Google has just announced an update to their original, genre-defining Nexus 7 tablet, and it's the new Nexus 7. It doesn't radically change the formula, but the new Nexus 7 does take everything to the next generation, and the next level. Android Central's Andrew Martonik went hands on with the new Nexus 7 and here are his first impressions:
Starting with the build, the new Nexus 7 is thinner, narrower and about 50g lighter than the original. Bezels on the top and bottom remain large to help with usability, but the width has been reduced by over 6mm in total -- and you can tell instantly when wrapping your hand around it. Around the front, Google has upped the screen both in terms of resolution -- 1920x1200 now -- and overall quality. On the back, we're looking at a dual speaker setup with synthetic surround sound software to provide a more immersive experience. Up in the top left corner you'll find a 5-megapixel camera (nothing fancy here, just a camera) and a new, larger "Nexus" logo that runs vertically rather than horizontally when holding the tablet in portrait mode.
It's also updated on the inside with quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro 1.5GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 16 or 32GB of storage and optional LTE connectivity, septaband for Europe and pentaband for North America.
I wasn't a huge fan of the original Nexus 7. I've owned one since launch and found the aspect ratio less to my liking (16:10 rather than Apple's 4:3), the hardware less than reliable (especially where the battery's concerned), and the software frustrating (updates fixed some stuff, broke other stuff.) However, it inarguably proved the small tablet form factor could be a winner, more so than either the BlackBerry Playbook or the Amazon Kindle Fire before it.
Then came the iPad mini, and while Apple didn't even try to beat Google on all the specs, they beat them on total package and experience, and massacred them on tablet-optimized apps. (Google, inexplicably and horrifically, went TVDPI for the original N7, something so bad even they recommended developers not use it, resulting in a mishmash of smartphone and tablet apps, frustrating designers and customers alike.)
So what lessons has Google learned since the iPad mini took over the small tablet market, and how does the new Nexus 7 compare?
As usual, new Android kills old Apple on specs. The 1920x1200 display is 1080p+ and far denser than the iPad mini's 1024x768 standard display. (A theoretical iPad mini Retina would be 2048x1536, but such a thing doesn't exist in the retail world yet.) The N7 is still 16:10 though, and while that works great for small devices, I'd argue it doesn't work great for tablets where portrait and landscape are equally important for content consumption, and tall and skinny isn't as traditionally comfortable.
LTE is a great upgrade for the Nexus 7. I barely used mine because I've come to need cellular networking on my tablets, so Wi-Fi only meant it spent more time collecting dust than being used while I was out and about. Quad-core is nice, but until someone explains what specifically the extra cores give me (video mirroring? what else?), I'm not getting excited about them. With a circa-2011 Apple A5 processor, the iPad mini manages to move just fine. Throw an Apple A6 or the upcoming A7 in there, and it'll fly.
The stereo, reportedly simulated surround-sound speakers, are where I start to want to rant about Apple again. The iPad mini was the first iOS device with stereo speakers, which in and of itself was not-too-little-but-really-kinda-late, but they were both at the bottom of the device, not really optimizing the potential. When you listen to what HTC is doing with Beats, you start to expect the inventor of the iPod to do better with sound.
As to the software, it's too early to tell how Android 4.3 will perform on the new Nexus 7. The original Nexus 7 perplexingly shipped without ubiquitous landscape support, and though that came in an update, most of the updates introduced glitches and performance issues all their own. The multitouch was never great, and the back button was random enough to be rage inducing. And the lack of proper tablet apps was an undeniable problem.
If Android 4.3 fixes the core user experience issues, great. If Google can fix the lack of tablet support among their developers, even better. Until then, Apple's going to keep crushing them with 375K iPad-optimized iOS apps. (And yeah, it really makes a difference.)
On the plus side, however, Android 4.3 on the new Nexus 7 looks to have fantastic support for multiple user accounts, which will no doubt be a boon to single device, multiple person households and businesses.
Ultimately, the new Nexus 7 is absolutely a better Nexus 7 than what came before, but it remains to be seen if it's a better tablet. The original Nexus 7 really was more of a big iPod touch that ran Android than a small tablet that ran tablet software. The new Nexus 7 has to prove it can transcend that, and become a real tablet device. Maybe it'll do it easily, at launch. If so, great.
Either way the ball's now in Apple's court again. We'll be getting a new iPad mini soon enough, but will it be Retina, will it be fall or spring, and what if any ground can the new Nexus 7 make up in the meantime?