Nexus 7 review
Powerful, well built and with a better screen than you’d expect for the price, Asus and Google's Nexus 7 sets the new gold standard for budget tablets
Review Date: 11 Jan 2013
Reviewed By: David Bayon
Price when reviewed: £166 (£199 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
UPDATE: Our Nexus 7 review has been updated with information about the Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) update. Scroll to the end of the review to read more.
After several years watching manufacturers achieve mixed results with Android tablets, Google has finally had enough. Much like Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface tablets, the Nexus 7 is an attempt to marry the company’s popular OS with the quality of hardware it deserves – and at the right price.
It isn’t technically a Google tablet. In fact, you won’t find the company’s name anywhere on the device. Instead, Google pounced on an Asus tablet first shown at CES in January, and the pair reworked the exterior and came up with something they were happy with, which is why there’s a discreet Asus logo at the foot of the rear panel.
Whoever takes the credit, the Nexus 7 has certainly attracted plenty of attention with its mouth-watering sub-£200 price tag. For that money, you get a narrow device with a 7in widescreen display, a first look at Android’s 4.1 Jelly Bean update, and even a £15 Google Play voucher to start you off.
It’s immediately obvious that the Nexus 7 is a cut above most budget tablets. It’s just the right size and weight (340g) to fit in the hand, and its mottled rear panel feels soft on the palm. A speaker grille sits just below the Asus logo, with power and volume controls on the right edge and headphone and micro-USB sockets on the bottom edge. It’s sparse, but its gentle curves mean that it feels far from cheap.
The screen is a 1,280 x 800 IPS panel, making for a pixel density of 216ppi – not up with the iPad but higher than any smaller tablet we’ve seen. It’s pretty sharp and readable, and the wide aspect makes movie watching a treat. We measured the maximum brightness at 330cd/m2 and contrast at 1,100:1, and our only complaint is that colours lack punch, with a washed-out look that’s noticeable next to dearer tablet screens. The speaker on the rear is listenable but not particularly loud or full-sounding, so you’ll want to keep headphones to hand.
With all that power crammed into such a small device, the battery life is hugely important. Asus has squeezed in a non-removable 4,325mAh battery, and the Nexus 7 ran dry after 8hrs 48mins running a video on loop at half brightness with Wi-Fi disabled. That isn’t anywhere near the best in its field, but it’s perfectly acceptable for a travelling device.
There are only three places the budget obviously shows. First, there’s no camera on the rear, leaving you with only a pretty middling 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. Second, although it’s advanced enough to include NFC, there’s understandably no 3G option. Finally, there’s the issue of storage: the Nexus 7 comes in 16GB (£199) and 8GB (£159) flavours, with no card slots to add to that. Even at its remarkably modest price we’d be reluctant to buy the cheaper model – with the focus on content consumption you’d fill that 8GB in no time at all.
Magic Jelly Bean
You unlock the Nexus 7 by swiping in any direction on the lockscreen (except up, which we’ll come to later), and instead of the kind of reskins we’ve come to expect from HTC and Samsung, this is as clean as Android gets. That’s a good thing, as a pared-down Jelly Bean is wonderfully accessible. In a nod to the direction Google is taking with the Play store, there’s a main homepage for media content, with tiles for books, albums and movies, and everything can be moved and resized at will: if you don’t like the full-width recommendation tiles, just drag them smaller.
As with Ice Cream Sandwich, there are three main controls at the bottom of every screen – back, home and recent apps – and an iOS-style row of favourite apps above that. The excellent Google Chrome browser is loaded as standard – although manufacturers can stick to the old Android browser if they wish – and alongside quick shortcuts for various types of media, there’s now also a useful expandable folder for your favourite apps.
One major new feature added in Jelly Bean is Google Now, which you access by swiping up to unlock – or indeed by swiping up from the Home button on any screen. It brings up a nicely contrasting white screen made up of cards: initially you’ll have the local weather, but Google Now can add flight details near an airport, transport times near a tube station, information about nearby museums and restaurants, meeting appointments, and so on. Better still, its voice search works quickly and accurately in our experience. It’s like a cross between Siri and one of the many location-aware activity apps, with one key failing: with no 3G, it’s largely useless if you want to use it out and about.
The rest of the Nexus 7 experience will come largely via Google Play, as this is very much a content-consumption device in the mould of the Kindle Fire. As we’ve already said, watching rented movies is very enjoyable with a good set of headphones, and games run fine – it almost feels like a portable games console given its dimensions. We’re slightly less enamoured with the reading experience, but perhaps that’s just by comparison with the sharpness of the iPad. Books come with large text and a nice page-turn animation, and they’re perfectly readable, so for all but the longest journeys we’d consider leaving the Kindle at home.
The Nexus 7 isn’t a budget tablet in anything but price. It’s fast, it has a perfectly good screen, and it’s built to a quality rarely seen from such a cheap device. Android’s Jelly Bean update brings its own advancements, and for the first time we can look at an Android tablet as a whole package and say: it all works. The fact that we’re saying that about a £199 device is remarkable.
For the sofa, there’s no doubt an iPad remains a far more comfortable size, with a screen better suited to web browsing and reading text. But Google and Asus’s little beauty easily has the edge as a travelling companion. It’s the perfect size to hold in one hand, and Google Play’s books and movies make it great for flights and hotel rooms.
Despite a few minor flaws, it completely redefines what we should expect from a budget tablet. If this is the outcome, Google should take matters into its own hands more often.
Four months after the release of the Nexus 7, the device received a free update to Android 4.2. Performance wasn't significantly improved: we saw Quadrant scores remain unchanged after the upgrade, while SunSpider accelerated only slightly from 1,799ms to 1,683ms.
But the latest version of Jelly Bean brings some major new features, including multi-user support, where each person using the tablet has a separate login, complete with its own home screen, accounts, and collection of apps.
Our favourite aspect of the upgrade is the new keyboard, which allows you simply to drag your finger from letter to letter, just like Swype, rather than having to tap each virtual key in turn – a system that works with impressive speed and accuracy.
Android 4.2 also tidies up the menus that pull down from the notification area: dragging down on the left side exposes the familiar stack of app notifications and events, while dragging on the right side gives instant access to commonly used settings, including brightness, wireless, rotation lock and user switching.
The Nexus 7 is no longer the only device of its kind. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD and the Kobo Arc all now offer alternatives at similar prices; but these are conceived as ebook readers rather than general purpose tablets. The Nexus 7's Jelly Bean front-end is a slicker, more versatile system than any of them – and the rapid arrival of Android 4.2 suggests the device may be first in the queue for future updates too.
In short, if you're in the market for a regular Android tablet, the Nexus 7 remains the one to go for. The OS update has cemented the device's appeal, and storage space has doubled since our original review, too, so it's better value than ever. There's also now a 3G model available at a tempting £239, which can serve as a true on-the-go companion.
Author: David Bayon
Great little device
My wife was really please to find one under Christmas tree.
Tried to get 3G version but no chance...
By aa111 on 11 Jan 2013
32 GB model
You should update the section on the storage available.
There is as you know now a 32GB version but it's not even mentioned in the Update section.
It would also be useful with information on how to get the update of the OS. My 16GB version hasn't informed me of the upgrade in the way my iPad2 did for its OS upgrade.
By MikeW2 on 12 Jan 2013
Use of 32GB would have been clearer !
Sorry about the comment on you not mentioning the 32GB model.
I was looking in the upgrade section for "32GB" rather than the much less clear "and storage space has doubled since our original review" which I now see IS there.
By MikeW2 on 12 Jan 2013
It only £159 on Google play store.
By curiousclive on 28 Jan 2013
why nexus 7 is heavily priced in india compared to usa , uk
15999 INR in india...
By pavanj7 on 6 Apr 2013
Had mine since Christmas. Had to send it back early January as it was overheating and taking up to 20 mins to start (and to stop). Returned within a week and been OK since. Use it to read news,books and email and as a Satnav. Not good for google as if software is not free I won't use it. Better than my wife's Kindle as it is more versatile. I love it.
By miket82 on 7 May 2013
I Found the cheapest price and also the most complete review of the new Google Nexus 7 FHD Tablet. Just click here to check it out :
By Edwin_davis on 27 Jul 2013
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