Google Nexus 7 – Price, Performance, and Form
Regular readers may have spotted that I use the Asus Google Nexus 7 as my tablet of choice. I use my tablet most days and it travels with me almost as much as my smartphone. My preference was for something with the portability of the 7″ tablet with the performance of the larger 10″ models: when Google announced the Nexus 7, I jumped in the queue and pre-ordered the model, which replaced my Apple iPad 2.
It's likely that Google will announce a successor device to the Nexus 7 this summer, which might seem a strange time to review the current model. If you are considering a tablet for productivity purposes, quite often getting an older model will save you money for no real world difference in functionality. If there is a new model released, it's possible that used prices for the outgoing model will drop and again, this could be a great opportunity.
I'm going to start with the design, where Google have given the Nexus 7 a very simple approach. The front of the device contains just the screen and the camera. As you hold it with the camera at the top, the right edge has the lock and volume keys. At the bottom of the left hand side you'll find some charger ports and a microphone. Along the bottom there's the MicroUSB port, the 3.5mm headphone port with the second microphone and speaker on the back.
Let's break this down a little. There's no rear-facing camera but I must write that in nine months, I've never wished for one (have you ever seen somebody taking a picture with their tablet and wondered if they feel as awkward as they look?). Having the speaker on the back isn't ideal for media but there's a huge bonus point for using MicroUSB for charging. You don't get a MicroSD slot or a HDMI port; if these things are important to you, then you're going to have to look elsewhere.
The back is made out of a surprisingly refined soft-touch plastic. Yes, it's plastic, but it feels robust and pleasant to hold. This is quite an important point: the Nexus 7 feels “life-proof.” It doesn't have that solid-but-precious feel of the iPad models, instead it feels like you can chuck it into your hold-all and it'll survive the day. With the exception of putting mine into a case, that's exactly what I've done since July 2012…
Under the shell, the Nexus 7 is powered by a Tegra 3 processor clocked at either 1.2 GHz (multicore operation) or 1.3 GHz (single core operation) backed up with 1 GB of RAM. Storage capacities available are 8 GB, 16 GB and 32 GB. The front camera is a 1.2 MPixel resolution, the battery is 4,325 mAh and the device has 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC. It also has a magnet used to lock or unlock the handset with the right case on it so you don't even need to use the lock key much. The 7″ screen is 720p resolution, so 1,280 by 800 pixels, giving it 216ppi. It's a good screen if not the best, being sharp and bright but with slightly muted colors. The 32 GB model is also available with an unlocked 3G modem and a MicroSIM slot.
As a Nexus product, the 7 runs the very latest Android operating system, which is currently 4.2.2. Now a confession: I sometimes find my Nexus 7 to be a little bit sluggish, but this is after spending time with my Nexus 4. As a reality check, clients sometimes bring in other budget Android tablets and the Nexus 7 is a whole league away in terms of smoothness and responsiveness.
In some respects, it's difficult to judge the Nexus 7 from a productivity perspective because Nexus devices are very much a blank canvas for whatever applications the user needs. Out of the box, the experience is rather empty! In my case, that means installing Dropbox, Documents-to-Go, Google Reader and Google Currents. The Nexus 7 uses the Google Chrome browser by default. The keyboard that ships with Android 4.2 is very much an improvement over earlier designs and features a flow or Swype-like input method that works well on the larger screen. Applications and games run well on the device; thanks to the Tegra 3 processor, the Nexus 7 is quite the gamers' tablet. Google advertise Galaxy On Fire 2 HD on the website, which is optimized for the Tegra 3 processor and looks very impressive.
The above written, productivity is also a measurement of how portable the device is and here, the Nexus 7 scores very well. I've already written that it's small and robust, which is backed up by healthy battery life. Google claim the Nexus offers between eight to ten hours of use and they're spot on. Battery life is a little weaker when using the 3G modem rather than the WiFi, but not by a meaningful quantity. The Nexus 7 is the first small size tablet I've used to offer genuine all day battery life if I am using the tablet for writing with my wireless keyboard. It's a little behind my Apple iPad 2 in terms of battery life, but almost half the size and weight to carry around. And to reiterate another point: the Nexus 7 uses a MicroUSB charger, so chances are that your cell ‘phone charger will also work with the tablet. This is a small but significant positive for the Nexus 7.
In conclusion, then; the Nexus 7 is a very portable Android tablet. It offers a seductive blend of low price, high performance and solid battery life. I use mine as a no-frills productivity tool and it represents one of the best value devices I have bought in a long, long time. I'll be interested to see what Google announce this summer but I don't believe it'll change how great a device the current Nexus 7 is.