Nexus 7 - First Look

I had the opportunity to test drive a friend's Asus (Google) Nexus 7, the latest entry into the tablet space. It has an attractive price point, a clear display and most of the tools that you would expect from a tablet. But despite this, there are some serious limitations that might have you think twice about adopting this device as your go to tablet. But like most devices, one man's limitations are another man's benefits. So let me lay out for you what I liked and did not like and we can take it from there.

The Pros

The Nexus 7 has a number of things going for it. The biggest pro in my mind is the price point. $200 for the 8GB model and $250 for the 16 GB model makes it very attractive when compared to the iPad at $500 for the 16GB model (the smallest available), and $200 for the new 16GB Kindle Fire (released 6 September 2012, after the Nexus 7).

The Nexus 7 has an unusual form factor. Officially, it has a 7" 1280x800 HD screen (the same as the new Kindle Fire) with an outside measurement of 7-3/4" by 4-1/2" (officially 198.5 mm x 120mm), which means it is just small enough to fit in the cargo pocket of a pair of 5.11 tactical pants (even though it sticks out the top), but too large to comfortably hold in your hand, unless you have very long fingers. The screen itself, though, is crisp, vibrant, and supports rich colours and shades. I found it easy to read (one of my pet peeves about these smaller screens) and it is light, weighing little more than a tablet of paper (officially 340g).

The second biggest pro is the operating system. The Nexus 7 runs Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean). This means the device is eminently hackable (if you like that sort of thing, or have the time for it), but it also means there is already a large collection of applications available for it, which makes migrating from a larger tablet or desktop system relatively painless. And since it is designed by Google, many of the standard Google toys, like Gmail, Chrome, and Play are preloaded. If you have purchased your device from Google, it comes pre-configured and attached to your Google account.

Officially, the battery supports 9 hours of HD video playback, 10 hours of web browsing, or 10 hours of e-reading. Of course your mileage will vary, but, with the exception of watching videos, the battery seems more than capable and I have exceeded the benchmarks. The battery has lasted me several days, doing normal things like reading and writing emails, watching conferences via WebEx, surfing the web, and writing occasional notes (such as this post) with and without bluetooth turned on and varying levels of wireless connectivity.

Lastly, the Nexus supports near field communications (NFC). This is primarily to support the Google Wallet concept, but as more NFC applications come out, the value of having it will likely increase. It should be noted that NFC is a huge power hog and should be disabled if you are not actively using it.

The Cons

Despite an attractive package, and several very useful features, there are some glaring holes and I suffered several that is dumb moments in my usage of the Nexus 7.

I found the form factor to be one of the largest short comings for the device. It is too wide to sit comfortably in my hand and makes typing difficult for longer notes without an external keyboard. I am writing this review in Evernote, using an Apple bluetooth keyboard (which works out of the box), but to have written this with the on-screen keyboard would have been just too painful. This is again one of those areas where your mileage may vary. If you only use your tablet for consuming, rather than producing, this may not be as large an issue for you as it is for me.

But for me, the biggest issue is the lack of follow through. For example, one of the reasons I use a table is to carry my technical library with me. I have several books from various vendors that I put on any tablet. When I downloaded my library, via the web, Chrome politely told me they were all downloaded and that was that. The default book reader only reads books purchased from Google Play. This is a glaring shortcoming, especially since there are a number of negative comments about the third party book readers working on Nexus 7. There is a forward facing camera, for video chats, but no camera application and no obvious video application (although I suppose you could use G+). You have the option to install a number of programs, like Skype though. There is no default note taking application, and no default PDF viewer. To me, these are limitations, basic things that are needed to get up and running. On the other hand, there is ready to go video, music, and web browser.

Finally, there is the issue of storage space. The device tops out at 16GB with no way to increase the storage. Now I have commented several times about data in the cloud, and this device is clearly designed to consume data from the cloud, regardless of whether that data is a movie, music, or book. And while this is a design decision, if you, like me, spend a significant part of your day disconnected from ready access to wireless connections, this limitation of storage is serious.

I wanted to comment on an experiment I did. Since it is designed to stream media, I streamed a movie through the device, outputting the sound via bluetooth to an external speaker. My wireless connection, sadly, was not strong. The end result was a choppy replay, with video and audio disconnected and a huge drain on the battery. Battery life by the end of the experiment (a 90 minute comedy), was depleted to less than 50% having started at full. A similar test, with the same movie, good wireless connectivity and headphones resulted in a significant savings of battery. The video also played smoothly.

For me, the jury is still out on the Nexus 7. For all the good things about it, the short comings are enough for me to pass it by.

It should also be noted that while I wrote the first draft of this review on the Nexus 7, by the end, my eyes were dancing and I was having difficulty focusing on the text.

Image from Google Play under Fair Use

______________________

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Comments

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Good deal.

Jackbrown's picture

Just want to try it, for the tablet it must be a good choice!

Casual User

Anita's picture

For the causal user the Nexus 7 is fast, easy to use, and priced right.

Nexus 7 vs Mororola XYBoard 10.1

jgribbin's picture

I have both of these. They both have advantages and disadvantages.

The Nexus has a quad-core, is running Jelly Bean, has 16GB, and is wireless only.

The XYBoard is dual core, is running Ice Cream Sandwich, has 32GB, and is wireless only as well. It also has a rear facing camera w/ an led flash.

Neither has a provision for addition flash memory. Both are acceptable for watching the occasional movie or other video.

For relaxation such as reading an eBook or newspaper at the local greasy spoon or coffee shop, chatting with friends on Skype of Google Hangouts, the Nexus 7 seems more convenient than my XYBoard. For personal use, it is perfectly adequate.

The XYBoard works fine for all those things as well, if a little bulky in some social situations. While I could work on a contract or other document on either, it would be as a last resort on the Nexus 7. It's just too small. The rear facing camera is very convenient for property (I am a Real Estate Agent) and document photos. As a business tool, the XYBoard has it hands down.

Nexus all the way

nancyfromafrica's picture

My vote goes to Nexus 7 I am sure it will be the winner in the race with the price and features it has it will be way ahead of the competition also the apps and support it gives to its customer.

The XYBoard is dual core, is

RobertPattinson's picture

The XYBoard is dual core, is running Ice Cream Sandwich, has 32GB, and is wireless only as well. It also has a rear facing camera w/ an led flash.

Neither has a provision for addition flash memory. Both are acceptable for watching the occasional movie or other video.

For relaxation such as reading an eBook or newspaper at the local greasy spoon or coffee shop, chatting with friends on Skype of Google Hangouts, the Nexus 7 seems more convenient than my XYBoard. For personal use, it is perfectly adequate.

Defective by design

Cactus FlapJack's picture

The whole purpose of the tablet is to get people hooked into the "cloud" and to make them pay for it. Hence the limited storage. Really, how much would it add to the Bill of Materials to include 64GB of storage? The lack of default PDF reader, but the presence of an app that reads only books purchased from Google Play? A bit too obvious. Anyway, Google released just another "stay away from it" tablet I will never waste money on, and even if I got one for free, I would not trust my technical documents on it. I don't need Google to siphon my data without my permission. May their tablet Rust In Pieces.

Poor specificity of article

Anonymous's picture

Almost all of the cons aren't "Cons of the Nexus 7" but rather "Cons of these types of devices." Is the Nexus 7 worse than any other 7" tablet for typing or holding in your hand? Is it's WiFi reception or battery life particularly poor? If so, point that out and document why. If not, then either leave it out or at least make it obvious that what you're complaining about is a problem with the form factor and not with the device.

Little Late to review it now....

Landon's picture

Of course if you have a week WiFi signal streaming is going to be choppy, as well as battery life going to suck... It would be the same on any device.
Why would you put this in an article?

An Excellent Home Media Device

SimonG's picture

I'm not sure that any of the shortcomings you mention are problems at all. It took me just a few minutes on Google play to find a dnla media streamer, pdf reader and pretty much all I needed. I'm currently listening to Spotify over wifi with the sound going to my audio system over blue-ray, and that's with my router the other side of a couple of think brick walls. After about 5 hours streaming, the battery is still at 50%.

I was a little disappointed at first with the inability to connect to USB storage, but there's already an app to fix that - Nexus Media Streamer can be used with a usb-to-go cable.

I'd agree that typing on it isn't ideal, but with Evernote, Dropbox and Swiftkey, it's not too bad.

Bit too critical

Tony A's picture

I don't see how it being "too wide" is an issue. Tablets are wider than phones, which are designed to fit in your fingers. That's why there's a bezel to hold it on one side. And being so light for a tablet makes it ideal for that. And no on screen keyboard will be easy to write full articles on.
Considering the playstore is so accessible, there are any number of free note taking apps(I like Flick note for simple note taking), ereaders (like Moon+ Reader, which had good reviews from nexus 7 users) and pdf viewers and anything else you might need with a tablet. I don't see why the base OS should have to include everything that one could possibly want.
And streaming a movie over wifi and playing sound over bluetooth will eat any battery powered device up. I don't see how that counts against this device vs any other battery powered device.
The storage space and lack of card slot is a real issue that could cause one to easily pass this up, although with devices like wi-drives, one could store alot of data and just copy over information that they needed when they needed it.

Article reconstruction

Anonymous's picture

You could consider reconstructing the article so that there is a "General Comments" section and include the paragraph concerning the battery drain on a poor wireless connection in that section since this might affect all devices that stream via wireless (unless you are sure that iPads and Kindles do not suffer similarly).

Unrealistic expectations

jackd's picture

I don't think it's realistic to think that you'd use a 7" tablet for authoring articles.

Actually, you can. You will

Jonah's picture

Actually, you can. You will need to buy a bluetooth keyboard too. It is not so functional but we can still write. http://iphone5covers.net

Good deal for the price. Excellent processor.

KA1OS's picture

For the price it's a pretty good deal and easy to root. You might want to mention that it also includes a GPS, compass and accelerometer. The iPad doesn't come with a GPS unless you spring for the 3G/4G models. For a 7" system the Nexus 7 is pretty good for the price, and speedy at any price.

Good deal for the price. Excellent processor.

KA1OS's picture

For the price it's a pretty good deal and easy to root. You might want to mention that it also includes a GPS, compass and accelerometer. The iPad doesn't come with a GPS unless you spring for the 3G/4G models. For a 7" system the Nexus 7 is pretty good for the price, and speedy at any price.

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