothers me about this device is that you have a quad-core tegra 3 with the ability to hook up mouse, keyboards, gamepads, and joysticks and have console quality games and there is no HDMI out?

    The first company that can produce a commercial product that mirrors the screen to the TV via wireless (at a reasonable cost) will have the market cornered. (ie. see xBounds on youtube)

  • Aiden

    Download the Utorrent app on the play store. Free movies and music lol.

  • WC

    I so would have had no problems paying an extra $20 for built-in mircoSD card support. I realize they’re trying to cut costs somewhere and that this is an e-reader competitor but they had to know that people would buy this as a fully functional tablet than just as something to put e-books on. Expandable memory would have bought them even more marketshare, I actually think it would eat into iPad sales if it had a SD slot.

    Anyways rumours of a Nexus 10 are floating heavy so let’s hope that they listened to us on the SD slot suggestion for that one.

  • AK

    Memory should not be a big concern. Irrespective of how much memory you have, you will fill it up. There is no end to it. The 16 GB version is good enough. With about 14GB usable, you will keep track of what is on your device and make sure to use it as a device and not a dumping ground. Cant wait for mine to arrive.

  • din

    Man this tablet is really compelling to buy!
    I REALLY wich i hadn’t bought the playbook at all! I know its a good tablet and all, but i dont do much on it, while on jellybean its so much more open and jellybean to me is far more exciting than “playbook os 2.0″… :(

  • Raya

    Um, you guys know that Google will ship via UPS which means $40 brokerage fees…right? That’s the only reason why I wouldn’t choose to buy direct.

    • mike

      umm you do know that they are shipping it from google Canada which is located in Ontario and will only charge you the shipping fee right??

  • lisztomania

    If you pre-order the 16gb from staples (didnt see the 8gb model), the shipping is free, and they ship earlier (July 24) than best buy or futures shop. Google has a 1-2 week shipping too, so I guess staples is your best shot.

  • Will

    Hdmi out would have been nice, But non expandable memory is a no go for me. Id feel like I’m driving a Lambo with a 10 Liter tank.

  • ericzxvc

    Are you crazy? Google is breaking even on this tablet, if they’re lucky, how the hell can they afford to pay your $20 shipping? Apple gives you free shipping because their profit margin is at least DOUBLE what you pay, dumb b***h.

  • TouchMyBox

    If I do buy one, I’ll get it at retail and save the pricey shipping headache.

  • Carrefour

    The PlayBook has the two features most often cited as lacking on the Nexus 7: HDMI and more storage.

    Can anyone find mobilesyrup’s original PlayBook review? I’d like to compare them. I found the OS 2.0 Review but it doesn’t review the hardware.

  • JOE

    -saw pics of the brown version, it looks great. its a deep dark brown thats very similiar to the gray version.
    -i hope we’ll hear more about what google’s planning with the magnetic sensor & other possible accessories

  • Ghostrider

    Has anyone in Canada received a shipping notification from Google or any other retail stores ?
    I had ordered mine on 27th June and have received nothing yet.

  • Steve

    Does that mean if I buy the N7 in the US, I won’t be having the content limitations issue when using it in Canada?

  • Patrick Heffernan

    Visions in Calgary has the Nexus 7 in stock as of July 15th. They seem to be one of the few retailers that still have them in stock

  • NEERAJ KUMAR

    Looks like it is going to shake uo the Tablet market.I would love to get this tablet.

  • marcel

    Great review thx for the info !

  • Tam

    I just wanted to know if i install another browser (firefox , from the playstore) on the nexus 7 , will i be able to go to website with flash?

    I wanted to steam tv shows or sports on the google nexus and most streaming websites use flash and now the jelly bean has removed flash with chrome , wanted to know if other browser will work.

    Thanks.

  • Jim

    I just got mine. Surprised it has no 5-ghz wifi.

  • laurel k

    I see nothing but good things about the Nexus product review, thanks so much gave me so much information now I know what the hype is all about, its great

  • technodork

    Is there any difference from purchasing it straight from google or from best buy? I was curious if there is an OS build difference like the GN sold at Canadian retailers rather than straight from Google. Thanks :D

  • jessica

    Great review! This is certainly an aggressive price point. I see this as a nice gift to all the volunteers at my wedding!

  • xenrobia

    I can’t see how this is better then a BlackBerry PlayBook? Oh, that’s right, they didn’t even compare it to the PlayBook. I wonder Why? The PlayBook has twice the storage capacity at the same price points, HDMI output, a 3MP front facing and a 5MP rear facing cameras and, let’s face it, a vastly superior OS (which can actually Multi-task) and UI. Yes, comparing the Nexus 7 to the Kindle does make it look like a pretty good deal.