The new Nexus 7 has usurped the iPad mini’s long-held reign as the thinnest sub-10-inch tablet around. At 7.9 x 4.5 x 0.34 inches and 10.24 ounces, the new Nexus 7 is narrower, thinner and lighter than Apple’s 8-inch tablet (7.87 x 5.3 x 0.28 inches, 11.04 ounces). The new Nexus 7 is slightly taller, but narrower and thinner than the original Nexus 7 (7.8 x 4.7 x 0.41 inches), and almost two ounces lighter.
It also cuts a slimmer profile than the Amazon Kindle Fire HD (7.6 x 5.4 x 0.4 inches, 13.9 ounces). Like most other 7-inch tablets, the Nexus 7 is designed to be held in portrait mode, and its thinner dimensions make it easier to do so with just one hand. As before, this ASUS-made tablet has a soft-touch plastic back, but the dimples from the original Nexus 7 are gone, which isn’t a great loss.In this orientation, the Nexus 7’s 1.2-MP front camera is on the top bezel, but offset a little to the right. On top is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the power button and volume rocker sit on the upper right side. The backward-sloping sides of the tablet hide these buttons from view, but were fairly easy to press. On the bottom is a micro USB port for charging the device.As before, there’s no micro SD card slot for adding storage, so you’ll have to make due with the 26.11GB of available space on the 32GB model. The $229 version comes with 16GB of storage.
The Nexus 7 ships with the very latest version of Android (4.3), and to be quite honest, the OS isn’t much different from the previous incarnation (4.2.2). At least not obviously so. For a detailed look at the updated OS’ features.The notable new features are Multi-User Restricted Profiles, OpenGL ES 3.0 support, and Bluetooth Smart. User profiles were introduced with Android 4.2, and the latest version allows you to add a kid-friendly profile that the primary profile controls. The restricted profile will only have access to apps deemed acceptable and will have no access to the Play store. It’s an ideal solution for families wanting to share a single tablet; however, Google leaves the decision of implementing it up to the developer.OpenGL ES 3.0 improves polygonal graphics performance and allows the tablet to better handles effects like lens flares, shadows, and other shader effects. With Bluetooth Smart, the Nexus 7 can connect to a newer generation of Bluetooth devices as well as transmit metadata like song titles.The other 4.3 changes are minor or so deep into the back end that most people will never notice the difference.
It’s certainly not as satisfying a leap as 4.1 to 4.2 was, and we’ll likely have to wait until Android 5.0 to get some really meaty and truly exciting software upgrades.
The new Nexus 7 is the first 7-inch tablet to sport a 1920 x 1200 display, and the difference shows. The highest resolution to this point on a 7-inch tablet has been 1280 x 800, such as on the MeMO Pad HD 7 and the Kindle Fire HD.Donald Sutherland’s white beard and eye wrinkles were sharp and defined as we watched a 1080p trailer for “The Hunger Games.” While these details were also fairly sharp on the MeMO Pad HD 7, we noticed that they weren’t as crisp, and there was a lot more visual noise in the gray wall behind Sutherland than on the Nexus 7.When looking at a 1920 x 1200 image of a black cat on the new Nexus 7 and the MeMO Pad, there was much greater definition in its face on the Nexus 7, and the Nexus 7 did a better job of showing the nuances where the light bounced off the cat’s black fur. Also, there was virtually no pixelation in the white whiskers, whereas they appeared more pixelated on the MeMO Pad.The IPS panel made everything viewable even from oblique angles, and the Gorilla Glass helps protect the Nexus 7 against accidental falls. It’s also very bright: At 531 lux, the Nexus 7’s display was nearly 200 points higher than the tablet average (360 lux), and outshone the iPad mini (457 lux) and the Kindle Fire HD (436lux).
The 7-inch Nexus 7 houses a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro system on chip with a quad-core Krait CPU and a single-core Adreno 320 GPU. It has 2GB of RAM and includes support for 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 (including Bluetooth Smart support), and a GPS. Additionally, a gyroscope, accelerometer, and a digital compass are included as well.The tablet supports SlimPort, which allows you to use the Micro-USB port as an HDMI port via a $30 adapter, but there is no physical HDMI port on the Nexus 7.NFC support returns, and we also get wireless charging, which according to Google will allow any Qi-compatible charger to fill the Nexus 7’s battery. And that does indeed appear to be the case, as the Nokia Lumia DT-900 wireless charger worked without issue; however, the actual charging speed was painfully slow compared to a wired charge.
Performance, OS and apps
The Nexus 7 is the first Android 4.3 tablet, running a 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm S4 Pro APQ8064 processor. Think of it as about two-thirds of the way up the current performance ladder, with the Samsung Galaxy S4 phone at the top. It almost doubles the performance of last year’s Nvidia Tegra 3-based Nexus 7 on pure processor and graphics benchmarks, and positively crushes the iPad mini on the Geekbench system benchmark: The mini scored only 748, while this guy registers 2,643. The Chrome browser beats the iPad mini on the Sunspider browser benchmark by about 30 per cent.Real-world performance isn’t solely dependent on processor speed: It’s dependent on how many pixels you’re pushing, the OS, and third-party apps. That’s where the Nexus 7, running Android 4.3, runs into a bit of trouble. I run the same bunch of Android apps every time I test a tablet, and some of them either didn’t show up in the market or got buggy on the Nexus.Need for Speed: Most Wanted, for instance, suffered from weird graphics artifacts. The UI in Netflix was sluggish, although videos played just fine. Asphalt 7: Heat, one of my standard test games, didn’t even show up on a search. Sometimes when searching Google’s own Play store, animations would get jittery or the text entry box would lose focus. The popular video player MX Player quit on launch. I suspect a lot of these problems are Android 4.3 issues which will get solved quickly as the app creators update their work.I didn’t see any such problems in Google’s other built-in apps, and other apps such as Riptide GP2, Paper Monsters, Dead Trigger, and Photoshop Touch ran just fine. Most importantly, Google’s Chrome browser runs very, very well here, as do Netflix and Amazon’s Kindle app. I’d still recommend e-ink e-readers to many people because of their vast reserves of battery life and sunlight readability, but this will do a great job with children’s books and comics.Android 4.3’s other flagship feature makes this an excellent kids’ tablet. Android 4.2 allowed for the creation of multiple user accounts on your tablet, and now “restricted profiles” have been introduced to let you create accounts that can only use certain apps. I created one and found that the restricted account was locked out of the Google Play store. YouTube threw up an error message but worked anyway; all the other apps I allowed my virtual child to use worked fine.
For its second 7-inch tablet, Google added a second speaker, and it makes a world of difference. Where the original single-speaker Nexus sounded a bit tinny, the stereo speakers on the new Nexus 7 belted out loud and crisp audio.Still, you can’t get decent bass on something so thin. Low ends, such as the bass line on Jay Z’s “On to the Next One,” were barely audible.Like the Kindle Fire HD 7, the Nexus 7’s speakers are on the long ends, so things sound best when you’re holding the tablet in landscape mode. Don’t grip it too tight, though, or you’ll risk covering the speakers.
Where the original Nexus 7 only had a front-facing camera, the new Nexus 7 has a rear 5-MP shooter to go along with the front 1.2-MP camera.Outdoor shots taken with the rear camera were generally very good. The tablet was able to pick up fairly fine detail in pink and purple flowers, and didn’t blow out white petals too much. Inside a dim cathedral, the Nexus 7’s camera struggled a bit, as we saw a good deal of visual noise in the gray columns.A 1080p video we shot of a passing cable car looked colorful, crisp and smooth, and the Nexus 7’s microphone clearly recorded the conductor ringing the bell.We find this new layout more difficult to use for two reasons. First, placing them in the middle of the screen makes it harder to change settings using your thumb. Second, you can’t back out of menus incrementally, so if you’re in a sub-sub menu, you have to start all over from the beginning if you want to change something else.We still love the Photo Sphere feature, which takes Panorama mode to a whole new level.You can take a hemispherical image in a few easy steps. A grid appears on screen, with little dots arrayed around you. Simply move the camera until a dot is centered in the frame, and hold the Nexus 7 steady until it takes a photo. Repeat this process until you’ve got photos for every section, and then the tablet stitches them together to create a 360-degree panorama. While the Sphere images we took weren’t seamless, we were very impressed with how quickly the Nexus 7 stitched them together–usually no more than 15 to 20 seconds.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the 3950 mAh battery in the Nexus 7 lasted 8 hours and 26 minutes. That’s about 1:20 longer than the category average, and an hour longer than the original Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD (7:26 and 7:30). The Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 lasted a few minutes longer, at 8:39, and the iPad Mini lasted 8:16 over LTE.
The new Google Nexus 7 will be the right small tablet for most people when it comes across to the UK (hopefully pretty soon, according to Currys it will be September). Regarding rivals, the cheaper £159 Amazon Kindle Fire HD is only the right choice right now if you’re heavily invested in Amazon’s media world, although a new and more competitive model is probably coming soon. If you want to go a lot cheaper, then obviously you’ll be sacrificing a great deal for a really budget Android slate – not the least of which will be the new Nexus 7’s superb screen.At the higher end, the £269 iPad mini has an unmatched range of apps, but you’ll pay for that heavily in terms of a grainier screen, higher price, and more awkward form factor. And the £339 Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 has a Dirk Diggler-like “one special thing” in terms of its pen support, although you should only commit the cash if you need that pressure-sensitive pen.Small tablets are most often used for some media, some gaming, some web browsing, and some e-reading. Provided third-party developers update their apps for Android 4.3 – and I think they will, soon – the new Nexus 7 is ideal for all of those, thanks to its sharp screen, comfortable ergonomics, and solid performance at an ideal price. All this means that Google’s latest tablet effort gets one of our Best Buy awards.