Nexus 7 - First Look

by David Lane
Nexus 7 overview

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

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