Aesthetically speaking, the Nexus 7 is as simple as they come. It has a 7.6-inch capacitive touchscreen using IPS technology (which means wide viewing angles) and 1280 x 800-pixel resolution. Behind the screen is an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor clocked at 1.2 GHz and 1 GB of RAM. The Nexus comes with a choice of either 8 GB or 16 GB of storage. Google decided to nix the microSD slot, so choose wisely, because that's all the storage you're going to get. A micro-USB port and a 3.5-mm headphone jack are the sum of the Nexus 7's connectivity.
Google's "by Asus" tablet can be found on Google Play and at Asus-certified retailers for £159 for the 8 GB version and £199 for the 16 GB.
Visually, the Nexus 7 doesn't deviate from the plastic tablet mould. But the sober design gives it an entirely satisfying look with its solid, matte-black back engraved with a reasonably-sized and discreet Nexus logo. The Nexus 7 is lightweight and easy to hold in one hand.
This unpretentious tablet is easily one of the most well-finished of its kind. Asus has succeeded in making a £160 tablet look like one double the price. And while we're at it, let's give Google a warm thank you for the narrow edges.
That's why it's a shame there's no microSD slot to up the memory on such a fine-looking device. Google has clearly opted instead to push its Google Drive cloud storage as far as possible. And that makes it all the more unfortunate that the basic configuration is only 8 GB or 16 GB—even 32 GB wouldn't have been extravagant.
One thing you have to keep in mind with the Nexus 7 is that it was designed to run the Jelly Bean interface in portrait mode. The homescreen always stays upright, but to watch movies, browse the web, read e-books and so on, you can flip it into landscape mode like any other tablet and it rotates instantly.
Our sensor gave us excellent readings for the screen. It's bright, going as high as 321 cd/m² (although we have seen brighter) and has great contrast of 920:1. That's a ratio that puts the Nexus 7 in the upper average for contrast, just about the same as the last two iPads.
When looking at the screen, the colours seem fairly well balanced with no overly emphasised tones. And that's pretty much what our sensor told us, with an average Delta E of 6.1. Now, for entirely accurate colours the Delta E would need to be below 3. The Nexus' 6.1 dE is a good deal higher than the new iPad's 2.2, but other than the blues and greens, which are very slightly exaggerated, the greys, reds, yellows and blacks stay more or less accurate.
But in any case, the colour temperature (5,570 K on average) stays relatively stable throughout the spectrum, which effectively cancels out the colour deviations.
The display has a ghosting time of 23 ms, which is in the lower average for IPS screens. With 1280 x 800 resolution we had our hopes up for a tad more legible screen than most 7-inch tablets' 1024 x 600 resolution—and our hopes were met. Each of the websites we use to test legibility showed up nice and clear. In the worst of cases, all you have to do is zoom in; and the zoom function works well, targeting just the area you're aiming for and executing smoothly.
The Nexus 7 has hands-down the best screen we've ever seen on a 7-inch tablet!
As the first product officially launched with Google's Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system, the Nexus 7 is an example-setter. And as such, just like Google's other example-setters (the Nexus, Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus), this slate was designed specifically to run Android smoothly.
The first thing you tend to notice about the Nexus 7 is that the OS is more smartphone-inspired than tablet-inspired, in that the homescreen always stays in portrait mode. This seemed a little counter-intuitive at first, but it didn't take long to get used to.
Something else has changed since the previous versions of Android: some of the notifications that used to be on the bottom bar are now displayed at the top of the screen. To see all your notifications and manage the direct access buttons (settings, Wi-Fi, e-mails, brightness...) you slide your finger down from the top bar. Again, you quickly get used to it.
The multitasking menu shows up visually as it does on the Galaxy Nexus, with the display covering the entire screen, rather than just one corner of the screen (in both portrait and landscape mode). And there's some more good news: the basic Android web browser has finally been replaced with the excellent Google Chrome. One of the advantages of Google Chrome is that when you're logged in to your Google account on more than one mobile device you can access all the same screens and settings on each device.
To use TegraZone, a platform that lets you browse all the games that have been optimised for the Tegra 3 processor, you have to download the app from Play Store. Google's mobile app store has been updated with fun and useful widgets for books, VOD and, now, magazines.
With Jelly Bean you also get Google Now, the biggest, newest feature in this version of Android. Basically, it's a personal assistant: to bring it up you touch down on the Home button for a few seconds or unlock the screen with an upward swipe. Whereas Apple's Siri is more about the iPhone itself and a few apps here and there (at least for now), Google Now is about all your activities. Whether you're making reservations online or doing a Google search, it gives you advice, reminds you about things like flights and online purchases and anticipates your needs, for example, showing you the weather in a city you've just booked a ticket to.
Google Now is as effective as it is creepy in its ability to immerse itself in your e-life, but it's also a visual achievement for Google. Far from the usual geeky Android feel, it has its own page with nice, soothing colours and 'cards' that show various suggestions and activities (weather, hotels, reservations, maps, etc.).
Google Now is also where you ask your tablet questions. You can speak to launch Google Maps, at which point Now shows you the weather in the requested location, the train stations along the way, the short distance from your itinerary to that exhibit you searched the other day, and even a little shop where they sell an antique table just like the one you looked for on eBay last Thursday...
The targeting of users' wants and desires has become ever more precise; Google has worked on its targeted marketing and users should be happy with the results. Everybody wins (for now). That said, combined with Google Voice, it still has trouble establishing clear and practical actions, although it responds more naturally now if you ask questions in a familiar way.
Another new feature is the offline mode for Google Maps Navigation. Google is trying to beat Nokia on a turf the Finnish company has already mastered on its Windows Phone 7.5 (and soon-to-come Windows Phone 8) smartphones. The only thing is, that for now the offline function only gives you small sections of maps. Basically, you have a limited frame from within which Maps derives its information for offline use. You won't be able to get directions for your trip from London to Leeds, because it's just too far, but it works great when you're dealing with a city or town.
That said, it's hard to say how many users will want to use their tablet for directions while driving, but 7 inches is still a reasonable size in a car.
The 1280 x 800 resolution on a 7.6-inch screen is enough to display web pages with a proper amount of detail. Portrait mode is where the zoom comes in handy, and the zoom is fast, smooth and precise, whether you double-tap or spread two fingers to zoom in.
You get fast web browsing on the Nexus 7, especially with Chrome as the default browser. Believe us, if you weren't a fan of Chrome before, you will be after using it on the Nexus.
Between the capabilities provided by the Tegra 3 (720p and 1080p on MPEG4 and H.264 files up to 70/80 Mbps) and the availability of third-party apps that give you support for practically every multimedia file format out there, you will be lacking nothing in terms of video playback. However, we do still prefer default players that already have all the compatibility you need, like the ones you get with Archos and Samsung devices.
With Jelly Bean and its dynamic widgets, Google is clearly putting forward its VOD service on Play Store, where you can find all movies in HD format.
When it comes to games, need we remind you that you are in the presence of a Tegra 3 processor, which is pretty much optimal for playing big, eye-tickling, CPU-demanding video games? As we mentioned earlier, TegraZone doesn't come with the Nexus by default, unlike all the other devices carrying Nvidia's famed chip, but it only takes a second to download it from Play Store.
With TegraZone you can find the optimised versions of 3D games that you could only get in their regular versions on Play Store, plus all the exclusive games with stunning graphics that are frequently released on TegraZone. The Nexus 7's chip may not be the most powerful member of the Tegra 3 family, but it will run any popular game without a hitch.
The speaker gives a nice, clear sound, although it isn't particularly loud. The headphone output gives the same clarity, with a bit higher volume. We'd say the sound on the Nexus 7 is good, but not earth-shattering.
In theory, the 4,325 mAh battery and energy-saving Tegra 3, with its companion core, should give the Nexus 7 good battery life. And it does. The Nexus 7 expires, on average, after 9 hours and 35 minutes of video playback.
With more varied use (e-mails, movies, games, productivity, downloading, web browsing...) the Nexus gives up after between 8 hours and 40 minutes and 9 hours and 30 minutes. In sleep mode it loses very little power overnight: just 3 to 5%.
The Nexus 7 takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours for a full charge, which is just about average for a tablet of its size.
- Excellent screen image
- Android 4.1 Jelly Bean runs like the wind
- Google Now: both creepy AND practical
- Extremely effective predictive text function
- Non-expandable memory
- No HDMI output
- No dedicated multimedia player
- Some will be put out by the lack of a rear-facing camera
- Google Maps Navigation's offline function still has room for improvement
The Nexus 7, standard-bearer for the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system, is the best example of a 7" tablet the market has. Some may bemoan the limited memory, just as others may pledge wholehearted allegiance to Google's ecosystem (à la Apple fanatic), but no one can deny the explosive power of the Nexus 7's value for money.