Apple rules the tablet space. That’s no secret. But what few know is that there are alternatives to the iPad and iPad Mini. Alternatives that are well built and significantly cheaper than Apple’s tablets. And one of those tablets is Google’s second iteration of the Nexus 7, a 7-inch tablet powered by Android 4.3 that emerged not more than a few months ago.
Now, before I dive into the review let me start by explaining that I first dipped my toes in the tablet waters by purchasing the iPad 1. I’ve had it since inception and to this day, well until recently, still used it to occasionally surf the web or watch a YouTube video. But it’s now ungodly slow and while many have suggested I sell it, I’m holding onto it much like I’m holding onto my first gen iPhone because I believe that one day they’ll both be worth something. If not they’ll hold an abundance of nostalgia.
So that said you can imagine that my expectations of the Nexus 7 2013 were thoroughly managed. But still, that doesn’t do the Nexus 7 of the second coming justice, as it’s a fast, sleek, and all together a rock solid device that will have anyone who bought an iPad Mini asking why they a) haven’t made the jump to Android and b) why they spent so much on a device that does the exact same thing.
Design and Durability
Black, black, black. That’s the color of the Nexus 7. The back is finished in black rubber, which is neither too sticky or too slippery; it’s provides just enough of a tactile experience that it’s not cold and/or won’t slip from your hands. The rubber finish reaches to the bevel area where it is met by a glossy black plastic frame and then a glass boarder that is less than a half of inch wide on the side, and 1-inch wide on the top and bottom.
Returning to the back of the Nexus 7 you’ll find the word “nexus” embossed across its back in large letters, which is joined by an “asus” stamp at the bottom of the device. The camera is located in the top left corner that is flanked by a speaker and headphone jack. The bottom of the device includes another speaker (and mic) and a microUSB port.
Turning to the right edge of the Nexus’ reveals the the lock/power and volume buttons. I found these to be the most painstaking of the Nexus’s design as it’s difficult to discern between what is volume and what is the lock button. In other words, I often found myself locking my device mid-YouTube video instead of increasing or decreasing the volume. As you can imagine, this can be frustrating and happened enough that it made me ask why they didn’t place the lock button on the top or the other side, much like the Nexus 4’s setup.
In the hand the Nexus 7 feels right at home. The 16:9 form factor makes one hand operation possible for even those with less than man hands. This means reading a book or a magazine isn’t a two handed affair, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say one handed operation is all that viable. Nevertheless, once the page or video is dialed in, you can relax one of your mitts and take in the Nexus 7’s amazing screen, which I’ll get to in sec. Surprisingly, the black rubber doesn’t mar all that easily, if at all. However, I’ve been pretty careful with my Nexus 7, and I’ve already got a nick in the plastic bevel – I can’t help but wonder if it came like that. But either way this should serve as a cautionary tale that that is the most fragile part at least in terms of dings.
Rock steady and rock solid thanks to the 7.02” 1920×1200 IPS display that boasts 323ppi. No other 7-inch tablet has a display of this resolution (update: save for the just announced Amazon Kindle HDX). I won’t go as far as to say quality, since perception is reality, and telling you that the Nexus 7 kills all others would be a gross overstatement. Nevertheless, color saturation and temperature are on point, and the viewing angle of the IPS panel is wide as the next.
In direct sunlight the Nexus 7’s display is viewable without a shred of doubt. Though, and it goes with out saying, you’ll need to crank the brightness and turn off the auto function. Fortunately, unlike some other Android devices, it doesn’t suffer from the auto brightness variance, which is to say the Nexus 7’s screen doesn’t wildly increase or decrease in brightness like some other devices, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S4.
Touch responsive, while not as boosted as the GS4 is down right accurate and provides just the responsiveness to make me feel at home. More importantly, I can’t detect any difference in accuracy over any other device, including Apple, though Jordan said there is a slight jitteriness when pinching to zoom compared to Apple devices. Hardly an issue for me, probably because I don’t know what I’m missing.
No need to brush your hair back, because the Nexus 7 will “blow” it back for you. In other words it’s fast. Some of this can be attributed to the Nexus experience (i.e. no bloatware).
But, what I’ve also heard is that the Nexus 7 of 2013 actually has been adorned with a Snapdragon 600 processor equivalent, at least according to some reports. This plays contrary to Google saying that it’s a Snapdragon S4 processor, a chip that is starting to get a bit long in the tooth. I can’t confirm or deny this, but what is important is that the Nexus 7 has no problems running multiple apps (10+) and all the while supporting a full HD screen. Apps open quickly (tabs in Chrome as well despite how many are loaded), install quickly, and YouTube and Netflix videos load fast with respect to your wireless connection. Even after opening app after app I couldn’t succeed at slowing the Nexus 7’s performance. And honestly, that’s hardly a real world use case scenario – I’ll rarely have 30 apps open and running.
You gotta love the Nexus experience and that’s exactly what we’re looking at with the Nexus 7. Okay, you don’t have to love it, but it’s completely devoid of gimmick and frills that can be seen on other tablets or handsets. That isn’t to say the alternatives iteration of Android isn’t worthy, it’s just that that the Nexus experience removes the bloatware and cuts to the core of what it is to use a Android device. It’s clean, aesthetically pleasing, and best of all you get all of the updates sooner than any other branded device, give or take.
For those of you unfamiliar with Nexus devices, it’s Google’s Android in the most pure of forms. And what this means is that there is nothing sitting on top of the Android OS to slow it down or to overwhelm you with clutter. The best way to see this is compare a Samsung or HTC device from a carrier against a Nexus device.
As for the actual software version of Android running on the Nexus 7 it’s Android 4.3, Google latests. It’s not an evolution but an iteration over 4.2.2. There are a few tweaks, most of which are visually unseen but the largest improvements seems to be in the camera experience, which now offers a cleaner easier to use interface, but by no accounts is it perfect.
There is really nothing to write home about when it comes to the Nexus 7’s 5MP camera. It’s certainly suffices in the name of a tablet, but hardly play replacement to that of many a smartphone. Unfortunately, the Nexus devices, include the Moto X and Motorola’s Droids, have long suffered from an under whelming camera experience. And while that might be a key decision factor in terms of a phone purchase, I suggest you regard the Nexus 7’s camera as merely supplementary.
That said, the Nexus 7, for a tablet, takes decent photos. However, in low light scenarios noise becomes evident and color temperature is a bit cold compared to the Samsung Galaxy S4. Take a look at for yourself in the below gallery.
First off, it’s a remarkable feat that the Nexus 7 of 2013 is this svelte and includes wireless charging. A quick glance at the tablet’s thin profile and you’d be none the wiser that you could drop it into any Qi compatible charger and juice up its 3950mAh battery. Google specs it to produce 9 hours of active use. In my testing, which included playing back a local video file at 1080p and at 95% brightness, I achieved about 4.5 hours of battery life. It’s a respectable amount of time, but likely a spec I’ll avoid referencing if I were in the business of selling the device. Perhaps a test with a video at a resolution of 720p is warranted.
I’m still amazed at the quality Google/Asus has achieved in their second iteration of the Nexus 7. To be candid, I never laid hand on the first Nexus 7. But from what I’ve heard and read it wasn’t the most stable of devices. None of those shortcomings seem to be present in the Nexus 7 of 2013; it’s fast, boasts a beautifully bright screen even in direct sunlight, and can keep pace with even the most powerful of devices including the Samsung Galaxy S4. In fact, running Basemark X 1.o on the Nexus 7 2013 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 resulted in:
Nexus 7 2013
On-screen: 8.278 FPS
On-screen: 8.651 FPS
Off-screen: 8.047 FPS
Bottom Line: That all said, I look forward to the third iteration of the Nexus 7. But given the speed, size and all together quality, Google and Asus will be hard pressed to kick out a significant upgrade.