The Google Nexus 7 is a fulfillment of a promise made last year by Nvidia, that they would soon offer a $200 tablet with the power of their latest quad-core mobile architecture. In practical terms, that means an Android tablet with the raw processing power of flagship tablets but costing a third of the price.
The tablet, with Asus hardware and the latest Google Android software, offers one of the most compelling cases for tablet ownership yet at a £159 price point that UK customers have never experienced. As a friend of mine mentioned at the time, “At that price, you can’t afford not to get one.”
Have Google crafted a masterpiece, or were too many corners cut to hit that remarkable price point? Let’s find out.
- Thin, light and portable
- Stunning 7″ display
- Less charging, more doing
- Designed with gaming in mind
- Quad-core performance
- The world’s most popular platform
- Made for Google Play
- 600,000 apps and games
- OS: Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean”
- CPU: Quad-core Tegra 3 1.3 GHz
- Display: 7″ IPS at 1280 x 800
- RAM: 1 GB DDR3
- Storage: 16 GB
- A/V chat: 1.2 MP front camera, microphone
- Connectivity: Wireless b/g/n, Bluetooth, NFC
- Sensors: Accelerometer, GPS, magnetometer, gyroscope
- Battery: 4325 mAh
- Size: 198.5 x 120 x 10.45 mm
- Weight: 340 grams
The Nexus 7 comes in a well crafted box similar to that of the Galaxy Nexus, with a large picture of the Nexus cropped in such a way to make a seven shape.
Turning over the box, we see a spartan group of features delivered in English only – no myriad European and East Asian languages here. The typography and overall design mirrors that of the Jelly Bean operating system, with the Roboto font used and the standard light blue on dark grey colour scheme.
Inside the box, there’s a black inner section that is meant to slide out of the case from the top or bottom, but as many pre-order customers discovered this is much harder than it looks – for whatever reason, the two pieces of cardboard are held together very tightly. Pushing and pulling does nothing, but if you persist with a gentle shaking motion after perhaps thirty seconds you’ll expose enough of the core element that it’s possible to pull it out from there.
The inner section is a plain black cardboard box with a distinct texture. There are few insignias on the box, merely a specification sticker and a monochrome Nexus logo. Turning the box over, you’ll find two stickers. Cut through the heart of these, and you can tip off the lid of the box and finally reveal the tablet itself.
The tablet is wrapped in a thin plastic film at the top of the box. Beneath, you’ll find a three piece charger (UK plug, adapter and USB cable), quick start guide and warranty paper. Each component seems well secured in the high quality box – it feels more like high quality Apple packaging rather than a budget product.
The Nexus 7 looks quite similar to other tablets from the front – there’s the standard all-black display with a rather minimal bezel, only interrupted by a centre-aligned front-facing camera and a silver ring wrapped around the edge of the display.
Turning the Nexus over, we see a bit more uniqueness – a grippy, rubberised backing with a dimpled pattern. The word ‘nexus’ is printed a third of the way down the device. Near the bottom, there’s a much smaller Asus logo. Below this, there’s a thin and long speaker grille. The edges are gently curved on all sides, making the tablet quite comfortable to hold.
In terms of ports and buttons, there aren’t too many. At the bottom centre we have a micro USB port for charging and connecting peripherals, with a stereo jack sitting a little less than two inches to the right of it (if you were viewing the tablet with the screen facing you).
On the right side near the top, there are two buttons – the lock button and the volume up / down. These sit behind the screen instead of jutting out beyond it, granting a cleaner look but making it a bit difficult to find them. Finally, on the left side near the bottom there are three pogo pins, similar to those found on the Galaxy Nexus, and no doubt intended for a future accessory like a dock or car holder. There is no rear-facing camera or mini-HDMI port.
The tablet includes a 7″ display, which is the minimum for a straight tablet these days. The resolution is 1280 x 800, which is impressive for a tablet of this size but not quite Retina levels of pixel density. The display has about three times the screen real estate of the 4.65″ Galaxy Nexus. The whole device is about the same size as the Kindle Keyboard, although it does devote more of its area to its display.
The tablet is of average thickness for a tablet these days, at 10.45 mm – noticeably more than a smartphone like the Galaxy Nexus, but it does provide more grip than a much thinner tablet would. The weight of the tablet is 340g, granting the tablet a noticeable but not overpowering heft. The overall impression is that of quality and substance rather than bulk.
I’m going to evaluate the Nexus 7 based on my use of the device over the last week, as well as a few synthetic benchmarks. As well as raw performance, I’ll be looking at how well suited the tablet is for its intended role as a media consumption device, as well as the other things one is wont to do with a tablet – writing, gaming, organising and the like. Let’s start with the benchmarks, to get a good idea of the raw power of this tablet.
Perhaps the best way to quantify the strength (or weakness) of the Nexus 7 is through synthetic benchmarks. There are quite a few available for Android, so I will use six:
- Quadrant, a general purpose benchmark
- Linpack, a floating-point CPU benchmark
- GLBenchmark, a graphics oriented benchmark
- Vellamo, a browser benchmark
- BrowserMark, a browser benchmark
In this section, we’ll be sharing the results of these benchmarks and comparing them to scores from these leading handsets and tablets:
- HTC One X (GSM variant w/ Tegra 3 quad-core)
- Asus Transformer Prime (Tegra 3 quad-core)
- HTC One S (Qualcomm S4 dual-core)
- Samsung Galaxy S III (Exynos 4412 dual-core)
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (TI OMAP 4430 dual-core)
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (TI OMAP 4430 dual-core)
- Samsung Galaxy Nexus (TI OMAP 4460 dual-core)
- Kindle Fire (TI OMAP 4430 dual-core)
- Overall score: 3665
- CPU: 11257
- Mem: 2802
- I/O: 1579
- 2D: 251
- 3D: 2435
Quadrant is a general purpose benchmark that’s quite popular amongst the critical Android crowd. The results here show that while the Nexus 7 is behind the Galaxy S3, HTC One X and HTC One S – some of the most powerful Android phones on the market – it is better than every other tablet we looked at, including the Transformer Prime, both Galaxy Tab 2 models, the Kindle Fire. It also handily beats out my daily smartphone, the Galaxy Nexus. CPU performance is excellent, but it has a much lower I/O score than even the Galaxy Nexus, which I assume is because of the relatively slow RAM (although Google do state it is DDR3). 2D performance also isn’t as highly rated as the One X or Galaxy S III.
- Egypt standard: 48 fps
- Egypt off-screen: 62 fps
- Pro standard: 54 fps
- Pro off-screen: 82 fps
GLBenchmark is a fairly hefty graphics benchmark. Egypt is the newer of the two benchmarks, and I’ve listed the standard and off-screen scores here. Standard means just the benchmark running at the device’s native resolution, while off-screen is the device rendering to a virtual 1280 x 720p display, which allows results between devices with different screen resolutions to be easily comparable.
The Nexus 7’s gaming chops have been bigged up by Google, and I’ve got to say they deliver. On the standard test at 1280 x 800, the tablet comes just 6 FPS below the Transformer Prime, and 8 to 10 FPS below the HTC One S and Galaxy S III, some of the most capable mobile gaming portables on the planet. It even comes above the HTC One X, which comes with a faster clocked Tegra 3 processor, as well as all of the other tablets and the Galaxy Nexus.
Offscreen, the HTC One S’ qHD display doesn’t come into account and we see a corresponding drop in relative performance for that phone. The Galaxy S III leads the pack handily, but the Nexus 7 comes fairly close to the One X in fourth position and still above 60 fps. Beating out the One S and its Snapdragon S4 processor is impressive for the lower clocked Tegra 3 tablet. Of course, the Galaxy Nexus and other tablets come some way behind in gaming performance.
- Score: 1720
- Single thread: 45.911 MFLOPS, 1.83 seconds
- Multi-thread: 127.392 MFLOPS, 1.32 seconds
Linpack is a benchmark that looks at raw CPU power and is measured in megaflops. You’d expect high-end, low core count devices to excel here and that’s essentially what we see – the One S, Galaxy S III and One X lead the pack in the single threaded test, with the Nexus 7, Galaxy Nexus and Transformer Prime all scoring in the same range behind the front runners – all three devices have relatively lowly clocked cores.
It was a bit different in the multi-threaded results, with the Nexus 7 edging the One X to take third place after the One S and the Galaxy S III. It’s a good result for the Nexus 7 that speaks to its operating system more than anything else, as it beats the One X and Transformer Prime which should be running the same or faster processor.
- Total: 1711.7 ms (+/- 1.1%)
- Score: 130260
Again we’re looking at a browser-based benchmark, and again the Nexus 7 and its Jelly Bean OS performs beautifully. The Nexus 7 got a 2nd place here – its best result – and only lost to the Galaxy S III. I think that really speaks volumes to the strength of the OS in this area, as the hardware underlying the Nexus 7 isn’t as convicingly superior.
The Nexus 7 has proved to be a very capable performer in benchmarks. It was never beaten by the Galaxy Nexus, either of the Galaxy Tab 2 models or the Kindle Fire. It beat the One X and One S in graphical benchmarks and the Transformer Prime in CPU and browsing benchmarks.
So this Nexus 7 tablet – I’ve just said it never lost a benchmark to the four low to mid-range devices and it was mixing up with all of the front-runners except maybe the the Galaxy S III – and yet it is available for the lowest price.
As a media consumption device, the Nexus 7 excels. This is obviously the core of the device, with strong integration with the Google Play marketplace. That marketplace contains a good selection of content across books, films and music, although the overall scope isn’t quite as wide as iTunes. The actual applications themselves are on par with the best Apple has to offer, with painless streaming, high quality text rendering and a very easy to use interface.
The strength of the Android 4.1 operating system is backed with solid hardware – the quad-core Tegra 3 processor includes a low power companion core that allows for very low battery usage when playing back media but the strength to handle even 1080p with aplomb. The 7″ display is bright and crisp, with the pixel density not quite at Retina levels but still more than adequate for such an affordable device.
This Android tablet is a media powerhouse that offers comparable power and usability to the latest generation iPad, but at a ridiculously low price point. And unlike the Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 includes easy access to a 600,000 app market that allows you to use whatever service you prefer, from Netflix for movies to Spotify for music.
Though some will bemoan the lack of HDMI-out for watching films on the big screen or 3G for truly mobile streaming, it’s still a good deal better than the majority of its competitors.
While the Kindle Fire is powerful enough to read e-books or play movies, its hardware is much worse than other Android tablets. While some accepted that as a limitation of the price, the Nexus 7 proves that you can provide a beautiful gaming machine with the latest gaming-oriented architecture for the same low price.
The higher resolution display and more powerful dual-core processor unlock the door to games with console-level graphics and gameplay. The accessibility and customisation possible with the Nexus 7 is also far beyond that of the Amazon device; PS3 controllers work wired out of the box and wirelessly with an easy root. The Nexus 7 also includes a full bevy of sensors, including that crucial accelerometer, to ensure support for a much wider field of games.
It goes further than even powerhouse tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 by using that Tegra 3 architecture to support advanced graphical effects and exclusive games. As well as running games built for Android, the system also handles emulated games from past generations with aplomb to further extend your mobile gaming grasp.
Still, there are some drawbacks. A lack of an HDMI port means that right now it’s impossible to play your adventures on the big screen. A single micro USB port makes it hard to charge your tablet and plug in a controller at the same time. And many gaming titles on the Android marketplace haven’t been updated to support the Nexus 7 yet. These issues may yet be overcome however, and with the burgeoning developer community backing the Nexus 7 it may be quite quickly.
Even with this issues though, I’d go so far as to say that the Nexus 7 is the best mobile device for gaming right now. It’s got a price point between the PS Vita and the Nintendo 3DS but with it comes more powerful hardware and a more rapidly expanding games library, stretching from first generation consoles right up to Android-specific editions of the best and brightest franchises.
Of course, you’re not just getting an e-reader or games console out of the Nexus 7. You’re also getting a general purpose mobile computing platform that can handle a wide variety of tasks, from productivity apps to media creation to web browsing. This last point is something of a strength for the Nexus 7, with the system being one of the few mobile platforms to support Google Chrome.
That support comes courtesy of Android 4.1, the very latest version of the mobile operating system. Android 4.1 continues what 4.0 started, offering vastly improved usability courtesy of a more unified design, enhanced multi-tasking and a much more fluid user interface. This last point, which Google has termed Project Butter, makes the OS extremely quick on its feet – there’s little discernible lag anywhere now, even for fairly intensive tasks like flipping back and forth through home screens or navigating media-rich web pages. It’s the best Android OS to date and I’d encourage anyone who has only used Android 2.3 or earlier to take another look.
The fluidity of the operating system is also down to the choice of hardware – the quad-core Tegra 3 architecture is powerful, no doubt. While you’ll best notice it in graphically intense games, it also serves to speed up more commonplace tasks like rendering web pages and opening multiple apps at once. The display also does its best to make things look good. While it doesn’t match up to the Retina display of the new iPad or even the panel used in the high-end Asus Transformer Prime Infinity, it’s still a lot more than you’d expect from something of this price range.
Finally, the overall build quality of the device is very good considering its price. While some customers have received tablets with manufacturing defects like loose screens, for those that have been lucky enough to receive a fully working model will find it quite durable, with the thickness and rubber backing making for an easy to hold and long-lasting device. Asus have not embarassed themselves here, by providing something that is visually distinct from the plethora of no-name tablets that inhabit the lower price points.
Google Nexus 7 cases are the most popular accessories at the moment for the tablet, with quite a few options available. If you’re looking for something thin and light that still imparts some protection from scratches and shock damage, then the FlexiShield Wave cases are recommended. These cases also come in multiple colours, making it a viable customisation option. If you’d prefer the utility of an integrated stand and faux-leather construction, then SD TabletWear’s SmartCase line is more suitable.
Other types of accessories are less commonplace. The Case-Compatible Sync and Charge Cradle is perhaps the best Google Nexus 7 Dock on the market, with a sleek design that incorporates both a portrait desk stand and an integrated charging and / or syncing solution but still allows for cases to be used. If you’re using the Nexus 7 as a massive satellite navigation system for your car, then the Brodit Passive Car Holder is a good choice.
We’ll likely see more accessories available for the device if its popularity continues to grow.
With the Nexus 7, Google and Asus have redefined what is possible at the $200 or £159 price point. While the device has some flaws and omissions, they are causalities of the focus and restraint that its designers have imposed in order to hit this low price point. All of the most important features – processor, display, graphics, software – are intact and this is what makes the Nexus 7 such a strong performer, whether in media consumption, gaming or just general purpose use.
Google and Asus have ensured that their competitors will have a difficult act to follow – and with the rumoured iPad Mini and Kindle Fire 2 on the cards for a launch later this year, that is a critical success.
- Looks good, traditional tablet but uniquely styled
- Powerful for its price point
- Nice display, high resolution
- Very affordable, best bang for buck tablet available
- Good for media, web browsing or gaming
- Wide range of accessories
- Not quite as powerful all round as top end tablets
- No HDMI port, only one micro USB
- Many games don’t support it yet