Over a year after its release, the 2012 Nexus 7 was still the best small tablet on the market. Finally, another tablet has come to usurp the throne, and amazingly, it's the second coming of our favourite tablet. Meet the incredible 2013 Nexus 7 tablet from Google and Asus.
What Is It?
The 2013 Nexus 7 is the follow-up to the wildly successful small Nexus tablet from last year.
This new Nexus 7, still built by Asus, is packing a quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of internal storage all compactly living underneath a 7-inch 1920x1200 screen at 323 ppi protected by Corning Gorilla Glass.
For the first time too, the Nexus 7 is packing a rear-facing camera which clocks in at 5-megapixels. That compliments the existing 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera meant for video calls and Google+ Hangouts.
The new Nexus 7 is available not from the Google Play Store just yet, but through retailers like JB Hi-Fi, Dick Smith and Harvey Norman, plus a handful of smaller retailers. The 16GB Wi-Fi version costs $299, while the 32GB Wi-Fi model is $339. No sign yet of a SIM-equipped version; for now, you'll have to stick to a 2012 model if you want that.
Update: It's worth noting that the Nexus 7 has been accused of having some pretty serious Wi-Fi and GPS issues, but to be honest, we didn't notice these problems in our week-long review period. That's not to say they don't exist for some users, it's to say we didn't see them. Just for people asking.
This thing is as good as a Nexus has ever been. It's fast, it's smooth, it's undistilled Google-goodness in seven beautiful inches that you can slip into your pocket when you're done and be off with. It's the closest thing we've ever seen to a perfect gadget.
The design has been modernised to make it look like next-gen hardware with Google and Asus ditching the rippled back design in favour of an embossed NEXUS logo, which is way better. Also, it's thinner and more narrow than ever, making it look like exactly what it is: a really portable mini-tablet.
That thinness doesn't cost anything, however: we still have great internal hardware, as much storage as we ever had and a screen that makes the competition look weak.
Speaking of the screen: thank God they fixed that. It was the worst part of the old device and it's now the best part of the new one. That beautiful 7-inch 1920x1200 panel at 323 pixels per inch is easier on the eyes than Scarlett Johansson.
Most interestingly, the 2013 Nexus 7 while unassuming to look at, actually benchmarks as the fastest tablet we've ever had in our labs. It blitzed the Geekbench 2 tests to come out the other side with a score of 2530. To put that in perspective, the closest device to that score is the hardcore, weaponised Samsung-built Google Nexus 10 tablet we tested last year which clocks in at 2433. (To be fair, our benchmark of the Nexus 10 saw it score 2533, but the 2430 number comes from the official Geekbench 2 charts). The next fastest device is the Nexus 4 at 2032, followed by the Galaxy Note II at 1928. The moral of the story is that if you want a fast device for cheap, buy Nexus.
The battery is great and will last you for days with medium-use, and the speakers are loud enough to keep you and a friend entertained with whatever you're listening to. Don't go listening to it in a very crowded environment, however: that's where you'll need your headphones.
Android 4.2 is also a delight on the Nexus 7. It still kind of feels like a stretched out version of the smartphone operating system when you use your apps (probably because it is), but it's faster and more responsive than ever, packing in the best of Google without any of the bloatware other manufacturers cram in.
To be fair, our biggest problem with this tablet isn't really a problem at all. It's a concern.
The reason the Nexus 7 was so great last time was the longevity of the materials. For example, the NVIDIA Tegra 3 had one of its first outings on the 2012 Nexus 7, and paired with other fantastic specs in a great design at an unbeatable price.
The concerning thing about the Nexus 7 is that it's beating heart has already been run around more than a few tracks in the last year. We first saw the Snapdragon S4 Pro processor outed in the LG Optimus G, and while we're not dissing its power — clearly from the benchmarks it can hold its own — it might get a bit long in the tooth a few months from now rather than a year from now when the new one (hopefully) supersedes it.
We can be assured that Google and Asus were aware of the slightly older processor — probably to bring the bill of materials down to make the tablet cheaper — by pairing it with the fantastic Adreno 320 GPU chip powering graphics at 400MHz. Turbines to speed, indeed.
The display is fantastic on the Nexus 7, but we can't help feel that the new bezel design gets in the way somewhat. I wouldn't call it overtly intrusive, but it merely feels bigger than it should be on a device this size.
While the battery life on the new Nexus 7 is as good as ever, we did notice some strange power draws every now and then. Setting up the tablet in particular is a time where the battery quickly plummeted from 85 per cent down to 70 per cent in a matter of about half an hour. The power drain levelled off after that, but it's interesting to see how the processor bursts out to draw juice from the all important battery when doing stuff like updating apps with a maxed out screen and music playing.
Finally, we all need to be honest with ourselves: that rear-facing camera is just there so people can tick a box that says "I have a camera on my tablet". It's useful for flipping the image during a Hangout to show someone what you're looking at, but it's not exactly a top-quality shooter.
Should You Buy It?
If you're in the market for a smaller Android tablet, you absolutely can't go past the 2013 Nexus 7. It's the perfect example of how the best gets better.
The most important question, as asked in the comments below, is "should I upgrade from the 2012 model?". The answer is yes, but only if you want a better screen and more power. If you’ve found either of them lacking on the 2012 model you’ll be thrilled with the new one, and it’s cheap enough that it’s not a huge dent in your bank balance.