Review: Worth every penny, and then some
The Nexus 7 started its life as the Asus MeMo 370T, an affordable $249 tablet based on the Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset. Ever since Asus boss Jerry Shen and Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang showed off the affordable MeMo in February, Android lovers across the world have been bracing for a dirt cheap, yet powerful Android tablet.
However, somewhere along the line Google chose to get involved and the MeMo 370T was shelved, permanently. Less than two quarters later, Google debuted the Nexus 7, a slightly revamped MeMo 370T, which shed its rear facing camera and a few other features in the redesign, but it got an even more tempting price tag of just $199. The Nexus 7 went on sale last month in English speaking markets, basically the US and a few countries that still have “God save the Queen” inscribed on their cash. Select EU markets are also getting the Nexus 7 this week.
It is worth noting that Google had tried to enter the tablet market even before the iPad was born, with limited success. Several Android partners tried to upstage Apple’s iPad with their own Android tablet designs, but their tablets tended to cost as much as iPads and usually offered a worse user experience with an inferior operating system and a limited ecosystem, lacking applications optimized for bigger screens.
With the Nexus 7, this is a thing of the past. The tablet costs half as much as an entry level iPad 2, yet it brings a beefier processor and higher resolution screen to play. But best of all, it finally has a proper operating system that can hold its own against iOS. The Nexus 7 is the first, and at press time the only tablet to ship with Jelly Bean, the latest iteration of Google's Android operating system.
Google currently offers a single colour option, black, and the Nexus 7 is available in 8GB and 16GB versions, priced at $199 and $249 respectively. Sadly, there is no microSD slot on board. This leaves users with 5.9GB of storage on the 8GB version and 12.8GB on the 16GB unit.
Despite the low price, the Nexus 7 is a well rounded package and the only thing it lacks compared to most other tablets is a rear facing camera. But it does come with a front facing camera for video conferencing and chatting. [aka wasting time. Ed]
The understated box won’t take your breath away, but it is well designed and it contains the bare essentials: a 2-amp charger, USB cable, warranty and documentation, and of course, the device itself. In terms of hardware, the Nexus 7 features a 7-inch 1280x800 resolution IPS screen, housed behind a sheet of Corning glass. At 216 pixels per inch, the screen looks and works really well, much better than you would expect from a $199 device. The front also features a 1.2-megapixel camera and in keeping with Nexus tradition, there are no hardware buttons.
The Nexus 7 is powered by a Tegra 3 T30L processor, clocked at 1.2GHz and capable of hitting 1.3GHz in single core mode. The chip also contains a fifth companion core, clocked at 500MHz. The additional core is on board to improve battery life and most of our readers are already familiar with the concept. The GPU part works at 416MHz, a 104MHz lower than the Tegra 3 T30 and therefore might end up a bit slower in some games. However, we found it to be more than sufficient to deal with the 1280x800 screen.
The back of the device features a rugged, yet smooth rubberized finish, pitted with hundreds of tiny indentations and emblazoned with a large Nexus logo, all caps. Just above the speaker, you can see the Asus logo, much smaller than the Nexus logo.
The left hand side features a four-pin proprietary connector that should be used with a charger, dock or other accessories.
The power button and volume rocker are located on the left, while the micro USB and 3.5 headphone connector are located at the bottom of the device.
There are no connectors at the top, either.
We are pleased to report that the Nexus 7 looks and feels like a much pricier device. Granted, there are no fancy materials like aluminium or ceramics, but Asus did a pretty good job on a very tight budget. The first impression when you pick up the Nexus 7 for the first time is really nice. The 7-inch form factor is really comfortable for reading and one-hand operation. It is a bit bigger than traditional 6-inch Kindle readers, but it still feels good in your hand, especially thanks to its light 340g (0.74lbs) build.
After the mandatory Android setup, you are good to go. Let’s not forget that Google sells this tablet with $25 store credit valid for its Google Play store, which is a nice touch. Google also bundles a free copy of Transformer Dark of the Moon on the device, in order to test drive the tablet’s 720p capabilities. The screen is great, it shows vivid colors and it’s good for video, picture browsing as well as web. It really looks impressive and it turned out much better than we originally expected at this price point. However, the screen is not perfect. It is a bit on the warm side and whites tend to end up with a yellowish hue.
User Interface, Software
Jelly Bean is definitely tailored for a good user experience on this 7-inch tablet and it is a nice improvement over ICS. Google Now is the headline feature of Android 4.1 and it can be pretty fun to use. The voice search engine can recognize and answer some basic questions, it copes well with sports results, weather, and it can tell you how Microsoft's stock is doing or how tall is Kim Kardashian. [157 centimeters, or 169 with high heels. Ed]
Voice Search worked really well on a good WiFi connection, but in some noisier environments, like a busy café, the friendly Google man inside the device completely misunderstood our querries, sometimes with quite entertaining results. In Jelly Bean, Google also has a new way of displaying search results, neatly arranged in simple cards.
Google has predefined cards for celebrities, sports, weather and other frequent searches. Mind you, Google Now supports quite a few languages and dialects, so we are confident that it would work better in places and languages where Google hopes to sell the most devices. For example, we tried asking a few things in German and we got pretty good results. However, there were no cards or voice feedback. This is undestandable since Google has yet to roll out the Nexus 7 in German speaking markets, but still we are talking about 100 million German speakers around the world.
Google also hopes that you will end up buying a lot of paid content from the Play Store and in the US it offers books, movies as well as many games and applications available worldwide. Movies and YouTube content in 720p really nice on the hi-res display and thanks to the high pixel density you cannot see any pixelisation of 720p content even at very close range. The viewing angles are good too and it’s really comfortable to watch video on the Nexus, although many may might think that a 7-inch display is not enough.
Google’s browser of choice in Jelly Bean is Chrome. It just got out of beta and we can tell you that developers did a good job. It works fast, it’s really snappy in both portrait and landscape modes, and tabs are a joy to use.
Unfortunately, you are doomed to a phone-like portrait layout on the Nexus 7 home screen and there is no way of changing this in the stock launcher. This signifies a shift from previous ICS and Honeycomb tablets which were perfectly capable of working in both modes. This can be annoying if you are coming from a larger Android tablet. For example, when you exit the browser in landscape mode, the launcher reverts to portrait mode like a run of the mill Android phone.
One thing lacking in Jelly Bean and Chrome can spoil the web experience, the total absence of Flash support. The Android browser had some support that more or less worked fine, but the default Chrome browser completely lacks Flash support. You will simply have to learn to live without it.
Google Music works well and it streams your library as long as you have a decent internet connection. It will also work fine with uploaded music, if you have any, and the revamped gallery application displays photos and play video without any issues. Google+ integration also plays a big role in Jelly Bean. Google+ is part of the default app bar, along with Chrome, app drawer, You Tube, Music and Play.
There is also a folder full of other Google applications, including Gmail, Maps, Earth, Talk, Calendar, People and others. The app drawer launches instantly and browsing through apps is a really pleasant experience. The same goes for widgets, which can be resized in Jelly Bean. Google+ is optimized for the 7-inch experience and the same goes for Currents and even the Facebook app.
This gets us to e-books and we can tell you that the 7-inch form factor is the sweet spot for reading. Weighing in at just 340 grams, the Nexus 7 is not too heavy to hold in one hand for hours on end, and the display is great, too. Combined with a good dictionary, the Kindle application is a good start, but of course there are many alternatives. We also tried out Netflix and it’s a pretty good match for the 7-inch display. Of course, it’s not as great as on a 50-inch TV, but it’s good if you want to watch a TV show outside on your porch, in bed or just about anywhere with a decent wifi connection.
Typing on the Nexus, and all other small tablets, is not very fast. However, it is still a lot easier to type on a 7-inch touchscreen than on a mobile phone. Also, on a 7-incher you can easily type in landscape mode, which is not the case with bigger tablets. If you absolutely have to type a document, Google Docs will do just fine, but the lack of a dedicated app is a bit surprising. Of course, you will need an internet connection to use Google Docs, but at least the spellcheck works fine. There are a few alternatives to Google Docs, but we doubt that anyone will use the Nexus to write a book. However, it will suffice for an email now and then. The Nexus 7 is also nice for reading magazines and Zinio is one of the apps that will come in handy for this menial task. It looks fine in landscape or portrait mode and zoom works just fine.
This brings us to the final task part of the review, sheer performance and gaming tests. Since the Nexus 7 is powered by a Tegra 3 chip, all Tegra Zone games run just fine, including our favorite Shadowgun THD. Angry Birds are always fun, whether you are gaming on a 3-inch or 27-inch screen, and the 7-inch flavor works well too. Nexus 7 is also nice for some pinball games and overall this is a very powerful gaming device that has enough power for just about any Android gamers are likely to throw at it. Even if you are not a gamer, this is good news, as it means the Nexus 7 is future proof.
Since the heart of the tablet is the Tegra 3, we wanted to run it through our usual array of phone tests and compare the scores with a few other devices.
In Quadrant the Nexus 7 loses to the Transformer Prime and its faster 1.5 GHz Tegra 3 chip, as well as to the Infinity Pad with a 1.7GHz Tegra, but manages to run faster than entry level Asus Transformer Pad TF300. There is no doubt that Nexus 7 is faster in just about any test than Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus tablet and its dual-core chip. Nexus 7 is slightly faster in Antutu benchmarks than the rest of the Tegra crowd and it still beats the Galaxy 7.0 Plus by large margin. In Nenamark 2 it runs faster than any competition which came out as surprise and it’s even slightly faster than the Transformer Prime, with a faster processor and same resolution. It is logical that the Infinity Pad with its 1920x1080 screen ends up slower, as there are quite a few more pixels to render. In GLbenchmark the Nexus 7 is among the fastest devices and loses only to the Infinity Pad, but in off screen test you can clearly see that Nexus 7 has comparable rendering performance to the Transformer Pad TF300.
The Chrome browser is very fast and optimized, so it comes as no surprise that it manages to score the highest result in Sunspider and scores the best score in Browsermark. As we saw in our earlier reviews, Jelly Bean tends to score much higher in browser tests than ICS. In CF Bench Nexus 7 delivers equally good results, probably due heavy optimization. The perplexingly low score of the Infinity Pad 700 has been reported web wide without a good explanation.
It is interesting to note that Nexus 7 wins against much more expensive competitors. Last but not least, the quad-core aware AndEBench, where Nexus 7 loses only to Infinity Pad 700 but does well against the rest of the competition including Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0.
Overall the Nexus 7 is a great table that currently has no competition whatsoever.
It clearly outperforms the Kindle Fire as it features a faster processor and full Android 4.1 operating system. Google+ integration is definitely a nice tool that can make your life easier. The battery life is also good, close to 10 hours, so it is enough for a whole day of entertainment.
It’s not heavy, it fits the hand nicely and it has a beautiful 1280x800 screen, perfect for ebooks and magazines. It will play demanding games, play HD video and at just $199 it is without a doubt the best bang-for-buck tablet on the market today. The $249 16GB version is also a good deal and since the Nexus 7 has no microSD slot, it might be a worthwhile investment.
Build quality is good, the soft, rubberized finish on the back feels pleasant and durable. The lack of a rear facing camera could be an issue for some users, but you will have to learn to live without it.
In any case, if you are in the market for 7-inch tablet this is definitely the device to go for and we really can’t recommend it enough.