Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Google's Nexus 7 is a potentially game changing Android tablet that has the rare opportunity of establishing Google's mobile OS as the preferred choice in the 7-inch space.
Manufactured by ASUS, which saw some success in its 10-inch Transformer line, the Nexus 7 features a fast quad-core Tegra 3 processor, stunning graphics architecture, a great 7-inch screen and most importantly a relatively affordable price tag of $200 for the 8GB version and $259.00 for the 16GB version.
Nexus 7 is the only tablet that ships with a much improved Google Android OS 4.1 codenamed Jelly Bean. An incremental update only in number as this revision ushers in some compelling new features that improve user experience and functionality.
Most notable is Google Now which integrates many of Google's search, location and real-time features as well as a stellar voice search function that rivals Apple's own Siri voice assistant. You can also set alarms, appointments and respond to emails by using voice.
We got our review unit from Staples.ca, which had online stock of the 16GB version only and which included free overnight delivery with our order.
Staples.ca is much better option for Canadian buyers looking to get a Nexus 7 since Google will charge you $20 for two-day shipping and you have to wait three weeks to get your device.
Google hasn't figured out how to properly run an online order and fulfillment service. You can order the devices online but you can't cancel the order if you change your mind even before the product ships.
In order to "cancel" the order you simply have to wait until UPS shows up at your door and then reject the package. Which goes back to the US and back into Google's system. 15 days after that, you are supposed to get a refund. What a waste of the customer's time, money and shipping space and fuel just because their system can't handle cancellations.
The Nexus 7 experience
Out of the box, the Nexus 7 comes with a USB charger and nothing much else. Google is said to be selling these at near cost so don't expect too many frills.
The overall design is very good. Its 7.8 x 4.72 x 0.41 inch dimensions don't make it the thinnest tablet in the market but it feels well balanced and solid. The choice of a textured rubber rear case was smart since it adds great grip to the tablet and gives it a luxurious leather feel similar to what some car interiors have.
The 7-inch screen is superb and is bright enough for most purposes even in its lowest brightness setting. The screen is a backlit IPS panel with great viewing angles and consistent brightness and contrast. It has 1280 x 800 pixels and a 216 pixel per inch density, which is very good.
As with most Android devices, once you log on to your gMail account, all your stored information, apps and settings will automatically download and show up on the device. It is just great to have a new device that's ready to go in under 15 minutes with all the apps you already purchased.
Jelly Bean is the best version of Android because it is fast and fluid and it is designed to run on multi-core processors. The Nexus 7 has a quad core processor and a gig of RAM which makes multitasking, gestures, pinching and zooming instantaneous and lag free.
The best part is that the apps that take full advantage of the quad core processor are still to come as developers tweak these applications to run smoother on the new system.
Typing up searches or loading complex websites on the default Chrome browser is very fast and while Adobe Flash is missing (yes, Google's done away with it just as Apple has) you can still install it as an add on.
The Nexus 7 has a lot going for it. You can easily use it with one hand which makes it great for reading since it is even lighter than some eReaders. It will be the tablet I wouldn't think twice about taking with me on a trip.
Movies and TV shows look resplendent on that sharp screen and we indulged ourselves with several hours of Breaking Bad on the Netflix app as well as the included Transformers movie that Google bundles with the tablet. Walter White is more fun to watch than Shia LaBeouf and Bumblebee.
I used the device to access my Kindle and Kobo eBooks, check Twitter feeds and play various games which the 7-inch screen seems to be perfect for and far better than smartphone sized screens/ I have so far enjoyed the Zombie killing game Dead Trigger and the frenetic Temple Run as well as some accelerometer controlled racing games.
The Nexus 7 is one of the first tablets ever to feature NFC (Near Field Communication) which wil make it compatible with Android Beam, a new way to send files such as photos, videos and music between devices as well as serve as a mobile payments and ticketing platform in the future.
This is all well and good, however I did test Android Beam with a Galaxy Nexus running Jelly Bean and found it to be kludgy and rather slow (very different from the demos where it is you literally touch devices and the files transfer instantaneously). I actually found it easier to email the file to the other device which seemed even faster. NFC is a good thing to have but it looks like third party developers will need to come up with better ways to use it.
Google also offers Google Books, YouTube, Google Plus as content centres that the tablet can pull from. Magazines and Music aren't available to Canadian users yet but that should be coming.
How Nexus 7 can win the market
The idea is that the device will lock people into not just the Android OS but also all the different content offerings. Not unlike how Microsoft took a big hit of the XBox's price in order to make up the investment in video game and subscription sales.
Looking at the other 7-inch tablets out there, they all start to look like misfit toys. Many of them are running the older Honeycomb versions of the Android OS, most have dual-core processors and not the quad core one and cost around $500 for the 16GB versions. Outrageous!
Just this past month, I've seen two 7-inch Android tablets from Google partners which are going to cost $499 and while they have a few features that seem better than the Nexus 7 (for example AMOLED screens, rear cameras), the Nexus 7 beats them all in terms of specs, software and even battery life. These 7-inch tablets are DOA when they come to market. Dead On Arrival. No one is going to pay double for a tablet that offers less and is outdated in almost every way.
Yes these more expensive 7-inch tablets do have rear facing cameras which adds to the price and some of them offer memory expansion via microSD (whcih should have been included on the Nexus 7 but Google has made most Nexus devices non-expandable, which is a shame).
These other 7-inchers also lack the latest and greatest software and with no guarantees of an update. While the Nexus 7 has already received a minor update while it has been out.
Build and Quality Issues
The Nexus 7 isn't perfect. It seems that because ASUS has to deliver so many of these devices which are in far greater demand than anything it has shipped before, quality is suffering. There are various issues being reported by users. My own 16GB model was a good example. The screen seemed to be coming off the body, like it wasn't screwed on properly. This isn't too much of a big deal but the gap between the touch screen and the bezel was big enough for dust and debris to get in and maybe affect the functionality.
The fix for this was to crack the Nexus 7 open and literally tighten the screws from behind while pressing gently on the screen. I was very careful not to tighten the screws too much as this could crack the screen. It seems this fixed the issue (I do have some experience as a computer technician, people who aren't sure should just contact Google for a replacement or return). After the fix, everything seemed a bit tighter but you can still press down on the sides of the screen and see some discoloration.
Other issues reported are backlight bleeding, touch detection problems, dead pixes and dead microphone. These problems have nothing to do with software. Rather, they're a result of bad components, manufacturing, and assembly. Many of these issues are on ASUS and not Google.
I still recommend the Nexus 7 over all 7-inch tablets in the market but with the caveat that buyers really inspect and test their devices thoroughly in the event that they need to get their devices returned or replaced (which will be inconvenient give that the devices are already in short supply).
I don't expect these issues to last. Most manufacturers can lock down on these manufacturing screw ups quickly (costs them money too).
Eminently portable and so far ahead of other, more expensive 7-inch Android tablets out there, the Nexus 7 is a game changer because it offers great hardware, great software at a not too ridiculous price.
Because of its size, pricing and capabilities. The Nexus 7 poses a threat to various gadgets like portable gaming consoles, eBook readers, MP3 players, personal video players and even standalone GPS units (provided you tether to 3G data), all have a new competitor.
I predict that the Nexus 7 will be in short supply in the next few weeks, it is one of those products that will attract a range of users.
The Nexus 7 is a great little consumer tablet. Its lack of 3G or LTE and business-oriented apps might keep it away from businesses and the corporate set but this device will shake-up the market for first time tablet buyers and Android loyalists looking for a fun, powerful and compact tablet.
Rating: to be determined