Nexus 7 (2013) Review

9.1

Daniel Bader

August 21, 2013 7:54 pm

Whereas most movie sequels are met with dread as the release approaches, the second iteration of a piece of tech is usually more warmly received.

Apple has made a cottage industry of annually revisiting hardware with improved specs and more advanced features, and Google’s Nexus program, which the company subsidizes for users to more readily connect with its growing content ecosystem, has taken a similar route.

The 2013 version of the Nexus 7 is better in every way from its predecessor, and but for a marginally higher price, should be considered before any other Android-based tablet this year.

With an entry price of $229, the new Nexus 7 is well worth your time. But why is it such a good buy? Let’s break it down.

Specs

  • Android 4.3
  • 7-inch 1920×1200 pixel IPS LCD display
  • 1.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC, Adreno 320 GPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16-32GB internal storage ($229-$269)
  • 5MP rear camera / 1.2MP front camera
  • Dual-band WiFi (b/g/n/a), A-GPS, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, Qi-compatible wireless charging
  • 3950mAh battery (9 hours of average battery life)
  • Rear stereo speakers
  • 114 x 200 x 8.65 mm
  • 290g

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What Works

This section is going to be significantly longer than the next, likely because Asus and Google got so much right this time around. Whereas the original Nexus 7 was squat and a practically rectangular 16:10, the long-and-thin model from this year does away with side bezels almost entirely. It’s much easier to wrap around a palm as a result, though it occasionally gives the impression of being too tall.

This is necessary because it’s more difficult to hold on the side now, and you’ll want to get used to gripping it between forefinger and thumb on the bottom right or left; I found this to be the most comfortable position. Sceptics may continue to espouse the virtues of 4:3 as a tablet’s prudent compromise, but I tend to use slates for consumption more than contribution, and the 7-inch Nexus 7 is comfortable to use in both portrait and landscape. Indeed, reading a book on the high-resolution screen — this display is something else — is a gift.

Now, Apple may still be the king of the ecosystem, but Google has done a great deal to improve an Android user’s lot in life in this regard, too. Sure, Canadians can’t pay for music or TV shows, but the selection of apps, games, books, movies and magazines is beginning to show signs of maturity. Whereas last summer, with the original Nexus 7, I could barely find a decent movie to watch or game to play, I can now read the New Yorker, watch Oblivion, devour Harry Potter, play Dots, and use Flipboard (and Vine, and Instagram, and…).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In last year’s model you could see the cracks in the paint, so to speak. The backing wore; the buttons creaked; the screen bled. That’s all gone this time around, and you feel like you’re holding a tablet worth far more than its meagre price.

Photo 8-19-2013, 9 20 45 AM

That it comes with a rear camera and wireless charging are cherries on top of a cake you’ve already eaten more than you should. The 1080p screen (actually, it’s 1200p, but who’s counting?) is technically the highest-density tablet on the market, and though it doesn’t quite match the Retina iPad for viewing angles and colour reproduction (it’s blacks are slightly too grey) it is a dream to consume media on this thing.

Wireless charging is another one of those understated perks, something I take for granted whenever I use my Nexus 4 (and miss whenever I don’t). Tablets take up a lot more space, and I usually vertically prop up my slates when charging them with wires, but I suspect the ease at which I can come home, take the Nexus out of its bag and recharge it 5 or 10% before heading out again will eventually win out over space considerations.

Also a joy are the rear speakers through which you can discern actual channel separation. This sounds like a minor victory and an insignificant spec, but it’s worth mentioning how few tablets produce something close to decent sound. This one does, and it makes watching movies, or even just listening to a music video, so much better.

The tablet is also fast. Let’s put aside the reality that the Nexus 7 runs an older-than-brand-new piece of silicon under the hood, and reflect on how it actually performs. Compared to a device like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, or even the faster Note 8.0, the Nexus 7 feels demonstrably faster. No, I won’t benchmark the thing; it’s a waste of time.

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Google has taken its core Android experience and paired it with a more-than-capable combination of internal hardware capable of performing practically everything the OS has to throw at it. Unlike some early adopters, I noticed no performance glitches, touch response issues or anything out of the ordinary. That I mostly did what tablet users tend to — read in Play Books, browse in Chrome, listen in Rdio, stream in YouTube, watch in Play Movies, type a few notes in Evernote or Keep — did not convince me that tablet needs moar powar!!, but rather that the spec game is a battle that, in the end, consumers will lose.

Asustek’s revamped hardware also speaks to the quickly-falling cost of components, as it was apparent many of last year’s shortcuts, both in hardware and software, were a result of thin margins. While margins in this year’s model are still likely small, the overall feel of the tablet, from the rubbery backing to the improved keys to the excellent speakers and display, puts it in a completely different category. The 2013 Nexus 7 may not scream iPad, but it no longer screams Walmart throwaway, either.

Android 4.3 is also a different sort of beast than the first iteration of Jelly Bean was in June, 2012. While the operating system looks largely the same, the number of nips, tucks and tweaks to the core framework, from a consistent 60fps framerate throughout to the inclusion of user profiles, lockscreen widgets and a far improved Bluetooth stack, speaks to Google’s newfound aesthetic restraint — they found something that works! — and desire to deliver a better Android to mainstream consumers.

Google Now is also a big part of the operating system, pushing truly useful content to the logged-in user. And, as already stated, the Play Store has been fleshed out, and Google’s new first-party apps, from Maps to Google+ to YouTube, have improved immensely in 12 months.

In spite of the new Nexus’ lack of Tegra hardware — this year’s version is built on Qualcomm, not Nvidia, silicon — I found games far more enjoyable, and stable, to play. As we’ll get to in the next section, there is still a great deal of iOS-only content that won’t ever likely grace Android, but the 7-inch display scales phone apps, especially in portrait mode, far better than a 10-inch slate, and most of the time I treated the tablet (in a good way) like a really big phone.

Sure, Twitter, Yelp and a million other apps aren’t optimized for Android tablets, but developers are increasingly taking notice of the OS’ flexibility and incorporating some tablet-only features. Even the apps that aren’t meant to be used on a screen this size look better because Android apps in general look better than a year ago. There are some ghastly exceptions, but the list of crappy Android apps is diminishing.

That we can say the same about Android hardware is a good thing, too.

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What Needs Work

The 2013 Nexus 7 has a 5MP rear camera, and I don’t think it should.

Every photo taken with the Nexus 7 appears to have a fine layer of desert dust over the lens, but it’s just a terrible camera. I’m the guy who shakes his head at those using an iPad to film a wedding, and though the Nexus is closer in size to a giant phone than a tablet, it’s unlikely to be the only camera on his or her person. They say that the best camera is the one you have on you, but in this case I’m not so sure.

The front-facing camera is slightly improved over last year, and allows for some excellent Google Hangout or Skype video chats.

More frustrating, at least for Canadians, about the new Nexus 7 is its still-meagre tablet ecosystem compared to Apple’s iPad. Yes, I said that it’s good, far better than it was a year ago, but it’s still not great.

Canadians can’t buy music, nor can they activate the digital version of a print magazine subscription like they can in the US. The Nexus 7 has fewer books, movies and magazines than iTunes, and the tablet app availability is still embarrassing. No, this isn’t contradicting what I said in the previous section; yes, most phone apps work great on the Nexus 7; and yes, some developers are taking notice. But there are 375,000 iPad apps, and many of them are desktop quality. For many users, this is reason enough to spend the extra $100 on an iPad mini.

The iPad isn’t necessarily a better tablet, but it certainly engenders a more comprehensive tablet experience. Much of this has more to do with Apple’s more established presence as a content portal than Google, but it’s hard for Canadians all the same.

There’s also the question of quality control: my Nexus 7, which I purchased from Best Buy, had a piece of glass missing from the left side of the screen. I didn’t drop it, nor could I find it in the box (which rules out the idea that it was dropped en route to the shelf), it just wasn’t there. I’ve heard similar stories about backlight bleeding, creaking buttons and poorly-affixed rear covers. These appear to be the exception to a vastly-improved manufacturing line over last year, but it’s still difficult to forgive.

Battery life was another pain point, as I found myself achieving slightly under the advertised nine hours of uptime. Both the iPad mini and the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 performed much better in this regard, and I wonder if, in trying to keep the tablet lighter and thinner than last year, it was wise to shave off 500mAh of battery in the process. The 3950mAh cell is comparatively tiny compared to the tablet’s aforementioned competitors, and with Android’s tenacious desire to update everything in the background, the extra juice could have gone a long way.

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What’s The Score

There is no doubt that, at $229, the 2013 Nexus 7 is the best value for money in the Android tablet market, and likely in the entire tablet market. Unless Apple surprises in October with a Retina iPad mini (and signs are pointing to a likelihood), the Nexus 7 will still be the pixel density king. (On a side note, a 7.9-inch Retina iPad mini would have an almost-identical 324ppi pixel density to the Nexus.)

At $100 cheaper than the cheapest iPad, and $70 less than the equivalent Galaxy Tab, it’s easy to forgive the Nexus’ flaws, and most users will certainly overlook a few shortcuts here and there. Google is clearly subsidizing the tablet to get it, and its growing content ecosystem, into the hands of as many people as possible. The Nexus product line continues to be a gateway to the real drug: the Play Store.

With OEMs like Samsung and Sony differentiating on features, both hardware and software (S Pen, waterproofing, IR blasters), Google is taking the simple route and releasing an honest-to-goodness quality product for not a lot of money.

9.1

Final Score

8.8

Design

9.5

Software

9.3

Display

9

Performance

8

Build Quality

6

Camera

8

Connectivity

7.9

Battery Life

  • silver_arrow

    Frankly the rear camera is thrown in just for the sake of it having a rear camera. I’m sure a lot of us shake our heads at people taking pictures with an iPad but on a tablet the size of a Nexus 7 it is… well less SMH worthy. But it is useful for scanning and augmented reality uses.

    But everything else… Well the Nexus 7 (2012) was bar none the best bang for your buck tablet for all of 2012 and most of 2013. Now I can see the Nexus (2013) being the best bang for your buck tablet until the next one.

    • Nadefrenzy

      Too small. A slim and light (like Xperia Tablet Z) tablet with a 10″ screen for <$350 would be perfect!

    • Lucas

      Well they have a nexus 10 for $400 (which should be upgraded soon).

    • Nadefrenzy

      Here’s to hoping that it’s actually comparable to the XTZ in terms of heft.

    • Unorthodox

      The lack of a rear camera was a serious downside of the last year’s model. Being a mobile gadget that Google purposely launch on Back-To-School days, the tablet needs it for scanning purposes. 2013 model is perfect, I managed to snatch a 32Gb one from Futureshop yesterday.

    • chortles81

      No kidding, for me a lack of a rear-facing camera is a dealbreaker since it’s essentially replaced a point-and-shoot standalone camera for me.

  • John Von Mac

    This website is getting better and better! Love the scoring system. Though I disagree with you about the camera. I think that’s the one thing that’s missing with the 2012 Model. It’s not the best camera but I saw it in person and played with the rear camera and I was pleasantly surprise that it’s not that bad compared to what you say.

  • Chris

    My first generation Nexus 7 is so slow. Apparently it’s from cheap memory. Wondering if Asus did the same with this one? I want to buy it but won’t until I know for sure…

    • DickGozinya

      The memory subsystem on the first gen was fixed in 4.3 although you need to perform a factory reset in order for it to actually work. As for the new n7, its io absolutely flies. The thing doesnt slow down regardless what’s thrown at it. Quite amazing considering its price. If you’re on the fence its worth the upgrade in every sense of the way. Why don’t you test drive one from bestbuy or staples? You have two weeks to return it no questions asked if you don’t like it. My bet is you’ll keep it.

    • Chris

      Good call, but my first generation didn’t start slowing down for a few months. Maybe I’ll try resetting it. Thanks for the info!

    • rivard35

      After 4.2 came there was a flaw on memory storage that kill the nexus Gen 1 after a few months and forced a factory reset. As stated above 4.3 fixed it and Gen is Smooth as day one again

    • Lazardus

      TRIM was introduced in Android 4.3 It should fix your lag issues.

  • sonalb

    That’s what I keep hearing but I don’t see this at all. List one popular tablet app on iOS that is not optimized for the tablet on Android.

    • somedoobsandbeer

      Tunein Radio, Pandora, Twitter, Soundhound, YouTube, outlook email client, Realtor , Speed test… Just to name a few.

    • selonmoi

      YouTube is most definitely tablet optimized. I can’t speak for any of the rest, except for Twitter and Speed Test (which you’re correct about).

    • eatme

      Actually, YouTube is semi optimized as it stretches out to fill in the screen space. Not like on iOS though, where its a completely different app.

    • SC

      You don’t have to compare against any other platform. I don’t have an ipad so I can’t tell you but you can’t really argue that apps are not taking advantage of the screen size paired with this resolution. The screen is bigger than a phone thus more content can be fit but the developers aren’t compelled to design their apps to take advantage of such a scenario. Google and developers got some work to do.

  • TomsDisqusted

    I understand your issue with the apps, but you are off base when you write about the content ecosystem: you write as if Google had locked down the device so users’ could only buy Google content.

    Quite the opposite – Google does not charge the same 30% cut that got all the content producers’ so mad at Apple, so many of them prefer Android. There is lots to chose from in all categories.

    • somedoobsandbeer

      There is lots, just not in Canada like there is with apples stuff. Big point of consideration if media content is your thing.

    • TomsDisqusted

      All the big content options that are not available for Android, are simply not available in Canada for any OS. The only exception I can think of is BBC iPlayer. What are you referring to?

    • somedoobsandbeer

      The extensive media catalog within iTunes alone. It must be 4 times larger than googles, solely because apple has dealt with all of the bs issues that comes with offering content in Canada.

      Think of Netflix and how it differs between borders and you’ll understand.

    • TomsDisqusted

      You mis-read (or I mis-wrote) my original comment – I meant all the content providers besides Google & Apple themselves.

    • rivard35

      I’m sorry there is a lot of apps to choose from, but apple in Canada has more quality tablet apps as well as more quality apps in general and apple apps tend to get major upgrade Love sooner then Android apps.

      I use both for work and it bothers me a bit to be honest

    • TomsDisqusted

      Read my comment againn and note the first sentence “I understand your issue with the apps, but you are off base when you write about the content ecosystem”. I know about the apps issue but content doesn’t have to come from Apple/Google

    • Daniel Bader

      Google does charge the same 30% cut as Apple.

    • TomsDisqusted

      Sorry I didn’t put that well – the issue is that Google doesn’t force content vendors to collect payment through Google (and pay the 30%) so few do. On the iPhone you must pay the 30% if the customer makes the purchase on the phone.

      And the main point is that the content ecosystems are much larger then just Android & Google themselves, so they are much more equal then with the apps.

    • Daniel Bader

      K.

  • Sharkie

    How about the GPS? A lot of people said GPS is not working.

    • somedoobsandbeer

      It works fine. Some early units were having issues (like any new product offering) but I have yet to see one in the dozen or so units that I’ve setup for family and friends. YMMV.

    • Daniel Bader

      I had no issues with the GPS. Worked great.

  • fay99

    This is a pretty late review. Two unacceptable issues for this tablet had been known for over 3 weeks now but why none of them has been mentioned in this review?
    I would recommend people who are interested in buying this tablet should do more research before throwing away your money
    GPS issue? Fine! Not everyone uses the GPS often. But how about the serious grounding issue of the touchscreen on quite a lot of this tablet already sold? They are more appeared to be hardware related. Can software update even dirty fix it? No one knows yet!

    • qu3becker

      You get one year to replace the product. I am sure you’ll drop and break the tablet before that. I mean, I’m sure you will be able to return it for repair.

    • somedoobsandbeer

      Again, bad batch of devices. I have yet to see the issue personally and I’ve gone through numerous units in the past few weeks.

    • fay99

      Yes, you may be right about bad batch. The first batch of 16gb arrived at Canada at the end of July seems fine. Don’t forget there will be more people getting the device directly from play store shipped from the states in the coming weeks, or from bestbuy/futureshop but well the devices will be from another batch. Can you know if the batch will be good or bad? I personally own two of this device. My 16gb one was bought at a store on the very first day available in Canada. That one is perfect. I also checked with several devices and they all look good. Now I am replying to you with the jumpy multi touch keyboard on my 2nd 32gb one, which was delivered from the play store early this week is defective.

    • rivard35

      First round hardware always has a few more glitches, that’s why I wait for the LTE to come out.

      Plus most places have a 2 week return time, if you cut see those issues in that time you should be fine

    • lostjuan

      I recieved mine on the 30th aug. Constant rebooting. PHoned support on 2 days later on mon. 1st 03:00hrs for a replacement that would be initiated by an email in 24 to 48hours, Email never came. Phoned again on the 6thaug. No email again in 24 to 48 hours, phone again on the 11th (48 hours ago) Guess what? Not sure what is going on

    • Daniel Bader

      GPS was fine. Touchscreen never troubled me. I mentioned this in the review.

      As for the lateness… better late than never, right?

    • ITCanWork

      iPad had many problems during releases too, wi-fi issues, battery problems, etc. Issues don’t affect everyone. Whenever you buy ANY electronic, you should test all the features in the first week to see if your specific device has any problems.

  • Mr. Everything

    I have the first generation Nexus and this one makes me want to upgrade. I won’t because I want to get a year’s use out of firsty, but it’s impressive to see the substantial upgrades.

  • jimr123456789

    I like the Nexus but it is just missing a must have key feature.
    No matter the specs, with out a SD slot the Nexus has little value to me.
    I like the Samsung Tab 3 8″. Not the same screen resolution by far but ‘good enough’ and it has a SD slot. Would I like the higher resolution display – you bet. But the SD slot has more value to me.
    The idea of waterproofing a table has real appeal as well. Yes family members have drop the cell phones in the tub and toliet.
    I hope the next Nexus will have a SD slot and be waterproof… we will see.

  • aniym

    Tough decision. The product+price are great, but 7 inches for me is too small for a tablet. I’d love to see this hardware (including case design) on something a bit bigger like the the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0.

    • Lucas

      Agreed. Most android users have 5″ phones anyway, I just couldn’t see it being enough of an improvement to make me want to carry around a totally separate device.

  • Charles

    you can use 7digital to get music. Whats the problem?

  • steve

    The screen resolution (1920 x 1200) is 75% of the Nexus 10′s (2560 x 1600), with an identical 16:10 aspect ratio. That’s a 50% improvement to last year’s Nexus 7 (1280 x 800). Standardization is good, Google clearly recognizes that the myriad different Android screens out there is a liability when it comes to developing tablet-optimized apps. Baby steps?

    What I find odd and mildly irritating is that they haven’t changed the name of the device from last year’s model. Why not the Nexus 7 II? Or the Nexus 7.1? Or the Nexus 7 2013? It’s already annoying to distinguish between the two tablets, and if they keep their naming practice this way in the future…

  • Sean548

    I am stuck in the Apple Ecosystem. It’s hard to switch platforms once you have lots of purchased apps and hardware. I have played with android devices on the past and I like what I have seen. I think this device would be an excellent way for someone like me to get out from under Apple’s thumb.