Google Nexus 7 Review


WhistleOut
24 September 2013

Design

In the minds of many, the Nexus 7 is Google's iPad (or iPad Mini), but physically speaking the two devices couldn't be much farther apart. Apple chooses cool aluminium to encase its tablets, while Google leans towards a rubberised plastic.

The latter may seem like 'the cheap option', and while this is true on one level, it does come with its own advantages. The plastic is no doubt one reason Google can sell the Nexus 7 so cheaply, but it also offers a gripiness that the iPad sorely lacks.

The Nexus 7 beside the 8.9-inch iPad Mini.

The shape and feel of the new 2013 model Nexus 7 is strongly reminiscent of last year's tablet, but you should see a noticeable difference when comparing the screens from old to new. Google's manufacturing partner ASUS opt for a high-resolution 1080p IPS LCD panel in this tablet, and it is a real stunner to look at.

Colour and clarity are both high points for this screen, and the viewing angles are great, meaning two people can easily share this screen if watching a movie snuggled up in bed or on the sofa.

The stereo speakers in the Nexus 7 are also worth a plug, delivering good strong sound, which is great for multimedia playback. True audiophiles will still opt for a good set of speakers, no doubt, but for everyday media playback, the onboard speakers do just fine.

Like most of the tablets available, the Nexus 7 is a sealed unit, so you can't add memory to the tablet, and you can't access the battery.

Android 4.3

This tablet is the first device to run on Google's on Android Jelly Bean, version 4.3. The system is definitely slick and smooth, but the difference between this version and the last are pretty difficult to spot.

Google has made some important changes though, most notably is the inclusion of multiple user accounts. There is now a [Users] menu option in the core system settings under which you can set up multiple profiles that tap into separate Google accounts.

Once set up, the different profiles show up on the lock screen, and are very easily shifted between.

There is also two separate pull-down notification curtains for the Nexus 7 now, one that shows you new incoming messages, like emails, and another which lets you adjust key settings, like toggling Wi-Fi.

This is a neat change, but it does mean that you have to 'swipe down' from the right position on the screen. You start your swipe from the top-left if you want notifications and top-right for settings. This may sound simple, but we have found it rather frustrating to select the wrong one without thinking -- which has hapened more often than we care to admit.

Google has also just released access to the Android Device Manager; a website that allows Android Device owners to track the location of a phone or tablet and remotely lock and wipe the device if needs be.

With some many people complaining about the iOS 7 update for iPads, Google's advancement for Android are all useful, if minor.

App Attack

If there is something that Google's Android really lacks compared with iOS, it is great apps designed specifically for tablets. Google's Play Store used to display a special 'tablets only' version of the store when you logged in from a larger device, but even this has now disappeared.

It's not that regular Android apps won't work on a tablet, but many are designed for phones, and some force you to use the app in portrait mode, rather more comfortably in landscape.

There is one app you can try, though. Called 'Tablified Market', this app creates a portal to the Google Play Store, that displays only apps that have a tablet-designed layout.

This is definitely the poorer cousin to the 400,000 iPad-specific apps on the Apple App Store, but it is better than nothing.

Connectivity and media sharing

As it is with iPads, the big decision you'll have to make before buying a Nexus 7 is whether you need a SIM card slot, or not. This may sound like a simple enough choice, but it does come with a hefty difference in price.

If you commute each busy day on a bus or train, the lure of a SIM card could be strong. That the Nexus comes with a 4G LTE option, is also a big plus. But, you could opt for the Wi-Fi only model, add some extra data to your smartphone account and use the phone as a Wi-Fi Hotspot and share the data with the tablet.

If you plan to leave the tablet at home, it is worth learning about some of the media sharing options open to you. If you live in a market where Google is selling the ChromeCast TV receiver, the Nexus 7 will definitely play nice with this device. Alternatively, the tablet is also Miracast ready, letting you share the screen with a Miracast-compatible TV (or one with a Miracast dongle plugged in).

Performance and battery

OK, let's get geeky. Google and ASUS use a good mobile processor in the Nexus 7, choosing a Qualcomm S4 Pro quad-core chip with 1.5GHz clock speed and 2GB RAM. The chipset also includes an Adreno 320 graphics processor, which helps to provide swift, seamless animations and transitions between apps.

This isn't the best performing processor we've seen in 2013, and this is reflected in the benchmarking results that we've seen during our tests. The Nexus 7 is a good step behind phones like the HTC One in benchmark scores, but it's nearly impossible to see this in everyday performance.

Using the tablet gives the impression that you are using today's best kit. It responds immediately to all commands, multitasking is fluid and apps are instantly operational after the switch.

Battery life is good too. We found we could use the Wi-Fi-only Nexus 7 for between 8 and 9 hours of mixed use, including web browsing on a Wi-Fi network connection. Straight video or music playback would result in much longer results, making this a good choice for long haul flights.

Adding a 4G LTE SIM card into the mix would impact significantly on this battery life, so keep that in mind when choosing which model is best for you.

Overall

The Nexus 7 may not have the same aesthetic desirability as Apple's iPad, but it is every bit as good a tablet. Google packs in enough power to deliver a seamless user experience, which is backed up by its gorgeous display and solid battery life.

Android does have a few quirks which may still take some a moment to get used to, but it is certainly more powerful and fully-featured than before. The addition of user profiles is exactly the sort of thing that tablet users are asking for.

And, let's not forget the price. Choosing a Nexus 7 over an iPad Mini will save you hundreds of dollars, and it is hard to argue that you will miss out on much, if anything, by going Google.

Our Nexus 7 review unit was supplied by MobiCity, who sell the Nexus 7 with a 12-month warranty.


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