I have been an Apple user for many years now, and never laid eyes on an Android device till I bought the Google Nexus 7. As is always the case when a new tablet is released, it is measured against the same yard stick every tablet is measured against; Apples iPad. Since its release 3 years ago, the iPad has ruled the roost in tablet circles. Many have tried to beat it, none have come close. Has the Nexus? Well, lets find out!
Many media outlets have totted the Nexus 7 as an iPad killer which everyone who knows the tech industry and has used the iPad and Nexus 7 will know this is not so. Not even Goggle or Asus (the Nexus’s maker) believe this and didn’t try to market it as such. In fact, Google have been very clever in marketing the Nexus 7 tablet. They state they have designed and released the 7 inch tablet as a direct challenger to Amazon’s Kindle Fire, another Android tablet. Both are the same size and have a large media library behind them, although Amazon has a larger store: the Kindle store and MP3 library whilst Google‘s own Play store is still relatively new. However, the Nexus is a fantastic media consumer. So, on to the build.
Design and Hardware
How does the Nexus 7 feel in the hand? As with any quality product, the 7″ tablet feels very safe in my hand and well-built as well. Asus should be very proud of the final product. Having been an iPhone user for the last 4 years, I find myself continuously looking for a hardware button at the bottom middle of the screens to take me back to the main menu. Instead, the Nexus 7 has the usual Android 3 software keys which is the back, home and multitasking button (by the usual i mean starting with Android Honeycomb OS version when the on-screen software buttons were introduced for the first time). This gives the Nexus 7 a very clean and stylish look.
The devices bezel around the screen is big enough to allow you to hold the device without touching the screen yet not so big as to compromise screen space. The rubberized back gives the Nexus tablet a bit of grip to the users hands preventing any slipping when using it without a case.
The weight is a good weight (340 grams) for a device so full of technology and it doesn’t tire your arm out like a big iPad would. I could quite happily hold a Nexus 7 at eye level to read at night before getting tired. The charging and data port is a micro USB on the bottom of the device, the 3.5mm headphone jack next to it. The power and volume rocker are on the left hand side. The only complaint I have about it is the way the bottom of the Nexus slide away from the screen and the buttons can sometimes be hard to reach when the device is sitting flat on a surface or in a case.
On the hardware side the Nexus 7 has a Quad-Core Tegra 3 processor, 1GB RAM and either 8 or 16 GB of flash (built-in) memory. Unless you plan on storing a half-dozen films or 1000s of songs on your device, the 8GB would store plenty of apps and books to keep you happy, but for the price of £40, if you can afford it, the extra memory is useful. There are, however, cheaper ways of adding memory. You can attach a flash drive and peripherals like a keyboard via USB with a micro to standard size USB adaptor.
When first turning on the device, and after logging on with your Google account, you are presented with a screen displaying several books from the Google books app, and media you have bought from the Play store. This is Google trying to show off their device and store to you. When you buy the Nexus and register, Google will send you £15 to spend in the Play store as well as gift you with several books (classics such as Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island and a Jeffrey Archer book), a full copy of Transformers: Dark side of the Moon ready to stream from the Play store (or you can download it and store on the device to watch without the access to WiFi).
The Google Play store (previously the Android Market) has been given a fresh lick of paint for the release of Nexus 7 to look like a professional store displaying Apps, Books and Movies in one place, something Apple still does separately.
The range of apps available in the store is vast (although still behind Apples own app store). There are numerous games and hopefully more will be made to take advantage of the power house at the centre of the Nexus 7.
The front of the screen has a 1.2mp camera used for video calls through Skype or another app. Some have criticised Asus for not adding a second camera to the rear. Asus have rebutted this by saying adding a second high quality camera would have pushed the price too high. Further more, this is not a device for shooting video or taking pictures. I know that I would more likely pull out my phone to take a picture than a bigger device. With the release of the Google Nexus Phone, you could shoot the video on the phone, and then share it to the tablet via the Near Field Communication (NFC) which both devices have. You can then enjoy, edit and share the video on a larger screen.
Android OS4.1 Jelly Bean is a clean and zippy system.
The addition of Project Butter is said to have made the system run faster. Having never used a previous version of Android, I can’t comment on this, but I have not noticed any lag in any operation I have tried on the device. There have been several crashes, but those are mainly apps that may not have been optimised for the Nexus 7 and OS 4.1. On the whole, the system is very stable.
The UI has more or less stayed the same on Jelly Bean from ICS. The major new addition is Google Now. This allows you to get snippets of information. For example, it can show you the score from last night’s game, what the weather will be like, what the traffic is like on the way to work and even when you should be leaving to get to your appointment on time. The major downside however, is that setting all this up is nowhere near as simple as it should be. You’d think that to set up your favourite team, home, work and travel locations, you would access the settings for each and add them there. Not so!
At the top of the Google Now screen is a search bar which will show you results from the giants search engine (like on the web). Google Now takes its information from these searches. As long as you allow the Nexus 7 to view your location details and access your location, Google Now can start to display the information. Sadly, nowhere could I find anything in the user manual or even the help files on Google explaining how to do this. I had to, ironically, Google it.
Some people have voiced their displeasure that the Nexus 7 doesn’t come with a 3G option (although there are rumours are this could be coming soon). I have been lucky, however, in that I managed to connect mine to my phone by turning the it into a personal hotspot. This allows you to connect the Nexus 7 via WiFi or Bluetooth and use the phone‘s 3G connection to access the internet. I have been doing this for the last couple of days and it has worked seamlessly. Again, I imagine Asus’ decision to leave out 3G is to keep the price down to compete with the Amazon Fire, and with the solution above, you don’t lose out. If your phone can’t be turned into a personal Hotspot, you can probably attach a 3G dongle via the USB port with an adaptor, but I haven’t tried this. The only time you lose out by not having 3G, is if you want to download something instantly. Most of the time, a little planning should allow you to have what you need on the device ready. The one moment I found I could do with 3G was when I was testing out the navigation. Although the app doesn’t need an internet connection to route, it can’t give you any traffic information or reroute you. If you choose a different route, the app will simply turn you down other roads to get you onto its original route. Furthermore, it beeps every couple of seconds to explain it’s lost wifi.
- Small form, lightweight yet powerful
- Faster OS
- Great screen for viewing media
- WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC
- Price – really cheap
- No 3G
- Front facing camera only
- Difficult set up of Google Now and other features
- Awkward button placement
All in all, Google and Asus have hit upon a goldmine with the Nexus 7 Tablet. It’s not an iPad killer like some have claimed, but it could well spell the end of the Kindle Fire, and I have no doubt will take a substantial chunk of users away from saving up for an iPad. With the rumours of a smaller iPad, or a bigger iPhone, it’s a case of “watch this space”, but until then, the Nexus will sell like hotcakes.