Introduction

Nexus 7 Press Image

The Nexus 7 is Google’s first foray into the tablet market (not counting the pseudo-Nexus Xoom tablet from Motorola), and it’s teamed up with ASUS to offer what has become one of the most desirable and highly sought after pieces of tech in recent years. This review will cover both the device itself and some aspects of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, with the Nexus 7 being the first device to ship with Jelly Bean installed. A full review of Android 4.1 will follow when I’ve got it installed on my Nexus S and can compare the OS across a couple of devices.

Hardware

Costing just £159/£199 for the 8GB and 16GB models respectively, the Nexus 7’s hardware blows all of its nearest competitors, and more, out of the water. Key specs include:

  • 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad Core CPU with 12 core graphic chip
  • 1GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1280×800 7″ IPS screen with scratch resistant Corning glass (not Gorilla Glass though)
  • 8GB and 16GB storage options
  • 1.2MP front camera (no rear camera)
  • Numerous connectivity options including 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC.

The Nexus 7 itself is solidly built and surprisingly light for its size. The front is a single expanse of scratch resistant glass from Corning – but it isn’t Gorilla glass. The back of the tablet is covered in a strange material, which, as Google puts it “feel like a pair of premium driving gloves that will not slip out of your hands”. It’s difficult to describe, but it feels like a cross between leather and rubber. It’s certainly comfortable to hold, and with the textured back only broken up with Nexus and ASUS branding, looks and feels far more premium than it actually is.

The screen is fantastic, with the 1280×800 IPS panel providing excellent viewing angles and brilliantly sharp images. It’s easy to browse websites and read magazine content on the device, and again its light weight make it a pleasure to use for long periods of time. Colours are accurate and vibrant, and the screen is very sensitive to the touch. If I had one complaint, it would be that the screen can be a bit dim when used in a brightly lit room, and outside.

The front camera is acceptable for the odd picture or two, and fine for video calls although it looks like Skype need to update their app to improve support for the Nexus 7 – Arstechnica’s review showed some serious quality issues when using Skype to make video calls. However, when you actually use the camera, it’s perfectly acceptable though nothing special. The Nexus 7 doesn’t come with any way to access the camera out of the box – if you want to use it for snaps, download Paul O’Brien’s excellent Camera Launcher for Nexus 7.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

For those of you who don’t know, the Nexus line of Android devices from Google (with partners such as Samsung and ASUS doing the actual manufacturing) are designed to be the flagship devices for each release, showcasing the new features of the OS and providing the best possible user experience with vanilla Android – no Sense UI or Touchwiz on a Nexus device. I’ve used various Android devices, and every version since Android 2.1 Eclair, and I can honestly say that nothing comes close to Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7. The user experience is fantastic – there’s no lag anywhere, everything is slick and smooth and the small tweaks and changes applied to the system are really noticeable – Project Butter has really improved the user experience.

I’d like to focus on a couple of aspects of Jelly Bean that are debuting on the Nexus 7. The first of these is Google Now, basically an enhancement to Google Search that is designed to provide you with information you need, when you need it. It will work out where you live, and where you work, and if there’s heavy traffic on your usual route home, it will suggest an alternative route. If you’re standing at a bus stop, it’ll pop up and tell you when the next bus is coming. I’d like to stress that I haven’t been able to test this yet – the Nexus 7 is Wi-Fi only and I don’t carry it about with me. I will provide a full review of Google Now in my Jelly Bean review, where I can test how it works on my Nexus S.

Google Search in Jelly Bean returning nearby restaurants

The Google Search experience on Jelly Bean has been much improved over previous versions, especially Voice Search. Voice Search dictionaries are now stored offline in the languages of your choice, so you can dictate emails without an internet connection to communicate with Google’s servers for examples. This is much more accurate than it was in Jelly Bean, and it now supports Glaswegian. Sort of. A neat feature of the new search is that you can ask for things and get answers, ask for the weather, some pictures of something or nearby restaurants and almost instantly results will be returned, often with some speech such as the current temperature where you are.

Google Search in Jelly Bean returning pictures of the flying spaghetti monster

Google Search in Jelly Bean returning pictures of koala bears

Multitasking is another feature in Jelly Bean that is improved – purely because it’s now so fluid. On my Nexus S running ICS, there is a noticeable delay of around 2 seconds between pressing the button and the multitasking menu opening. On Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7, a single touch of the dedicated multitasking button, and it appears instantly. Scrolling through apps and swiping them away is really fluid, and miles ahead of multi-tasking in iOS.

Multitasking menu in Jelly Bean

A lack of apps designed for the tablet form factor on Android is a real problem, but it is improving. Within days of the Nexus 7 becoming available, the BBC news app was updated with a special hybrid app with features between their phone and 10-inch tablet apps. The Evernote app has also been updated and looks stunning on a 7 inch tablet. Hopefully, if the Nexus 7 continues to be as successful as it is at the moment, developers will take notice of the form factor and some tablet-optimised apps should appear. Facebook and Twitter, I’m looking at you.

The UI on the Nexus 7 itself isn’t the full tablet UI as you would expect. Instead, it’s a hybrid between the phone and tablet UI which actually works pretty well. The homescreen uses the traditional phone UI as you can see in the screenshot below, with the notification tray pulling down from the top, but apps like People still use the tablet UI to display more information and make good use of the increased screen real estate. More abut the homescreen in my full Jelly Bean review.

Nexus 7 homescreenConclusion

The Nexus 7 is an absolutely fantastic piece of kit. The brilliant hardware combined with the improvements made in Jelly Bean combine to make a brilliant device. When you take the price into account, it’s a no brainer. Buy one, but maybe not right now because they all appear to have sold out, at least at the time of writing. The only decision left is whether you want an 8GB or a 16GB model. Mine is a 16GB and I’d recommend you buy that as well. When formatted, the 8GB actually has just 5.92GB of storage available for music, apps, games and everything else you want to throw at it. That’s 3 Tegra-optimised games (and believe me, you’ll want some of them, and you can buy them with the £15/$25 free Play Store credit that comes with the device, wherever you buy it) and your device is totally full. The 16GB model gives you 13.2GB to play with, and that’s a lot better when you consider the storage isn’t expandable in any way.

The 8GB model is only available from the Play Store, but unless all you’re going to do is use the device for web browsing and online tasks, I’d say the 16GB is worth the extra £30. If any readers have any questions about the Nexus 7, tweet me and I’ll try and answer it for you since I’ve got a device to play about with.