While everyone waited on an iPad mini with retina, Google and Asus went ahead and did one better. Presenting the new Nexus 7, an affordable 7-inch tablet with beefy specs and more pixels per inch than you can shake a 1080p jpeg at.
Whether you call it the Nexus 7 2 or just the Nexus 7, it hurdles right over the iPad mini in both parts and price. For just a little more money, it offers greater functionality than a Kindle Fire HD. It so surpasses theoriginal Nexus 7 that Google has swept last year's tablet under the rug; it seems to be retired from the Play Store altogether.
Internally, the new Nexus 7 packs a 1.5Ghz quad core processor, 2GB of RAM and comes with either 16GB or 32GB of storage. Those models go for $229/£200 and $269/£240, and there's also an LTE version selling for $300/£299. Sadly, we don't yet have official word on Australian pricing.
While microSD slots now feel like a relic of a bygone era, since neither Nexus nor Apple devices offer them, we have to bemoan storage space a bit here. The Android 4.3 OS found on the Nexus 7 takes up a whopping 6GB. Our 32GB tablet came out of the box with 26GB available. Those planning to go for the 16GB model need to brace for having only 10GB to play with.
Still, no matter how you slice it, the Nexus 7 is a lot of great tablet hardware for the money, all packed in an unassuming, plastic package. That pockmarked rubber backing from the first Nexus 7 has been ditched, replaced with an all plastic black backing. It doesn't feel as slick or look as premium as the metal backing of an iPad, but it'll surely hold up against scratches better than Apple's tablet.
The new Nexus 7 is poised to change the tablet game. It has a display and a price tag that puts the iPad mini to shame, and makes us wonder what's in store for the redesigned Nexus 10.
This isn't an open and shut case though. Right off the bat, if we had to register a few complaints about the Nexus 7's build, we have bring up all that bezel. Also, the industry standard of advertising the unformatted storage on a device instead of the available space needs to change, as the 16GB Nexus 7 is really a 10GB tablet.
Affordable price tags have bought the Nexus 7 some leeway, but it's no longer the dirt cheap option. Between Apple's premium iPads and Amazon's rock bottom Kindle Fire HD, is there room in the middle for a new Nexus 7?
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Features and design
Start rooting for the little guy; the Nexus 7 is small, even alongside other 7-inch tablets. At 7.87 x 4.49 x 0.34-inches, it's slightly slimmer than the original Nexus 7, which measured 7.81 x 4.72 x 0.41-inches. So it's a tad a thinner, and therefore even easier to hold in one hand, something we've never felt entirely comfortable doing with the wider iPad mini.
It's not too small, but we wouldn't want it any smaller. As it is now, it's the perfect size to toss in a bag or even a coat pocket. We've always considered 7-inchers to be travel tablets and 10-inch ones to be couch companions, and the new Nexus 7 fills this role perfectly, a featherweight at just 0.64lbs (290g).
Alas, the amount of storage on the device is also lightweight. Our 32GB Nexus 7 came with 6GB already occupied by onboard software. That left us with just 26GB to play with. That's not too bad, but those eyeing up the 16GB model should be warned that they'll have just 10GB available. That, compounded with the lack of microSD slot and 64GB option, may disappoint media hounds looking to carry a large collection of movies at all times.
On the outside, the Nexus 7 has a durable, unassuming design; a bit dull if you want to be harsh about it. Apple fans will likely miss the premium feel of brushed aluminium, but anyone who's winced at the sight of a horribly scuffed iPad will understand opting for a tougher plastic exterior.
The Nexus 7's display is coated in standard issue Corning glass, and the rear is firm black plastic. The rubbery pockmarked backing of the original Nexus 7 has been ditched, and we're fine with that. It was a divisive design; some liked it, others didn't, and we found that the white version discolored over time.
The place where Google and Asus have really outdone Apple is in the resolution and pixel density of the screen. The Nexus 7 packs a 7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 display with 323 ppi. Compare that to the 264 ppi on a full size Retina iPad, and you can see the winner, at least on paper.
In actual real life, using fallible human eyes, you'd be hard pressed to spot a pixel on either display. They're both extremely dense, high quality displays. Compare the Nexus 7 to an iPad mini though, and it's a different story.
Apple's 7-inch offering is a mere 1024 × 768 with 163 ppi. That's by no means insulting, until you start comparing prices. With the Nexus 7 starting about $100 lower than a comparable iPad mini, it feels like high time for Apple to slap a Retina display on that thing.
The Nexus 7 has a 16:9 aspect ratio, while the iPad mini is 4:3. That gives Apple's tablet wider screen space, which is handy for the web, but films and some TV are produced in 16:9. That extra space ends up filled with black bars, like letterboxing on an old television.
The one disadvantage of 16:9 is that it gives the Nexus 7 a ton of bezel -- unused space between the screen and the actual edge of the tablet. Because of the aspect ratio, the Nexus would need to get wider before it could get taller. That's not something we'd want, since we love how one-hand friendly this device is. It's a catch 22, and we think Google and Asus ultimately made the right call here.
The new Nexus 7 also has a very bright display display, with auto-brightness doing a perfect job of adapting to your environment. Like any tablet, it's at its best in moderate indoor light. It does washout in bright direct sunlight, but no more than the best displays out there.
It's not the best we've seen at handling colors though. They're not true to life, generally erring on the side of being slightly faded. It's really only something you can pick up on with a direct one to one comparison though.
Compare a digital comic on the Nexus 7 to its print counterpart, or to a movie on quality HDTV and you can see the difference. Skin tones were a bit too light, including the Hulk from The Avengers, whose signature green pigment was shade lighter than Stan Lee would sign off on. Also, some sky blues were actually darker on the tablet than on the page.
Basically, the color accuracy is all over the map, but you'd have to be Rembrandt to really be bothered by it. For the sake of thoroughness though, it does merit a mention.
It still does fine work with video, streaming or locally stored. That 16:9 aspect is perfect for Netflix, and it's diminutive size makes it very easy to hold with one hand or two. And all that bezel space actually gives you somewhere to grip it without obscuring the screen.
It's a good movie watching device, but we were actually most impressed with the reading on the Nexus 7. That high resolution, pixel dense display is the best tablet reading experience we've had on a backlit screen.
A device without a backlight, like a Kindle Paperwhite, will always be less trying on the eyes longterm, but as far as devices without e-ink go, the new Nexus 7 is king. Text is newspaper crisp, so much so that you may end up giving yourself an accidental eye exam. On a non-mobile site, it's tempting to read tiny shrunken print rather than zoom in. Don't strain your eyes though, no matter how impressive you might find this display.
The speakers have been given an upgrade from the original Nexus 7. The tablet now sports stereo sound, thanks dual speaker grills on the rear. The grills are large, and well-placed, so they're difficult to cover with your digits when holding the tablet. We actually had trouble trying to muffle them on purpose when testing.
The surround sound effect is surprising for tablet speakers, and sounds don't crackle and distort when the volume is cranked all the way. Overall, the sound is a big step up from the original Nexus 7, but the speakers still aren't terribly loud. It's fine for sharing a video in a quiet or moderately noisy space, but in a crowded and loud public space, the audio will drown out. We'd recommend some headphones.
Speaking of headphones, the audio jack is found on the top right of the tablet. It's well placed by default, since you can rotate the tablet any way you like and the image will reorient itself. Therefore, if you want your cord plugging in at the top, or trailing down from the bottom, iPhone 5 style, it's your prerogative.
Interface and performance
Android 4.3: Jelly Bean
Be it phone or tablet, a Nexus device is a flagship Google product. That means pure Android, with no third-party overlay getting between you and Google's mobile OS. If you're used to TouchWiz on a Samsung Galaxy S4 or Sense on an HTC One, stock Android may seem foreign, possibly sparse, but the advantage is snappy performance and timely updates direct from Google itself.
A Nexus device usually debuts a new version of Android, and the Nexus 7 is no exception. The svelte 7-incher is the first gadget released with Android 4.3, the latest iteration of Jelly Bean. It's not a whole new dessert, bringing with it just a few minor changes.
There have been enhancements to mobile streaming, gaming power and battery saving on Bluetooth. You can read more about it in our Android 4.3 explainer.
All in all, it's the same old Android you know and possibly love. Five home screens to deck out with all the apps, widgets and folders you desire. The dock can hold up to six apps or folders, with a button for the app drawer right in the middle.
The Nexus 7 has three standard control buttons: back, home and recent apps. These are rendered on the display, not physically placed on the tablet. That way, the buttons reorient themselves when you rotate your Nexus, which is an excellent touch on a tablet that works well in portrait or landscape.
The biggest change Android 4.3 brings about is support for multiple users. It's not without a flaw or two, as we'll explain, but it does make it easier to share the device and maintain privacy, as well as preventing a little one from emptying out your Google Wallet.
The first person to set up the device is considered the owner, or admin. They have the power to create or delete other users, which can be linked to different Google accounts. Multiple users can actually be linked to the same Google account, negating some of the privacy but allowing you to save money and share Google Play purchases.
These different users are represented by colorful icons on the lock screen. To switch profiles you need only visit the lock screen, touch your icon and enter your PIN or password, if enabled.
Going between users generates only a little bit of loading time. When you first select a different profile, you'll have a one second delay. Once you unlock the device, you may wait a few seconds for your widgets to load, but after that, it's smooth sailing.
You can also create restricted users, where the admin can individually choose the apps accessible for a particular profile. Apps like Email, Hangouts and Calendar are locked out by default and can't be enabled, and you can even disable Google's location tracking and services.
A restricted profile is a great way to hand your tablet off to a child without fear of them spending your money or getting up to no good on the web. It also works well as a guest mode, if you want to let a friend play games on the Nexus 7 without having email alerts and other possibly private communications pop up.
Overall, Android 4.3 is a subtle improvement to Google's mobile OS. The only thing to dislike about it is that not every app has been brought up to speed for it. At the time of this writing, some games and several media services, like HBO Go and the live streaming within MLB at Bat, don't yet support it, and won't work on a new Nexus 7. Patches are on the way, as indicated by official statements in the Play Store, but it's surprising that such popular services would be left behind like this.
Aided by a 1.5Ghz quad-core Snapdragon processor and 2GB of RAM, the Nexus 7 is easily among the best performing Android devices on the market. Flicking across home screens is incredibly responsive, along with impressive multitasking performance.
When flipping the tablet, there's just a slight delay before the display reorients itself. It feels more like the device is waiting to be sure that you're done moving it around than lag. Once it's sure that you're sure, it snaps right into place.
We did encounter a few Android hiccups along the way though. Scrolling down big web pages in Chrome could get jerky, and there were a few times where the keyboard didn't know quite when to excuse itself.
These are minor quibbles though, things that reared their heads only a few times in our week of testing. The jerky scrolling was the most persistent, and its something we've experienced ever since Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich. It's by no means a deal breaker, but we do wish Google could iron this wrinkle out already.
For a tablet, the new Nexus 7 is a gaming dynamo. All the most intensive apps load quickly and run the smoothest we've seen. Asphalt 7, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Riptide GP2 all loaded quickly and looked great.
The original Nexus 7 didn't have rear camera. That was a choice we understood, since it's rather hard to snap a shot on a tablet without looking like a tourist from the Starship Enterprise.
No matter though, Google and Asus have opted to include a 5-megapixel snapper in the new Nexus 7. With it's relatively low MP count, and stock Android's very basic camera, it produces rather hum drum shots, but that's not what you're buying a tablet for, right?
Overall, the camera takes mediocre pictures. Colors tend to be washed out, and it struggles in bright or uneven light.
The new Nexus 7 also has a 1.2-megapixel camera, a far more essential component for Skype, Google Hangouts and other video chatting services.
As you can see, it takes an adequate, somewhat pixelated shots.
Battery life and connectivity
The new Nexus 7 packs a 3950 mAh battery. This is actually a step down from the original Nexus 7, which housed a 4325 mAh cell. Google rates the new Nexus 7 at 9 hours of use, whereas it estimated the original at 10.
The move to a smaller cell probably helped to size down the tablet, and in our day to day use, hasn't hurt its longevity. You can use the device quite intensely all day, surfing the web, watching movies, downloading, playing and using apps, and still have about twenty percent charge left when you plug it in at night. With moderate use to light, meaning email checks, web surfing, some Facebook, Twitter and a little YouTube, we were rarely below 75 percent at the end of the day.
The new Nexus 7 also has excellent standby battery use. As a test, we would leave the Nexus tablet on our nightstand, powered on, screen off, with all notifications enabled. In the morning after a restful eight hours, the battery would have have burned down only four percent.
We also applied the patented TechRadar battery test, looping a 720p video for ninety minutes, with screen brightness maxed, notifications enabled and the volume muted. From a full charge, the tablet burned down to 80 percent after ninety minutes.
To give you a further idea of the tablet's performance in a more real life scenario, streaming Netflix for one hour in a dark bedroom would take the battery down ten percent.
Overall, we were quite impressed with the battery performance of the new Nexus 7. Unlike a phone, a tablet isn't the kind of device you're using all day, every day, but even if you were traveling with it, say from TechRadar's UK offices in Bath to TechRadar US in South San Francisco, you'd be able to get through several films before it went dead on you.
Note that all these test were conducted on a 32GB WiFi model. We did not have an LTE model to test.
In the United States, the Nexus 7 is available as either a WiFi only devices, or with 4G LTE connectivity. So far we've heard T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T will be on deck as carriers.
In the UK, a 4G model will be available for £299. We've reached out to Google for information as to carriers, and availability in Australia, and will update the review when we have an answer.
As we've mentioned, our review was conducted on a 32GB WiFi model. We did not have an LTE model to test.
In addition to dual-band WiFi with support for 2.4G/5G 802.11 a/b/g/n, our Nexus 7 review unit also also had Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC.
Hands on gallery
The new Nexus 7 is a powerful, reliable tablet. It's nicely built, and offers a gateway into the Google Play Store, which has become a solid competitor to Apple's App Store and iTunes.
Frankly, when it comes to 7-inch tablets, it blows both the iPad mini and the original Nexus 7 clean out of the water, and does a whole lot more than a Kindle Fire HD for just a bit more cash. However, it's not the bottom dollar option that its predecessor was, and with the possibility of an iPad mini with Retina display on the horizon, should consumers hold out? Let's break it down.
The size and build of the Nexus 7 is very nice. The grippy, odd looking and divisive pockmarked backing of the original is gone, replaced with smooth black plastic. It holds up well against wear and tear, especially when compared to a metal iPad, and it's not so slick that it'll slide out of your hand. It's also a really nice size for holding in one hand like a paperback book, or tossing in a bag or coat pocket.
The battery life on the device is excellent. You'd have to try in order to wear down that 3950 mAh battery before the end of the day.
The Nexus 7 has best display of any 7-inch tablet currently on the market. On paper, it's better than that of an iPad 4 with retina, but it's hard to see the difference with fallible human eyes. And speaking of paper, the new Nexus is an excellent way to read on the web, and the most pleasing screen for a Kindle next to aKindle Paperwhite.
It's also a powerful performer. It's 1.5Ghz quad-core and 2GB of RAM ensure great performance in the most punishing of Android apps and games.
Android 4.3, while not a major overhaul by any definition, brings a few nice features with it. The improved graphics performance is obvious when gaming, and the battery-saving Bluetooth enhancements are appreciated.
Finally, it's well priced. $229/£200 is a good starting price for a 16GB tablet, although we recommend the 32GB version for reasons we're about to get into...
Is Android starting to get bloated? Our 32GB Nexus 7 tablet arrived with 26GB available. That means proprietary software is sucking up 6GB of space. We'd really be irked if we shelled out for a 16GB model, and only had 10GB to play. It would also be nice to have a 64GB option, since microSD seems to be out of the question.
It's not that 10GB or 26GB isn't enough room - we don't need to haul the entire Criterion Collection everywhere we go - it's just that it's starting to border on false advertising. It's like when you buy a $30 concert tickets and end up paying $41.95 with fees. Just be upfront about it!
The colors on the display are slightly inaccurate. You really need to make a one to one comparison to notice it, but it's worth mentioning with a screen that's otherwise stellar.
The camera is pretty unremarkable, but this is a tablet after all. If you take pictures with a tablet in public you deserve shoddy snaps as well as derisive looks.
Lastly, while the Nexus 7 is priced to move, especially when compared to the iPad mini, but it's no longer the dirt cheap option. That title now belongs to the Kindle Fire HD, which was neck and neck with the original Nexus 7, which debuted at $199 and moved down to $179.
Is the Nexus 7 the best 7-inch tablet on the market today? We think so. Is the best tablet full stop? That's debatable.
The plastic build isn't terribly attractive, but once you have it your hands you understand its charms. It's light, thin and durable, the perfect thing to toss in your bag as you run out the door. It could be a commuter's best friend.
You won't be at a loss for things to do on it either. Google Play has grown considerably in the tablet department, with lots of great apps optimized with for this high density display. And thanks to substantial battery life, you won't have to worry about it dying on you out of nowhere either.
While it's no longer the cheapest 7-incher on the market, it offers a lot more processing power and versatility than a Kindle Fire HD. We actually think that Amazon might have the most to worry about from Google's new tablet. Actually, as long as you keep buying your e-books from them, they probably don't care what tablet you own.
The only thing that really has us worried is Android itself. While it offered fast and stable performance on our Nexus 7, the amount of bloat the OS creates is concerning. We're also wondering if it's iterating too fast, leaving popular apps unsupported on new devices.
Still, if you're considering a tablet now and are already dabbling in the Android ecosystem, we see know reason why shouldn't take the plunge with a Nexus 7. If you haven't invested at all with Android, you're still in a good place to start. You could wait and see about the next iPad mini, which is advisable for those who have racked up a lot of App Store purchases, but there's no way it'll be as affordable as the new Nexus 7.