Since the announcement at Google I/O a few weeks ago I’ve been scrambling to try and get a hold of a Nexus 7, but it was sold out everywhere. I was finally able to nab one last week and I can say it was worth the running around to find it!
The Feel From the moment you open up the box the Nexus 7 has a way of screaming premium, this thing is the real deal. There have been a few tablets who have tried to master the 7” form factor but none that feel like this. It feels solid, like you don’t have to worry that you’ll break it or scuff it up by setting it on anything but a soft pillow; I’m not saying that it’s ruggedized but on the same hand you won’t have to baby it to keep it in great shape. 7” is a great form factor because not only is it extremely portable (I can fit in a bigger pocket with ease) but it’s easy to hold on to for long reading sessions or for watching movies. It’s very light and great for one handed use. The bezels on each edge are just big enough that you can rest your thumbs on them without getting in the way of the gorgeous IPS display. For these reasons I honestly think this is the best tablet I’ve ever used for gaming (more on that later).
When you pick it up you won’t want to put it down, the back has a very grippy texture that is very comfortable to hold, the best comparison I can make is that it feels a little bit like a rubbery leather. Head Android UX designer Matias Duarte said in an interview with The Verge that they were going for the feel of a high quality driving glove. Honestly when I pick it up even if I have nothing to do with it at the moment I don’t want to put it down. This may just be an issue with the device I picked up though because the one I got for my mother has perfectly tactile buttons, I found that the buttons (power button and volume rocker) were a little too far depressed in on my device making them hard to feel out at first without looking.
Performance The Nexus 7 is the latest in Google’s line of Nexus devices, this means that it will get Android updates straight from Google themselves, it will be the first to get any new version of Android ensuring that it will always be on the cutting edge. With ASUS’s success in the tablet arena with the Transformer series Google turned to them for the hardware on this device. The tablet features an Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad-Core 1.3GHz CPU and a 12-core GPU and that power shines through, combined with Android 4.1 Jellybean there is no slowing the Nexus 7 down. Right out of the box I was up and running in less than five minutes. I immediately got to installing all the (close to 40) tablet apps that I use regularly, while streaming music from TuneIn Radio, syncing my Facebook contacts, browsing Twitter, and messing around with the new Google Magazines. All of that at the same time and not a complaint from the Nexus. The user interface runs at 60 FPS consistently with many new little flourishes that make the experience feel even more fluid.
Software The Nexus 7 is the first device to premier with Google’s newest version of Android; 4.1 Jellybean. As a Nexus device it is running the purest version of the software you’ll find anywhere, no bloatware or skinning. This results in the true Google experience and that is an amazing experience. New to this version is Project Butter; Google’s “War on Lagginess” and it shows. The whole UI speeds around. New UI flourishes like items from the multitasking menu expanding into place and a card-like animation when opening a link into another app make the UI feel airtight as a single system rather than a bunch of independent apps.
There are a lot of great new features in Android 4.1 but one of the most exciting new features is Google Now, Google’s new search experience and assistant. Don’t mistake it for one of those other voice assistants though, this one’s in a league of its own. It is almost as though Google Now is your new secretary, it slowly gets to know you and your schedule and your interests and gets your information before you even have to ask. An example is that after you take it around for a little while it will realize that you always leave work at 5pm and from then on when approaching that time it will offer you traffic information for your return commute. If it sees that you have class at noon and there is some abnormally high traffic between your home and there it will notify you to leave earlier.
Gaming As I mentioned before this tablet is the go to for gaming, so much so that while I was writing this review I went to take some screenshots and became totally distracted by the game that I started up. The Tegra 3 chip is currently the top of the line when it comes to graphics in mobile devices and it shows in games like Dead Trigger. The graphics are amazing and gameplay is buttery smooth. The ergonomics of the device also play a huge part in making this the best gaming tablet as well. The form factor makes it not much larger than an Xbox controller and with it’s low weight it is very comfortable to hold while playing games. I have found in the past with 10″ slates that my arms would get tired from supporting the device because it extended too far upwards and had a strange center of gravity. It’s so good for gaming I would recommend it even if that was its only purpose.
Audio There is a single speaker grill along the bottom of the back panel and I’ve had some mixed results with it. It bested my expectations in both volume and fullness of sound. It’s not going to replace your dedicated speakers and you’re not going to be able to watch a movie on it in a busy hallway on campus between classes but I’m listening to it in my living room right now while writing this review and I’m happy with it for casual listening. When placed down on a flat table the tablet sits in such a way that the sound resonates and becomes slightly louder. When holding the device in portrait quality and volume seem untouched but my gripes come with holding it in landscape because my hands naturally gravitate towards sitting on top of the speaker and muffling it, this is unfortunate because that is how you would naturally hold the tablet when playing many games or watching a video/movie. Over the course of a week I did adapt to holding it a little more loosely but I do find that I still sometimes cover the speaker grille.
Battery The battery life is awesome! I didn’t do any sort of exhaustive testing but most blogs are reporting around 9 hours (you can see those sorts of results on other blogs) but in real world use in the past week I’ve only charged it once and honestly I didn’t even have to charge it at that time, I just wanted to have a full battery when I went to show it off to my friends. When I took it over to my buddy’s house everyone wanted to try it out. I was there for 3-4 hours or so that night and everyone was passing it around. Everyone got their turn at browsing the web, playing videos, and killing some zombies in Dead Trigger. One of my friends being the guy that he is sometimes stated he would run down the whole battery before the night was out, I told him to give it his best shot. At the end of the whole ordeal the totally battery drop for the night was only around 20-30%.
No Device Is Perfect With all the good things I’ve had to say about the Nexus 7 there is one thing that it doesn’t have and that is a MicroSD slot. The MicroSD slot on my Transformer has been one of my absolute favorite features and with storage options of 8gb or 16gb if you’re like me you’ll be hurting on storage. Now Google has done it’s best to make up for that with it’s cloud based solutions like Google Play Music and Movies that let you stream your content but sometimes it is just more convenient to have them on local storage.
What Can I Use This For? Easier to answer than what can you use this tablet for is what can’t you use it for? This tablet makes a great companion for any student on the go, it’s super fast and extremely portable meaning that it can go wherever you do and taking it out for a quick task is just that, “quick”. You’re not waiting for it to catch up with you, you take it out, get what you want, stow it in your backpack or a back pocket and you’re good to go. I can see it being great for taking handwritten notes in class, it’s easy to hold in one hand with your stylus in the other. In landscape mode it is almost exactly the width of a sheet of paper which means it rests nicely inside your textbook while studying. It’s great for reading books or notes or for watching video lectures on the go with the IPS display. After class you can listen to music, do some pleasure reading, or play a game. All of this comes naturally to the Nexus 7.
Now with all of this my only area that I would say this tablet isn’t good for is for high levels of productivity, your research project, or your big term paper. It’s not that it’s not capable of running all the applications you need but it’s too small to be extremely productive, the keyboard isn’t great for extended use beyond a longer email. In a pinch you can use it for word processing, spreadsheets, or presentations but it’s not going to lend itself as well as a full laptop or Transformer Pad.
What Does It All Mean? If you’re looking for a yes or no on whether this tablet is good, the answer is a resounding “YES”. It’s not for everyone but I would say that it covers everything that the vast majority of people are looking for in a tablet. Currently I would go as far as to say that it is the best tablet out there right now when you’re looking purely at entertainment. The lack of expandable storage and the fact that it isn’t great for pure productivity situations may be deal breakers for some, but if that is what you’re looking for the Transformer Pad series is right up your alley. For the rest of us the Nexus 7 is an amazing tablet and starting at only $200 it comes in at a price that can’t be beat.
Aiman Farooq is a Media and Information Technology student at Michigan State University. If you have any questions or comments please shoot me a tweet at @AimanFarooq