Google Nexus 7 Tablet Review: The New Best Way To Spend $250

After months of leaks and hints about the Nexus 7, it was clear what we were to expect from Google's first tablet. The major question was: "Can it possibly be as good as it looks and only cost $250?" The verdict is in.

AU Editor's Note: This is a US review of a pre-release Nexus 7 unit. The hardware is final but the software is not, it's still only the developer preview. We're also not sure which features will be available in Australia in Jelly Bean. We'll revisit this when we get our hands on a local unit.

Why It Matters

It's a fully functional, not-terrible $250 tablet ($319 if you buy it in stores). It's also Google's first tablet (although the hardware was built by Asus). It's a Nexus, which means it's a standard-bearer for the latest version of Android, in this case Android 4.1 aka Jelly Bean. It's like the Kindle Fire, if the Kindle Fire was a real tablet. And it's like the iPad, if the iPad cost half as much and ran Android.

Using It

Let's start with the body (you shallow bastards). The 7-inch form factor is terrific for people who want a very portable tablet. It's balanced very nicely for one-handed use (say, while standing on a crowded train), and it weights even less than the Kindle Fire (340g vs 414g). The texturised back feels terrific — almost like hard leather — soft and smooth but with plenty of grip. The whole thing feels very solid, with the hard aluminium around the edges and scratch-resistant glass from Corning (not Gorilla Glass though). The only external buttons are a power button and volume rocker. There are headset and microUSB ports and four little conductive dots that will be used for accessories (Asus has said that it will be making an audio dock for the Nexus 7 in the months to come).

Once you start playing with it, the Nexus 7 is extremely fast. It has the same 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor and 1GB of RAM as the Asus Transformer Prime (our current favourite Android tablet), but it's running Jelly Bean with "Project Butter". That translates to a smoother experience than we've ever seen on an Android device. There's virtually no jitter or lag anywhere in the OS. Jelly Bean may be an incremental upgrade from Ice Cream Sandwich, but all of the little things add up to a much improved user experience. The notification panel displays vastly more info. You now have seven customisable icons at the bottom of the home screen. When dragging an icon or widget to a home screen, the existing items on that screen will arrange themselves around it. The search function uses Google's knowledge graph, which is excellent.

Jelly Bean comes with with some new software, including the much-talked-about Google Now. Google Now is basically an organiser with a brain that learns about you the more you use it. Unfortunately, it feels very beta right now. If you search for a flight, sometimes a card will be added for it, and sometimes it won't. Look at this screenshot. I love that it knows the F train, which will take me home, will leave in six minutes and that it will take me 12 minutes to walk there. I didn't program it to do that. That's amazing. But then it also shows me the next few times the M103 bus is coming to Bowery/Prince. I've never taken that bus in my life, but I'm near it, so it show it to me. I don't need it, so I swipe it away and it's gone. The Nexus 7 also has an NFC chip, which makes swapping photos and media with NFC-enabled phones (or pairing it with the Nexus Q) a breeze.

Like

It's fast, it's smooth, it's portable, and it's inexpensive. This doesn't feel like a $250 tablet experience — it feels high-end. The LED-backed IPS screen is bright and colourful. At 1280x720 it has significantly higher pixel density than the first two iPads (216ppi vs 132ppi), although it isn't quite as high as the Retina Display on the new iPad (264ppi). Games and movies look really great on it. Speaking of gaming, that's one of the things the Nexus 7 was built for, and it delivers. In the video above, look at the ripples in the water in Shadowgun as the characters walk around, or the way the cloth reacts to the marbles in Glowball. It takes serious horsepower to render that kind of detail that smoothly.

We're loving the refinements in Jelly Bean, even the subtle ones. The boost in speed is really noticeable. Google's new built-in apps are terrific. Play Magazines, for example, gives you a very intuitive and attractive experience. You can flip pages, search through page thumbnails, or even scroll by article. Play Books has a really nice UI now, as does the now more channel-centric YouTube app. These all come together in your MyLibrary. In the new Google Maps, looking at street view in Compass Mode is a freaky, future-feeling experience, and the phone now takes voice dictation even when offline, and it's impressively accurate.

The 7-inch shape is small enough to slip it in a pocket. You wouldn't want to wear it in your pants pocket all day, but it's a nice option to have, and it'll definitely fit in a jacket pocket or a purse. Also, it has a front-facing camera for video chatting. It lasted for more than nine hours with pretty heavy use, so no worries there.

No Like

The biggest flaw is that there is no expandable memory slot. As of now, you can get an 8GB version ($249) or a 16GB version ($299). For something designed for HD media and high-performance games, you can fill that up really, really quick. Another flaw on the hardware side: it only has one speaker, and it's on the bottom of the device (when it's in portait mode). If you're watching or playing a game (in landscape), all of the sound appears to be coming out of the right side. It does not support USB to HDMI connections, which is a bummer, because that's such an easy way to play your media on a TV. Also, it's unfortunate that it isn't Gorilla Glass. Our review unit took an unfortunate spill off a table and landed face down. The screen cracked and stopped responding to touch. To be fair, it was a pretty hard fall, but you may want to consider getting the protective case.

On the software side, Jelly Bean still has some bugs. Screen rotation was locked by default. There were a couple of force closes, and Google Now just doesn't quite seem to be there yet. That said, this is a developer preview, so this deserves an update when the real deal arrives.

Should I Buy It?

Totally. If you love reading Kindle Books, you just install the app and you're good to go. It also gives the iPad a good run for its money. You can argue that the iPad is a better tablet, but is it really $300 better? As useful as tablets are, they're still kind of luxury items. $249 for a fully fledged, fully capable tablet with serious specs is an absolute steal. Get it.

Google Nexus 7

OS: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Screen: 7-inch 720p IPS screen Processor, RAM: 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3, 1GB RAM Storage: 8GB / 16GB Camera: 1.2MP front only Weight: 340g Battery: 4325mAh Li-Ion Price: $249 (8GB), $299 (16GB) + shipping

Google Nexus 7 Gallery

Video: Michael Hession


Comments

    As someone who isn't a fan of Android at all, it is still hard to argue with the conclusion. At $250 it is ridiculously cheap. and would make an excellent replacement for a Kindle, if nothing else.

      Its a better bet than the kogan one i reckon. And its sub300. A sweet spot for most people that buy gadgets/tech items.

      The article is misleading. The 16GB model is $299 and the 16Gb iPad2 which is the equivalent is $399...so the difference is only $100 not $300 which is what the article proclaims.

      So for an extra $100 you get longer battery life and double screen size and alluminium chassis....seems like a bargain to me.

        How you think they're comparable at all is beyond me.

        "So for an extra $100 you get [...] double screen size"

        If this was in any way a valid point, then everyone would be buying that new Toshiba 13" tablet.

      Yep, I'll be getting one. I'll be getting surface too

      "As someone who isn’t a fan of Android at all"

      YOU DON'T SAY!

    Correction: it is 269, since there is no way you can get it by paying 250.

      Really? Please list the retailers and their list of prices that have it for over $250.

        The extra cost of delivery/stocking of about $20.00 has be alluded to in most write-ups of the device. Having said that it may not turn out to be the case and competition among retailers may mean a lower price. It this stage it doesn't appear to be an unreasonable assumption?

      shipping hardly counts. Google doesn't have any retails stores (as far as I know) so you'll be paying for shipping regardless.
      $20 for 2-3 day delivery, insured and tracked isn't that bad.

      As for the storage size, I was concerned about that initially, but 1) for that price who cares and 2) its a wifi model anyway so I'll probably be streaming most content. I would only bother taking some videos while travelling and I have my phone for music. Hell I could even stream media from my phone. which has 32gb available.

    I don't get where the extra $300 for an Ipad is coming from. What version of the Ipad is it being compared with? One with comparable memory specs. I know a like for like comparison cannot be made because of device dimensions but functionality should come into it?

      Three hundred is a bit rich, I think the cheapest you can pick one up is about four eighty which is a 16gig.

      So it's a one eighty difference for around twice the physical area, a slightly (but I doubt anyone really cares) higher pixel density and a camera that no one ever uses at the back.

        The $300 is a complete furfy. They are comparing the 8Gb Nexus with a 16Gb iPad (3). Really the real comparison should be a 16Gb - 8 hour - 7" Nexus tablet with a 16Gb - 11 hour - 9.7" iPad 2 (which by the way makes the screen size more than double the size). So if you are a gadget person orcheapskate then go with the Nexus cause you save $100. If not you will go with the iPad which had more than double the screen and better battery life.

          well, unlike with the wifi ipad, flash video streams will work on the nexus, so the nexus is a better streaming internet media device than the ipad could ever hope to be with it's closed dictatorish environment.

            no it wont. flash isn't supported on jelly bean. that being said, i would still favour this over an ipad anyday

              Isn't supported on jelly bean yet? Because it's not out yet?

    Nice! I've pre ordered. Although one of your specs are wrong...
    The resolution is in fact 1280 X 800
    Not a massive deal though. I'm looking forward to getting it.

    If there was a cellular data + sd slot for maybe 300-350, I'd consider it.

      why would u get a cellular data one just tether to your phone. waste of money.

        It's so you can save the battery life on your phone and so you don't have to open and close the 3G hotspot on your phone.

          Also the added convenience of not needing to fiddle around with getting the connection working even if you tether it with a USB cable.

          No expandable memory is a big deal for me too, I mean even if you go for the 16GB model you can fill that up pretty darn quickly if you stick all your media on there, which is what Google is wanting you to be doing. I know Google are pushing their cloud service but especially in Australia - where our broadband internet isn't the best in the world and our mobile broadband is worse, paired up with stupid data caps that every telco enforces - it's a bit unreasonable to expect your customers to store gigabytes of data in the cloud.

            Hadn't much thought about this because of the ease of use in and around suburban Melbourne. I guess regional anywhere and distances travelling makes on board storage more important in tandem with battery life. I wonder if the conductive dots for accessories might enable a multitude of different types of card readers to be attached to it. It might add too much bulk, however, it might even allow a USB3 key or something like that to really increase storage without having to go the wireless external drive option... Just a thought... (Might cause the battery life to take too much of a hit though)

        I just can't get wifi at home, so the 3g would help me a lot.

      It's $320ish already. Throwing on a cellular antenna would bump it up another $100-150. On top of which you also have to pay for a separate data plan since I don't think of our carriers allow pooled data.

        for a 3g you need to wait for the next Nvidia CPU. THey bought a small 3g-chip company and are working onthe integration in their tegra-cpu. That's the next thing: 3G tablet under 200$.

    I'm thinking I might grab one. Seems like a good device to have on hand to keep track of what Android is up to.

    Really excited to get this device!

    iPad 2 = $399, iPad Retina = $499, So that is a difference of $100 and $200 for the same capacity. Saying $300 extra is just bad journalism and bad mathmatics. I will be getting the Nexus 7 8GB. Truth is you can't actually get a Nexus 7 for the listed price. There is freight if purchase directly from Google and markup if purchased from a store. So the difference to the iPad is actually less. And unlike other Android tablets, retailers will not be discounting these as no one is making any large margins. Can't wait to play withe Jelly Bean.

    Fortunately your train leaves in 12 minutes and it will take 6 minutes to walk there. :)

    The Nexus 7 does use gorilla glass. Gorilla glass is scratch proof, not shatter proof. Drop your transformer prime from the same height and you'll see the same (or most likely worse) result.

    I just notice that Nexus 7 is GST inclusive. I wonder why they are collecting GST when they say the thing is shipped from Singapore. It should be GST free for under $1000.

      I wondered about that myself. The cost is in Australian dollars I think but no-one at Google has explained this. Maybe Gizmodo could be kind enough to get an answer?

      Whoa. I totally didnt realise this when I ordered one.

      Anything sold by a retailer here has to charge GST. Just because it's shipped from Singapore doesn't mean it's being sold by a company in Singapore.

    I'll be upping my data when I'm off my current plan and ill tether it to my phone....
    maybe even get a app from Google to enable my tablet to pull movie files off my phone.

    You are wrong! The best way tp spend $250 is The good old RMAH, even kidfs know this! /end sarcasm.

    It's quite a nice little unit. Having also been manufactured by ASUS, I have a bit more confidence in it.

    I ordered one. really wanted one with extra storage but for the price you cant complain really

    ive been told that one or two people found they could put a usb drive in the slot. I cant imagine how a usb drive would work from a micro usb slot

      I want to take this travelling for WiFi email and to transfer files from a camera to a Nexus 7 via the micro USB port. Anyone know if this is possible?

        Well I think ICS and higher have native support for USB Host a.k.a USB OTG... It works splendidly on my S3 and I can transfer files back and forth using ES File Explorer, you have to buy the adapter first though, but that's just a few bucks off Ebay.

    I was going to spring for a Kogan Agora 10 inch Tablet but The Nexus 7 came along and Im going to give my money to Google !

    Have a few cheap android units, crappy as they may be, they have expansion slots. I suppose
    you can tether or use software that transfers large files over wifi with the nexus, but I do see this as a big downer (as stated). I guess sd/micro cards are what I'm used to. Also can I chip in that after dropping my old iphone too many times onto hard surfaces: Get A screen Protector ! Because I'm sure it's saved my iphone screen .........

    Wait for the Nexus 10 or the Nexus 7 v2 when it comes out next year.

    Just preordered. Got the 16gb for $298. Just have to wait until the 13th.

      13 ? Next Friday? Friday the 13? Scaaaaaary !

    The screen IS gorilla glass...

      Oh, sorry. No it's not, just corning glass... :/ Seriously sucks...

    funny that, shipping out of singapore and i can't order one within the singapore locality!

    Impressed. But WHY no expandable memory? Seems like a staggering oversight to me, because it's just so damned useful.

    If I want no expandable memory, I will buy Apple stuff!

    In my mind, Android = microSD expansion. It's like bread and butter...

    I bought one - and in Australia, because Apple products are so massively overpriced, the Nexus 7 is quite a bit more reasonable than it might be in the US. I bought the Nexus 7 16gig for $319 - the equivalent Ipad 3 16 gig is $537 - more than $200 more.

    I love the Nexus 7. In fact, its ease of use and ability to customise it makes it better, in my opinion, on some levels than the equivalent Ipad. Yes its smaller, but it means it has more use as an e-reader as you can hold it with one hand. The lack of support for flash, which WAS one of the selling points of Android is an issue. Particularly as I like the IView app on the apple. But apparently this is temporary, and ABC and other catchup services will be providing them.

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