Let’s start this review off with some honesty. I don’t really understand the tablet craze that has been happening these last few years. I guess I waited long on buying a smart phone (Motorola droid was my first) and I waited until the Nexus 7 to finally dive in. I did receive a Kindle Fire last Christmas from a group of amazing people, but I seemed to use it more as a development platform than an actual tablet. I wanted the Fire to blow me away, but I felt like I didn’t want to commit myself to the Amazon ecosphere, mostly because I felt like their offering was not up to everyone else in terms of documents, music, and video. So what changed for me?
First was Ice Cream Sandwich on the Galaxy Nexus. Right when my Droid was feeling ancient, my two years was up on Verizon, and it was go time. ICS was a game changer. It felt polished, looked beautiful, and just simply worked. Then Google started figuring things out with services like Google Drive and—most beloved to my heart—Google Music. These two thing blew away Amazon’s offering and I still believe are the best at what they do [though I am sure some will argue]. So when I heard Jelly Bean on a $200 tablet, I preordered day one. After playing with my Nexus 7 for two weeks and attempting to answer the age old question, “what do you do with a tablet?” I decided to sit down and write a review—a review that I am actually writing on my Nexus 7 inside of Google Drive. So here are my findings.
I have held and played with a lot of tablets in the last few years, from iPads to Galaxy Tabs to Xooms to even the Samsung Windows 8 dev tablet, and they all felt a bit odd to me. The Kindle Fire and other 7-inch tablets seemed to get it right. Not too big and not to small. But I always seemed to struggle with the weight after holding it for a given amount of time. The Nexus 7 seems to have nailed the weight at just 340 grams. Holding it right now typing, reading a book, or streaming Netflix doesn’t seem to really bother me much. The Nexus 7 has a nice bumpy rubber texture on the back as well a nice grip. Hidden in back is a small speaker (that gives off pretty good sound). With only three buttons on the side and a front-facing camera, there isn’t much else to it, and that is alright. It doesn’t feel cheap and looks sexy. The screen overall is nice, while nowhere close to my Galaxy Nexus though. Compared side by side ,you can tell that the 7 is much lighter as the darks and colors really pop on the the phone. Overall though, I am impressed.
Some might be mad that there is no back-facing camera, but I haven’t had a need for one yet. The bigger issue might be that it is WiFi only.
The Jelly Bean Difference
I have been using pure ICS on my Galaxy Nexus for seven months now and love it. The love continues with Jelly Bean as everything seems more refined, snappier, and just a great operating system. There are new features like Google Now, music recognition, new notifications, and others, but they aren’t anything special. I want Google Now to be useful but it isn’t yet. What is best about it is the default apps that are optimized for tablets. Even though these have been around for a while, they feel tight and extremely useful. Gmail is a stand out right next to Calendar, and boy is Google+ amazing. These optimizations and the tweaks in the user interface are welcomed.
One thing that is great about Android now is the setup. Simply enter your Google account and bam…your settings sync (even my WiFi settings), Gmail is good to go, and all your purchases are available. It was such an easy, flawless experience it was kind of scary to be honest. However not everything is great in 7-inch land as not everything is optimized for tablets. Twitter for instance or the Comixology app—which you want to be awesome—just aren’t (*Note that they have now updated the app on 8/2 after this review was written and it is a bit better, but not perfect). They feel stuck in a phone world. The potential is there, which makes me excited every time I see a new update. Jelly Bean on a Google device is great, but as it rolls out to more and more devices, I am sure it will get skinned, bloated, and just not as pretty, which is sad. One other note here is that unlike a lot of larger tablets the home screen is only in portrait mode. This might be a bit problematic for some as it can lead to a lot of rotation of the device, but it has not bothered me much yet as I mostly used the device in portrait mode.
What is this thing good for?
So that is the question. And where Microsoft has positioned Windows 8 as a productivity platform, Google has followed Apple a bit more and said the Nexus 7 is a media consumption device. This is pretty apparent seeing the thing comes preloaded with the latest Transformers movie, free book and magazine, and $25 credit in the Google Play store which you can use on anything including apps. If you engross yourself in the Google ecosphere, then everything is great. Play Music is the same great experience that I loved on my phone. I am actually starting to read again with Play Books, and surprisingly Play Magazines actually makes reading a magazine in digital form not that bad. Play Movies and TV is coming along slowly, though, as one of the newer services, and I think is a bit behind Amazon, Apple, or even Netflix for that matter. One odd omission is that there is absolutely no video out on the Nexus 7 via HDMI or adapter or anything. So heavily focused on media, you think that you would want to hook this guy up to a TV, but I guess that is what the Nexus Q is for (hands on coming soon).
So on a day to day basis you do get everything, and you do have access to all of your favorite android apps, which is great. For media though, there is one huge issue, and that is PRICE. I find it hard to pay $12+ for a newly released album, or $5 for a magazine issue. Movies are up there too from $3 to 6 for a rental. For a one-off purchase or impromptu movie, it’s no big deal, but as a full time service no way. Google must hit Amazon prices to really get this thing going, and they are heading there with weekly specials and deals, but I feel like it just isn’t good enough. This may sound like a gripe with Google, but it’s the backbone of the Nexus 7. You will be in and out of the Play Store constantly (which is a great experience by the way and is amazingly optimized for tablets). You also have local content, though, such as your AVI files or in my case a bunch of M2TS files. With such limited storage it seemed fine to load up a few SD TV shows, which all played back just fine, but throwing an HD movie will almost fill this sucker up. Playback was flawless, except, for some reason with my M2TS files, the scrub bar didn’t work in the default Play Movies app.
So besides media content, you also have games, and the Nexus 7 is no slouch. I tried out a few Tegra-optimized games like Dead Trigger, and they ran great. My personal problem is I don’t think the tablet or phone is super great for games. Nothing can replace physical control and unfortunately my Nexus 7 will not replace my Nintendo 3DS any time soon. Then you have productivity. If you want to take notes or tasks well that is pretty simple as there are TONS of apps out there, heck I even I have an app I made called Tasks Simplified that I use. I am writing this in Google Drive, but that is where it about ends.There are no other default apps that really go towards productivity, and I even had to download Google Drive, which I found odd, and unless you save documents for offline use you are a bit out of luck when you want to edit on the go.
Wrapping it up
So overall this little thing is great, and I bought the 16GB model even though I feel like 8GB would be just fine. Battery life is great on this thing, as I have only charged it twice in two weeks with pretty moderate use. I have no problem shoving it in my bag and pulling it out to read a chapter of a book. The biggest issue is there is no 4G. This means no Google Maps, search, or even writing a Google document without a WiFi hotspot. Sure I can tether my phone, but I don’t want to do that all the time. Google chrome is amazing on Jelly Bean, and I don’t really get to use it.
So should you buy one? If you love android like I do but are stuck with an older phone, I think Jelly Bean will blow you away. If you are already an ICS user…perhaps not so much. It is better, but you won’t be blown away. Should you buy this over the Fire? Absolutely. I am still on the fence on this one, but I think what you benefit from getting a Nexus 7 over other Android tablets is that it is from Google (manufactured by Asus), which means you will get the latest updates, and it will be a pure Android experience—which is the best Android experience.
You can pick up a Nexus 7 directly from Google on the Play Store.
*Google Nexus 7 reviewed was a 16GB model and was purchased for full price of $249.99 on Google Play. It should also be noted that after I drafted this up on my Nexus 7 Richard heavily fixed grammatical errors… 🙂