- Good screen
- Speedy performance
- Handy form
- Textured rear avoids plasticky feel
- Still no Google Music in UK
- Non-expandable memory
- Native video support limited
Google Nexus 7 - Design and Specs
The Google Nexus 7 is a 7 inch Android tablet that offers top-tier specs and Asus build quality for under £200. In the UK at least, 7 inch tablets have not done well. BlackBerry
PlayBook? Flop. HTC Flyer? Disaster. Acer Iconia A100? No-one's even
heard of the thing. But that's all about to change. The Google Nexus 7 tablet sets a new standard.
Watch the video review
What's the Damage?
At present, the Google Nexus 7 tablet is available in two guises. There's an 8GB edition that costs £159, and the much more popular 16GB version that'll set you back £199. How about a version with more storage?
We can imagine there would be plenty of demand for one, given that memory is non-expandable, but Google has not mentioned plans for a 64GB or - more likely - 32GB model of the tablet.
Design and Specs
The Google Nexus 7 tablet reportedly only took four months to get from original concept to final design. You can bet the iPad mini has had a lot more man hours pumped into it, but this tablet does not feel like a rush job.
Made by Asus, the Nexus 7 takes a few pointers from the company's Transformer range of tablets. In particular, the brown/black rear and its textured rubberised plastic finish wouldn't look at all out of place as part of that series.
Splashed with the Nexus and Asus logos, the Google Nexus 7 tablet is not quite an Apple-grade thing of beauty, but the dotted rear makes it feel almost leather-bound, rather than encased in plastic, as it actually is. The front is topped with Gorilla Glass.
One of the best things about a smaller tablet like the Nexus 7 is that you can hold it out in public, in one hand or two, standing or seated, without feeling as ridiculous as you would holding a larger dinner plate. We've always felt a little ridiculous wielding a 10.1 inch Android tablet on the train. A comparatively petite, elongated paperback in shape, the Google Nexus 7 tablet is the perfect size for the purpose. It's slim too - 10.5mm
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (left) and the Google Nexus 7
At 325g, the Google Nexus 7 tablet is a little lighter than some of its current 7 inch rivals, such as the 425g BlackBerry PlayBook and 344g Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0. This sort of weight makes it possible to use comfortably one-handed, but if you're used to the feather-light body of a Kindle, it will feel a little heavy.
So far, so what, right? The Google Nexus 7 is a portable tablet made to a similar standard as we've seen in the past. However, what's special about this tab is that it packs-in specs that just a few months ago you'd have seen in devices twice the price. It offers a quad-core 1.3GHz Tegra processor, the 800 x 1,280 pixel resolution that was until recently the standard for larger 10.1in tablets, and all the Google software bells and whistles that are often left out of budget tablets. What's not to like?
Aside from lacking the cool-feeling metal finish of Apple's tablets and iPods, we have no complaints about the Google Nexus 7's build. However, its connectivity is pretty limited.
On its bottom edge are the microUSB slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack. That's your lot, in terms of sockets. Memory is non-expandable, with 8GB (£159) and 16GB (£199) versions available at present. There's also no access to the battery.
Not being able to jam in a memory card is one win the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 can claim over the Nexus 7, but using a microUSB for both charging and data transfer earns the Google tablet back some points. Most Android tablets from big names use proprietary connectors. Plug the Nexus 7 tablet into a computer using a standard microUSB cable and it'll start charging and its internal memory will show up as a media device, allowing drag and drop copying of files. However, it's not an MHL-compliant port, so the microUSB won't double as a video output.
The Google Nexus 7 has already caught a lot of flak among long-term Android fans for its lack of expandable memory, but it retains much of the versatility of any other Android device. You can still install programmes downloaded from here, there and everywhere and you're not tied to an iTunes-like piece of software to get media onto the tablet. Using a simple (we'll keep you posted with step by step instructions on how to do this) root and app-based workaround you can use the microUSB to connect to powered external hard drives too - although it's not a standard feature as it is in some other Android tabs. You can plug in keyboards and mice without rooting, though.
The one other notable Google Nexus 7 omission is a rear camera. Although many other Google Android tablets offer one, it's no great loss when they tend to be of low quality, and half-decent smartphones are much better-suited to the task anyway.
Wireless connectivity fares much better than the cabled kind. Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and NFC all feature. The latter in particular is a rarity in tablets. There's no 3G model available as yet, but adding it would also bump-up the price significantly.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
Some say the Google Nexus 7 tablet is here to combat the iPad mini. Others say it's to fend-off competition from the Amazon Kindle Fire 2. However, either way it is also here to showcase Android 4.1 Jelly Bean - this is to be the only Google tablet to officially use the OS for the next few months.
Unlike its predecessor Ice Cream Sandwich, version 4.1 Jelly Bean is not an earth-shattering change for the three-year-old operating system, but there are some significant improvements. The most important is what Google calls "project butter". This is intended to finally get Android up to speed - previous versions have been laggier and buggier than the comparable platforms from Apple and Microsoft, iOS and Windows Phone.
V-sync is now employed in the OS, and it's designed to run at a solid 60fps. With a quad-core Tegra 3 1.3GHz processor to call upon, the Google Nexus 7 makes every other tablet at the price look slow. Flicking around the system's menus at top speed, you have to try pretty hard to make the tablet drop frames.
Aside from the speed increase, Android Jelly Bean looks and feels similar to Ice Cream Sandwich. A simplified three-icon nav bar sits at the bottom of the screen, home to Back, Home and Recent Apps buttons, and a seven-icon app shortcut dock sits just above. A neat notifications bar is dragged from the top of screen and the discreet universal search bar sits at the top of each home screen. Type or talk a search term and the Google Nexus 7 tablet will search through your contacts, apps and - if necessary - the web to find results.
The Google Nexus 7's take on Siri
Voice recognition has also been updated on Google's tablet to make it far more powerful than before, to compete with Apple's Siri.
Voice search uses the Wi-Fi connection to pipe anything you say over to the Google servers for analysis. Without 3G connectivity, this makes the feature largely useless when out and about, but with a connection to call upon, it's impressively accurate.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean changes the default system browser from stock Android to Chrome, which was previously an optional download from the Google Play app store. It's not the prettiest browser interface in the world, but it skilfully minimises the intrusion of its UI elements, giving over maximum screen real estate to the webpage in question.
Other neat features include integration of voice search into the standard search bar and a deep-rooted "incognito" mode. HTML5 support is good too, although there's little recognition of when a keyboard is needed in HTML5 games. Some work is left to be done, but it's getting there.